I recently ran into a dancer for whom I had choreographed solos when she was a teenager. I had followed her successful performing career in New York and Los Angeles, and by anyone’s standards she would be considered a hardworking professional. Now in her mid-30s, she told me she’s ready to shift into the next phase of her career, which is to open a dance school. Her plan of action is to open a studio in a town that doesn’t already have any dance schools. She has saved an impressive chunk of money that will get her new small business off the ground.
For many studio owners, the most hectic day of the year isn’t the day of the recital or the first day of classes—it’s the first day that families can purchase tickets to the end-of-the-year show. Owners arrive at the studio in the morning to find a line of parents wrapped around the building, tapping their feet as they wait to buy their tickets. The entire day is given over to ticket sales, crowd control, and the hope that clients will be satisfied.
Henry Ford once said, “If there is one thing which I would banish from the earth it is fear.”
When I started my competition team 15 years ago, I discovered that it was like starting another business, with huge demands on my time and energy.
As I’m writing this, I’m heading into my fifth week of seminars at the DanceLife Retreat Center. And what I’ve discovered is that not only can dreams come true, but they can exceed our expectations.
COLUMNS Ask Rhee Gold Advice for Dance Teachers 2 Tips for Ballet Teachers by Mignon Furman 2Tips for Hip Hop Teachers by Geo Hubela 2Tips for Modern Teachers by Bill Evans 2 Tips for Tap Teachers by Stacy Eastman A Better You | Fighting Fatigue by Suzanne Martin, PT, DPT . . .
In this age of Facebook, Yelp, and constant communication through texting, tweets, and Internet chats, 73-year-old Cameron School of Dance credits its success to something less tech-y: its close-knit town of Greenfield Park, a suburb of Montreal, Quebec, and loyal reviews from its generations of families.
Margo Dean School of Ballet is a house of tradition. This school in Fort Worth, Texas, instills in its students discipline and serious classical training that remains true to ballet’s ancient form. With Margo Dean at the helm and her son, Webster, as its assistant director, MDSB has been in one family since its inception in 1950.
By Rhee Gold Do you want to become savvy at marketing your school? Welcome to our new department, which will present various marketing concepts and how to implement them. Today’s marketing options are plentiful. Whether your budget is small or large (or nonexistent), you can get the word out about . . .
At dance schools across the United States, the winter holidays offer varied performance opportunities, with Christmas, Chanukah, and winter themes abounding. But for some schools and students, another holiday takes center stage: Kwanzaa, a winter holiday that focuses on African American culture and values.
For many dance studios, summer is a time when families take time off for vacations, trips to the pool, and other summer-only activities. Attendance drops off dramatically—and so does your income.
Like most studio owners, when I first started planning to open a school, it was because I felt passionate about dance and teaching. And because I couldn’t find an opportunity working for someone else that fit just right, I decided to create one for myself.
“Jackson is going to teach a guest class! Isn’t that fantastic?” Dolly practically shouted the words during the post-recital staff meeting.
In this video, Rhee Gold shares his humor and passion for the dance teaching profession. It is an excerpt from his keynote speech at the 2009 DanceLife Teacher Conference in Scottsdale, AZ
As a dance teacher, you feel that you’ve paid your dues—teaching classes day in and day out, coming up with recital and competition routines, and following the protocol of the studio you work for. You’re ready to be your own boss, and you think you understand the business enough to be a successful studio owner. But is it smart or realistic to start a studio from scratch? Or should you consider buying an existing business?
Eleven-year-old Bernice Miller stood on a chair to teach her first ballet class to neighborhood kids with as much authority as she could muster. It was the fall of 1929, and her “studio” was her parents’ two-level garage in Pensacola, Florida. Eighty years later, Bernice’s daughter, Starr Burlingame, carries on her legacy as director of Bernice’s Starrstep Dance Studio. Starr chalks up the longevity of the school to her mother’s zeal for her work and treatment of her students with respect and acceptance.
“Your fall registration will only be as good as your last recital!” These words were often repeated by my mother, who believed that the quality of a recital had much to do with a school’s success. I think of those words every time the topic of recitals comes up at my seminars.
“You’re an artistic genius! How do you come up with an idea like that?” “Motivated to be different” is the motto of the teacher who choreographed the piece that everyone is raving about. She’s the one who doesn’t want to be like anyone else or follow the current trends in choreography.
I am one of the lucky dance teachers with a husband who supports what I do. He has dinner waiting on the table when I come home and he takes on as much responsibility with our three children as I do . . . Together we have been saving for three years to come up with a down payment for a piece of land that we know is a fantastic location for the dance school of our dreams.
I am pooped and feel like quitting this business. It seems the studio is growing faster than I can keep up with, and I am exhausted with trying to keep it organized like my customers are used to. I am seriously considering selling it all and walking away.
Some dance people on Facebook post that they are going to kick butt at a competition. I wonder if they are missing the point? Are they passing the “kick butt” mentality on to their students and parents who will be disappointed if they don’t end up kicking butt? Instead should we express how excited we are to see other …dancers do their thing? We need to understand that dance is a gift, not a tool to beat others?
She intends on still bringing these dances to competition . . . has said she will give me full credit. But, I feel the choreography is mine,
Marketing—it’s a dreaded part of running a business for many dance school owners. It takes time and money and can drain even the most enthusiastic entrepreneur of creativity. But it doesn’t have to be that way. How can you build enthusiasm for your classes and your product without feeling that pressure? One great way to get the word out is by having new faces continually flowing through your school. Sometimes the joy the students show in their dancing is a better marketing tool than a brochure or website—the trick is to get people into your school to experience their enthusiasm, and that means tapping into the community. So if you’re looking for ways to bring in new faces but don’t have a huge marketing budget, these innovative, alternative marketing methods are for you.
Why are you such an advocate for the recreational dancer?
First off, I believe that dance is an art form and that every person, whether child or adult, can experience that unique feeling that dancing gives us, whether they can do 10 pirouettes or only 1. To me it’s that inner-gut thing we should be passing on, regardless of the skill level of the student. If we as teachers lose sight of the value of the recreational dancer and focus only on our best or most promising students, then I wonder if we’ve also lost sight of why we became dance educators in the first place.
Our family school started by my mom, Sherry Gold in the basement of our family home in 1964. Today it is located in a 10,000 square foot facility, directed by my twin brother Rennie. It is a place where the passion for the art is #1. Enjoy–Rhee
If you’re a dancer who hits the competition circuit, you’ve noticed a trend: each year there are more and more solos at dance competitions. These soloists are dancers who have the guts to get onstage by themselves, are confident about their abilities, and aren’t afraid to accept the judges’ criticism. Most important, they are the dancers who are technically and emotionally ready for the experience. Or are they?
No two people are alike, so it follows that no two businesses are alike either. There might be a dozen dance studios in the country with identical names, all of which offer jazz, tap, and lyrical, but if you look beyond the surface, each is distinct. What makes them so? You, the school owners, that’s who. You are unique and your one-of-a-kind personality infuses your business. If there’s one idea I came away with after spending four days with roughly 500 dance teachers at the DanceLife Teacher Conference last summer, it’s that each dance studio is different.
I am writing to you because I would like to open a dance school, but I want to do it the right way. I have read your book, The Complete Guide to Teaching Dance, and it is such an inspiration to me. It makes me very excited to teach! I want to open a school because I truly feel it is my calling, but I want my fellow dance colleagues to understand that I like to work with people and that I can be their friend too.
Ever wonder why the kids of America are rushing to the nearest dance school to sign up for classes? The answer is hip-hop, and it’s a genre that poses a particular set of challenges for school owners and teachers. It can make older teachers feel out of touch and uncomfortable. Sometimes the students are undisciplined. Sometimes the lyrics are dirty—profanities aside, the words can be a minefield of innuendo. Much of the content is sexual, and some of it is demeaning to women. The lyrics can be hard to decipher, and it doesn’t help that the slang and the catchphrases change at a dizzying rate. It can make you doubt yourself: Am I being prudish here?
Ahhh! A new season is in the works—and so are all those ridiculous phone and email inquiries from the parents of “exceptional” children. Here’s one of my favorites: “My 3-year-old does all the dances with the contestants on So You Think You Can Dance—it’s like she has already been dancing for 10 years! Do you have an advanced class for 3-year-olds?” And here’s another one I’ll never forget: “We just put a jungle gym in the backyard, where my daughter, who is 6, has been swinging and flipping herself all day, every day for the last couple of weeks. I know that she has the potential to be an Olympic gymnast. Can she take class with the 12-year-olds because she already has all the basics she needs?”
You’ve invested the morning planning lessons and creating choreography. You’ve spent the afternoon searching for the perfect sequins to accent a set of costumes. Now you’re headed into class, ready to give your students your all—but the phone is ringing and a parent wants to schedule a makeup class. While you’re grabbing the phone, pulling out your planner, and glancing anxiously toward your waiting class, another parent brings in an overdue payment and a student dashes in saying that her baby sister put her doll down the toilet. You drop everything and head to the bathroom, where water is flowing across the restroom floor.
The dance season is full of hectic activity and trying situations all year long, but back-to-school time has its unique challenges. Every fall, school owners, teachers, and students suffer from the back-to-dance blues—even if they do think that studying or teaching dance is the greatest occupation in the world.
There’s not much, from the looks of things, to tell you that a 20-acre horse ranch near Sacramento in Northern California may be spawning a big step forward in dance stage production. Baseline Road in Placer County is flat, pre-tornado Wizard of Oz territory: golden-brown fields, barbed-wire fences, hand-painted signs touting “Fresh Strawbaries [sic] 4 Sale,” and the blue outline of the Sierra Nevada far off to the east.
My sister has a plaque in her kitchen that reads: “If Mama Ain’t Happy, Ain’t Nobody Happy.” It might be a good sign to post in every dance school office and faculty room.
Through my research with dance school owners, I’ve discovered that it is not uncommon for their businesses to have up to a 30 percent turnover of students from year to year.