Artistic director Paul Emerson has submitted his resignation, effective June 30, and none of the group’s eight professional dancers had their contracts renewed earlier this year. That’s a huge fall for a company that appeared to have so much going for it: skilled dancers; gorgeous, spacious studios at Strathmore; and a contract with the State Department to perform abroad as a cultural ambassador.
With performances at the Kennedy Center, Sidney Harman Hall, and Strathmore, CityDance seemed like the contemporary version of the firmly established Washington Ballet—except that the latter has been gradually growing its niche and audience for decades. CityDance burst, virtually fully formed, on the D.C. stage in 1996.
“We never really built enough of an audience or donor base to meet our budget,” explains executive director Alexandra Nowakowski. “There has been an impression that CityDance is flush with cash, but every year we’ve struggled.”
CityDance’s dance classes, offered in a conservatory setting and in public schools, will continue. “All of that is thriving and growing,” says Nowakowski. “We have 500 students at the school.”
To read the full story, visit www.washingtoncitypaper.com/blogs/artsdesk/performance-and-dance/2011/06/03/the-end-of-citydance/.
Spezio’s Dance Dynamics sets a foolproof example for any studio owner to follow
By Lauren Green
It’s 8:00 a.m. Coffee in hand and laptop in tow, Michelle Spezio arrives at the theater to begin onstage preparations for her 2010 recital, “Get Up and Dance.” With an army of 13 teachers, 40 volunteers, a full technical crew—plus a coffee pot—she’s ready to get down to business. “One person can’t make it happen,” says Spezio, who is in her 17th year of directing Spezio’s Dance Dynamics in Buffalo, New York.
The day begins with programming the lighting (at least seven grueling hours) and ends with a dress rehearsal for 250 dancers. Spezio knows that while her road to a perfect recital is well traveled, she still might hit a few bumps along the way. But she also knows that success onstage is the result of teamwork, anticipating and overcoming obstacles, and a yearlong planning process. Here’s how she does it.
“Recital planning starts at your first staff meeting,” says Spezio. “It’s like planning a wedding for 500 brides every year.” Many factors have to come together to make “Get Up and Dance,” a three-show series with 50 to 55 pieces in each show, a success. The most important one? Working as a team.
Spezio plans five or six staff meetings over the school year, along with communicating by email, phone, and chats with individual instructors. In addition to planning for a successful year, the first meeting (held in August) should touch on brainstorming and choosing the recital theme, plus ideas for changes and improvements in the next recital.
At Spezio’s first planning meeting in 2009, at the top of the agenda was the importance of including more diversity in music selections. While music ideas are tossed around all summer, choosing the theme helps solidify music options. Spezio has done narrower themes in the past, inspired by books or fairy tales; however, a looser theme like “Get Up and Dance” gives teachers more options and versatility.
As players on the Spezio dream team, parents are kept informed of recital news constantly. In addition to checking the website, they receive updates via the studio brochure, the school’s policy booklet (received after registration), studio newsletters, Parents Week, and email blasts. (During Parents Week, held twice a year in the fall and spring, families watch classes and receive updates on important recital information.)
“You want to be very clear about what’s expected,” says Spezio. Even with all this careful outreach, a student might still show up with the wrong tights or, as Spezio experienced six years ago, without a costume. Relentless communication helps avoid these disasters.
Spezio stocks her dressing rooms with about 40 volunteers. A sign-up sheet is posted on the studio bulletin board six weeks before the show, and an email encouraging parent participation goes out to all families. Spezio requires class chaperones, runners, and backstage security. One or two hall monitors address concerns from volunteers and make sure things are running smoothly.
The chaperones ensure that the children are in full costume, hair, and makeup; have gone to the bathroom as needed; and get back to the dressing area after their piece is over. They are rewarded with ticket passes that allow them to enter the house to watch their child’s class. One or two chaperones are needed for each class of children under age 11. Spezio notifies parents within five weeks of the show if their child’s class needs more recital chaperones.
Runners collect the children from the chaperones and line them up well before it’s time to go onstage (about five or six pieces before their own).
A security guard, usually a volunteer dad, guards the hallway outside the dressing rooms, making sure no one goes in without a name badge or to sign their children out early without permission. In order to collect their children before the end of the show, parents must notify the school office at least 24 hours in advance. The child’s name is then put on a list of students to be dismissed early. A sign-out sheet system ensures that volunteers know when children leave.
Volunteers are essential to backstage safety. Spezio notes that she has never had a child go missing backstage. She briefs her chaperones, via phone or email, on the number of children they are responsible for and how to keep them occupied between pieces. There are always a table with coloring pages and crayons and a TV monitor that enables the kids to watch the show. Most important is a fire-escape plan, and volunteers must know how to implement it.
A few years back, the fire alarm went off during one of Spezio’s performances. The dancers quickly exited the stage, found their chaperones, and were ushered outside. Back in the house, Spezio got on the intercom. She apologized for the interruption, asked everyone to leave the theater, and reassured them that their children were already outside. It took only a minute or two to empty the theater of families and dancers, whom the volunteers kept safely together. When given the all-clear to go inside, it took only six minutes to reload, cue up the music, and position the dancers. Spezio’s dream team executed the fire escape plan seamlessly. While it was only a false alarm, she cringes to think of what could have happened in a real fire if no plan was in place.
The final members of Spezio’s dream team are professionals such as videographers, photographers, and T-shirt vendors. “Be cautious that the vendors you hire understand the type of service you provide for your clients,” says Spezio. This means being clear about when photos and videos are to be finished and the quality that is expected. A contract between Spezio and her vendors states terms ensuring that she cannot be held responsible for mistakes they make on her time.
Choose the services you’ll want early on so that you can find providers who are a good fit. For example, Spezio has already booked her videographer for the 2011 recital.
Volunteers are essential to backstage safety. Spezio briefs her chaperones on the number of children they are responsible for and how to keep them occupied between pieces.
By July, Spezio’s Dance Dynamics is into the next part of the process. “You hit moments during the summer when you don’t have to worry about it, but you have to build your schedule for the year so that you’re prepared,” says Spezio.
Imagine booking an auditorium in August and finding out in February that the school has bumped the show to make room for a scholastic event. While Spezio has been lucky enough to avoid such conflict, she has friends who have experienced this. “Know what [your contract] includes and what it doesn’t,” says Spezio.
Spezio reserved her 2011 theater space upon arriving for dress rehearsal for “Get Up and Dance.” Because she rents the theater for a whole week, bumping is not a problem. However, if the theater cannot guarantee in writing that the show will not be bumped, it might be a good idea to find a different venue. Book early, receive confirmation from the theater in writing, read the contract thoroughly immediately upon receiving it, and call before the new year to confirm your dates.
Every theater has its own policy on lighting and technical staff, box office procedures, and the proof of insurance that must be provided. If hiring a full lighting crew and bringing in additional lights is necessary, that could add several thousand dollars to your expenses.
Build a budget
“Recital planning is a two-fold process,” says Spezio. “It’s business and it’s artistry. You have to be able to handle both ends of the spectrum.” Tops on the business end is creating a budget and using it.
Breaking even requires careful budgeting, but with preparation, a recital can put a little extra cash in a studio’s pocket. Basic budgeting is a matter of balancing income and expenses. (See “Money Matters,” DSL, July 2010.)
Spezio is able to fund her recitals independently, without touching tuition income. She did her projected expense report for “Get Up and Dance” in summer 2009. She brings in recital revenue early in the year by charging a small rehearsal fee for each family. This initial income makes it possible for her to charge less for tickets and gives her an immediate fund to start with. She then factors in how many families she has, minus an average number of students who might drop out before recital time. That gives her an idea of what ticket sales might look like.
Once she has an estimate of costs from the theater, she can factor in additional estimates for costs related to vendors, printing, staffing, and scenery or flooring. “Build your budget based around overestimating,” says Spezio. “If you overestimate just a hair, that extra expense that comes up won’t be such a shock.” Knowing her projected income and expenses up front helps Spezio decide how to spend her funds over the year.
Create a calendar
Yearly calendars should include important deadlines such as costume ordering, finalizing music, program orders, and ticket sales. Spezio has costume orders in by November for her May show. A flat rate per costume per dance is collected from each student. The cost of having someone check in and organize costumes is included in this budget.
Ordering six months ahead leaves a window for error if alterations need to be made. Spezio advises ordering extra costumes in case some students’ bodies change drastically after measurements were taken. “Check, check, and recheck [your order] before you send it out,” says Spezio.
The teachers are expected to submit all final music selections to the office by mid-October in list format, including title, artist or version, music edits, and any props or special requests. Spezio approves each music choice and the teachers start choreographing as early as December. The final music cut for each class is expected to be turned in by mid-January, at which point Spezio and her office manager burn practice CDs for each child.
Choreography rehearsals begin in December, and by the end of March, the dances should be ready to be cleaned. The show order for each of the three shows is based around costume changes. The competitive ensemble dancers are in all three shows, so the show order must allow them enough time to change between numbers. Their pieces are spread out and other dances are plugged in around them, with the youngest baby classes in the first act.
When the sequence is finalized, about three weeks before the show, Spezio and her office manager burn music CDs to be used and checked in the classroom. Then three or four backup CDs of each show are made.
With three dress rehearsals, one per show, Spezio has to be ready to delegate to her teachers and volunteer team. “Someone needs to be in charge of volunteers, of taping the floors, of setting up the dressing rooms,” she says.
Because each theater space is different, Spezio recommends that studio directors find a backstage blueprint that works for their space. For her show, Spezio has the teachers lining up their classes on backstage left in correct order for the start of their piece. Stage directions are compiled from all the teachers before show week and are checked by Spezio. Another teacher uses them to create a master list of entrances and exits used to maintain flow and save time. The curtain stays open between numbers. Students always enter stage left and are collected by their class chaperones when they exit.
“I don’t want people to have the perception that the show drags,” says Spezio. “The audience doesn’t want to sit. My goal is, don’t let them get up until intermission.” For the same reason, she schedules awards and thank-yous at the dress rehearsal, during which parents are permitted to film and photograph without flash.
Even though the recital newsletter outlines everything that students should bring to the theater, Spezio plans for forgotten or misplaced items. Boxes on both sides of the stage and in the dressing area contain safety pins, bobby pins, lipstick, brushes, hair spray and gel, a sewing kit, a glue gun, Superglue, tissues, scissors, tape, a first aid kit, clear nail polish, and nail polish remover.
“You basically need a store,” says Spezio. And a lost-and-found.
It was 2004, and Spezio, then eight and a half months pregnant, was beginning her day of lighting programming with a hired lighting technician. Not 15 minutes into the process, the fire alarm went off. In seconds, the techie had powered down the lights, grabbed the fire extinguisher, and doused a nearly flaming curtain. A boom light had been touching one of the curtain legs, which hadn’t been thoroughly fireproofed.
“The problem wasn’t so much the little bitty fire,” says Spezio. “It was the crazy fire department that came in with hoses blasting, yanked down all the fly lines, and ripped it all apart. I almost had a baby on the side of [the street].”
The show went on, but without curtains. The moral of this story: hire a reliable lighting programmer, ask the theater to provide documentation that the entire stage area is secure and safe, and be sure the dancers are aware of backstage safety.
“There are a lot of scenarios that you need to plan for, which is what causes the stress of recital planning,” says Spezio. “It’s the unexpected. Be prepared for anything.”
Spezio has encountered only a few other nightmares over her nearly two decades of recital planning. In one, a child’s dream of a perfect performance was dashed when she spilled red Kool-Aid all over herself. The teachers washed the stain out, but there was no time to dry the costume before the girl’s dance. She was forced to wear the soaking wet costume. Now, the only liquid allowed backstage is water.
Find those quiet moments
Each year, as the curtain drops for the final bow, Spezio finds herself filled with inspiration for the next year. “To see them enjoy themselves and have fun is why I do it,” she says. “The show is for them. It’s not for me.”
Whether it’s reading a good book, getting a massage, or just chatting with her staff, Spezio tries to find moments of relaxation during recital time, “otherwise, I just work myself into oblivion.” All the meticulous planning and preparation pays off, though, when she watches the children onstage and notes how much they’ve learned and grown.
Pain-free steps to a balanced budget
By Misty Lown
Do you struggle to make ends meet during certain times of the year? Does the seasonal nature of our industry make cash flow a headache? Perhaps more important, are you paying yourself last, if at all? If you answered yes to any of these questions, chances are you’re not working with a budget. Whether you are in your first year of business or your 15th, developing a budget should be an annual priority. Here’s how to make it painless.
Why do I need a budget?
There’s an old saying, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” In no place does this ring truer than in the dance studio world. Can you imagine teaching without a lesson plan or putting your iPod on “shuffle” during class, hoping for an appropriate song to come on? Would you ever show up to recital and pick the performance order based on which group got backstage first? No way!
As teachers and studio owners, you would never come to class or put on a show without a serious game plan. And yet, making a financial game plan for your business is often thrown into the “someday when I have time” category, leaving you in an endless cycle of making decisions based on the greatest financial need of the moment. It’s time to plan for success in all areas of your business, including the financial.
If you’ve ever balanced a checkbook, you can write a budget. A budget has three parts—the plusses (part 1), the minuses (part 2), and the—hopefully—positive difference between them, which means profit for you (part 3). Bookkeepers or accountants can help you with this by spotting financial trends and alerting you to outrageously high expenses. But you have unique insight into the expenses and income opportunities related to your business. Collaboration is ideal.
Part 1: Projected income
Count every dollar you anticipate coming into your studio, including tuition (class and private lessons); costume fees; recital tickets, T-shirts, and ads; dancewear and logowear sales; choreography fees; birthday parties; workshops and camps; donations; and convention/competition payments.
Part 2A: Projected expenses
Look over your check register and include a line item for every category of expense you paid in the last year. Include a salary for yourself; rent/mortgage; utilities; cost of sales (your cost on costumes, dancewear, and logowear); postage/shipping; printing; wages; employee benefits; Internet access and website hosting fees; advertising; repairs and maintenance; education; insurances; business travel (100 percent deductible); business meals/entertainment (50 percent deductible); taxes (personal property, FICA, unemployment); interest; conventions/competitions; vehicle; legal and accounting services; dues and subscriptions; bank charges; credit card fees (if accepting credit cards or using one with a fee); office expenses; and depreciation.
Part 2B: Irregular expenses
Don’t forget to leave room in your budget for unanticipated capital expenses. Your computer might die the week before registration or the sound system could fizzle on the first day of classes. You can’t predict the problems, but you can guarantee that they will arise. If you own your building, you have another range of expenses that can crop up. You might be able to keep shampooing the carpeting for another year, but if the roof needs replacing, don’t wait until your classrooms are wading pools—budget for a new roof now and avoid unwelcome surprises later.
Part 3: Projected profit (or loss)
Projected income minus projected expenses equals your projected profit (or loss).
That’s it! It doesn’t have to be fancy, but it does have to be written. Your budget is your road map for the year, so keep it handy in your office for referral.
What can this do for me?
Once you’ve written out your budget, you can make plans to manage your cash flow, set sales goals, and fill the holes.
Managing cash flow
The cash-flow cycle of dance studios can be feast or famine. For example, at registration time in June at my dance studio, all families pay for their first and last month’s tuition for the coming dance year. (Some even pay the whole year’s tuition.)
On the plus side, getting a good portion of the season’s income up front makes getting through the summer easier. On the downside, I’ve found that the month of May can be a real challenge if I haven’t budgeted enough money to cover expenses. The only line of credit I’ve ever had to take was to cover my overhead for the month of May one year when I didn’t budget my registration tuition well. I didn’t need to learn that lesson twice. Time spent budgeting at the beginning of your season can keep you out of hot water later.
How do you set your tuition every year? Most studio owners I know keep an eye on what other schools in their area charge, shoot for the middle, and hope they get enough students to cover the bills. It’s important to stay competitive, but the primary factor in setting tuition should be how much it costs you to teach each student. Your tuition should cover all expenses associated with teaching, including the cost of the teacher and a portion of all other overhead expenses for the time the class is being held.
Your tuition rates should be such that after you have covered all of the expenses associated with teaching, there is something left over for your investment of time and energy (your profit). When you have quantified your costs of teaching and the earnings it generates, you can set your sales goals for the year. How many students do you need in order to pay yourself and hire some extra help at the front desk? How many more students do you need to enroll to give yourself that overdue raise? Your budget will tell you.
Filling the holes
Perhaps the best function of a budget is that of refinement. A budget, like a gym membership, is helpful only if you use it. You may only need to write your budget once each year, but you need to use it every month. To get real mileage out of it, compare your monthly operating statement to your budget. Because the line items in your operating statement match those in your budget, you will be amazed to find that you can actually see where the business is bleeding (or hopefully building). Monthly checkups will help you fine-tune your budget for the future and make important adjustments to your spending in the meantime.
The fun part!
A budget isn’t just about crunching numbers and scrutinizing expenses. It’s about figuring out what programs are profitable for your studio and strategizing so that you spend the most time on what really works. It’s about making the business work for you so that you can have a life, not just make a living.
For additional help, consult an accountant or get no-cost tips from one of the following:
QuickBooks: a user-friendly software program that helps you manage financial information, including payroll. www.quickbooks.com
Small Business Financial Management Kit for Dummies: a tool-packed guide (plus CD-ROM) that helps you manage your finances, including budgeting, cash flow, and profit models. www.dummies.com
SCORE: Counselors to America’s Small Business: offers online or in-person financial counseling to small business owners. www.score.org
Small Business Development Centers: provide management assistance to small business owners. www.sba.gov
Women’s Business Centers: provide training for women in finance, management, marketing, and more. www.sba.gov (click on “Local Resources,” then “Women’s Business Centers”)
ChooseWhat (www.choosewhat.com) has a business checklist on its front page that gives the 22 main steps to starting your own business.
15 fab money-saving ideas for your school
By Misty Lown
Looking for ways to trim costs? These simple solutions will help you put money where you need it most—in your bank account.
1. Email newsletters instead of printing them. My estimated savings for this year: $4,500 in printing, postage, and man-hours.
2. Redeem frequent-flier miles for cash. I did this on two business credit cards and got $1,500. I’m not flying anywhere, so I might as well take the cash.
3. Put registration materials on the school’s website. My estimated savings for this year: $1,500 in printing and postage.
4. Trade for cleaning. We “donate” space to local dance teams in exchange for cleaning the studio, especially the mirrors. It takes me about 8 hours to clean them, but a team of 16 can whip them out in about 30 minutes. Before I started doing this, my monthly mirror-cleaning bill was $60. Estimated savings for this year: $720.
5. Review your cell phone plan. I lowered my bill by $50 per month by actually looking at it. Business plans are not always a deal. Estimated savings for this year: $600.
6. Notice which forms of advertising have the best yield. Track new customer calls to find out where they heard about you. Maybe you don’t need that $300-per-month Yellow Pages ad if 90 percent of your business is coming from referrals.
7. Patronize competitions that offer rebates. Last year I saved/earned about $800 through rebates, which covered all of my staff’s travel expenses.
8. Order costumes early. I saved about $5,000 last year by having my order done in time to take advantage of early-bird discounts. I used this money to pay someone to do all my costume measuring, ordering, distribution, exchanging, and altering, which also saved me a big headache (priceless!).
9. Buy costumes from the closeout catalogs. This works especially well for performing groups since you know who is in them at the beginning of the year when those catalogs come out. Estimated savings: $1,000.
10. Sublet your space when not in use. I do it during times when the school is already open so that there is no additional overhead (heat/electric/front desk staff). I’m subletting one of my studios, which sat empty during class hours, three hours per week at $25 per hour. Estimated savings for the year: $300 per month, or $3,600 per year, on rent.
11. What are you driving? My studio owns my van, which saved me from personally having to buy it and gave me a great deduction. If you use your own vehicle for studio business (everyone does, without realizing how much), you need to reimburse yourself for mileage (currently 55 cents per mile). You can either write a check to yourself each month for the mileage and expense it monthly or itemize it at year-end.
12. Shop around for business banking. I used to pay $70 per month for online banking access. By switching my account to one that requires a higher minimum balance, I now get online banking for free. Estimated savings for the year: $840.
13. Trade services where you can. I trade office space (during the day, when we are not in) for an ad in a monthly parenting newspaper. Value: $100 per month or $1,200 per year.
14. Price shop for necessities like insurance, lawn care, snow plowing, carpet cleaning, and credit cards. Almost all of these expenses or fees are negotiable, especially maintenance items. Most dance schools are empty and available for maintenance during the day, whereas traditional businesses have to have service work done after hours or at night. That flexibility alone should garner a discount. Be sure to shop around for credit card machines and fees. My machine broke last year, and the cost for a new one was $800. I negotiated a free machine in exchange for renewing my contract.
15. “Make do, redo, or do without.” That’s a Depression-era quote from my great-grandma. Does your team really need new leotards, jackets, and warm-ups every year? Is iTunes a service or an addiction? Are you paying a commercial service to clean your studio when the front desk staff could do it? Are you paying all teachers to be at all rehearsals when they don’t all have classes at the same time? Sometimes the easiest way to save money is to stop spending it!
Do you have a money-saving idea you’d like to share? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org or Arisa White, Dance Studio Life, 10 South Washington St., Norton, MA 02766.
How to make costumes a no-stress part of your recital
By Rhee Gold
Recital season comes with what most school owners consider to be one big headache: costumes. If the mere mention of the word makes you want to hide in the nearest closet, it’s time to revamp your approach to purchasing and distributing costumes. With some forethought and organization, outfitting your students for your school’s annual show can be a pleasure and not a pain.
At this point in the dance season you’ve received your costume catalogs, but have you taken the time to do a pre-screening? Before you make your final decisions and place the orders, go through all the catalogs to see which costumes fit your performance’s theme or concept and budget. Mark each possibility with a sticky note, placing it on the page like a notebook divider and writing on it the class or level that you have in mind and the cost; that way your choices will be marked in an “at a glance” format. This procedure will save you time when it comes to making final decisions.
It’s a good idea to involve your faculty in the decision-making process. They will feel like their input is valued and have the costume that they believe best fits their choreography and students. It is a win–win approach for you and them. Schedule a meeting and call it a “recital planning party.” Spend the day going through the choices that you have already narrowed down for them. Two or three choices per class are enough. If you think you have found the perfect costume for a particular class, all you’ll need to do is run the choice by the teacher. If she doesn’t like it, then go back to some of the other options you’ve marked to find a compromise.
Once you’re ready to place your orders, call the costume companies to ask for a personal representative. Get a name and an extension number so that you can communicate with one person during the entire process. This important step will minimize any costume stress if there are any problems with your order. Having a personal representative also makes it easy to check on any back-ordered items.
Place orders early to ensure adequate delivery; the end of November or the first of December is best. Most costume companies will send you a confirmation listing all the items and sizes ordered. Open it immediately to verify that what they have in your order and what you have on file match. Many school owners simply assume that everything is right and never open their costume order confirmations, and they often find themselves in “recital-stress mode” when they don’t have to be. By simply checking your order for accuracy, you will eliminate the need for last-minute exchanges that make getting the costumes you need more time-consuming than necessary.
If you order your costumes in November or December, your deliveries could start arriving in late February or early March (or even earlier). Don’t let those boxes sit unopened until you’re ready to distribute the costumes; open them immediately to take an inventory and match them to your original order. If any sizes are missing or the wrong costume has been delivered, you have plenty of time to fix the errors.
Presentation and distribution
When you receive the costumes, pull them out of those small plastic bags they come in, shake them out, and place each one on a hanger inside a clear plastic dry-cleaning bag. If you include tights or other accessories with the costumes, put them in a small plastic bag and place them on the hanger with the costume.
Why go to all that trouble? Let’s say that you charge $65 for a costume. It doesn’t look like it is worth $65 in that small plastic bag it was shipped in. How would you feel if you picked out an expensive blouse at Macy’s and it was handed to you all rolled up and wrinkled in its small plastic shipping bag? You’d probably wonder if it was really worth what you paid for it.
Dry-cleaning bags and hangers can be purchased wholesale at www.ctsusa.com or www.nashvillewraps.com, or check with your local dry-cleaners to see if they can get you the products you need. One dance teacher I know received complimentary bags and hangers from her neighborhood cleaners, who put their logo on the bags. They felt that the advertising for their business was worth the cost of the bags and hangers.
For easy distribution, place a sticker on each costume bag and write the child’s name and costume size on it. You also might want to include the parent’s contact information, in case the costume is not picked up. This step will make distribution much easier.
Make it a policy not to distribute costumes until all costume balances have been paid in full. In some cases you might want to hold the costumes until all payments for the season, including tuition, have been paid (unless you have a picture day early in the year and the children need their costumes for their photos). Having a policy that all accounts due must be paid before the costumes are distributed means that your clients will be motivated to pay up and get those costumes for their eager children.
Some school owners might think that this method of preparing costumes for distribution sounds time consuming, but handling them in an organized, efficient manner is a professional business move that your clients will appreciate. In the pursuit of professionalism in your business, you’ll want to impress your clients, and this process will do just that—and there’s nothing better for your business!
Covering Your Bases With Costumes, Accessories, and Props
When you arrive at dress rehearsal, be prepared for anything. This short list of smart ideas will make problem-solving for costumes, accessories, and props a breeze.
- Have two extras of every prop or accessory (like hats) used in the performance, and if you’re using delicate props like parasols, make it three.
- Don’t allow students to take the props home and bring them to the show. Have a designated backstage person who is in charge of all props, knows the counts of each, and hands them out to the students. This decreases the chance of damage or loss.
- Tights will run, no question! Have a large inventory of all the colors, styles, and sizes that are needed for the show.
- Station a parent or seamstress backstage or in the dressing room, with a sewing machine. Then you don’t have to worry about last-minute seam rips or broken straps.
- Keep plenty of elastic for hats and shoes on hand.
- If shoes were supposed to be dyed by the students or parents, keep an inventory of shoe dye on hand to do quick touch-ups or dye shoes that are the wrong color.
Sample Information Letter
Each costume should be accompanied by a letter that informs the parents of your policies on costume care. The following sample can be adapted for your studio’s use—just change the details as needed.
We are very excited that your child will be participating in the ABC School of Dance’s annual recital! The following are our policies regarding costume maintenance. Compliance with them will ensure that your child has the best recital experience possible.
- To assure a quality fit, we have already had your child try on the costume, so there is no need for him or her to wear it again until the dress rehearsal. Please do not allow your child to wear the costume until then.
- Be sure that your hands and your child’s hands are clean when handling the costumes.
- Your child should never be in costume while consuming food or drink.
- The tights and other accessories are for dress rehearsal and performance only. They should not be worn until that time, nor should any of the items be washed. It is important that all tights match onstage.
- Although your costumes came in a plastic bag, it’s a good idea to place them in a high-quality garment bag when traveling to and from the show. This will help prevent the accessories or costume parts from getting lost or soiled. If the costume has a hat, please place it in a hatbox so that it will not get crushed.
- When storing the costumes at your home, place them in a closet for protection from young siblings or pets who might damage them.
- To remove wrinkles, please do not use an iron—it could change the color or burn the costume. Steaming is safer. Hanging the costume in the bathroom during a hot shower (far away from the water) works well to eliminate wrinkles.
- Each item—costume, hats, shoes, gloves, etc.—must have your child’s name on it. Many costumes and accessories look alike. Be sure to identify everything so that there is no confusion about what belongs to your child.
- Create a checklist of every item for every costume. Refer to the list before you leave home for the dress rehearsal, after the dress rehearsal, and again for all performances.
- No child should wear his or her costume while traveling to dress rehearsal or performances. Costumes must be protected from stains. There will be adequate time and dressing rooms for your child to put on the costume and make sure that it is perfect for the performance.
- Apply makeup and do hair before putting on the costume to help keep it clean.
- After the performances, if you want to clean the costume, check with your dry cleaner for the best process. Some cleaning methods can ruin certain fabrics and trim.
Cost-cutting ideas for a quality production
By Diane Gudat
When it comes to recital time, do you dream about putting on that perfect fantasy production? Well, think again—it might actually be the right time to consider cutting back. “Cut back!” you say. “Forget it! Last year’s recital was really good and I am going to have to do something to top it.” But cutting back on recital expenses might be the best business move you could ever make.
Most studios do their shows during the last weekends of May or throughout the month of June. The following two months of July and August are generally the bleakest when it comes to the health of the studio checking account, so depleting your funds at this time of year simply does not make good business sense. Many teachers struggle to put together summer camps and workshops just to pay those July bills instead of taking a little well-deserved time off; yet they do not hesitate to drop unbudgeted money for that extra pair of lights or the live video feed into the waiting rooms.
Let’s take a moment to rethink the situation. A change in your attitude toward the recital itself might be the biggest cost-cutter of all. Start by asking yourself if you are overdoing it. Better yet, consider asking your spouse or mother what they think is “over the top” spending in this area. They have no emotional attachment to the situation (unless, of course, they too are dance people).
If you’re a studio owner, ask yourself what the purpose of the year-end show is and what it does to improve your studio’s enrollment. This becomes a huge struggle between the right and left sides of your brain. The artist in you wants the show to be the biggest, most amazing production known to planet Earth. You want Busby Berkeley to roll over in his grave. We all love big props, big lights, and big ooohs and ahhhs, but the business manager in us needs to look at the show as part of the entire year’s budget.
Does the amount of money you spend on recital extras translate into an equivalent number of new students, or are you simply excessively entertaining your current clientele and their families while feeding your own obsessive, need-for-perfection genes? Do more lights and props make your dancers look better, or would spicing up the choreography and using interesting staging do the same trick? Will the parents be impressed with all the expensive extra lights or would they rather see their children’s sweet faces in simple lighting?
What will your dance students remember about the day or weekend—the teachers who were calm, pleasant, and proud, or the extra props? Hopefully their memories are of a special day when family and friends gathered to give them their undivided attention with pictures taken, lots of applause, and maybe even a flower or two.
Shouldn’t we strive, every time a child steps into our classroom, to ensure that she will want to return the next year and that she will bring her relatives and friends?
Wouldn’t it be more cost-effective to show parents that we deserve their respect by keeping things organized, calm, and simple at dress rehearsal and backstage at the show?
How about showing them that we respect their hard-earned investment in their child’s dance training by keeping a lid on the cost of costumes and extras?
What can be done in the costume department to alleviate some of the financial stress and strain? First, let’s point out that costume costs should include the time it takes the school owner and studio staff to select, measure, and order them. Finding reasonably priced costumes that reflect the quality you expect is a lot of work! Do not leave yourself out of the equation.
- When selecting costumes, consider ordering basics in fun colors. All costume companies offer a wide variety of undecorated ballet tutus and dancewear basics. These can then be decorated with simple accessories like flowers, sashes, or appliqués. Some pieces, like leotards or jazz pants, can even be worn in dance class after the recital.
- Get creative in making costume pieces do double duty. For younger dancers, consider using a banded tutu for their ballet piece and then folding it in half and tacking it to the rear of the costume as a bustle for their tap or jazz piece.
- Build a large accessories “library” that will spruce up your choreography for years to come. You can do this by not including accessories in the costume fee. Collect all hats, headpieces, and handheld props at the end of the recital and store them for future use.
- Order costumes early to take advantage of the discounts offered by the costume companies. Try to use one or two major companies for your entire order. This might require a bit of compromise, but it will allow your order to reach an overall amount that will qualify for even more discounts. Large orders also might receive free or discounted postage.
- Take advantage of companies that offer “two-in-ones”—one costume that comes with a themed base leotard and two choices of accessories that covert it from ballet to jazz. By spacing the classes that wear these two looks far apart in the recital, you can fool the audience into thinking that each is a totally new look. Avoid buying extras like gloves and shoe covers; instead buy gloves and frilly socks on sale after Easter and save them for the following year.
- Consider sharing hats, props, and backdrops with dance studio owners in your area. Offer them yours and you might be amazed at what they will loan to you. I have costumes and crazy props on loan all over the country.
- Pair inexpensive, trendy tops from bargain fashion stores with nicely structured jazz pants or modern shorts. By investing in an airbrush machine, you can convert basic costumes into colorful, one-of-a-kind masterpieces that enhance a story line. You can achieve the same effect with cans of spray paint from the dollar store and some homemade stencils. (As the winner of a few overall costume awards, I can attest to the effectiveness of this technique: My garage floor shows the signs of many spray-painted costumes.) Of course, the costumes will need time to air out in order to minimize the paint smell (fresh-air sprays help the process), and the painted fabric will lose its stiffness quickly with use.
- Well-fitting, basic dress pants can be accented with suspenders or embellished with rhinestones, sequins, or ribbon along the seams or at the cuffs.
- Dying white or light-colored basics also creates beautiful effects. Tie-dyeing, drip dyeing, or dipping the costumes to create color levels are all reasonably easy projects.
- Take advantage of the online convenience and splurge control of shopping online at discount department stores like Target, Wal-Mart, and Kmart. These are excellent sources for hip-hop basics like hoodies, baggie jeans, overalls, cute skirts, and multicolored T-shirts, as well as matching sneakers. Shopping online also cuts down on the valuable time you would spend and gas you would use in trying to find 15 identical shirts in a variety of sizes.
- Use your imagination instead of buying ready-made costumes. For example, convert black sweatshirts and sweat pants into “faux tuxedos” for your guys. Remove the sweatshirt’s ribbing, slice it down the front, peel back and shape the lapels, hot glue some buttons on, and add a stripe of ribbon to the outside seam of each pant leg. Under the jacket, place a white T-shirt with multiple layers of edge lace glued down the front and you’ve created the impression of vintage tuxedos for your Nutcracker party guests. A few safety pins alter the size and keep the front closed. With the same kind of simple basics you can easily make Dalmatian, clown, and chicken costumes. Add black felt dots and tails to large white sweatshirts and you’ve got a pack of Dalmatians; for clowns, use large, colorful sweatshirts with small hula-hoops threaded through the bottom ribbing; to make chickens, add stuffing to yellow sweatshirts and top them with ball caps with orange bills.
The rule of thumb for all costuming is that it must create the correct illusion from the front seat of the theater, which is usually at least 20 feet away from the performers.
How about showing parents that you respect their hard-earned investment in their child’s dance training by keeping a lid on the cost of costumes and extras?
Props and backdrops
With scenic elements, simpler is better. For example, if you want a forest set, do not allow your dancers to get lost in the confusion and color of a full forest backdrop. Instead create the suggestion of a forest with these simple but effective methods.
- Place a few wire and papier-mâché trees upstage right or left. Alternately, or in addition, build triangular, three-sided flats on casters that can be painted to look like trees and rotated as the scenes change. These can be repainted repeatedly for years of use.
- Use a gobo to throw the image of a forest or clump of trees on the back curtain. Gobos (circular metal plates used to create patterns of projected light) can be as inexpensive as $12 each and can cover the stage with any shape or design imaginable. Creative souls can make simple gobos out of soda cans. (Beer cans are more fun and can actually enhance your creativity! Plus, some of them are thinner and therefore easier to work with than soda cans.) Ask your theater crew if they have a supply of gobos that you could borrow and if they have lights that are equipped with fittings to hold them. Renting a light or two to hold a variety of gobos can be infinitely less expensive than renting, installing, and returning rented backdrops.
- If you insist on using a backdrop, check with the theater to see if they have any from previous performances; they might already be hung and available for your use.
- In this day of mixed-media events, consider using the computer skills of your dancers or their “geek” friends to project beautiful still or moving images onto the stage.
- Owning your own fog machine and simple accessories like a disco ball and rotating mount will eliminate rental fees for such items and allow you to create special “club nights” at the studio for your jazz or hip-hop classes during the year.
When you ask the staff at your rental facility for favors, loans, and freebies, be sure to treat them with the utmost respect and kindness. Send them a thank-you note for a job well done and enclose a small gift card to a coffee spot or local restaurant. This will go a long way to getting those extras for your next show.
Other ways to save
One essential that you should never compromise on is an excellent sound system. However, that doesn’t mean you have to race out and buy the latest equipment. Check with your theater staff to see what they have before ordering or transporting your studio systems. And don’t forget to use your clients as a resource—I requested help with sound equipment in my newsletter and unearthed two studio dads who were in small rock bands; they let me use their full stack of concert-quality speakers absolutely free. They also hooked up the speakers and loaned me their strobe and laser lights. Do not be embarrassed to ask for help.
Check to see if a business that you or your students frequent would be willing to sponsor the printing of your recital tickets. Defray the cost of your programs by including business sponsors or selling “good luck” lines. But be careful not to overload your already insane schedule with these extra endeavors. Delegate, delegate, delegate—and when that does not work, beg for help.
Quality, not quantity
With the crumbling economy we seem to be facing, many families will appreciate any efforts you make to ensure that their out-of-pocket expenses for their children’s extracurricular activities are kept as low as possible. “Less is more!” is a wonderful motto to aspire to. The key is to be organized, start early to meet deadlines, and go for quality, not quantity. We can be our best for less.