IBISWorld, which compiles business industry reports based on market analysis and research of areas such as growth and revenue, reports that the dance studios industry is expected to generate $2.1 billion in revenue during 2013.
A PRWeb release said that this figure represents average annual revenue growth of 1.2 percent over the past five years, including expected growth of 2.4 percent in 2013.
The dance studios industry has been positively impacted over the past five years by the popularization of dance-inspired television shows, as well as rising interest in dance as an alternate form of exercise and physical fitness, IBISWorld said. In particular, dance studios offering Latin-inspired, fusion, and ballroom dance classes have benefited from rising consumer demand.
For instance, there was a 35 percent spike in the number of people taking ballroom lessons and attending ballroom events during the 10-year period ending in 2011, according to USA Dance Inc.
“However, the industry has not been without its challenges; during the recession, declining disposable income and heightened unemployment resulted in a greater number of consumers limiting their discretionary spending,” says IBISWorld industry analyst Caitlin Moldvay. Consequently, enrollment in dance classes declined and clients shifted away from private classes to more inexpensive group classes.
The number of dance studios is expected to increase at an average annual rate of 1.2 percent to total an estimated 8,264 studios in 2013. Over the next five years to 2018, the dance studios industry is expected to post positive average annual revenue growth.
To read the full story, visit http://www.prweb.com/releases/prweb2013/1/prweb10305419.htm.
Advice for dance teachers
I need some advice on an extremely sad, unfortunate situation. As a member of Dance Masters of America, I uphold a code of ethics. I respect my colleagues and do my best to maintain a professional working relationship with everyone. Recently, though, a full-time teacher of four years at a local dance studio got arrested for multiple instances of lewd and lascivious acts with minors. One incident occurred at a dance convention. The studio owner knew about it and still kept this teacher on staff for several months. When the owner finally let her go, she still planned to have the teacher choreograph privately for the school’s competition team. My problem is that this has lowered morale and trust in dance studios and teachers.
Do you have any suggestions for how to handle this professionally and ethically? My first instinct is to ignore the situation, but I cannot sit back when children have been affected and people are talking. Any advice you have would be greatly appreciated. —Valerie
As teachers and school owners it is our responsibility to protect the minors in our care. Once we are made aware of any potential danger it is our obligation to take appropriate action.
With that said, I did some investigation into this matter and it appears that the authorities are on top of this case. According to the reports, the director of the school was questioned prior to the arrest but was not made privy to the charges being investigated, and she was told not to inform parents. Since the investigation is ongoing, the school owner’s role in this situation has yet to be determined. If that report is false, I am sure that the investigation will reveal that fact and the authorities will take the appropriate action.
My concern is that the director of the school is considered guilty by her peers based on hearsay. Imagine how you would feel if one of your faculty members was accused of a similar crime, yet you knew nothing about it. I wouldn’t speculate on anyone’s involvement because I wouldn’t want them to speculate about me in a similar circumstance. I would hope that teachers would offer each other the benefit of the doubt out of respect for their profession and each other.
My advice for handling this situation professionally and ethically is to leave the investigation to the authorities and avoid speculation or gossip. I would remain focused on making my school the best it can be and creating the safest environment possible. All the best to you. —Rhee
I am currently in my 30th year as a studio owner, and I would love to see some dialogue in your magazine about the issue I’m raising. I think it’s time for a conversation about when a student should be considered a professional and should not be competing or eligible for scholarships at conventions. At a recent competition some competing dancers had won on Paula Abdul’s Live to Dance; they have also been on America’s Got Talent, where they made it very far in a group competition. Yes, these children are 11 or 12 years old, but I feel that they have crossed a line into another realm of the dance world.
Also at this competition were dancers who have been on Lifetime TV in a couple of dance-related shows. I only had one soloist compete, and she was that top score, so these dancers were not up against mine. I do plan on talking to the owner of this event since we have a great relationship, and he will understand that I’m looking for a dialogue, not really complaining.
I believe there should be guidelines in the competition world regarding professional status. Even with these televised dance competitions, it’s almost like the difference between a pro golf tour and an amateur tour. Once you turn pro, you can’t do some extra tournaments at the amateur level. Thank you for all you do for the dance world! —Cameron
I’m a little sensitive to this issue because when I was a young dancer participating in dance competitions, there were teachers who wanted my brother Rennie and me kicked out of events because we had been paid to perform in a Nutcracker with a well-known Boston dance company. Rennie’s eligibility to compete was also questioned when he was 10 because he had been paid for performing at a dinner theater. I remember being devastated at the thought that we would not be allowed to compete. I knew that our experiences could be interpreted as professional, but I also understood that we both had a lot to learn in becoming proficient dancers.
Other questions come to mind regarding this subject. Would a young dancer who had performed a tap piece on a professional stage be considered a professional if she performed a contemporary piece at a competition? What about a girl who lands a professional gig at 10 but never gets another job—is she still considered a pro at age 16? Would someone who dances on national TV but wasn’t paid be considered a professional? Would someone who sings or acts at a professional venue be considered a professional in a dance competition?
Through the years I have seen many dancers who have had a great deal of professional experience who are not as technically advanced as others at competitions. If the dancer who has no professional experience is better (from a judge’s viewpoint), then it becomes hard to draw the line between amateur and professional.
Certainly there should be dialogue about the subject, but what we all need to keep in mind is that we are dealing with children. Keeping kids out of a competition simply because they have had some professional experience could hurt those who need the competition experience in order to grow and learn as dancers. I hope this gives you some food for thought about the dancers’ perspective. —Rhee
I am a dance teacher/studio owner, and I have come across the most persistent parents I have ever met in all my years of teaching dance (20-plus)—or school, for that matter. (I taught kindergarten for 12 years.)
These parents have a daughter who turned 4 last spring. They are angry with me and some of my teachers because I will not allow them to enroll their daughter in the beginning ballet class for 6- to 8-year-olds. My teachers and I have tried to explain that although the child is coordinated for a 4-year-old, she is not ready for the rigors of a class with 6- to 8-year-olds. She is not developmentally ready, emotionally or physically, even though she follows directions and is a good listener. Not to mention that there are eight parents with kids in the beginning ballet class who would not be happy if a 4-year-old were in there.
I am a strong believer in developmentally appropriate teaching and training. I pride myself on my school’s strong reputation in the community for having a quality preschool dance program. The 3- to 6-year-old age range is definitely my specialty.
These parents are convinced that their child is leaps and bounds above the other 4-year-olds in the ballet/jazz combo class, both in maturity and ability. They have been clients since their daughter was a year old, in the Mommy and Me classes, but I’m at the point where I want to tell them that my philosophy doesn’t fit with their attitude and that maybe my school isn’t a good fit for them. However, I always try to make things right for my clients and I want to educate them on proper dance training. And I don’t want their daughter to get hurt or learn bad habits that are hard to break.
I have spoken with the parents several times, as have my teachers. Is there an article or anything you can recommend that I can share with them? I know these parents want what is best for their daughter, and so do I.
Thank you for all your inspirational dance sayings and for all the fantastic ideas and information in the magazine each month. —Barbara
Teachers often have to deal with parents who believe that their children should be moved to a higher-level class, but it isn’t often that the request comes from the parents of a 4-year-old. Exposure to movement that is physically inappropriate could damage her young body, not to mention how important it is to build a strong foundation if in fact dance turns out to be this child’s thing. You hit the nail on the head when you said you want what is developmentally appropriate for this child. Moving her up is out of the question.
It may be time to accept that your school can’t offer these parents what they are looking for, especially since you and your faculty have respectfully discussed their concerns without success. You point out that your school is well respected in your community for its successful preschool program. One student or her parents should not deter you from continuing to maintain your quality standards. Your integrity, ethics, and expertise have helped you gain the respect of your community, which is more valuable to your success than any single student. I know it is hard, but your instinct is speaking loud and clear. I wish you all the best. —Rhee
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Why offering employee benefits is a smart move in building your school’s stability and strength
By Misty Lown
There are countless intangible benefits to being a dance teacher, including being a mentor, having a positive influence on students, creating, expressing yourself through movement, and introducing children to the joy of dance. But there are practical issues to contend with when choosing this path—a traditionally low-paying one that offers few full-time, benefited opportunities—as a career.
But studio owners take note: it is not only possible, but also advantageous, to provide benefits to your employees. Let me explain why.
I started my dance studio when I was 21. I was a college student and so were most of my employees. As we moved toward graduation, I began to see that as a studio owner, I had a career path—but most of the teachers I employed just had a job, so they began looking for careers as well. I realized that I was going to experience a continual revolving door of talented teachers if I didn’t provide them with the same opportunities for stability that I was creating for myself.
My desire to keep teachers long-term went much deeper than trying to merely avoid costly turnover, however. More important, I realized that continuity in staffing would have a positive impact on studio morale, our reputation in the community, and student development as well. The dance studio world is built on relationships, so providing consistency for students was a must for me. Nobody wants to work, or study, in an environment where you never know who will be teaching from year to year.
Continuity in staffing would have a positive impact on studio morale, our reputation in the community, and student development as well.
Conversations with employees revealed that having access to benefits, even more so than premium wages, was a “big rock issue” (a term I affectionately use to describe a business obstacle that has to be resolved before moving on with the mission at hand).
And the biggest rock? Health insurance. In our society, having health insurance offers security, so this is a big deal for employees and the first benefit barrier I chose to tackle.
After much discussion with an insurance agent, I decided on a group plan and made it available to the three employees who met the eligibility requirement. Eligibility was defined as having been employed for 90 days and maintaining 30 hours of work per week (full time at my school). I contributed half of the premium and my employees paid the other half.
Soon, however, I sensed trouble. With only three people on the plan, it didn’t take very many doctor visits for everyone’s rates to rise. Group plans work on the premise of spreading the risk and expense of everyone’s care across the membership. With so few members in our group, this wasn’t a sustainable model for us.
I sought the advice of my accountant, and with her help we restructured the health insurance benefit as a “bonus.” In the new model, I still paid for half of the premium, but only up to a certain amount, and the employees chose their own individual health plans. The advantage to me was immediate. I was now able to predict and control expenses and employees were able to choose their own providers and premium levels—a win–win setup that we have had in place now for more than 10 years.
I stumbled into my next benefit offering by accident. It was April 15, 2005, and I was in my accountant’s office discussing ways to mitigate a tax liability. She suggested that I could reduce my taxes by making a contribution to a retirement account. I set up a retirement account immediately.
However, in my haste, I set up a different kind of account than I had been instructed to do. I got a surprise when I received paperwork from the bank telling me it was time to make matching contributions for my full-time employees. But I decided to run with it and announced that we were offering a new retirement benefit for our full-time teachers. The response was appreciation and renewed dedication—and I had another win–win for our team. In fact, eight years later, three of the five employees who were eligible for this benefit are still working for the studio. (The other two have since married and moved away.)
As a dance teacher who has taught through five pregnancies and subsequent recoveries, I have real compassion for those trying to balance work and being a new mom. Over the years six teachers, including myself, have worked through a combined total of 12 pregnancies. Offering maternity leave benefits has been a great opportunity to help young families at a very important time in their lives. Each teacher who is expecting receives four weeks of paid maternity leave and the option to take an additional two weeks of unpaid leave. The benefit is available regardless of how many hours per week the teacher works.
This is my personal favorite and one that we have offered our employees since the studio opened in 1998. Each teacher is eligible for $250 to $1,000 per year in tuition reimbursement, depending on how many hours they work per week. The reimbursement can be used for college classes, conferences, conventions, master classes, or other continuing-education opportunities. As with paid time off, requests must be approved 45 days in advance. An additional requirement of this benefit is that the educational opportunity must apply to the employee’s work; documentation of registration must be provided before reimbursement will be made.
This benefit has given many of my employees opportunities they would not have been able to pursue otherwise. Over the years, teachers have taken part in master classes, conventions, dance workshops, and even college classes. Recently four of my performance company teachers went to New York City to take classes, see shows, and get fresh ideas for the season. They came back excited to share their experiences with students.
In another win–win example, my enrollment coordinator went back to school part time this year to pursue a business degree. Not only will she eventually complete a degree that she is proud of, but she will also be learning accounting, which will help her in her role at the studio.
Paid time off
I recently added another level to my school’s benefits program for full-time employees. They receive two weeks of paid time off (PTO) per dance season that can be used to cover vacation, sick days, or personal time. PTO, with the exception of sick days, must be approved in writing 45 days in advance and the employees must make plans for subs to cover their classes or for another employee to cover critical tasks if office work is involved.
This benefit has added a real sense of professionalism to our team. My administrative director has joked that PTO “makes the studio feel like a ‘real job,’ because it is a ‘real job’!” What a true statement. Your employees face the same demands at the studio as they would have at other jobs—timeliness, knowledge, problem solving, producing results, customer service, courtesy, respect, and communication. Plus, they are caring for and inspiring children. Teaching dance is every bit a “real job.”
As studio owners everywhere are grappling with how to attract and retain great employees, benefits are becoming an increasingly important part of the conversation. Jennifer Ness, of Dance Elite and Music in Lynnwood, Washington, is one studio owner who added benefits this year. She decided to offer health and dental coverage to all employees who have been employed for at least 90 days and work at least 35 hours per week.
“This is our first year, and I wish I’d looked into it sooner. I always thought it was out of reach for me because we’re a small business, but it really makes a difference to the employees,” says Ness. And she is just getting started with what she plans to offer. “I would love to have more dedicated teachers, ones who can see a future in teaching and not just a pass-through job while trying to find a ‘real’ job,” she says. She hopes to implement a 401(k) program and a maternity leave policy in the future.
Ness’ comment about the difference having benefits makes for employees is echoed by one of the teachers at my school, Amanda Schams, a former dancer with Madison Ballet. “When I was in search of a teaching position seven years ago, I was pregnant with my first child,” she says. “I did not expect to find a job where pregnancy was not [considered] an inconvenience to the studio and where a paid maternity leave was included. It was a ‘no-brainer’ for me to take a position in a studio that was family friendly—not just for the students, but the staff, too.”
But benefits for teachers are still far from the norm at most dance studios. Because of this, Kayla Wegner—a lifetime dancer and recent college graduate living in Dallas, Texas—is trying to figure out how much of a role teaching dance will have in her future. “It would be much easier to continue teaching if I had access to benefits. Then not only would I be working on my passion, but I’d be working on my future as well.” She adds that if she didn’t have to get another job in order to have benefits, she “would be able to give more focus to teaching. I would view it as more professional.”
Janell Larson, a dance teacher from Plainfield, Illinois, agrees. “In a profession where most of the time you are paid an hourly wage but the time you put in highly exceeds the time you are actually at the studio or face to face with children, benefits are necessary,” she says. “I have been teaching for 14 years in studios across the country, and unfortunately benefits don’t usually come with a studio teaching job. If I did not have a husband who provides health benefits, I would most likely not be in this profession.”
Consider it an investment
At a time when many studio owners are struggling to find and retain good teachers, giving experienced, talented employees a compelling reason to stay at your school is a goal worth pursuing. You don’t have to offer every benefit and you don’t have to do it all at once. Talk to your teachers, prioritize their needs, and then work toward adding at least one benefit to your budget for 2013.
Offering benefits is also a way to professionalize our industry and counter the image of dance teachers as people who just have a hobby or can’t do anything “better.” Access to benefits gives those who choose to teach dance—even though they could very well pursue other professional tracks—the professional respect and compensation they deserve.
Thanks to teacher Jeannie Hill, jazz dance at UW–Stevens Point has a Siegenfeld twist
By Maureen Janson
In a dance studio at the University of Wisconsin–Stevens Point (UWSP), enthusiastic voices call and respond in a rhythmic scat-singing pattern. Sounds like these are more often heard in a music class, but these voices emanate from a Jump Rhythm® Technique (JRT) class taught by associate professor Jeannie Hill. She is one of a handful of college-level teachers in the country instructing young movers in this unique method.
JRT, Hill explains, “is an approach to movement training that builds on the way your body wants to move. Students learn to express energy by moving rhythm-first,” responding to their own vocalized rhythmic patterns rather than fitting imitated shapes into rhythms.
The technique was developed by Billy Siegenfeld in the 1990s. A New York–based teacher and dance professor at Hunter College in the early ’90s, Siegenfeld was driven by a fascination with Fred Astaire, a love of jazz music, and a curiosity about how his own body naturally wanted to move. “Fred Astaire was very stylish, but he moved in a pedestrian way, and with a sense of great purpose and musicality. There was always a reason behind why he was dancing,” Hill says.
Striving to combine that sense of purpose with emotional expression in his own body, Siegenfeld shifted away from classical training and toward natural, rhythmic movement. Over time he codified and, in 2011, trademarked a method with well-articulated principles, designed to help dancers achieve a sense of freedom, articulation, and meaning.
Hill’s path to JRT began when, as a youngster, she was driven to discover styles of dancing beyond ballet after a disappointing audition for the School of American Ballet. She studied theater at the University of Vermont and pursued her passion for dance in Boston and ultimately, New York City. Drawn to New York jazz/tap teacher Bob Audy’s classes, Hill encountered Audy’s combination of classic jazz style and a tap dancer’s musical sensibility, which would become one of her guiding influences.
Vocalizing in class can be uncomfortable for some dancers, but Hill says it helps them define physical movement accents and unlock emotional expression.
It was also in Audy’s class that she met Siegenfeld and began to study with him. Siegenfeld had a jazz piano player accompanist, she recalls, “and he was working with movement that was like Astaire, and I thought that was the coolest thing ever. For me, that combined my rhythmic interests and style interests.”
After studying with Siegenfeld for about a year, Hill and a friend asked him to teach them a routine that they could perform in Vermont. Although her friend had to bow out because of an injury, Hill kept going. “It became a duet with Billy, which we performed—and that was the beginning of the company, Jump Rhythm Jazz Project [JRJP],” she says.
It was 1990, and Siegenfeld had not set out to start a company at that time. But, Hill explains, “everywhere he was taking class, people were telling him to turn out and do ballet. He just wanted to get down and dance. He was trying to figure out how to dance naturally.”
The company grew and toured, and when Siegenfeld accepted an academic job at Northwestern University and the company shifted its base to Chicago in 1993, Hill continued performing with the company but began to reevaluate staying in New York.
In 2002, after her daughter was born, and with Siegenfeld’s encouragement, Hill pursued an academic career. Ready to leave New York, she joined the faculty at UWSP in 2004. At that point she stopped touring with JRJP, although she remains very much affiliated with the company. Hill returns each summer to “recharge” by teaching, studying, and performing as part of the JRJP summer intensive program.
Finding rhythm in the body
At UWSP, Hill has diversified the predominantly ballet- and modern-dance–focused dance major program, teaching, among other things, several levels of jazz. The JRT training Hill brings to the department further requires that dancers develop versatility and open-mindedness, qualities that help make them well-rounded artists.
In her introductory-level class for theater majors and non-dance majors, Hill enjoys both the demands and the rewards of teaching the students who come to the studio. “The actors who are afraid to try to touch their toes are unafraid to scat,” she says. “They’re not afraid to sound weird, whereas trained dancers in more advanced classes are concerned with making a pretty shape and struggle with the vocal exercises.”
Vocalizing in class can be uncomfortable for some dancers, but Hill says it helps them define physical movement accents and unlock emotional expression. “I usually get into it with a simple step-touch,” she explains. “They make vocal sounds and do the steps at the same time. The voice resonates inside the body and that timing can be felt kinesthetically through the moving of the bones in space.”
Hill treats her students like members of a band, so they learn to vocalize as a group and create what she calls “a polymetric soundscape.” Students use this method to improvise movement, then expand on the improvisations to compose and set choreography.
At six foot three inches, recent UWSP graduate James Hansen was concerned about fitting in when he arrived at the school, but he felt at home studying with Hill. “I felt self-conscious about calling myself a dancer because I was a tapper and hadn’t been dancing my entire life,” he explains. “[Hill] inspired me and taught me right away that just because I don’t excel in all styles doesn’t mean I can’t identify myself as a dancer.”
Still, using his voice in a dance class presented emotional obstacles for Hansen. “In [Hill’s] class, you really had to shout. It’s not subtle,” he says. “It was hard for me to let go and risk looking like a fool.”
Despite his initial hesitation, Hansen learned not to censor his vocal sounds and to let them resonate through his gestures. “Vocalizing allowed him to connect body, mind, and soul with confidence and purpose,” says Hill.
When it comes to rhythmic accents, Hill finds that students with hip-hop experience take more naturally to the concepts. “Hip-hoppers appreciate the kinesthetic sensation. They know how to find more detailed rhythms quicker than those who have been shaping their bodies in space,” she says.
However, she adds, “since the contemporary music that the students generally listen to is all duple [in 2/4 or 4/4 time], very square, that makes it difficult for them to hear and feel swing in the body. Sometimes the modern dancers get that faster because they’ve already experienced the concept of using gravity and swinging.”
A JRT class atmosphere is very different from one based on European ideals and a classical aesthetic. Although not opposed to the philosophy that a dancer must have ballet training in order to do jazz dance, Hill does not embrace it. With a focus on kinesthetic awareness, she seldom uses a mirror in class, and she expects both physical and intellectual participation from her students. Hill includes Siegenfeld’s articles in reading assignments, encouraging students to discuss and evaluate their own habits and decision-making, and to mentally and physically examine more efficient ways to dance.
To hone physical articulation, and what Siegenfeld calls “full-bodied rhythm-making,” JRT focuses on a series of six “action-ideas” that form the core of the technique.
1. Being on the beat: working toward clear shifts of weight and rhythm and precise timing with movement.
2. Making clear physical rhythmic accents: using extremities as drumbeaters that play rhythms against actual or imaginary surfaces (drum heads).
3. Using the voice rhythmically: scat singing to clarify body rhythm and enhance expression of human emotion.
4. Understanding musical concepts: analyzing and physicalizing specific musical and energy qualities such as staccato and sforzando.
5. Understanding anatomical concepts: learning about the skeletal and muscular systems and how to use them for efficient, injury-free movement.
6. Expressing energy: training the body to articulate energy, rather than shape.
Hill believes that the philosophical approach of these six action-ideas deepens the level of personal inquiry of dancers. “They have to question and cope with preconceived ideas about dance, which helps them find authenticity and ownership of their actions as performers,” she says.
Some students resist the JRT ideas. “Someone who wants to do high kicks and jumps and split leaps might have a difficult time understanding the value of dropping the weight and being grounded,” says Hill. This is when she asks her students if they think Fred Astaire isn’t a dancer “just because he doesn’t kick higher than 45 degrees.”
Part of a broad approach
Hill now teaches jazz, tap, and theater dance at UWSP. “All of the faculty is focused on anatomical efficiency to some degree. We are all very interested in injury-free dancing,” she says. Modern classes include some release technique, which emphasizes joint articulation, skeletal alignment, and breath. Pilates methodology is also taught.
The dance program draws students with varied stylistic backgrounds and skill levels and aims to provide a broad technical experience. “It’s really about developing the individual,” says Hill. JRT is “a collection of ideas and a philosophy that presents another way to learn, create, and view dancing,” she explains. “At UWSP we have all kinds of bodies, and I think all kinds of bodies are entitled to dance and love it.”
With some know-how and a good digital camera, school photo opportunities abound.
Honing your photography skills can be a great add-on for studio owners or instructors. Even if you’re a point-and-shoot photographer, the sophistication and user-friendliness of digital cameras make capturing everyday events and even special moments at your school possible.
A typical dance school year provides a feast of opportunities for images that you can use to convey the personality and professionalism of your school. And who’s better positioned to record them than yourself? Because you’re a familiar face, your young subjects may be less self-conscious than if they were being photographed by an outsider. Also, you’re there every day, which improves your chances of recording the kind of wonderful, unscripted events that arise around the studio or the beauty captured in a formal photo shot.
Best of all, you know dance. You can anticipate the moment in a leap that will make an optimum photo. And you can explain to your photo subjects what you’re looking for in precise terminology that they understand.
Generally, parents are thrilled to receive images of their child regardless of small flaws. If you’ve captured little Jane’s ear-to-ear grin, they probably won’t fret that you forgot to level out the background.
I’m not suggesting that you can or should do without a professional photographer for certain needs. The ability to obtain specific results, on time and on budget, is what defines a professional. If any of these conditions is a consideration, stick with a professional to ensure a smooth process from beginning to end. Creating a lavish color brochure that you’ll be mailing out for years, for example, is the kind of project for which you’ll want the production savvy of a pro.
That said, it still makes sense to integrate photography into your work routine at the studio. Digital photography has made it easier to obtain good images without years of training. Better cameras, lower prices, plug-and-play technology, and the ease of sharing pictures online all spell out the obvious—opportunity. Of course, it’s important to understand at least the basics of the technical aspects of taking photos. A good place to start is “Digital Photography 101” by Theresa Smerud in the July 2008 Dance Studio Life (available at dancestudiolife.com).
If you feel the need for deeper knowledge, consider a photography course. My advice here is aimed at the intermediate photographer: someone with a basic understanding of lighting, composition, and the technical aspects of a particular camera, as well as an interest in photo-editing software.
Here’s how my wife, Kehree Lacasse, and I handle photographic projects at Vanleena Dance Academy. Kehree co-directs the school, in North Vancouver, British Columbia, with her mother, Eileen Vanneck, and I’m in charge of school operations.
How to prepare
Before any photo shoot, communicate your plans in advance to students and parents, explaining how the images will be used and when they will get to view them. We strive not to oversell our abilities—it’s better to have customers pleasantly surprised by the quality of the finished product. Generally, parents are thrilled to receive images of their child regardless of small flaws. If you’ve captured little Jane’s ear-to-ear grin, they probably won’t fret that you forgot to level out the background. Most defects can be corrected with photo-editing software, but your goal should be to get it right the first time. Our approach is limited post-production changes and no cost for the parent—just a souvenir.
In preparation for your photo shoot, you have to choose between natural or studio lighting. Natural lighting seems like the easier choice and certainly can give exquisite results; the drawback is that sunlight can be unpredictable. Generally speaking, the midday hours are not the best for natural-light photography because the sun creates harsh shadows as it beams over the nose and eyes. Our studio has a beautiful window that brightens morning classes, and we’ve used that classroom many times for photo shoots, but usually with a backup plan in case the quality of light isn’t what we want. Try experimenting with taking pictures using only natural light in a classroom at different times of day. Once you have discovered a room that works well, you can build around that knowledge.
However, most studios don’t have the right lighting conditions for photography, producing dull skin tones and poor exposures. Studio lights will solve that problem and most important, create the same lighting conditions over and over. The trick is the setup.
Kehree and I discuss a shoot a week in advance, each arriving with our own checklist. Hers includes the theme, communication with the students, and camera-related tasks like ensuring that the batteries are charged, memory cards are empty, and costumes are brought out of storage. She will also decide on the backdrop, which can be a simple colored paper or cloth product (owned or rented). On my end, I set up the studio lights and rig the backdrop the day before the shoot. I usually do this at night with our maintenance man and it’s worth the cost; coordinating free help with parent volunteers or students is an extra step and involves too much time on my part that could be better spent.
Once the setup is done, we do some test shots. Some people do the tests on the day of the shoot, using the first student, but that usually means a reshoot for that student and is a waste of time.
The shoots, which are optional for the students, are scheduled with availability and age-appropriateness in mind. We avoid early morning because students have that “sleepy” look. Teenagers love to do shoots later in the evening. Preschoolers should be scheduled after a good meal. A typical shoot for 20 students will take three to four hours with an additional hour at each end for setup and strike.
On shoot day the photographer has to be upbeat, creative, and adaptable to the many students. We use a studio large enough to accommodate the equipment and all students. Costumes are brought to the room beforehand and students are expected to have their hair and makeup done. When we do ballet exam pictures for 5- to 19-year-olds (just before or after the examination), makeup is very light and can be done in the lobby.
The room buzzes as students warm up and practice their poses. We set the lights on the first student (typically not in costume), look at the images, and double-check the camera settings. Once the settings are locked in, we shoot the first student’s portraits. We typically redo that student at the end of the shoot to ensure that she benefits from having seen the others and is more relaxed.
Capturing the moment with your camera will take practice—some cameras have delays that make capturing fast action difficult, but better cameras are much more responsive. (We use a Canon EOS 5D and are happy with it, but other choices abound.) Finding the right camera for your needs may require several trips to the store.
Your best efforts won’t yield the best results if you haven’t prepped your students. Before headshot sessions, for example, discuss your expectations and offer guidance on makeup and hair styling. With portraiture, posture is very important. Have students lean slightly forward and avoid looking down or pressing a hand into the chin, which creates creases in the skin.
At the beginning of the year each student enrolled in our Pre-Professional Day Program is provided with a large, blank hardcover album. Prints of the students, generally 8 by 10 inches, get added to the album as they participate each month or so in photo shoots with varying themes: modeling, headshots, class pictures, location shots, and of course dance photography. After each shoot, each student receives one or two 8-by-10 prints free of charge to be included in the album. We typically have extra prints made and displayed in the studio lobby.
The albums stay at the studio and are handed out at the holiday season to be shared with family and friends. They are returned to the studio in January and given to the students at the end of the year. Each album contains 20 to 30 images, usually including a portrait of the whole group. Extra copies can be ordered for $10 each. Students love to receive low-resolution images (at no cost to them) to post on their Facebook accounts.
Summer camps offer a good environment for practicing your photography in a relaxed atmosphere. We try to use natural light as often as we can in the summer for camp shots; the children respond better than they do in front of intimidating flashes. We typically go to a park for lunch or breaks and we sometimes plan for pictures while we’re there. (Bring along another teacher or teacher assistant to keep an eye on the group so you can concentrate on getting great shots.)
Camp students may be new to the studio or unfamiliar with you. Be patient and expect the unexpected. We find that parents and siblings are usually available as well, so the opportunity is there for candid family portraits. We offer each student an 8-by-10 print without charge as a souvenir (extra copies can be ordered) or incorporate the image as part of a craft project.
Candid publicity shots
Candid images are fun and bring back memories of a class or an event. These images can be used, with permission, for publicity purposes in pamphlets, posters, or on the studio website. Candid images taken during our preschool dance classes have been a big hit with parents. No special setup is required; these are just images of students having fun. We give prints to each child’s parents.
For sharing candid shots, we use a password-protected Flickr account. If a picture would be great for marketing we ask the children’s parents for permission to use it.
At a recent fair, we set up a photo booth where children could pose with one of our young ballerinas. The setup was very simple, with a typical display board and table. Our students were radiant and the children beamed with excitement. We emailed a souvenir photo to each child’s parent. It was a fun event and a simple way to make new contacts.
Recital program cover
For images for your recital program’s cover or other times when high quality is essential, I suggest hiring a professional photographer. Why? Because the task is time sensitive and requires a specific result. However, should you attempt such shoots on your own, give yourself an early deadline so that if your images don’t pan out, you can call in a pro and still meet your printing deadline. Remember, the more you know about photography the more effectively you can communicate with a professional and understand the limitations encountered—which ultimately produces a better product.
By Eileen Glynn
A large antique cabinet, half of it painted in hot pink, dominates the dance studio floor. Brushes, sanders, and carpentry tools crowd a long workman’s table that’s been pushed up against the wall. Across the room, the studio’s mirrors are covered by a large chalkboard just waiting to be scrawled over with to-do lists.
Once the cabinet has been fully refurbished, it will await a buyer in one of four adjacent studios, alongside antique dressers, lighting fixtures, credenzas, and trunks. In the meantime, it will be admired by a steady stream of dance students. What? A dance studio/furniture store? In Manhattan? Yes and yes.
The unusual yet successful business model is the brainchild of studio owner Nathan Hescock, a professional ballroom dancer who began selling refurbished vintage furniture more than seven years ago as an outgrowth of the dance studio business he had been running for nearly a decade. Today his suite of studios in midtown Manhattan houses two sister companies: Rhythm Break Productions, which caters to aspiring ballroom dancers and wedding-dance clients, and Furnish Green.
Each venture requires a large, open space—whether for practicing dance steps or for showcasing furniture. Given the exorbitant price of Manhattan real estate, it made perfect sense to Hescock to fold the two businesses into one location, especially because the peak hours of operation for each enterprise differ. “We basically do the furniture during the day and the dance at night. This was a synergistic way to run both businesses together,” says Gail Bourque Fink, business manager of Rhythm Break Productions’ dance studio operations.
What? A dance studio/furniture store? In Manhattan? Yes and yes.
The businesses tend not to overlap, but if customers do come by to look at furniture during class time, then everyone simply exchanges a quick greeting and carries on with what they are doing. The furniture lines the walls of the studios in an artful way, giving the space an elegant “living room” feeling. Vintage bridal magazines are placed around the furniture for an added touch. Hescock says, “It works out well, with the atmosphere of wedding-dance lessons, to have antique furniture around. And it’s interesting for our regular dance students, because what you see this week isn’t what you’ll see next week.”
Occasionally dance students will purchase a piece of furniture they spot in the studio; at other times, customers see the dance lessons going on and decide to sign up for classes themselves.
The businesses don’t interfere with each other; in fact they’re mutually beneficial. The income from Furnish Green enables Hescock to maintain five studio spaces and offer private lessons exclusively (one couple per instructor). According to Fink, the furniture business “affords the opportunity for students to have the studio all to themselves, which is rare in New York.” In most ballroom dance studios, many couples share the same lesson and everyone has to dance to the same music.
“I’ve worked at big studios in New York City where there were a lot of people going in and out. It felt impersonal at times. So I wanted to create a more personal space for people to dance,” Hescock says. “At many studios, the students are sharing the floor with semi-pros and with dancers who are prepping for competition. It can be very intimidating.”
Hescock strives to provide a relaxed teaching environment. “I really don’t train dancers toward competition. We’re in Manhattan; there are plenty of studios that are geared toward that. Besides, if we were a competition studio, then I couldn’t have furniture in here. We’d do a foxtrot and knock everything over,” he says with a laugh. Besides, Hescock enjoys the social and recreational aspects of ballroom dance more than the competitive side. “I grew up with people who had ballroom dance in their lives in a social way, so that is more interesting for me,” he says. “Growing up in a dance studio in Union City, New Jersey, I’d pay for my lessons by dancing with all the ladies at the Friday and Saturday night socials.”
Hescock brings his appreciation for the social aspects of ballroom dance to several distinct branches of his business. Rhythm Break Productions is an umbrella organization that oversees New York Partner Dance, New York Wedding Dance, Rhythm Break Entertainment, and Rhythm Break Cares. New York Partner Dance and New York Wedding Dance offer exclusively private lessons for either recreation or wedding preparation. Rhythm Break Entertainment provides skilled ballroom dance performers for parties and promotional events, while Rhythm Break Cares is a not-for-profit dance therapy program for patients with Alzheimer’s disease.
Hescock’s refurbished furniture provides an especially welcoming environment for his clients with Alzheimer’s and their caregivers. “We host a tea dance and they feel very comfortable here because the vintage furniture was their furniture and the music we play was their music,” he says. “People with Alzheimer’s can often feel very lost. We use the elements of partner dance—like touch and rhythm—to help them move to the music. And, for the caregivers, who are often the spouses, they get an opportunity to come to a tea dance and to dance with their loved one in a romantic way.”
Having multiple dance businesses enabled Hescock to launch his furniture business slowly and carefully, which ultimately led to its success. “The dance studio really helped me formulate a model for Furnish Green. If I had just opened a giant furniture store on the street, with lots of overhead, then I would not have had a lot of time to make adjustments,” he explains. “So the dance studio has allowed time and space for the furniture business to grow.”
According to Hescock, street-level real estate in Manhattan ranges from $65 to $100 per square foot, while upper-floor real estate ranges from $35 to $50 per square foot. “The reason furniture is often so expensive in Manhattan is because the square footage for a showroom is so expensive,” Hescock says. “Since I was able to simply line the walls of my dance studios with furniture, then I could experiment with a lower price point. I look at my competition. If they were offering a dresser from the 1920s for $700, then I would charge $300.”
Furnish Green’s competitive prices and its environmentally friendly policy of salvaging furniture for resale has made it very popular. Hescock began by simply listing individual pieces for sale on Craigslist. Success soon led to a website, to repeat customers, and to a staff of four. (Another 10 people work on the dance side of the business.) “The idea that you can get affordable vintage furniture in Manhattan, and the fact that it is green, or recycled, really strikes a chord,” Hescock says.
Hescock scours estate sales looking for interesting antiques to refurbish. Some items receive a bold coat of paint, while others have parts that need to be strengthened or fixed. Still other items are not only refurbished but repurposed. A trunk with wheels added becomes a table that can be used for storage. A Singer sewing machine with the bottom end of a bed frame fastened on top makes a quirky and interesting table.
Working with furniture draws on a different aspect of Hescock’s creativity and offers balance in his career. “Being a dancer, I’ve always had a creative itch. Being able to dance and work on furniture is a healthy balance for me. At the age I’m at,” the 46-year-old says, “I could have burned out if I was just dancing the whole time. Balance gives you longevity.”
Hescock is not aware of another dance studio with a business model like his, although he does know of studios with two dance-related businesses in the same location. His advice to dual-business owners is simple. “Do what you are passionate about. Most people who open a dance studio do so because they are passionate about it,” he says. “You have to have a similar feeling about the second business in order to absorb the learning curve that it brings. As long as what you do is your passion, then it doesn’t feel like work.”
Hescock acknowledges that running two businesses at once is a large commitment that requires excellent time management skills, dedication, and flexibility. Nevertheless, he says the reward is worth the effort. “I’m always being stimulated. I’m still a ballroom instructor. I’m still teaching classes—which feels great. And I get to say, ‘I’m dancing and I just got this awesome credenza!’ ”
By Julie Holt Lucia
I once had a ballet teacher who made up what I thought was an uproarious metaphor: she asked me to pretend that I had a little bird on my shoulder that would chirp reminders in my ear throughout class. Use your center! Chin up! Lengthen your back! Stretch your ankles! My bird was certainly busy.
Looking back (and now seeing it from a teacher’s point of view), I can appreciate where she was coming from. Not only do I wish my students had their own little birds, I wish their parents did too. In fact, I wish I had a personal, chirping guide for every potential customer who walked in the door.
As it so happens, there is a little bird that can help keep your customers informed and do much more—Twitter. As you probably know, it’s a micro-blogging social network whose logo is a bird, and the messages exchanged are called “tweets.” But have you thought about it as a marketing tool for your dance studio? Twitter can reach your customer base and beyond, giving your school a connection to prospective customers, your customers’ family members and friends, and other dance organizations.
Every time you tweet you are marketing your school, so keep your messages positive, likable, helpful, and engaging.
Twitter’s signup process is simple; you register with an email address and create a unique username and password. You then choose your primary language and time zone, and decide if you want to “protect” your tweets. Protecting your tweets allows you to control who sees your messages; for a business though, keep in mind that choosing this feature could severely limit your audience.
Next you’ll need to set up a profile page. This is the information available to the public, so you’ll want to display your studio name, website, and a short description (called a “bio”). You can also add to your website a Twitter logo button that links to your account, which can help connect you to potential customers.
One of the first things you’ll notice on Twitter is that you have a newsfeed, similar to Facebook’s but much faster paced. You can choose people or businesses to “follow” by using Twitter’s search feature, and the tweets of those you are following will show up on your newsfeed. Likewise, when people choose to follow you, your tweets will show up on their newsfeeds.
As you compose your first message, remember that tweets are limited to 140 characters. This feature is one of Twitter’s hallmarks—messages should be eye-catching and short, allowing users to quickly scan their newsfeeds for interesting tidbits of information.
Two other unique Twitter features are mentions and hashtags. You can “mention” another Twitter user by placing an “at” symbol (@) before their username, which will alert them to your tweet and allow them to reply. Adding a hashtag symbol (#) before a word or phrase helps categorize your tweet, allowing others to click on the hashtagged subject and find similar tweets. For example, this tweet uses both mentions and hashtags: “Wow, what wonderful service today at @ABCDanceStore! #pointeshoes #customerservice.”
Every time you tweet you are marketing your school, so keep your messages positive, likable, helpful, and engaging. Twitter can be an excellent way to educate your customers about dance in general, while establishing a strong online presence for your school. It is a great way to hold your customers’ interest outside of the studio and get them talking (or tweeting!) about your business in a constructive way.
Try tweeting links to interesting dance stories, reviews, videos, or tutorials. You could also tweet special offers or discounts and reminders about registration, upcoming performances, or fund-raisers. Twitter works best when you use it frequently (users’ newsfeeds move in real time), so if it’s too much work to maintain it yourself, delegate tweeting to a trusted employee who understands your studio’s mission and customer base.
Do keep your tweets from becoming too detailed, and don’t tweet anything you wouldn’t put on your website. Remember that unless you have protected your tweets, anyone can view them—including random strangers and your competitors.
These days, marketing comes in many forms, and Twitter’s uniqueness and popularity make it an important opportunity to explore. A basic Twitter account is free, accessible, and easy to set up. Listen to your own little bird and go tweet!
Owner and instructor, For A Dancer Inc., Warrenton, Virginia
NOMINATED BY: Kristy Stumpf, parent: “Rachel is the most caring individual I have ever met. My girls started going to her when they were 2 and a half and 3; they are now 8 and 11. Both are on her competition dance team. Rachel gives up so many of her hours for her students. Her class for special-needs students gives those kids the opportunity to dance and perform in our annual dance recital.
My children have learned to embrace dance and how to put it to use in their everyday life. The studio is their second home. I am happy knowing that is where they want to be in their free time; that is all because of her. She is dramatic—aren’t all dance teachers?—but at the same time she recognizes when a child needs to be given a hug because maybe her day did not go so well. She knows each and every child and all of their quirks.”
YEARS TEACHING: Approximately 19 years
GENRES TAUGHT: Jazz, tap, ballet, lyrical, modern, and hip-hop
AGES TAUGHT: 3 to adult
WHY SHE CHOSE TEACHING AS A CAREER: I have loved dance since I was introduced to it at age 3. I have always wanted to share my passion and love of dance with my daughters and others. I really think dance chose me. Dance is my life, my passion, and my love. There was no other career for me.
HER GREATEST INSPIRATIONS: The art of dance inspires me. Buffa Hargett was the dance instructor who inspired me to open a studio of my own. My college professors filled me with passion and inspired me to dance outside the box. Today, my daughters and my students inspire me to always do better, learn more, love life.
TEACHING PHILOSOPHY: Have fun; learn technique. Live life with passion, love, and kindness. I teach my students with respect and love. They show me the same, and I am pleased to say that they grow to show others.
WHAT MAKES HER A GOOD TEACHER: I listen to my students. Hearing their wants and desires for life and dance helps me to teach them the art of dance and also life lessons. Watching my students grow into amazing leaders in their schools and communities lets me know that I have been a good influence in their lives.
FONDEST TEACHING MEMORY: The first recital my special-needs students participated in. I was unsure how they would handle the pressure of being in front of such a large audience, with the bright lights and loud sound system. I was also not sure how the audience would react; I prayed for them to be positive for my kids. In the end, it was amazing! They performed beautifully, with innocence and passion for dance and life, and received a standing ovation. They love to perform and count down the months until their next recital.
ADVICE TO TEACHERS AND STUDENTS: Teachers: you will never please everybody. You must be yourself; don’t get lost in the business. Keep your passion and love for dance alive through your students. Students: you can do it! Love what you are doing and always try harder. You are successful because you are who you are.
IF SHE COULDN’T BE A DANCE TEACHER: In some way I would have to be involved with dance and children. That is what I live and breathe. It is what I know and love. I hope I never have to know the answer to this question.
DO YOU KNOW A DANCE TEACHER WHO DESERVES TO BE IN THE SPOTLIGHT? Email your nominations to Arisa@rheegold.com or mail them to Arisa White, Dance Studio Life, P.O. Box 2150, Norton, MA 02766. Please include why you think this teacher should be featured, along with his or her contact information.
Words from the publisher
This month we zero in on creativity, which immediately brings to mind the artistic aspects of dance education. But creativity is a state of mind that can flow into all areas of life, including our attitudes toward our businesses. Being creative means being open to possibilities and exploring options. So let’s look at how that mind-set can play out in these imaginary scenarios involving two studio owners.
Mary Jones knew early in life that she was going to be a dance teacher. At 5, after her first pre-ballet class, she told her mom she was going to have a dance school someday. After years of training she went on to college, earning a degree in dance. She launched her school 20 years ago, the first one in her town, confident that she would offer her students a quality dance education.
And she did. Her success could be measured over the years, as she expanded from one teacher and a single classroom to a faculty of seven and three classrooms. But now, although Mary continues to enjoy the loyalty of those in the community who have longtime ties to her, the newer schools in the area are attracting the next generation of students.
Mary believes her school is the best, and she’s threatened by the competitors who have moved into her territory. She’s angry, but she has dug in her heels and resisted change. Her faculty has suggested that she expand the school’s curriculum with hip-hop or contemporary to attract the students who want to train in those popular dance genres. But Mary refuses. “We teach real dance here,” she says.
Susie Smith’s story is similar to Mary’s, except that two of the new schools in her community are owned by her former students. Like Mary, she was unhappy. But since she believes hers is the best school around, she decided that she certainly could keep up with the competition—after all, she had more than 20 years of experience that her competitors did not. So she hired some hip-hop and contemporary dance teachers and became more active in her community, volunteering her students for performances and benefits and choreographing a high school musical. She decided to put her years of experience front and center in her community, where her potential clientele could see them.
Susie also revised her marketing strategies and became more organized. She explores new program concepts to attract new students and attends as many continuing-education opportunities as possible. Facing the challenge of her competitors has motivated her to stay on top of the evolving dance scene.
The difference here is in perspective. We are not beaten unless we allow ourselves to be. Mary isn’t open to change, while Susie is growing and learning in her quest to stay on top. Susie faced a problem with an open mind and looked for ways to overcome it. It’s not choreography. It’s not a brilliant stage concept. But you could say it’s yet another way to be creative.
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It was another inspirational weekend at the DanceLife Retreat Center in Norton, Massachusetts, when dance studio owners from across the country learned how to make their studio’s competition experience a positive, enriching, and educational experience for all involved.
Listen to what attendees had to say on Facebook:
Ashlee Morgan Russ: “I am so glad I made the decision to attend this retreat! Being a new studio and business owner, I wasn’t sure if attending would be beneficial just 3 months in. I learned so much and am so glad I had the opportunity to come, learn, and gain valuable knowledge for next year and the future! Thank you, Rhee, and everyone who attended this weekend to make it a great experience!”
Marissa Salemi: “Had such an amazing weekend full of inspiration and laughs. Thank you, Rhee, for being such a great mentor to us all! I often go through many of my challenges thinking, ‘WWRD—What would Rhee do?’ throughout the year. It always makes me think how you would react to the situation and then I’m instantly pushed back into the right frame of mind and my ‘confidence’ is restored. From the bottom of my heart, thank you! Can’t wait to come back this summer!”
Jen Turey Draghi: “Thanks Rhee and everyone for all your insight and guidance this past weekend. Totally just sent a ‘thanks for emailing and bringing this to my attention; others may have the same concern; let’s find a time to meet and discuss this with your daughter’ email. We’ll see if they book a meeting. . . . Have a great week everyone! I know that I’m very thankful to have such amazing people like you in my life, even if it’s only one weekend at a time.”
Teachers and studio owners who have had the pleasure of attending one or more of Rhee Gold’s motivational and informational events—the DanceLife Teacher Conference, perhaps, or a Project Motivate—recognize the knowledgeable and experienced dance educators who play such a big role in making these events a success.
Three of these familiar faces will be on hand during next summer’s DLTC, scheduled for August 1 to 4 at the Phoenician Resort in Scottsdale, Arizona. Recital presenter-extraordinaire Hedy Perna, co-director of the Perna Dance Center in Hazlet, New Jersey for 23 years, will again share her secrets to recital success: such as how to “wow” your audiences with props, sets, and scenery.
The husband-and-wife team of Maureen Gelchion and Tony Corso of Astoria Dance Centre Inc. will also be on hand with stories and advice they have collected over the past three decades as studio co-directors. Gelshion received her BA from Queens College, while Corso (a member of SAG and Actors Equity) received his BA in theater arts from the State University of New York at Stony Brook. Their school has a full curriculum of dance styles, as well as an acting, music, and voice program.
Don’t miss out! Register today at http://www.dancelifeteacherconference.com/.
Dance Studio Life magazine wouldn’t be filled with all the insightful and inspirational stories it is without the generosity of teachers and studio owners from across the country who agree to share their stories with DSL and its readers.
This is particularly true of the monthly Thinking Out Loud (TOL) feature, written by studio teachers, owners, professional dancers, friends of dance, and even students. The stories—sometimes humorous, sometimes poignant—might feature the re-telling of an experience or hard lesson learned, reminisce about a mentor, speak about a challenge fought and overcome . . . or even air a gripe!
The editorial staff is always on the looking for new TOL columns, about 700 words spoken from the heart. Submitting is easy: just email the column with your contact information to Cheryl@rheegold.com. We hope to hear from you soon!
Hurricane Sandy swamped Christine Mignone’s Midland Beach dance studio on Staten Island, New York, warping floors, waterlogging equipment, and rendering it a total loss.
“Everything is destroyed,” Mignone, who’s operated Bedazzle Dance Studio on Midland Avenue for eight years and teaches more than 200 students, told Staten Island Live. “This is my whole life. I’m trying to find a space to rent in the meantime.”
Mignone is among countless Staten Islanders trying to pick up the pieces of their battered businesses in the wake of the devastating storm. To aid in the recovery, the U.S. Small Business Administration is making low-interest disaster loans of up to $2 million available to borough businesses.
The disaster aid is available to all five boroughs and several surrounding counties in the state.
The administration also offers economic injury disaster loans to help meet working capital needs caused by the disaster, regardless of whether property damage was suffered. In addition, disaster loans of up to $200,000 are available to homeowners for damaged or destroyed real estate. Homeowners and renters are also eligible to apply for up to $40,000 for personal property damages and repairs.
Residents and business owners who suffered storm-related losses can also apply for aid through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). FEMA assistance includes grants for temporary housing and home repairs, low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses, and other programs.
Applications for Small Business Administration disaster loans can be submitted electronically via the administration’s secure website, https://disasterloan.sba.gov/ela. The deadline to file for physical damage is December 31.
To apply for FEMA aid, register online at www.disasterassistance.gov or call 800.621.FEMA (3362).
To see the original story, visit http://www.silive.com/news/index.ssf/2012/11/federal_aid_available_for_stat.html.
The $32 million renovation project that transformed Union Station’s dilapidated former power plant into the stunning new home of the Kansas City Ballet has been honored by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
The Kansas City Star reports that The National Trust awarded its preservation honor award for the “conscientious transformation” of the brick building that now houses the Todd Bolender Center for Dance and Creativity.
The 52,000-square-foot structure, which opened in 1914 as a coal-fired power plant, had been vacant since the 1970s. The renovated building opened in September 2011.
Jeffrey Bentley, executive director of the ballet, said the company was delighted with its new home. “When we first looked at the building, we knew it met all the requirements for a new home for us,” Bentley said in a statement. “But standing there looking at the decay of the abandoned Power House and trying to envision the building filled with dancers and children and creative beauty made it seem like an outlandish idea.
“We couldn’t be happier with the results.”
To read the full story, visit http://www.kansascity.com/2012/10/30/3893228/ballet-home-gets-historic-preservation.html#storylink=cpy.
Dance teachers and studio owners know the DanceLife Teacher Conference is about more than technique and studio talk—it’s also coming face-to-face with the business and service people who keep the dance studio industry rolling.
DLTC vendors representing a wide range of industry products are more than happy to answer questions and discuss options with attendees. Many, such as costume companies, bring along actual products for teachers to peruse or purchase, while others offer “conference specials” or provide free samples. Special “Meet the Vendor” seminars allow attendees to learn about new products or special services in informal, chatty sessions where everyone—vendors and teachers—get to know each other a bit better.
Vendors already lined up for next summer’s DLTC include: Art Stone/The Competitor, BA Star, Celebrity Dance Competitions, Cicci Dance Supplies, Contest of Champions, Costume Gallery, CostumeManager.com, Curtain Call, Dance Era, Dance the Magic, Dance the World, Dancers Inc., Dansco, Express Payroll, Four Seasons Tours/Rock The Boat Cruises, International Dance Challenge, Jackrabbit Dance, Jay Distributors, Magic Kingdom of Dance, M & I Dancewear, Markel Insurance, Not Just Great Dancing, Pacific Floor Company Inc., Revolution Dancewear, Stagedoor Connections, Stagestep, Statler Music, Theatricals Dance Footwear, Twinkle Star Dance, Weissman Costumes, and Yofi Cosmetics Inc.
The DLTC is set for August 1 to 4, 2013, at the Phoenician Resort in Scottsdale, Arizona. To register, visit http://www.dancestudiolife.com/dltc/dltc-fees-info/. To learn more about becoming a vendor, visit http://www.dancestudiolife.com/dltc/dltc-vendors/.
Inspired by the posters and T-shirts shown on the Dance Studio Life Facebook page? Visit the Rhee Gold Company online store on www.PositiveDance.com and bring some of that inspiration into your studio today.
Not only will you find the latest designs in inspirational T-shirts: from “I’m a dance teacher. I change the world.” to “Dance Mom: Proud no matter what the score,” but Gold’s line of four high-quality 18″ by 24″ posters featuring stunning dance shots and motivational prose are also available. There’s even a shirt for those loyal, supportive Dance Dads.
Follow the link to “classroom products” and peruse music offerings for class and recital from Statler Records, plus Cindy Hollingsworth’s 17 original children’s songs for preschool dance. And of course, there’s a link to PB & J Dancemates’ dance-inspired gifts such as encouragement stickers, books, and posters.
Don’t forget to visit often—new products are always in the works!
Thousand Oaks [CA] Girl Scout Lauren James’ Gold Award project, a conversion of the MATES Elementary School kitchen area into a dance studio, was a yearlong achievement that will benefit the school, as well as dance teacher Karen Kernan, reports the Ventura County Star.
In her seven years at the school, Kernan never had a designated space in which to teach. “I’ve taught outside, in the lunch area, in between the book fair and science fair. I’ve been shuffled everywhere,” she said.
No more. With donations for goods and services and a garage sale that James held, she set about to fulfill the requirements for the project for the Gold Award—the highest Girl Scout award. It had to both benefit the community and be sustainable. The studio will accomplish that.
The 30-foot by 24-foot area James had to work with was being used as a storage room before she got her hands on it. James, her parents, sister, and Girl Scout Troop 60133 spent three months cleaning out the room on Saturdays. James tore out all the linoleum flooring by herself one Saturday.
“We spent weeks painting and then we had to sand and fill and make sure everything was safe. That was a big thing,” she said. “I had to make sure all the sharp corners were sanded down and the electrical things were capped off, covered and protected. The district had to come out and make sure it was OK to get everything on the walls taken off and plugged up, and that took forever.”
The walls were covered with mirrors and flooring was replaced with high-quality, padded commercial flooring.
Kernan said: “This is a big reward for everyone. It’s a tiny little room, but it’s a big statement about what people can do. Look what this young teenager did. It’s so heartwarming.”
The room was unveiled Friday at the school. To read the full story, visit www.vcstar.com/news/2012/sep/28/girl-scout-spearheads-creation-of-to-schools/#ixzz283bC2VvV.
For 30 years, The Dance Inn has offered students a home away from home—and a wealth of master teachers
By Ryan P. Casey
“Walk like a person!” Thelma Goldberg reminds her students each time her warm-up music begins to play. It is more than a simple instruction. Joining them on the floor, she will not begin drilling rudiments until her dancers are striding with purpose on the downbeat, making eye contact with each other, smiling, and offering friendly greetings.
She is not just teaching them to find the quarter note and stay in time—she is creating a classroom that is a microcosm of the successful studio she has established and the environment in which she thrives: a community where people can congregate to bask in the pure joy of dance.
As she celebrates 30 years as director of The Dance Inn in Lexington and Arlington, Massachusetts, with more than 600 students ages 3 to 83 taking class each week in the two locations, it is clear that her joy has become infectious. The school offers tap, jazz, hip-hop, and ballet (including an all-boys class), plus a class for special-needs children. Company dancers get additional classes in contemporary, modern, and Jump Rhythm Jazz.
It all began in her living room at her first home in Lexington, where she taught 12 children—plus an additional 10 adult students at a nearby home for retired nuns—while on a leave of absence in 1983 from teaching special education in the Boston public schools.
That fall, she secured her own studio space in the basement of what is now the Munroe Center for the Arts. Though discussions with the town have often made uncertain the future of the building and the art programs it houses for the community, Goldberg has remained there ever since. “Knowing that I now have an additional space in Arlington, a neighboring town—combined with my positive outlook—has helped to eliminate any concerns about the future of the studio,” she says. “I absolutely believe that The Dance Inn will always have a home in Lexington.”
The school’s name, she says, “seemed a natural choice because I wanted it to feel like a home away from home, which is what my childhood studio was to me.”
Indeed, Goldberg brought her home with her to the studio, as evidenced by the painted wooden sign bearing the studio name that hangs above one of the rooms—a middle school art project made by her daughter, Robin. Like many successful dance studios, The Dance Inn has been a family affair, with all three of Goldberg’s children training there from an early age.
Both Robin and Goldberg’s younger son, Sebastian, flourished under their mother’s tutelage. Training in tap, jazz, and hip-hop, they became members of the studio’s performing company and later returned as instructors and, in Robin’s case, company manager. Robin has since relocated to San Diego, California, where she continues to teach dance. Sebastian, after spending two years as a dancer for Royal Caribbean, has been featured in Michael Minery’s Tap: The Show in Hershey, Pennsylvania. Elder son Aaron is now a language arts teacher in Florida.
Even Goldberg’s husband of 36 years, Stephen, known affectionately as “Goldie,” has had his share of the spotlight, appearing as Frosty the Snowman in many of the studio’s annual holiday shows.
The studio has become its own little family; 10 of its current and former teachers trained there from a young age. “When I graduated from high school, Thelma would still send me new things she was teaching,” jokes studio manager Jill Jones. “She used to write the tap steps and mail them to me.”
“Thelma definitely has [running a studio] down to a system, and it works,” says Crystal D’Abbraccio, a former company dancer turned company teacher and manager who now primarily teaches young children.
One of Goldberg’s missions is to help young teachers hone the same skills she has learned over the last 30 years. Her experience teaching special education in public schools helped her to develop a methodical approach to teaching dance and a rhythm-based curriculum that takes into account children’s developmental levels and grasp of music theory. The goal is for students to progress through strong technical training that also embraces joyful rhythm making. In-service workshops and frequent meetings with her staff keep the curriculum consistent.
“I’m afraid to stop dancing; I feel like I’ll stop living. So I stay fit and I keep doing it. It’s not exercise; it’s living musically every day.” —Thelma Goldberg
Goldberg is particularly known for her tap curriculum for young as well as university-level students, with a focus on “clarity, timing, technique, style, and musicality,” she says in her syllabuses. She was a guest instructor at the 2011 Tap City festival as part of its tap teachers’ workshop, teaches a weekly class for tap teachers, and is writing a book on her curriculum and thoughts about teaching tap.
Even while teaching tap and jazz 20 hours each week, Goldberg relinquishes no opportunity to learn something new or to take the stage. When she hires a master instructor to lead a workshop, she joins her dancers on the floor. If she takes students to a festival, she is just as likely to take class as she is to teach one.
“I had great role models,” she explains. “My parents danced into old age—my father into his 90s—and my earliest teachers, Grace Bates and Joan O’Brien, always performed in their own shows. I saw how young and fit it kept them. I’m afraid to stop dancing; I feel like I’ll stop living. So I stay fit and I keep doing it. It’s not exercise; it’s living musically every day.”
Goldberg always performs in the school’s productions, whether alongside her family, her adult tap and jazz students, her company dancers, or her faculty. As she immerses herself in the music, shouting an enthusiastic “Yeah!” and flashing a contagious grin, her energy motivates the dancers around her and captivates the audience.
“One of my happiest moments is when I’m standing in line at Starbucks, working on a tap groove, and people look at me and smile,” she says. “I think dance should be everywhere. You should always be ready to dance. The greatest gift would be if my own students could experience dance with the same passion that I do.”
Such is the mission, after all, of Legacy Dance Company: “Share the joy of dance with others.” Goldberg started The Dance Inn’s pre-professional youth performance team in 1988 with teacher Rebecca Robichaud. The two women consulted the dictionary to find a suitable name for the company that contained, as Goldberg insisted it must, the word “leg.” With members who have gone on to dance for Alabama Ballet, Jazz Inc., Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montréal, and New York-based tap company Dorrance Dance, among other companies, the name has proved fitting.
Legacy has benefited immensely from Goldberg’s friendships with master teachers in tap (Brenda Bufalino and Sarah Petronio), jazz (Billy Siegenfeld and Jeannette Neill) and hip-hop (Jimmy Locust). The company has performed original material from Siegenfeld’s Jump Rhythm Jazz Project and Bufalino’s American Tap Dance Orchestra, and includes in its repertoire works from Adrienne Hawkins, Josh Hilberman, Leon Collins by way of Dianne Walker, and Sue Ronson, among others.
“Bringing in master teachers is very important to Thelma,” says Kelly Baker, a graduating Legacy dancer who has been studying at The Dance Inn since 2005. “She likes to challenge us and give us opportunities to learn a variety of styles with the best teachers around. She is an amazing woman, and I look up to her and respect her for all that she has done.”
When she can, Goldberg takes students directly to the source. In the mid-’90s, she brought dancers to well-known master teacher Leon Collins’ tap studio in Brookline, Massachusetts. “I wanted to expand their tap experiences and introduce them to dance opportunities outside in the greater community,” Goldberg says. Now she frequently organizes summer trips to Tap City, the New York City Tap Festival, where she founded the Pre-Professional Program in 2005 and ran it for five years.
Bufalino calls Goldberg’s enthusiasm for teaching “awe-inspiring. She has trained the Legacy Dancers to do repertory of other choreographers and made it possible for them to move into the professional world. The most inspiring thing is that she continues to study and learn. I think it’s an example to her students and an inspiration to all of us to keep growing.”
A burgeoning focus on performance led Goldberg to remove her studio from the competition scene more than a decade ago. “Competition opened my eyes to the possibility of what young dancers could do,” she says. “I wanted to focus my energy on education—not just for my students, but for me. I decided to use the funds I might have spent on competition fees to bring in master teachers to help make my students better dancers and make me a better teacher.”
During the 2011–2012 season, for example, Goldberg invited Barbara Duffy, an internationally acclaimed NYC-based tap soloist and choreographer, and artistic director of Barbara Duffy & Company; Static Noyze, a Boston hip-hop dance troupe; and Chicago-based Jump Rhythm Jazz Project to set choreography on her Legacy dancers.
In an effort to bring more acclaimed faculty to her studio and provide further performance and workshop opportunities for her students, Goldberg founded Dance Inn Productions in 1997. The nonprofit organization spawned annual summer workshops with master teachers like Siegenfeld and Locust. Another venture was the Tom and Catherine Larkin Youth Ballroom Program, which ran from 1997 to 2009. Goldberg started it in honor of her parents, as a way to introduce the traditions and joy of ballroom dancing to 12- to 18-year-olds in the greater Lexington area. Focusing on swing and fox trot, each session ended with a ballroom dance party with a live band.
Dance Inn Productions also invites the community to partake of dance, funding yearly “Rhythm at the Regent” spectacles at the historic Regent Theatre in Arlington, Massachusetts, where the likes of Heather Cornell, Tap Olé, Keith Terry and Crosspulse, Barbara Duffy & Company, and Static Noyze have danced alongside Legacy and other local performers. The organization also presents “Tapestry,” Goldberg’s annual celebration of National Tap Dance Day, which has brought in honored luminaries such as Walker, Bufalino, legendary hoofer LaVaughn Robinson (one of tap’s last street dancers), Jimmy Slyde (famous for his work with jazz music and his graceful slide technique), and Dean Diggins (known for fusing tap with classical music) for a weekend of performances, master classes, and community events.
Such masters are prime examples of Goldberg’s personal mission to keep dancing for her entire life—a goal she encourages her students to pursue. Her adult program, which includes more than 50 dancers each week, some of them in their 80s, is evidence of her success. She also manages a recreational adult tap company, About Time Tappers, that performs in “Tapestry,” at the studio’s annual appearances at the Making Strides Against Breast Cancer Walk in Boston, and in holiday spectaculars and recitals.
Goldberg takes special pride in the quality of her recitals. “I make sure that each level of the recreational program is represented once so that there is great variety and an evident progression in skill. Likewise, solo features and small group choreography take place within existing pieces, rather than designating more time.”
“The strong technique and unbridled joy that the students bring to their performances make Dance Inn recitals a unique experience,” says parent David Lawrence, a high school science teacher. “Watching over the past six years, it has been particularly exciting to witness the growth that dancers undergo over time. And the Legacy Dancers blow me away every year.”
For her 30th recital in March, Goldberg paid homage to the inspirations she’s encountered throughout her journey, re-creating classic routines like “Singin’ in the Rain” and restaging some of her favorite numbers from previous recitals in Act 1. And in Act 2 she looked forward to what the future will bring—something she has been busy contemplating during a landmark year.
“The future of dance study and performance in the studio scene depends on our ability, as shown in Act 2, to introduce our students to the newest and most cutting-edge styles and techniques,” she says, “while laying down a solid foundation and appreciation for classic tap, jazz, and ballet work.
“My students and my faculty are propelling me forward with a renewed sense of confidence and purpose,” she adds. “I feel more committed than ever.”
The Museum of Performance and Design in San Francisco will celebrate the opening of a new exhibit, Body In-Sight: Action-Drawings from the Dance Studio, on July 13 from 7 to 9pm.
Body In-Sight: Action-Drawings From The Dance Studio offers an exploration of the interplay between dance and the visual arts and between performing and visual experiences.
In fall 2011, five students from a Stanford Dance Division class directed by ballerina Muriel Maffre produced gestural traces with their feet steeped in liquid pencil while executing routine training exercises at the barre. These traces document the path of the dancers’ movement in training and make visible the specificity and precision of a kinesthetic knowledge acquired over a period of 10 years.
The five produced action drawings, on large 30″ by 72″ scrolls, will be on display in the museum’s Main Gallery, along with four additional powdered charcoal drawings by Maffre and San Francisco Ballet principal dancer Damian Smith from 2010. Participating Stanford students are: Carolyn Chiu, Katherine Disenhof, Laura Drohan, Jenny Koenig, and Sanjay Saverimuttu.
This event is free and open to the public. For more information, visit www.mpdsf.org.
By Brian McCormick
As dance teachers know, sometimes the best lessons are learned from direct experience. It’s a rule that holds true in the classroom, and unfortunately, it also applies to the financial end of the dance-school business, specifically fraud. Dance schools are not immune to the threat of embezzlement.
Each year, U.S. businesses lose more than $600 billion to fraud, with counterfeiting and document fraud making up more than two-thirds of that, according to the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners. Small businesses are especially vulnerable, posting median losses of about $200,000. Check tampering and fraudulent billing are the most common small-business fraud schemes. Most fraud is opportunistic: someone sees a weakness in a system and takes advantage of it.
There are several things business owners can do to protect themselves from embezzlement. And although nothing is entirely fail-safe, you can learn from the experience of others. Two studio owners found themselves rethinking their business philosophy and accounting systems after learning that friends were embezzling from them. The owners were willing to share their stories; the names have been changed to preserve confidentiality and protect the businesses from negative publicity.
Cathy went into a business partnership with someone she had been friends with for three years, and they opened a studio in the Midwest in 2004. “We started together as partners,” she says. “We both wanted to have families, and thought we could take turns having someone to trust to run the studio while the other had babies.
“The second year, I got pregnant,” she continues. “As I was getting back into business I found a check she had written to her husband—he had been unemployed for a while. As I started digging deeper, I found the things she had taken over. She would pay for something for the studio and take cash back. She had taken $20,000 when it was all done.”
Women, Cathy says, tend to be trusting—perhaps too much so. “I had to learn about confrontation, and how to listen to my gut.”
One of the problems in dealing with embezzlement is that many business owners believe their employees are inherently honest and can be trusted to handle business transactions without proper controls in place. But a widely cited Department of Commerce study from 1983 concluded that a third of all employees steal from their companies. Employee theft can encompass such activities as faking on-the-job injuries for compensation, taking merchandise or small sums of cash, forging or destroying receipts, implementing shipping and billing scams, putting fictitious employees on payroll, and falsifying expense records.
When Cathy confronted her partner, she denied it. “Then I showed her proof. I got a lawyer, but once you form a partnership, there’s not much you can do—she still owned half the business,” she says. “She fought me. She said she wanted to keep the studio, and since I was home with my babies, there was no way I could do this alone. She didn’t think I was going to fight for it, but I didn’t want these kids to be taught by someone who was a crook. I fought hard for it. For the best interests of the students, I had to work with her and keep it quiet. Not only did I not sue her, but she walked away with money. I had to buy her out, less the money she stole.”
In retrospect, she says, “I could have stopped it a lot quicker: when I asked for receipts, she gave excuses; she kept me away from the books; and when she would come to work with lavish things, I would wonder why she was buying such things at a time when she and her husband were struggling. But at least I did it in the right way that left me and the studio with dignity.”
As part of the settlement, her partner signed a non-compete clause stating that she could not teach within 20 miles of Cathy’s studio. “I wanted to make sure she was far enough away not to steal our students,” Cathy says.
In going into business together, the two women had a lawyer create a 50/50 business partnership. But in the end, Cathy says, “that hurt. If you do want to create a partnership, be really careful. Find an attorney who specializes in business litigation who has seen things like this happen. Be explicit about who makes the decisions. [A partnership] may sound good, but in the end, [I find] it is so much less stressful to run the whole business myself. Even the closest friendship can be tested.”
For another school owner, Mary, the betrayal of friendship was the worst of it. Her studio has been operating in New England for more than 30 years. In the 1990s Mary’s office manager embezzled $75,000 from the business—and went to jail for a short time and did community service for a year. “But because I didn’t change my ways, because I didn’t fix the problem, it happened again,” Mary says. She hired a friend whom she trusted completely. “I never thought it could happen again.” Her latest problems began in 2002 but weren’t discovered until 2011. “The investigation is going deeper, and the amount is up to $200,000 now,” she says.
Mary’s friend of 20 years started working for the studio in 2002 and she immediately began setting up vendors. “I thought they were for insurances, but they were really Visa and car payments,” Mary says. “She was paying her utility bills from the studio accounts. She even took a trip to Italy, calling from the studio to give the vendor the routing number.
“I thought it was nice not to have to concentrate on money,” Mary says. “I cared about the art. I would say, ‘The money evaporates; the insurance is so expensive.’ In reality, she was paying herself three different ways each week. She also had the accounting program protected with a password no one else knew.”
But eventually, everyone gets caught. According to the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners, the median duration of fraud in 2010 was about 18 months. Prosecution, however, is not as inevitable.
“[My friend] knew she’d made mistakes,” Mary says. “In May I saw a check written to someone from me, but I hadn’t signed it. Then I found out I had paid the same thing the day before. I started looking after that, and the patterns emerged. I questioned her, but she was defensive. I didn’t fire her—I still thought it was something that could be worked out between us—but in June we didn’t let her back in. For me, the loss of the friendship is still devastating. She’s being investigated by the head of the [county] crime unit, and three detectives are working on the case. Every time she picked up the phone to do this, every transaction she processed, was a crime. And then there’s the whole issue of tax evasion. It’s going to be months. The more subpoenas we get, the further it unfolds.”
Mary’s main advice to other studio owners? “It’s important for those of us who are in this for the art not to forget that [owning a school] is also a business.”
She’s following her own counsel and finding out just how well her business is doing. “Now I know how to get into QuickBooks. When I sign a check, there’s a bill attached to it. I have to be expecting a $6,000 bill or be like ‘That’s not right.’ I also replaced our accountant. The detective says he might have been in on it, since the account uses my Social Security number and [the employee’s] name. I never knew how much money I could have made. It looks to be around $10,000 more each month.”
Mary now understands that “if you are going to have a business, you need to know the math,” she says. “Learn every job in the business. I was kind of proud that I didn’t care about money. I thought it was noble, but twice I’ve been burned. Know about the numbers.” If they don’t add up, she says, there’s a problem. “Money doesn’t evaporate.”
How to Avoid Embezzlement
- An annual independent audit of the finances and accounting controls by a CPA is a good deterrent to embezzlement.
- Segregating the duties of handling cash, recording transactions, authorizing transactions, and reconciliation is a cornerstone of internal control.
- A careful background check of all employees, including contact with all former employers and a standard credit check, should be a minimum. Consider administering a Personnel Selection Inventory (PSI). More information is available at creativeorgdesign.com and vangent-hcm.com.
- Most embezzlement frauds require constant and repetitive falsification of data. To increase the potential for discovering embezzlement, require employees who have significant cash or accounting duties to take vacations during which another trained person should perform those duties. Cross-training and job rotation are also good deterrents.
Warning Signs of Fraud
If you notice any of these warning signs, you may want to begin investigating.
- Disappearing petty cash.
- An unusual drop in your profits.
- Unexplained changes in your accounting records.
- Unusually large or numerous credits to a particular customer.
- An employee who works late or on the weekends and refuses to take vacations.
- Many payments made to the same name or address.
- Vendors’ addresses that are the same as an employee’s address.
- Customers complaining about having already paid a bill.
- Altered check amounts.
- Duplicate payments.
- Disorganized records.
- Missing documents.
- Delayed bank deposits.
- Bank reconciliations that are late or have too many outstanding checks.
- Too many increases in past due accounts receivable.
- Accounts receivable and payable that don’t balance.
Chelsie Hightower, one of the pro dancers on ABC’s Dancing With the Stars, is opening her own studio in Draper, Utah, next month, reports the Salt Lake Tribune.
According to the Hightower Performing Arts Studio Facebook page, the studio will offer dance, voice, and acting classes. It will open at a temporary facility on January 23, while a permanent site is being prepared for a scheduled August opening.
Hightower, 22, from Orem, made her first splash in 2008, reaching the top six on Fox’s So You Think You Can Dance. She has competed in five cycles on Dancing With the Stars, partnering with rodeo star Ty Murray (whom she guided to the semifinals), snowboarder Louis Vito, The Bachelor pilot-guy Jake Pavelka, singer Michael Bolton, and rapper Romeo Miller.
The studio is now accepting resumes for receptionists, instructors in voice and acting, and dance faculty in ballroom, jazz, lyrical, modern, contemporary, ballet, hip-hip, break dancing, tap, clogging, salsa, country, tumbling, and fitness.
For more information, visit http://www.facebook.com/HPASTUDIO?sk=app_190322544333196
Expand your offerings—and your profits—with voice, piano, and more
By Marlise A. Cole
Like Fred and Ginger, dance and music go hand in hand. So why not teach them under one roof?
Sharon Goldfarb, director of Sharon’s Studio of Dance, sees no reason not to. Goldfarb, whose studio in Whippany, New Jersey, has 900 students, says “the people are already there. If they are coming for dance, a brother or sister might want to take music.”
From conversations and by just offering music, Goldfarb found out that lots of her dance students also take piano and guitar. Not many switched from their current teachers to hers when she started offering music classes, but some dance students who weren’t already studying music did sign on, and some former students who don’t dance anymore returned for the music classes. Families feel comfortable with the music program, she says, “because they know us and trust us and because we have been around for a long time.”
In business since 1975, Goldfarb offers a variety of classes, including ballet, jazz, tap, hip-hop, lyrical, Irish step, and acrobatics. This year she started offering voice and piano. The idea “kind of evolved,” says Goldfarb. “The front desk girl I hired taught piano and voice, and people were asking if I offered music.” She had an extra room that wasn’t being used, so she soundproofed it for use as a music studio.
Scheduling is not difficult, Goldfarb says. “I have two piano teachers who also teach voice and I am interviewing for a guitar teacher. We offer piano and voice Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays and when we add guitar, those lessons will be on Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays.” Goldfarb is finding that some guitar teachers also teach piano and voice, so if she hires someone who teaches all three, then piano and voice will also be available on guitar days.
For performances, Goldfarb sprinkles her music students into her six dance shows. “I just tell the music teachers that their numbers have to be two minutes like the dance routines.”
A culture house
“I grew up in an environment that had a conservatory-like feeling,” Mexican-born Adalhi Aranda Corn says. “A place that offered all kinds of arts to everyone under one roof. In Mexico, we call something like that a Culture House, or Casa de la Cultura.”
Corn founded Bluegrass Youth Ballet in Lexington, Kentucky, with 40 students in 2003. But by 2007, with more than 150 students, she had outgrown her studio. When she moved to a larger location, her goal was to simulate that conservatory-like feeling. She named her new facility CulturArte, which is an umbrella organization that houses Bluegrass Youth Ballet, and added two music studios. Now Corn has about 250 dance students and 25 music students who study piano, voice, and Suzuki-method guitar. She says that only about four or five students take both dance and music.
“Kids seem different these days,” Corn says. “They have no time. They have to choose between dance and piano, especially when they become advanced and are required to take more classes and attend additional rehearsals.”
Corn’s music teachers rent space from her, and when she advertises her dance program she mentions that her studio also offers music. The students contact the music teachers directly and the teachers do their own scheduling. The piano, which was donated, belongs to the studio. Beginner guitar students rent their instruments from the teacher. When they become more accomplished, the teacher helps them acquire their own guitar.
“This kind of environment makes everybody aware of other arts,” Corn says. “The music students waiting outside for their lessons see the dancers and vice versa.”
Bluegrass Youth Ballet became a nonprofit when it moved in 2008. “The goal was to simulate a House of Culture and offer arts to everyone in the community and make [classes] affordable to everyone,” Corn says. “We wanted to be able to receive support from the community to offer affordable prices. Our performances have an educational or cultural focus, so the community learns about history or holidays like Day of the Dead.”
Corn’s studio has three dance recitals a year, but the music students are not mixed in with the dancers. “It’s so hard to incorporate younger music students in big productions,” Corn says. “Instead, we have a talent showcase when the music students can play and an in-studio performance once a year. I would like to have a bigger schedule of music because it creates such a wonderful awareness with everybody, but [my husband and I] run a dance studio and don’t have the time and means to expand.”
All in the family
Valerie Raskin comes from a long line of musicians. In fact, her family expected her to follow suit, but dance spoke louder to her than music and in 1989 she opened Raskin Dance Studios in Kissimmee, Florida, with her husband. Nineteen years later in 2008, she added music to her school’s instructional repertoire.
The piano came from Raskin’s aunt, a music teacher in Miami, who had died, and the furniture came from her grandmother’s home in Tennessee. “That room is a beautiful space, just like a parlor,” Raskin says. “[The seating] used to be a soft pink velvet but has been re-covered with a flower brocade.”
Raskin has about 400 dance students and 30 music students; 75 percent of the music students also take dance. The studio has three music instructors and offers guitar, cello, banjo, trumpet, and a musical-theater program along with the most popular classes: piano, violin, and voice.
“What we offer musically depends on who we have at the time,” Raskin said. “Sometimes we have teachers who come home from college during summer break to teach.” Because the school has a Suzuki violin teacher, “the kids can start really young,” Raskin says. “My daughter started playing Suzuki violin when she was 4. They start playing by ear and then the teacher instructs them how to read music.”
New this year will be a class in harmony for voices as well as bucket drumming for older kids. “The rhythm class with bucket drumming started with little kids as half tap and half bucket drumming,” Raskin says, “but there was a lot of interest from our older students.”
Raskin always stresses to her dancers the importance of studying music. “Understanding how it is written makes for better dancers and better choreographers,” she says. She notices that dance students who study piano tend to have a more musical quality to their movement. “I find that kids usually listen to the vocals or melody, when they should be listening to the rhythm.”
So how does Raskin get her music teachers? “Sometimes they come to me, or I get referrals from the teachers I already have,” she says. “Scheduling is not difficult because I have two [music] rooms and I keep the music teachers on certain days.” As subcontractors, the music teachers charge what they want for the (typically) 30-minute classes. The students pay by the month and Raskin pays the teachers, taking five dollars off the top for room rental.
Raskin produces two dance recitals in late June. Sometimes the recital will showcase one music teacher and a soloist who dances to the music. Music recitals occur twice a year—a holiday performance and one before school lets out—and include performances by the teachers.
“It’s so hard to incorporate younger music students in big productions. Instead, we have a talent showcase when the music students can play and an in-studio performance once a year.” —Adalhi Aranda Corn
“It’s so hard to incorporate younger music students in big productions. Instead, we have a talent showcase when the music students can play and an in-studio performance once a year.” —Adalhi Aranda Corn
“Offering music is a great addition to our school,” Raskin says. “Parents love it because their kids can take music lessons between dance classes. I’m proud we have it. It makes us stand out.”
Empty rooms, extra money
Aside from providing students with the opportunity for a more well-rounded arts education, adding a music program to your dance offerings might mean a little extra cash, especially if you have an empty room sitting around.
For example, say you have one music room and offer five hours of music classes (10 classes) five days a week. If you charge students $36 for a half-hour class and the teacher makes $15, that leaves $21 for you. Let’s do the math. At $210 a day, $1,050 a week, and for 32 weeks, that’s a potential $33,600 a year providing you can fill all the time slots.
“And who wouldn’t want an extra $33,000 a year?” Goldfarb says. “You already have a customer base. Do a little internal marketing, talk to your friends, and then put it on the Internet. There’s no additional rent, so once you pay for soundproofing the room, it’s all extra money in your pocket.” And if you can only fill the room half the time, that’s still $16,500 extra from a room that was doing nothing.
Soundproofing a room can cost $2,000 to $5,000, according to Goldfarb. “We put up QuietRock, which is like Sheetrock, on the walls and ceiling, and added a door that seals well. We did the work ourselves, which saves money. It’s not completely soundproof, but enough so they can hear the things they are supposed to hear.
The biggest challenge is scheduling, according to Erin Sanfelippo, who with her husband owns Star Dance Center in Newhall, 25 minutes north of Los Angeles. “Trying to schedule private lessons all day long is hard,” Sanfelippo says. “You can’t schedule kids until after they get out of school, and then you have to coordinate with the teachers’ schedules. It’s a lot of front-desk work, so you have to be organized. If your four o’clock cancels, the teacher wants to know if her five o’clock can come early so she isn’t sitting around waiting.”
When the Sanfelippos bought Star Dance Center in 2005, they discovered an empty storage room, too small for dancing. So they fixed it up and started offering piano lessons. Later they soundproofed the walls and added voice, which Sanfelippo taught. By 2009, because there was so much interest in the music program, they had hired voice, piano, and guitar teachers.
“We wanted to offer a well-rounded experience and something for the siblings,” Sanfelippo says. “It’s a one-stop convenience for parents.” Most of the music students have come from the dance program. “They already knew us, so they assumed the music program would be the same in terms of organization and quality.”
Star Dance Center has 500 dance students, but Sanfelippo says the music program is not consistent yet. At its peak, it had 25 music students. One potential hazard they discovered is that music teachers who are pursuing other projects may be inconsistent about showing up to teach. When that happened to Sanfelippo and the teacher left, the program dwindled.
Screening music teachers was another challenge. “When hiring a ballet teacher I have very specific questions, but with music I don’t know what to ask,” says Sanfelippo. “So I go on personality and experience. I also [try to judge ahead of time] the rapport they might have with the students.”
Sanfelippo’s dance and music students have separate recitals, winter and summer for the dancers and summer for the music students. At Christmas the music students participate in community events. The school owner says she keeps the events separate because the dance recitals were already too long.
Piggybacking on the popularity of TV’s Glee, Sanfelippo added a glee club program for older students, who did their first show last spring. Because it’s a group, she says, it’s “easier to maintain than individual music lessons. It’s very popular and we plan to continue it.”
“The tricky thing is that music instructors can teach out of their homes,” Sanfelippo says. “There is nothing I can do about that.” So she advises studio owners to be selective in hiring. “Get someone who’s focused on teaching and not their own projects,” she says. “If your state allows it, have the teachers sign a non-compete [contract], meaning they won’t solicit students to teach at home. Also, have a cancellation policy stating that if students don’t cancel 24 hours [ahead of time] they will have to pay for the lesson.
“Offering music lessons is a nice complement to dance and makes you unique to the community,” she continues. “Music integrated with dance helps with counting, rhythm, and tempo, and voice gives the dancers stage presence.”
Goldfarb recommends investing in a regular piano and not just a keyboard because you need 88 weighted keys for proper instruction. Also, make sure you have substitutes lined up so if a teacher gets sick you won’t have to cancel the lessons.
“Adding music enriches a studio and makes it more appealing,” Goldfarb says. “If you have the room, do it.”
Sound Isolation: A Green Solution
By Matt Lincir
As the owner of Alvas, I’ve had years of experience in building dance studios. And I’ve learned that old, scuffed-up, and even torn marley-type flooring can find new life as an economical and effective sound barrier. That’s right—sandwiched between sheets of drywall, it’s great for soundproofing. A marley is essentially heavy PVC vinyl sheeting, the same material that is marketed and sold as a sound-isolating product.
Here’s how to maximize the sound barrier. Place the PVC sheeting (or old marley) between two layers of drywall, one that is 1/2 inch thick and one that’s 5/8 inch, (it doesn’t matter which one goes where) to eliminate resonance. Because they are of different thicknesses, the two sheets will vibrate at different frequencies, preventing the sound from one layer from permeating the second one. If you’re soundproofing a dance studio where the interior walls are drywall, you can simply add another sheet of drywall, placing the PVC sheeting between it and the original wall. Or add another layer for more isolation. Since sound travels through the tiniest of spaces, you must be meticulous in sealing the seams. Use caulking or tape to make sure they are airtight.
If you repurpose old marley floors this way, you can praise yourself for being “green” as well. Call your fellow dance studio owners and let them know that if they plan to replace their marley flooring, you’ll take it off their hands. Some of them might even pay you to take it away since it is heavy and doesn’t fit into a regular trashcan.
TutuTix, a new ticketing sales and distribution service for dance studio owners and performing arts companies, was introduced in a PRWeb.com announcement this week.
The new service combines ticket sales technology from TicketBiscuit with a suite of personal services tailored to meet the ticket distribution needs of dance companies and studio owners, according to chief marketing officer Eric Housh.
Tickets can be sold in any combination of four channels: via a dedicated web page on tututix.com, via the studio’s Facebook Fan page with a special ticketing app, through the toll-free TutuTix call center, and by hard ticket distribution at the studio or dance company. Ticket inventory is managed centrally by TutuTix.
Ticket orders are delivered by TutuTix as well, via U.S. mail. Each ticket purchaser receives full-color, foil-embossed, bar coded, keepsake-quality tickets that TutuTix supplies. Housh said that in addition to sales and distribution, TutuTix manages customer services, including refunds, exchanges, and other needs.
To learn more about TutuTix, visit http://www.tututix.com or call 855.222.2TIX. The full story can be found at http://www.prweb.com/releases/dance/ticketing/prweb8888890.htm.
In less than a month, six Ahwatukee, Arizona dads went from wondering where their daughters would take dance classes to opening their own studio, according to AZcentral.com.
Phoenix Dance Cooperative opened on September 1 at 12020 S. Warner-Elliot Loop, and already has enrolled about 100 students, co-founder Jaime Molera said.
Molera, former state superintendent of public instruction, and five other fathers met while their daughters danced at Dance Depot in Ahwatukee. In July, the studio changed owners, and “long story short, turns out it just wasn’t going to be a good fit,” Molera said. “It just would have been a different culture.”
The dads—including a president of a web-marketing company, a U.S. Airways pilot, a Chase bank executive, and a managing partner at a government-relations company—organized a parent meeting where families overwhelmingly supported the idea of a non-profit dance cooperative in which parents would elect a board of directors and profits would go to paying teachers more and setting up a scholarship program for kids who otherwise couldn’t afford it.
A week after that first meeting, parents were writing checks, Molera said, and on August 30 registration opened. Families waited two hours in line to register. By the end of the day, 82 kids were signed up. About 40 parents and kids spent weekends painting, cleaning, and preparing the studio for classes.
The non-profit model means the studio can charge reasonable rates, the group said, and still pay instructors more than other studios can afford. Along with competitive prices, a draw for many families has been Phoenix Dance Cooperative’s co-artistic directors Ambur Towns and Antoine Olds, Molera said. The pair worked together at the Dance Depot, and before that, Olds was Towns’ instructor.
Retaining students is key to survival—here’s how to do it
By James Careless
Dance studios cannot survive without attracting new students. But retaining the ones you already have makes sound business sense. Moreover, says Kathy Holland, owner of NorthPointe Dance Academy in Westerville, Ohio, “it is much easier to keep current students than to look for new ones.” In other words, not retaining students is a waste of time and money—and that’s something few studios can afford.
So how does a school keep its students coming back year after year? Here is some advice from studio owners who have mastered student retention.
It starts with relationships
Studio owners who take the time to foster relationships with their students (and parents) increase the chances that those families will re-enroll. The worst mistake they can make is to take money from customers and then ignore their needs for the duration of their lessons. When the time comes for re-enrollment, it won’t happen: those customers will remember that they were neglected, and leave.
Fostering relationships “means making yourself available to receive feedback from your students and to address their concerns,” says Suzanne Blake Gerety, vice president of Kathy Blake Dance Studios in Amherst, New Hampshire. “After all, customer service is the backbone of any studio’s retention efforts.”
Holland agrees that good relationships matter but says that fostering them goes beyond mere availability. To keep students connected, owners must communicate with them on a regular basis—and keep their parents (where applicable) in the loop too.
Sarah Ghimire believes in going the extra mile when it comes to building relationships. “We try to connect to our students on a personal level that goes beyond dance,” says Ghimire, who co-owns and teaches at Salsa Mississippi in Jackson, Mississippi. “This can be as simple as going out for a coffee with them after class,” she says of her adult students.
“The main thing is that the students need to feel as if they have a real social connection at the studio, to motivate them to keep signing up,” Ghimire says. “I have noticed that if people who like the dancing don’t have anyone to chat with when they are here, they don’t tend to re-enroll.”
Social media sites such as Facebook are another good means to build community and keep students involved. With 365 Facebook “likes” for its information-packed pages—and lots of postings from its dancers—NorthPointe Dance Academy appears to be succeeding in this venue. The secret to their success? “We just post often, and post material that is of interest to our dancers,” says Holland.
Students need to see progress
Dancers are as much athletes as they are artists, and athletes seek achievement. This is why dance studios should offer multi-level programs that offer advancement opportunities, giving students goals they can reach and tangible markers of their progress.
“You need to have some sort of ‘ascension model’ in place,” says Gerety, adding that unfortunately, many studios are so focused on their beginner classes that they forget the importance of serving their more experienced students. At many schools, the opposite is true—advanced students get all the attention, sometimes to a fault. But Gerety has noted that at studios where the owner is the only teacher, they tend to be so focused on teaching beginner classes “that they don’t have space in their schedules for advancement in a particular genre,” she says. “In those situations, a new studio owner may want to consider adding a faculty member to add some depth to their programs.” If they don’t, the people who are paying the bills—either the students or their parents— may lose faith and seek advanced training elsewhere.
Keep them interested
People like novelty. Doing the same thing day in and day out bores them—and bored students leave. This is why Kathy Blake Dance Studios offers master classes and guest instructors. “Having new material and teachers is key to keeping everyone interested,” Gerety says.
At the NUEVO School of Contemporary Dance in Chino, California, “the [serious] students are pretty much committed to our program, so our retention rate is pretty high,” says Francisco Gella, the school’s founder and artistic director. “It’s a little different for recreational students, however. By advertising new, fun classes such as more hip-hop or interesting styles such as Bollywood, I find that they are more likely to stay.”
Offer incentives to return
A current student who takes a new class at a dance studio is demonstrating loyalty, and loyalty needs to be rewarded to endure. Doing so is relatively simple: you give returning students incentives to sign up.
A case in point: “A few years ago, after reading an article in Dance Studio Life, we began having pre-registration incentives,” says Melanie Boniszewski, owner of Tonawanda Dance Arts in Tonawanda, New York. “The first year we kept the registration the same—$15 for returning students, $25 for new—but gave away a T-shirt valued at $15. The next year we did the same thing. We have continued to keep our registration fees the same but have made the incentives a lesser value, so our cash flow is more positive with this.” Boniszewski always offers a promotional item with the studio’s name on it. “This year we gave away nylon book bags that are popular with the kids,” she says.
Dancers are as much athletes as they are artists, and athletes seek achievement. This is why dance studios should offer multi-level programs that offer advancement opportunities.
Sometimes money is the simplest and most direct incentive. That’s why Dance Rhythms, Ltd., of Indianapolis gives price breaks to its returning students. “We start half-price registration in April for our next year,” says Judi Gott, the school’s office and customer service manager. “That way we have everyone signed back up before they leave for summer break.” Add in promotional shows at local county and state fairs that keep student interest high, and “our retention rate is over 75 percent.”
Surviving the summer
For dance studios that follow a September through June schedule, summers are financial droughts. To offset this loss, Tonawanda Dance Arts runs a weeklong camp in July to keep its students involved and primed for fall enrollment. “I would not say it helps to retain a ton of students, but does help retain some,” says Boniszewski. “It does allow students to try different genres of dance that they haven’t taken yet and want to try.”
As well, the studio stages a yearly summer picnic, takes part in the Canal Fest parade and holds three or four open houses each year. “We invite current students to come to a summer open house and participate in a free class to get ready for the dance year,” says Boniszewski. The free classes serve as demonstration classes for new visitors to the studio. In addition, she offers free preschool classes during the open house, which help to boost new enrollment.
Kathy Blake Dance Studios also uses the summer to renew its students’ enthusiasm. “During these months we like to change up our normal offerings and give our students a chance to take classes that are out of the ordinary, such as Broadway Tap, Video Dance, Audition Class, Creating a Solo, Improv for Contemporary, and more,” says Gerety. “This keeps them excited about new styles and often inspires them to try new classes in the fall. To encourage students to register for the fall we have open houses for studio tours and meeting teachers.”
The studio also opens online registration in midsummer so that parents can easily book spots for their children.
For NUEVO School, the summer months are key to student retention efforts. “To get the students to return in the fall for our conservatory, we prepare in the last weeks of the summer semester to have them re-audition for the fall,” says Gella. “We advertise what new and exciting things will be happening at the school, such as ideas for new choreography, the guest teachers who are coming in for the year, [plus] plans to participate at dance festivals and not just competitions.”
Goodbye might not be forever
Even when a studio owner does everything possible to retain students, some will inevitably leave. When this happens, Gerety sends departing students a thank-you card and an exit survey with a self-addressed stamped envelope for feedback on their studio experience.
“Gathering feedback from a student who leaves gives us a chance to make improvements right away for those currently enrolled,” Gerety says. Typically, children quit dance due to lack of interest or scheduling conflicts. “However, if we find that there are recurring complaints from parents or students regarding a particular teacher in that survey, it is a chance to make modifications so that we don’t lose more students.”
Reaching out to students who dropped and inviting them back to try a new class is worth the effort, she says. “You might be surprised by their renewed interest or referrals to others in the future.”
MISTAKE: Look at someone’s business model and copy it. That other person has a certain personality, life experiences, influences, mentors, education, etc. and that’s all part of their recipe for success. You can’t make that your own, it can’t be done. However, if you base your business model on who YOU are, what you have to offer, and what makes you UNIQUE from the others, I’ll bet you’ll achieve the success you seek. Have a great day–Rhee
Making the most of your once-a-weekers
By Julie Holt Lucia
Recreational dancers make up a huge part of many dance studios’ enrollments, and they often bring in the top dollar per class in tuition. Most teachers see these dancers only once a week, for an hour or less at a time. Since we’re trying to give them as much instruction as possible over the course of a school year, that’s a very limited amount of time.
Not only are we introducing these students to new skills and teaching them to master old ones, we’re also trying to reach them personally. We want to seek out those students who might have a future in dance and coach those who struggle into success—all while not losing sight of the middle-of-the-road kids, most of whom just want to have fun in class. We want all of our students to come away with a well-rounded dance education because you simply never know who will be the next Sarah Lane or Rennie Harris.
With such a short amount of time to work with, though, how do we take these recreational classes beyond the dance steps? How can we keep these dancers engaged for the long term? There are ideas and tools we can use to reach every child, as long as we remain flexible with our strategies and continue to communicate a passion for dance.
Just like our counterparts at academic schools, we dance teachers need to realize that different teaching approaches work for different students. Although dance is largely taught by demonstration, we all know there is much more involved than having students copy your movements. We want them to learn and retain the material—a challenge in one short class per week. But by using easy-to-implement, practical ideas periodically throughout the year, we can squeeze in as much learning as possible. These methods will become like little surprises for your students and add little jolts of energy to your teaching process.
A whiteboard is a great addition to any dance classroom. You can spell the names of steps, write out the counts or musical phrasings, draw figures and shapes, and explain patterns and formations. With vocabulary terms, using the whiteboard throughout the year helps the students get into the habit of recognizing the steps in words; even young children who are just beginning to read will catch on quickly with repetitive use. It’s a great way to help the dancers grasp tricky vocabulary words, particularly French terms. When you show your jazz students that “chaîné” looks like the word “chain” and also means chain-linked, you make it easier for them to remember the step the next time they go across the floor.
Another great classroom tool is a TV or laptop computer. Using it takes up too much class time to do it frequently, but occasionally showing a clip from a famous ballet or musical can be awe-inspiring for students who aren’t exposed to much dance outside of the classroom. For example, after the first semester or so of classes, when some of my beginner ballet students are getting the hang of the basic terminology, I will take a few minutes out of class to show them a clip from Swan Lake, a ballet many of them have never seen. (Barbie of Swan Lake, which most of them have seen, isn’t the same, but they’ll recognize the music.) I ask them to watch for steps that look familiar, and inevitably, they pick out arabesques, pas de chats, and pas de bourrées. Watching the video clips helps us discuss how even the professionals practice the basics over and over again and then continue to use them in more complex ways. And of course, the young students are always wowed by the dancers on pointe.
Watching routines from Broadway shows and other performances can be just as exciting, and as with ballet, they can lead to a discussion of familiar dance steps as well as dance history. You may find yourself explaining about Fosse or Robbins or the Rockettes to your older students. With younger students, you may simply help them compare and contrast two show routines.
Although you can’t show video clips too frequently for fear of taking away from actual dance time, doing so is a fun way to change up class time during a lull and a great way to inspire your dancers. For this reason, in addition to keeping a small collection of dance DVDs on hand, I have a Netflix account with a queue of dance videos ready to go.
Lesson plans are invaluable for our classes, but sometimes deviating from them is the best way to teach class on a particular day. Maybe a student asks a thoughtful question about the style of ballet you’re teaching, which leads you to explain some of the differences between the Cecchetti and Vaganova methods. Or maybe someone has to sit out due to an injury, and that leads you into an informal chat about why dancers warm up the way they do and what they should do if they think they are injured.
You never want to stray too far off track since class time ticks by so quickly, but there are always moments with your recreational students when you’d better take advantage of an opening. After all, you might not get another chance.
Sometimes spending 5 or 10 minutes on a productive game is well worth stepping away from the lesson plan. Especially when the dancers’ eyes begin to glaze over, a dance game is a fun way to keep the lesson going while energizing the atmosphere. You can make a game out of almost anything, and it doesn’t have to be long or complex. In fact, it’s usually more exciting if it’s simple.
A whiteboard is a great addition to any dance classroom. You can spell the names of steps, write out the counts or musical phrasings, draw figures and shapes, and explain patterns and formations.
From guided improv using a step or phrase you were working on that day, to Jeopardy or Pictionary-style quizzes on the whiteboard (have students take turns demonstrating the step you write out or draw on the board), just about any off-the-beaten-path activity can be presented as a game. You don’t have to have a winner or loser; the satisfaction of accomplishing the task should be enough.
Outside of class
Recreational dancers might look forward to class and show off around the house, but most probably don’t think too much about dance when they’re at home or school. Still, it can be beneficial to urge your students of all ages to seek out dance information in places other than the studio.
Encourage them to look for dance books or videos during library trips and attend performances. Tell them to write down comments about what they see or find or jot down questions for you about the dance world. Then you can designate special sharing days, like a dance version of show-and-tell. You can share too. For instance, let your ballet students pass around a pointe shoe while you explain what it takes to dance on pointe. Or share with them your favorite dance book or story, pointing out familiar words or photos.
By encouraging them to look for dance outside of class, you may pique a greater interest in dancing in your students. But not all children—even the ones who are interested—will have the opportunity to do extras like this outside of class, and we need to be careful not to make anyone who isn’t interested or cannot participate feel left out. A good way to manage this is by offering everyone the chance to share (when appropriate) but clearly stating that simply listening is fine.
Try a new dance
All of the students at my school get the chance to try a new style of dance during their regular class time, usually once a year. Because our recital date can vary year to year, we usually try to slip this time in toward the end of the school year, either to alleviate the stress of recital time or to wind down afterward. The recreational kids love it, and often it leads them to try something new in the summer or the following school year.
During the designated week, the teacher picks another style of dance to introduce during class (sometimes taking into consideration student suggestions). It’s always a style that the school already offers and that is age-appropriate.
The dancers don’t need to have the proper shoes or change their dress code since it’s just for one day. The class is usually structured like a short version of any other: warm-up, across the floor, combination, stretch. It’s enough to introduce how the new style feels different from what the dancers are used to and why it might be interesting and challenging.
Finding a happy medium
You may not want or need to use every trick in the book while working with your recreational students, but it’s worth experimenting with those classes to see what small things you can introduce that might serve as an extra incentive. Incorporating one or two of these ideas into your curriculum may help your school keep those trusty recreational students hooked on dance.
From hip-hop and wedding dances to scholarships and subsidies, Santa Barbara Dance Arts caters to the community
By Rachel Howard
For a studio in a low-key beach town, Santa Barbara Dance Arts is big: 8,200 square feet, with 70 classes a week and 450 students. But co-owner Alana Tillim says it is bigger than all that.
“Steve and I say this is so not our studio,” Tillim says and laughs, glancing at fellow teacher and business partner Steven Lovelace. “This is the people’s studio.”
A typical weekday afternoon bears her out. In the huge converted warehouse space three blocks away from the ocean, jazz, hip-hop, and ballet classes bustle while grade-schoolers sprawl across the lobby floor with their homework. Parents browse an art show in the hall gallery while kids drink water and juice from the Snack Shack, and teenagers shop the dancewear on sale at the studio’s retail store.
“We don’t charge extra if parents want to drop off a child early and leave him to do his homework here,” says Tillim, a 33-year-old who speaks swiftly and smiles widely. “It’s a community here. From food to supervision, it’s an entire afternoon for our children.”
Santa Barbara Dance Arts (SBDA) built its large student base by being one of the most stylistically diverse studios in town, offering everything from tap to lyrical, with an emphasis on hip-hop and jazz. Tillim, who studied dance at the University of California at Santa Barbara while majoring in political science and history, began teaching 14 years ago with jazz specialist Lovelace, now 53 and a veteran of the local dance scene.
The two rented studio space around town and accumulated a core of about 300 students before taking on their own location, leasing 4,100 square feet, and undertaking a major build-out. They subdivided their space into four brightly colored studios while keeping the soaring ceilings (and even rigging one studio for aerial dance). A retractable wall between two studios allows for one large space sufficient for hosting master classes by touring companies like Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, or Tabitha and Napoleon D’Umo from TV’s So You Think You Can Dance.
That build-out was in 2004. Then in 2009, SBDA doubled in size, expanding when another tenant in the building left. Tillim, who once worked in marketing for local company Cox Communications, tapped her entrepreneurial savvy to make full use of the space, taking over a wedding dance business to coach couples for their big day, and creating a performing-arts conservatory and repertory company called Big Stage Productions, which offers classes in voice, acting, and Broadway jazz. In August 2010, Tillim and Lovelace bought a second dance studio in the nearby town of Carpinteria, but they closed that location in March due to “mounting expenses.”
For student Jessica Hambright, who started jazz with Lovelace at age 9 and is now about to graduate with a BFA in choreography from UC Irvine, the school’s growth has been stunning. “I saw it from the beginning, when it was just Steven and 20 students using space at a local church,” she says. “Steven was pretty much the only game in town for jazz in Santa Barbara. Then Alana brought so much energy and so many business ideas. She made it explode.”
But Santa Barbara Dance Arts’ rapid growth and steady popularity are the result of more than a wide-ranging curriculum and business chutzpah. “When we opened our bricks and mortar studio we always had a vision of giving back,” Tillim says. So she and Lovelace also created a nonprofit entity, the Arts Mentorship Program. It works synergistically with the studio, providing more than 125 need-based scholarships to 3- to 18-year-olds over the years. (Currently, 25 students study on scholarship.) Scholarship candidates are screened by the nonprofit’s board, which works with organizations like the United Way and Girls Inc. to identify low-income and at-risk youth. The nonprofit is funded by grants from local foundations, the Capezio Foundation, and private donors. The scholarship students receive tuition, one-on-one conference sessions, nutrition counseling, and opportunities to participate in local cultural events.
The nonprofit feeds Santa Barbara Dance Arts’ culture of mutual support and, Tillim says, “helps us mentor the next generation of philanthropists.” For instance, when one of the five student companies raised an extra $2,000 in showcase ticket sales, Tillim and Lovelace had the students vote on how to use the extra money. The teenagers decided to award one general scholarship and fund one need-based student’s travel expenses to a choreography showcase the company planned to attend in Las Vegas. This giving was all channeled through the nonprofit.
“We’re trying to pass on what we’ve learned about giving back,” says Tillim, who sees to details like making sure students write thank-you notes to every donor.
The nonprofit also allows Santa Barbara Dance Arts to be part of the city’s larger dance community by offering a rent subsidy program. When a new hula teacher came to town, for instance, the nonprofit board was able to lower her rent as she built her student base. Once a renting teacher’s classes become profitable, the teacher pays standard market rate. SBDA subsidizes about 50 hours of studio rental every week.
Notably, though SBDA runs five dance companies, the studio does not enter competitions. “I’ve run competition teams at a lot of different dance studios, and we wanted to try something different here,” Lovelace says. “Our girls look good. They’re beautiful dancers.”
Tillim continues his thought: “But it’s not about 24 fouettés here. The dancers understand that it’s a bigger reward to inspire others than to get a gold medal.”
Several students have gone on to study dance at such institutions as Stanford University, Brown University, and California Institute of the Arts. Some study as student teachers at SBDA, as did Hambright, who graduated from UC Irvine this spring. Though UC Irvine has widened her exposure to styles and techniques, she credits Lovelace with early influence on her as a teacher.
“Steven is just incredibly nurturing—he takes his classes so seriously,” Hambright says. “He always has his eye on safety. And we are a bit more social than many dance classes—he doesn’t tell us strictly, ‘No talking.’ Instead, it’s a collaboration, both learning from each other and having fun. With the younger kids, he loves them like his own children.”
Brittany Sandoval tells a similar tale. She began studying jazz under Tillim almost a decade ago, at age 11, and went on to work as a teaching assistant. She now teaches six classes per week of hip-hop at SBDA. “I learned so much from watching Alana teach,” Sandoval says. “Especially the way she disciplines the young students, the way she bonds with them. She really gets down to their level and makes them feel she’s someone they can turn to, a friend.
“Santa Barbara Dance Arts isn’t just a dance studio; it’s more like a family, a second home to the dancers and to myself,” Sandoval continues, while noting how much SBDA has changed since her childhood. “I think it’s so amazing that we went from renting one room to owning our own huge space.”
That growth has been SBDA’s strength and its challenge, as Tillim and Lovelace work to maintain the family atmosphere. Both still teach nearly eight classes each per week, and many of their work hours are spent in conference with parents and kids.
“When you first start a studio, you’re the accountant, the receptionist, the stagehand, the janitor,” Tillim says. “You know every person, every detail of what’s happening. Now we have a staff of 25 people. I hate not knowing every student’s name in the hallway. But I’d still say we know most of them.”
The energy she and Lovelace put into maintaining that level of personal connection is impressive, given all the other duties on her plate, from producing SBDA’s annual “Dance Teachers Gone Wild” show to choreographing the Big Stage production of The Wiz. Like a mother attending to a growing family, Tillim keeps the household humming.
“Considering the dive the economy took in recent years, and the nonprofit world—yes, it’s hard,” she says. “But it was worse two years ago. And because we keep adding programs, we keep getting stronger. It’s hard work. But we’re sustaining. Steve and I do it together.”
A role model for community-based dance
By Rachel Berman
Patricia Reedy and Nancy Ng have an audacious plan: to change the perception of the field of dance, one teacher at a time, and to cultivate choreographers from childhood, while the limits of imagination are boundless. Their plan takes tangible form as the nonprofit Luna Dance Institute, based in Emeryville, California, just across the bay from San Francisco.
Over the past 19 years, Luna Dance Institute has established a strong foothold in the San Francisco Bay Area dance community, reaching children, teens, parents, and dance educators of all levels. Last year alone LDI provided resources for 250 dance artists and teachers, thereby enhancing the dance instruction for more than 24,500 students.
Presenting a line of thinking that deviates from the traditional focus of a beginning dance class, Reedy, Ng, and their teaching artists encourage children to create rather than re-create. Their goal is to redefine the role of teacher as we know it, transforming the old paradigm of technical mastery to developing a dancer’s whole-body intelligence through a composition-based dance-learning curriculum.
How it began
Reedy and Ng—both performers, choreographers, teachers, and mothers—met as graduate students at Mills College in Oakland, California. Reedy founded the first incarnation of LDI after earning an MA in creativity and education from Mills. The author of Body, Mind & Spirit IN ACTION: A Teacher’s Guide to Creative Dance, she now holds the title of LDI’s director of teaching and learning. Ng holds an MFA from Mills in performance and choreography and is LDI’s director of community development.
As directors, the two have a symbiotic partnership that keeps them on track. Reedy says her vision is “far-reaching” while Ng “stays the course.” Reedy spends time in the studio teaching and training staff, while Ng is often the face of LDI for funders. Ng, Reedy says, has the uncanny ability and imagination to “stand in another’s shoes in any situation.” Both women, having been recognized in the dance field numerous times, were the first to receive the national award for mentorship (in 2003) from the National Dance Education Organization. In 2008, NDEO awarded Reedy the Outstanding Educator award.
In 1992, responding to the lack of neighborhood studios in Oakland (many of which were displaced by the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake), Reedy opened Luna—A Dance World, a community space used for rehearsals and gatherings, as a hub for classes, teachers, and choreographers. Ng was on faculty before becoming co-director.
It was a magical time of collaboration, which Reedy speaks of with nostalgia and warmth.
However, she and Ng found that they could reach more students and train more teachers (with less overhead) by developing in-school programs and cultivating artist– teacher partnerships. So in 1998 they closed the studio and rebranded as Luna Kids Dance, training teachers and establishing partnerships with the Oakland Unified School District. LKD was committed to children’s education and its mission of “bringing all children to dance.”
In 2005, in order to expand their teaching roster and spread the word of dance, Reedy and Ng founded the California Institute for Dance Learning (CIDL) to serve as the pedagogy engine of Luna Kids Dance. The institute provided comprehensive education and support for all who teach dance, encompassing LKD’s professional development work. However, Reedy and Ng realized that although they were focused on children’s education, it was the educators who were driving their mission.
So in the fall of 2010 they rebranded yet again, placing all programs under the Luna Dance Institute heading and opening a new space with studios, administrative offices, and a Professional Learning Resource Center in Emeryville. Reedy is excited about once again having a physical space, realizing its potential for collaborations, classes, and audience-building for LDI’s programs.
Ng agrees, pointing out that “place is so important in dance, in choreographic terms, and now structurally, in the evolution of LDI.” Both are excited about re-creating the sense of dancers, teachers, and choreographers gathering in community that they fostered almost two decades ago.
Luna in action
On a sunny Northern California day, energetic fourth-grade students at New Highland Academy in Oakland file into the classroom for their weekly dance class. Wearing their street clothes, they go through simple warm-up exercises led by Luna Dance Institute instructor Danae Rees, who bangs on a small drum to keep time.
Then, dividing the students into groups of three, Rees guides them through a game called “shape museum,” in which they take turns playing the “statue,” freezing in complementary or asymmetrical shapes. The two not frozen are asked to interact with their friend’s still body, moving “over and under” or “near and far.” Rees is complimentary, singling out individuals for their interesting choices.
Across town at Marshall Elementary, another set of 10-year-olds, almost all rambunctious boys, is following the same curriculum. The students run across the room to illustrate “near” and “far” and slither on the ground to get “under” their friends. LDI instructor Erin Lally keeps them focused, using a drum and rhythmic clapping to bring them to attention when necessary.
At this age, as expected, some students are more reticent to participate while others jump at the chance to show off for their peers. Most are having a great time. All are encouraged to try and are told that there are no wrong answers. In less than an hour both classes will have made rudimentary trios, with a beginning, middle, and end, utilizing space, energy, and levels, along with college-level concepts like counterpoint. Students are able to verbalize recognizable elements in their own compositions and their classmates’ and fill out assessment worksheets to record actions and observations each week.
The LDI curriculum embraces creativity in a playful environment, yet pays rigorous attention to the principles of child development. The students are allowed to be adaptable and flexible. Given parameters framed as a game, they learn an important part of dancemaking: making choices. Following the appropriate National Dance Standards guidelines (and grade-level benchmarks), LDI aims to provide children with the tools to create, perform, and respond.
Just as academic schools aspire to instill in all students the ability to put words together, make sentences, and write complete essays, LDI wants children to do the same with movement—to put expressive ideas into a complete dance. The goal is not to make choreographers but to help children understand the building blocks of creating, no matter what they do later in life.
A presence in schools
Strong partnerships within the Oakland Unified School District, from administration to the classroom teachers, are what make the LDI program successful. The classes at New Highland Academy and Marshall Elementary are offered through LDI’s School and Community Alliances program, which also offers coaching and consulting to public schools and teachers throughout the Bay Area.
Most dance-in-schools programs in California differ structurally from LDI, offering a residency model in which guest teachers, for a finite amount of time, focus on a culminating performance. Luna believes in continuity and putting down roots. The LDI program encompasses one hour a week for the entire school year and makes sure each grade is involved in successive years, thereby building students’ skills in scope and sequence.
“One of the things we do best is help dance teachers become their best teaching selves, gaining in skill and confidence. I delight in watching them start, expand, and improve the programs they work in, stay in the field, and mentor others.” —Patricia Reedy
Other programs offered through LDI include the Studio Lab, a choreography program for children and teens, and Moving Parents and Children Together (MPACT), which offers parent–child dance classes to families in Alameda County (where Oakland is located) and through the child welfare system.
But LDI doesn’t target only kids. Each week on the Mills College campus, Reedy guides MFA candidates in dance through exercises that have the same sense of play and self-discovery. The course’s focus: to incorporate compositional ideas into technique class syllabuses. Her students practice their ideas on classmates and later in studio settings as part of their fieldwork.
Reedy and Ng would like to see the establishment of a national dance credential that supports high-quality, rigorous programs in schools and studios. Their goal is to help establish a California teaching credential for standards-based dance classes within the public school system. If and when a national credential is established, they hope it will align with the state’s.
LDI operates on the dual premise that all students deserve teaching of the highest quality and that all teachers deserve opportunities for continued professional growth (and should be recognized for their mastery and compensated accordingly). Currently, to teach dance in California public schools, one must complete requirements for a general BA degree plus 32 units of dance instruction. LDI offers courses that fulfill the latter requirement, and its Certificate of Study—CIDL Foundations of Dance Teaching—is the first step in working toward a California credential. The Mills College course Reedy teaches is part of this certification program, open to both Mills dance majors and non-Mills students for continuing education credit.
According to Reedy, states that offer certification (like New York) have robust dance-in-schools programs. She thinks California is stuck in a catch-22: there’s no need for certification because dance isn’t being taught in the school system, and dance isn’t being offered because of the dearth of certified dance teachers. Of course there is the bigger picture that the performing arts at all levels are scrambling for funds and that dance is not as valued in our society as it should be.
Another way LDI serves teachers is with its 10-year-old, nationally recognized Summer Institute, held on the Mills campus each July. Twelve people (six dance artists and six classroom teachers) from diverse teaching backgrounds participate in an intense six-day exploration, followed by a year of collegial activities in dance learning, all free of charge. These artists work together in studying state and national standards for dance, child development principles, and learning theories. They investigate the teacher–artist partnership and strategies for partnering with schools, districts, organizations, and the community to bring dance to life in their individual settings.
Follow-up collegial activities are mandatory and include a midyear meeting, an end-of-year reflection, regular participation in the interactive forum on LDI’s website, and communication with an assigned coach. The coaching, tailored to each participant, may include curricular design, observation and feedback on teaching, or assessment or strategic planning of a dance program. During the follow-up year, all Summer Institute participants may also take any LDI workshop or participate in any professional learning community activity.
More than 120 teachers have participated to date, teaching collectively more than 25,000 children. Reedy says, “One of the things we do best is help dance teachers become their best teaching selves, gaining in skill and confidence. I delight in watching them start, expand, and improve the programs they work in, stay in the field, and mentor others.”
An LDI success story
A 2005 Summer Institute graduate, Erica Rose Jeffrey, speaks glowingly of LDI, calling it an “oasis.” Jeffrey has degrees in ballet and mediation and conflict resolution. She now teaches dance in Bay Area public schools, through San Francisco Ballet’s Dance in Schools and Communities program, in recreation programs, and at local dance studios. She is outreach director for Let’s All Dance!, a dance-in-schools residency program at Marin Dance Theatre in San Rafael.
Jeffrey calls the ongoing mentorship of the LDI program and its collegiality “invaluable.” Unless they have studied pedagogy in college, dancers often come to teaching in a solitary rite of passage, learning through trial and error and without professional support. LDI offers semi-annual Issues of Practice seminars as well as two events per month—free brunches and happy-hour get-togethers, plus consultations and workshops for the community.
Jeffrey, who is interested in leadership and dance advocacy, believes she emerged from the Summer Institute with renewed skills, concrete exercises, individual lesson plans, and the confidence to direct a program. “LDI encouraged me to look at complexities within the field,” she says.
She has stayed connected to her LDI family, serving as a facilitator and mentor to new program participants. She also takes part in the Advanced Summer Institute, a four-day workshop for Summer Institute graduates that furthers their knowledge and solidifies their sense of community. She will expand her own conflict-resolution dance education program, Moving Toward Peace, when she travels to Australia on a Rotary Peace Fellowship in 2012.
Promoting the power of dance
Reedy and Ng are role models, innovative thinkers who allow their students the freedom to explore and help connect them to the greater dance community. They believe in the power of dance education to bring about social change, heal communities, and develop future leaders. Their philosophy begins with the idea that, as Ng points out, “working with composition makes for thoughtful dancers.” Thoughtful dancers in turn make thoughtful choreographers and teachers, or transfer to any vocation. They believe that putting nonverbal expressive ideas into motion and crafting them into a dance utilizes a whole-brain approach to learning.
The National Art Education Association claims that the arts make a tremendous impact on the developmental growth of every child and help level the learning field across socioeconomic boundaries. Reedy and Ng simply want every child to be able to create and to have access to qualified dance teachers to guide them in the process.
Three school owners on why their small, medium, and large schools are just the right size—for them
By Karen White
Size matters. Or does it? It’s important if you’re a sumo wrestler or are eyeing a piece of chocolate cake, but what about dance studios? Is bigger always better, or can contentment be found in studios large, small, and somewhere in between?
It sure can. Just ask Satrina Villaseñor of All the Right Steps Family Dance Center in Prunedale, a rural area near Salinas, California. In her fourth year of business she has an enrollment of 93, with classes averaging 8 to 10 students.
The small studio
Villaseñor has a single-room space in a shopping plaza, so she estimates that she could grow to 120 students, tops. But even growing that much is not a big concern.
“At this point I’m really content,” says Villaseñor, a mom of two. “I effectively manage the studio. I run a good program. I follow through. If I were any bigger, yeah, the money would be good, but something would suffer, someone would lose. I don’t want my kids to lose; I don’t want my students to lose.”
She credits her attitude to a business setback that almost led her to give up on her lifelong dance studio dream. After she had leased two large, beautiful rooms in a performing arts center for two years, her creative movement teacher decided to open her own studio—in the same building! As Villaseñor began her third year, she saw her 80-student enrollment plummet by half. She almost gave up, but instead, in January 2010, she moved across the freeway into her current one-room space.
When she opened her studio in 2007, Villaseñor spent a ton of money on advertising she couldn’t really afford, clung to every parent who walked in the door, and, she says, “worked myself silly.” Now she sees success in more than student numbers.
“It’s hard to sum up what happened with the first location, but I was completely broken down,” she says. “But now, [I think] it was the greatest thing to ever happen to me. I had to really look at why I was doing this and what I wanted to do. I love teaching dance and I want it to be about that, never about the money.”
The big studio
Last summer, Teri Mangiaratti of In Sync Center of the Arts in Quincy, Massachusetts, was similarly stressed—but for a completely different reason. With 450 kids (or, as owners say, 600 “heads in classes”), she had grown to an impossible size for her dual locations in a Knights of Columbus building and a church. So she signed a 10-year lease for an 8,000-square-foot space and took on a $100,000 renovation loan.
The new space opened in 2009 and almost immediately grew by hundreds. “That year I was on the edge—I was crazy,” Mangiaratti says. “I started to second guess myself: do I really want it this big? The phone was ringing off the hook. We couldn’t get a moment of peace. The waiting room was jammed. Even my staff didn’t know how to handle all these people. I thought, ‘This is too much.’ ”
By midwinter of 2010, Mangiaratti’s school had 825 students and had reached 1,000 heads—mostly dancers, but also kids taking music, art, or cooking classes. Her studio is open 9am to 9pm four days a week, 9am to 6:30pm on Fridays, and 9am to 1pm on Saturdays, with no dance classes but plenty of birthday parties on Sundays. Her staff numbers 30—17 dance teachers (plus 10 for music, art, and cooking) and 3 office staffers—earning a total payroll figure that she calls “overwhelming.” But her personal crisis has passed.
“Now I’m feeling back in a rhythm,” she says. “I love it when I come in and the afternoon classes are happening. The waiting room is jammin’. I do like the excitement. I will say it’s always on your mind—it doesn’t ever turn off. But it’s good now.”
In the middle
When Kimberly Sparks purchased her studio, her five-year plan was to grow its 300-plus heads to 500. It was a random number, something to shoot for. She made it. Now in its 10th year, Today’s Dance Center, Inc. in Medford, New Jersey, is still about that size—554 heads (389 students).
That could have changed when the Blockbuster store in her plaza went kaput. With a ground-floor location, good visibility, and 7,500 square feet, the empty space was tempting. If she had taken it on, Sparks could have had the three studios she had long dreamed about, with space left over for a dance store.
“But the landlord wouldn’t rent it to me,” she says. “He said, ‘It’s so big and will cost so much that you’ll probably be out of business three months after signing the contract.’ I looked into it, but I let it go.”
She believes staying smaller was a good business decision. Even in her 1,800 square feet, she’s still meeting goals—such as establishing a professional company, KAOS, which made its debut in April 2009 at the Philadelphia Fringe Festival. With 16 trustworthy staffers, Sparks can hop over to New York City for an afternoon master class or seek inspiration at a professional dance performance.
“I love it when I come in and the afternoon classes are happening. The waiting room is jammin’. I do like the excitement.” —Teri Mangiaratti
“If the studio was bigger, I might not be able to do that,” Sparks says. “I’m content because the bills are getting paid and my staff is doing a great job. For any kind of success, you have to stay grounded and within boundaries—between the person who won’t take a chance and the person who takes too many.”
All three studio owners admit that family considerations play greatly into their business decisions and their ultimate contentment. On weekdays, Mangiaratti spends from 9am to 2pm at the studio, leaves to get her kids off the school bus, and returns for the afternoon/evening hours only twice a week.
For Sparks, a “full-time mom and full-time business owner,” staying put instead of pumping revenue into renovations or a larger lease has allowed her to save money for her kids’ college educations.
Villaseñor, who says her family suffered during her first year when she managed her business by herself and taught all the classes, is now home by 6pm to have supper with her husband and kids every night. Her four teachers handle the rest of the schedule. For her, this decision comes at a substantial price—she’s taking practically no salary for herself. Next year, when one teacher returns to college, she will pick up a few additional classes, but she says the setup is working for her right now.
“One of the things my own teacher told me was, ‘You’re not going to get rich doing this,’ and I said, ‘OK.’ I went into this with that in mind,” says Villaseñor.
Small classes, Villaseñor believes, allow her to take her time. If she sees lazy carriages in cambré, she stops to talk about the problem. With many students new to dance, she feels she has time to get them caught up through individualized attention.
When new parents show up, they often mention they’re looking for the personalized attention of a small studio and that word of mouth led them to All the Right Steps. “I have gotten compliments that I respond to everyone as an individual right from the beginning and don’t give cookie-cutter responses,” Villaseñor says.
With no internalized pressure to grow, she feels comfortable fine-tuning her program as she wishes—such as considering canceling her hip-hop program until she can find a teacher who lives up to her standards. (She’s on her sixth one in three years.) “I want to go home at the end of the day feeling like I’m giving these kids the best I can,” she says.
Sparks, rather than constantly seeking out new students, encourages her current clients to take more classes. That means less income (due to multiple-class discounts), but in return she gets more seasoned dancers. “People are committed to you and what you’re preaching,” she says. “I’ve learned: the more people, the more issues. This makes for a more pleasant atmosphere.”
Her school’s size has reduced her to teaching one class a week, plus rehearsals for her professional company. But Sparks still makes sure her students know her by name and feel comfortable approaching her to chat. “I’d really like to make an impact on these kids even if I’m not their teacher,” she says. “I didn’t know that was important when I bought [the school], but I’ve learned that’s important to me.”
When Mangiaratti started with 20 kids in a gym’s aerobic studio 15 years ago, she had no dreams about growing her school so large. “At the end of that first session, when I went to do registration I needed two classes. Then I needed three. Then it kind of snowballed,” she says.
Her school’s size allows Mangiaratti to hire professional office staffers, provide her teachers with a paycheck all year long, and reward everyone’s dedication with a Mid-Year Madness party and bonuses. She can design fun, new programs and be fairly certain they’ll fill up. She can even offer free classes, such as belly dance or parenting workshops, as a gesture of goodwill to her clients, and pay her staff to teach them.
Aside from the limited income, the only downside to her small studio that Villaseñor can see is the physical space. Her performance team attends competitions not to win, but to gain experience on a big stage. Her “lobby” is the section of her one room “where the door opens and there is no dance vinyl,” she says. And while in her previous space she banished parents to another room, she’s now adjusted to having them around. In fact, she finds it helpful, since parents who are in the room can see when their children misbehave.
For Mangiaratti, with so many students “everything multiplies exponentially,” from payroll to cases of toilet paper. With so many management decisions to make, last year she found that “the creative side of my brain turned off” and gave up teaching except for three hours a week with her company kids.
Mangiaratti says managing it all is the hardest part and believes handling a studio this size would be impossible if she wasn’t hyper-organized. For example, by the beginning of March, she had finished her fall schedule. “It’s just planning,” she says. “It seems like my life is just one big schedule. But that’s how it needs to work.”
Sparks says she would love to own her own building, but she’s not willing to let that dream threaten what she already has—a balance of business and family that allows her to stay passionate about dance. “Would I enjoy being that overwhelmed, that overworked?” she says. “The reality is that it’s a continual self-evaluation of where you are and what equals importance for you.”
Mangiaratti remembers attending a dance convention years ago where the conversation turned to what the owners wanted. “I said I wanted to be home when my kids got dropped off from school, and everybody laughed and said, ‘That’s not going to happen because you’re a dance teacher,’ ” she says. “I didn’t know how I was going to do it, but I told myself I was going to find a way.”
As for Villaseñor, when she moved into the smaller space, she sensed trepidation when she tried to sell new clients on her studio. Then she realized they were only reacting to her own presentation. “It was the way I was talking about it, because I wasn’t comfortable,” she says. “But now I don’t get any of that. I talk about my awesome little studio and now I just get smiles.”
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE CONTACT:
Rhee Gold Company 508.285.6650
HEDY PERNA RETURNS TO SHARE HER BUSINESS SAVVY
AT THE 2011 DANCELIFE TEACHER CONFERENCE
NORTON, MA, April 08, 2011
Longtime studio owner Hedy Perna returns this year to the DanceLife Teacher Conference faculty lineup. Dance teachers and school owners from across the United States can expect to hear her practical and to-the-point advice on studio business issues at the conference, held at the Phoenician Resort in Scottsdale, Arizona from July 30 through August 2.
Perna will lead sessions on “Business” July 30 and “Performance Concepts and Props” July 31.
She and her husband, Patrick, are celebrating 23 years as directors of the Perna Dance Center, a family-owned and operated recreational dance studio in Hazlet, New Jersey.
She is vice president of Associated Dance Teachers of New Jersey.
Perna has been a presenter for Rhee Gold’s Project Motivate and DanceLife Teacher Conference and a contributing writer for Dance Studio Life magazine. She has developed a line of products and tools to aide studio owners in their business and the “business of performance,” including props, sets, and Performance Spacing Blocks.
For more information about the DanceLife Teacher Conference, visit www.dancestudiolife.com/dltc/.
By Melissa Hoffman
What can email do for your business? If you’re like me—not a computer whiz—it’s probably more than you think.
Until about eight months ago I believed that the biggest advantage of using email was that I could answer inquiries and parents’ questions at midnight if need be and send out an information letter five times a year. True, the 24/7 aspect of email makes it a valuable communication tool in the dance school business, what with our crazy hours. However, I have since learned that email can be hugely beneficial in marketing my business to clientele new and old.
Not long ago, I decided to rethink my approach to marketing, and a large part of that was to begin using email as the marketing tool it can be. Since I know far more about dance than about using the Internet to market my business, I was a bit nervous. Right away I enlisted help, not only to help me get started but to learn everything I could about this aspect of my business. I hired one of my teachers who is very computer savvy, who is teaching me as we go. I now do much of the inputting and she adds photos and formats everything properly. We meet once a week for an hour to go over what’s coming up for future emails.
Let’s walk through the steps I took to make email work its magic for me.
Step 1: Choosing a provider
My first task was to find the right email marketing tool for me. That meant taking a look at our current email list and determining how best to reach out to additional clientele.
There are several email marketing companies (see sidebar), and all come with a monthly fee that’s based on the number of emails you plan to send. You can also add features, such as the ability to include photos, for an added cost. The prices seemed fairly comparable. After speaking to many customers of such services and watching informational videos, I decided on Constant Contact. For me, what was most important was that the system would be easy to use, and many people I know who use Constant Contact were very positive about it. Live help is always available and there are many tutorials.
Next, I had my web designer add a “join our mailing list” button to my school’s website so that those who are looking for dance classes can receive notifications from us.
Step 2: Getting set up
Next I needed to transfer my existing email list to Constant Contact. I chose to divide the list into categories: existing students, new students, general interest (the new contacts who clicked on the “join our mailing list” button), and company dancers. This makes it easy to send emails to only certain groups.
With this service I can send emails to more addresses than my regular email account allowed, which was 100 at a time. I also like that it is permission based, so people can choose to remove themselves from the list. I can include the same address in several email categories without worrying that people will get duplicate emails; Constant Contact will send only one email to any address.
Although people have the option to unsubscribe, as of the end of 2010 I had had only seven removals since the time I began using Constant Contact in June 2010. There is also a feature that allows the recipients to forward the email to a friend, and I have seen those referrals happen much more often than removals.
Once you’ve created the mailing list, the fun can begin!
Step 3: Rethink your content
In analyzing my email lists, I realized I’d made a mistake over the years by not including past clients. I have always kept non-returning students on my “snail mail” list for three years; however, I did not keep them on my email list. But now I’ve gone through my files from the past couple of years and added those families onto my email list. Why? Although they might not have children who still want to dance, they might have grandchildren, friends, or neighbors who might be interested. They don’t need to know when dress rehearsal is, but there are other events that could draw them to the school.
My newsletter has never looked so professional. When the first one went out, I received 12 emails within a few minutes telling me how impressive it was.
So, given the broader scope of my email list, I’ve changed my newsletters to include information for the general public. We offer plenty of activities that anyone can participate in without having a child enrolled in the school, such as Parents Night Out, birthday parties, or Zumba for adults. Now people from outside the school are joining in activities they otherwise would not have. And the list helps with publicity: the more times people see the name of your business, the more likely they are to remember it.
Step 4: Create templates
The thought of creating templates made me feel like I was stepping outside of my comfort zone, so I got help. My assistant created numerous templates, including one for our monthly newsletter and others for quick reminder blasts about upcoming events. The templates make it easy to create each newsletter, though I still enlist help with pictures and making each mailing look the best it can.
My newsletter has never looked so professional. Readers can click on a subject and go right to that feature article, join us on Facebook and Twitter, and click on links that bring them to my school’s website. Plus, I can archive the newsletters or quick blasts for easy reference. When the first newsletter went out, I received 12 emails within a few minutes telling me how impressive it was.
Step 5: Reap the benefits
Since beginning with Constant Contact I have watched my mailing list double. Along with the former clients I put back on the list, others have joined via my school’s website and from referrals. Constant Contact has quickly become an integral part of how I do business.
One of the best features of this system is the ability to analyze email activity (included in the monthly fee). I can see whose emails bounced (and why), who has opened their email (and who has not), who opted out of receiving them, and much more. This information is available as soon as an email is sent, but I generally look the next day so that I can manage any bounce-backs. This feature is invaluable for me as a business owner.
And I’ve put my emails to work for me. After revamping my newsletters, I began offering advertising opportunities to other businesses. I take only two per month (business-card size) and charge $20, and now there is a waiting list. These businesses also now share my newsletters with their clientele.
Through better use of email, I’ve increased my school’s visibility—and what’s just as important is the fact that what goes out to my existing and potential clients adds to my image as a professional.
Constant Contact: www.ConstantContact.com
Benchmark Email: www.benchmarkemail.com
Mad Mimi: www.madmimi.com
Getting creative means fun for kids—and teachers
By Roxanne Claire
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. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Since 1998 my studio, Claire School of Dance in Houston, Texas, has kept its doors open during the summer with a series of camps for kids of all kinds.
Many parents look for daytime activities for their children during the summer. “Full-day” camps that run from 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 or 3:00 p.m. are popular. Since these camps replicate school hours, they give children something to do while allowing the academic-year rhythm of family life to relax but not be disrupted. To accommodate working parents, some camps offer expanded hours. Others offer optional early drop-off and late pickup times for an additional fee. Camps for young children often run only in the mornings.
So think of summer as a time of adventure. Short summer camps, one or two weeks in length, allow you to give free rein to your creativity and bring in both income and new students. Short camps let you accommodate more students, since families are working around their vacation schedules, and their lower cost might attract parents who couldn’t afford a longer camp.
Targeting your audience
The focus of a summer camp depends on the age group served. Programs for elementary school students often fall into the “something fun to do” category, while programs for middle and high school students frequently target specific interests or skills.
The best programs blend fun with education, even for the smallest campers. Your target audience will determine both the theme and the structure of the camp. Young children, for example, will be attracted to fantasy themes and may also benefit from built-in free play. Older children will enjoy time to work on assignments that allow for self-expression, such as choreography or art projects, in addition to formal instruction.
Summer camps need not be limited to dance-related themes. Depending on your community and personal interests, you can offer a wide range of activities. Camp themes can be broadly interpreted, drawing in related subjects and developing activities suitable to each age group. This freedom to get creative with content tends to broaden your camps’ appeal, potentially bringing in more children, including boys. And it’s fun!
Whether you are inspired by your own children, a comment made by a parent, or by an online search, you can make a summer camp an act of creative genius, something uniquely yours. And when you have fun creating the camps, children will have fun attending them.
For young campers
Some of the themes I have used over the years include arts and nature, music history, anime, fencing, and fairies. To make them appealing to a broad population, I don’t include dance classes in all of my camps.
Arts and nature
Our arts and nature camp was developed for children ages 4 to 6. Since the name of our camp was “Dormouse,” our themes included not only famous artists and nature study but “Alice in Wonderland.” We developed activities such as collage making using items mentioned in the story, such as keys, playing cards, and chess pieces.
As part of our art theme, every day we read a children’s book on the life and work of a different artist and did an art project that either replicated that artist’s technique —“dribble” painting for Jackson Pollack, for example—or that artist’s subject, like lily pads for Monet.
For the nature side of the camp, we studied butterflies, ladybugs, seeds, and the sun. We made a small booklet on the life cycle of the butterfly, maintained an earthworm bin, sprouted seeds, and released ladybugs.
The emphasis on art projects and the creative exploration of nature kept this camp closely tied to the mission of our school (we specialize in stimulating a child’s imagination and encouraging individual creativity), yet broadened the school’s appeal.
Stories from ballet
An obvious choice for a summer dance program is a camp about famous ballets. In addition to favorites such as The Nutcracker and Swan Lake, think about other child-friendly choices such as The Firebird, Peter and the Wolf, The Sleeping Beauty, and Coppélia.
A Child’s Introduction to Ballet: The Stories, Music, and Magic of Classical Dance (a book and CD combination) familiarizes children with the stories and music of well-loved ballets. The realistic movements in the Barbie movies (which use computer-generated images based on actual New York City Ballet dancers) introduce ballet to children young enough to be more captivated by animation than by real people. Round out the program with Dover coloring books (available through Amazon) such as The Nutcracker Ballet Coloring Book or Favorite Ballets Coloring Book, plus theme-related crafts.
Stories from opera
Opera offers a wealth of beautiful music and fun or interesting stories for children. Hansel and Gretel, Carmen, The Magic Flute, Aida, and The Barber of Seville are full of recognizable musical themes.
Operavox is a DVD of 30-minute animated versions of six operas, including The Magic Flute and The Barber of Seville. Another DVD version of The Magic Flute was directed by Julie Taymor, the director/designer of Lion King fame. The vintage (1954) version of Hansel and Gretel is a delightful “claymation” fantasy.
There are many opera storybooks and CDs aimed at children. The World’s Very Best Opera for Kids . . . in English makes opera easy for children to understand. World-famous tenor Luciano Pavarotti made the selections for another CD, My Favorite Opera for Children.
Activities can include acting out roles, decorating gingerbread houses, or making “magic” flutes out of the cardboard tubes from dry cleaning coathangers.
Ballet camps can use many children’s books as a spine. Ballerina: A Step by Step Guide to Ballet (by Jane Hackett), A Young Dancer (by Jill Krementz), We Love Ballet (by Jane Feldman), My First Ballet Book (by Kate Castle), and The Ballet Book (by Darcy Bussell) describe classroom etiquette, ballet steps, and the art of performance. Several of these books come with DVDs. Dance class, crafts, and, for older children, an end-of-camp performance round out the week’s activities.
A similar approach can be taken with music appreciation. Camps can be built around famous composers or a well-known piece of music. When broadly interpreted, this camp can provide hours of fun for even very young campers. My school’s Vivaciously Vivaldi! ©, designed for 4- to 6-year-olds, explores Venice, the Silk Road, and art based on—what else?—The Four Seasons. To give the camp wider appeal, we do not include dance classes; instead, the children play musical games that involve movement.
For older campers
The longer attention span, maturing taste, and greater dexterity of older children allow for a more sophisticated program and a wider range of subject material and craft ideas.
Camps for middle and high school students can go into a subject in depth. Performance camps are always a big hit. Whether your theme focuses on a classical work or a Broadway show, parents and students alike love the end-of-camp show.
Choreographers also make a good theme. Take George Balanchine: excerpts from films such as Dancing for Mr. B, Choreography by Balanchine, and Bringing Balanchine Back: New York City Ballet can provide background on his life and work, while learning some of his actual choreography gives students the physical experience of his genius.
The work of Twyla Tharp can be seen in Amadeus, Hair, and White Nights. Baryshnikov by Tharp: The Little Ballet/Sinatra Suite/Push Comes to Shove and Baryshnikov Dances Sinatra and More are double treats.
Other choreographers whose biographies and works are available on DVD include Martha Graham, Alvin Ailey, Jerome Robbins, and Bob Fosse. Contemporary choices include Merce Cunningham, Jirí Kylián, La La La Human Steps, and Pina Bausch.
Along with the videos, we offer appropriate styles of dance classes for each choreographer.
Combo classes for boys
Some subjects are of particular interest to boys, bringing students to your school who otherwise might not have been part of your demographic. Hip-hop classes can be part of a performance camp or can be combined with stencil or graffiti art lessons. Approaches that use physical theater or rhythm (think STOMP) can be especially attractive to boys.
Physical movement doesn’t have to be about dance. Two of our camps for older children were specifically aimed at boys. Both our fencing camp and our anime camp incorporated physical movement but neither was dance-related.
Our camp in anime, or Japanese animation, was the result of my older son’s fascination with Inuyasha and other anime cartoon shows. Our one-week camp for children ages 10 to 16 focused on both anime and all things Japanese. It included anime screenings and classes in Japanese language, calligraphy, and traditional art forms. We also provided martial arts classes, putting the emphasis not so much on fighting as on respect and self-discipline. (Something all the parents appreciated, no doubt!)
Our fencing camp came about because one of our parents was looking for a convenient fencing program. The instructor I found had years of experience working with young students and delivered a stimulating, rigorous, yet fun program that alternated between training and games. Most of the students were boys who continued afternoon fencing classes once the school year began. We even started an evening adult fencing class based on the interest of our students’ fathers.
Finding non-dance teachers
I do a lot of legwork before finalizing my camp plans. I have found language teachers through the local Japan American Society, on Craigslist, and through Internet searches and personal contacts. I found three excellent manga (Japanese cartoon) teachers by advertising on Craigslist and at the local art supply store. I called a local pottery supply company to ask who might teach raku and the Print Museum to see who could teach Japanese silk screening.
Many artists are available during the day, but availability can be an issue. One teacher who worked for an anime production company was given leave by his company to teach for an hour a day. At times I have scheduled the camp in the afternoon to make it easier for working people to teach for me. Working teachers can be scheduled for the 1:00 or 5:00 p.m. time slots. By taking a late lunch or leaving work a little early, the teachers are able to do their jobs and still teach my campers.
Getting the word out
Part of the fun of organizing a summer camp is the marketing. Once you have decided on your theme(s), the next step is to find a name for each camp. The name will facilitate choosing a recognizable logo and creating memorable promotional brochures and advertising. Think “Ballet ’n’ Broadway” rather than the ho-hum “Summer Dance Camp.”
Brochures, whether printed from a template off your computer or professionally done, are an excellent means of getting out the word. Postcards are an inexpensive way to blanket your school’s neighborhood. Numerous online printing companies can print several thousand cards inexpensively.
Mailing lists can be purchased from a local mailing house according to the demographics you request. These mailing houses can also address and add postage to ease your workload. Since people get a lot of mail, most of which is tossed into the trash, your goal is to create something that parents will want to keep on their refrigerators.
There are other ways of promoting your camp. Donating a slot in one or more camps to a local school’s fund-raiser (think silent auction) can help establish your presence in the community. And it’s a worthy cause!
Once you’ve gotten the word out, you can turn your attention to the camp itself. Designing a set of lesson plans will help keep you on track and help you write your shopping list. Posting your schedule will let parents know which activities you have planned (especially important since they won’t see what the children are doing). They’ll appreciate knowing what they’re paying for.
The always-important teacher/student ratio becomes even more important when the students are present all day. Helpers—perhaps some of your older students—are essential, especially in camps for children who are too young to go to the bathroom by themselves. Helpers can also assist with crafts and snacks. Daycare guidelines are helpful here in anticipating your staffing needs. I recommend one staff person, either an adult or a helper, for every six or seven students.
Making the camp memorable is an important part of building your brand—making your school known for the quality of its programs. Keepsake craft projects are one way to remind both children and parents of the fun to be had at your camps. At many of our camps, we personalize T-shirts with each child’s photograph or a piece of her artwork.
We frequently post camp photographs in our waiting room. You can post photographs of all the fun your students are having in camp on your school’s Facebook page. (You do have one, right?) And by linking the Facebook page to your school’s website splash page, even visitors to your website will have the opportunity to see your camps in action.
The best kind of marketing is word of mouth. Creating summer buzz can add to both your reputation and your bottom line. Now that sizzles!
How big? Space often dictates the size of enrollment. For reasons of safety and program quality, camps that take place at my studio are capped at 12 to 15 campers. This is a comfortable size for both my available rooms and for one teacher to handle with an assistant. For three years I rented classroom space in a neighborhood elementary school for my arts and nature camp. Enrollment jumped from eight students the first year to 40 the third year.
Do I need a license? Licensing requirements will differ from community to community and are frequently available online. Although I am not required to obtain a childcare license for my camps, I do follow licensing requirements.
What about medical concerns? Our enrollment form asks about food allergies and we take those into consideration when planning snacks. We do not give children medication.
How do you schedule teachers? Our teachers are responsible for either a 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. or 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. schedule. For our anime camp, which had specialized classes, teachers were responsible only for their own subject. I supervised the overall camp or hired one of the teachers to be the “gap” leader, an adult presence between visiting teachers.
What should I charge? Prices are determined by two factors. First, I multiply the price of a single class by the number of camp hours and add in costs of snacks and art supplies. Second, I look at what other local camps charge. Because I hire highly trained or specialized teachers and because my camps often require a lot of art supplies, my prices are sometimes in the “high middle” range. You do need to be sensitive to your market. I consider my school to be a “boutique,” offering services that cannot be found elsewhere. Other schools may have different price considerations.
A new contemporary ballet company and educational studio, lustigdancetheatre, has found a home at 80 Albany Street, New Brunswick, New Jersey.
The dance organization includes a 10-member professional troupe that performs a repertoire of works by Graham Lustig, artistic director, plus the LDT Dance and Wellness Studio. Student classes are offered in ballet, pointe, contemporary, hip-hop, Afro-Caribbean, tap, creative dance, and Pilates. Adult and wellness classes include beginner ballroom, Latin fusion, ballet, Pilates, yoga, Afro-Caribbean, Zumba, and Israeli folk dancing.
Director Lustig danced with the Dutch National Ballet and the Sadler’s Wells Royal Ballet before embarking on a freelance choreographic career that has encompassed more than 60 works for companies such as Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, Ballet West, Northern Ballet Theatre, Hong Kong Ballet, Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company, and the Sacramento Ballet.
In 1999 he was appointed artistic director of the American Repertory Ballet in New Brunswick and its affiliated school, the Princeton Ballet School, expanding education and outreach programs and choreographing 11 new works for ARB.
In 2003, Lustig was invited to become a charter member of the Artists Council for Americans for the Arts in Washington, DC. He serves on the advisory boards of the Princeton Festival and the Terpsichore Theatre of Dance and has served as a panelist for the Mid-Atlantic Arts Foundation and numerous times for the National Endowment for the Arts. He has also served as part-time artistic director of the Oakland Ballet Company.
Visit www.lustigdancetheatre.org or call 732.246.7300 for further information.
Anita’s Dance Center: taking to heart a mother’s wish
By Arisa White
Anita Olson—named after the grandmother she never met who was a professional hoofer—didn’t envision that she would take over the family’s 27-year-old business, Muskego Dance Studio. It was her mother’s idea, a deathbed wish bestowed on her in 1988.
Audrey Scheck, Anita’s mother, grew up in Milwaukee, trained at Chicago DMA conventions in her mid-teens, and later taught dance to deaf students while she pursued a performing career in the Windy City. Dancing mostly Spanish and ballroom, Audrey was a featured dancer in shows in Chicago and St. Louis, partnering with Don Romero, brother of the famous ballroom dancer Cesar Romero. When she married John Bronk in 1956, he moved her to Muskego, Wisconsin. This city girl “woke up in [that] country setting and there was a cow in the front yard, [and] she said, ‘I can’t do this; I need to bring the arts to this community,’ ” says Anita of her mother.
So in 1961, Audrey opened Muskego Dance Studio, housed in the family’s garage. John, a lumber salesman and manager, laid the floor and put up the mirrors so that his wife could teach to her two students: her 4-year-old daughter, Anita, and another girl. Later Audrey had a second daughter, Julie, whom she also taught. In the first year the enrollment grew to 15 students, studying toe tap, ballet, pointe, ballroom, and jazz. The recital was held in a rented hall, and John put out only a few chairs, expecting only the students’ family members to show up. Little did he know it would be a sold-out show, with no room to accommodate the crowd of family, friends, and people from the community.
“My mother taught because she loved it; she never did it for money,” says Anita. Classes in the early days at Muskego Dance Studio cost only a dollar, and Audrey sometimes accepted potatoes and tomatoes as payment—she wanted nothing to come between children and their dance education. “It was a real community,” Anita says, adding that everyone appreciated her mother for her commitment to giving back to her neighbors. Audrey helped the Girl Scouts get their badges and choreographed shows for the local high school and 4-H club. Much later, in 1980, she started Midwest Connection, a dance company whose motto was “We dance for kids who can’t.” That company would raise money for muscular dystrophy and other causes.
In addition to her goodwill, Audrey was “the funniest woman on earth,” according to Anita and those who knew Audrey. For instance, she would come to class and pretend to be a German teacher, instructing her students in full character, accent and all. Anita laughs about it to this day.
When Audrey outgrew the garage studio, John took action. Though he had a practical nature, he was also a dreamer, good at finding ways to make things happen. So he built an addition to the house. “I remember him laying the foundation, and we were tap dancing on the gravel while he was building it,” says Anita. As the years went by, the school outgrew the addition, and John supported Audrey in renting studio space in the Muskego Marine building and later the city’s Parkland Mall.
For Anita, Audrey and John made the sky the limit. In 1971 Audrey started taking the 14-year-old to dance conventions, where she trained with such luminaries as Joe Tremaine and Gus Giordano. And the girl who wasn’t allowed to have a bike, leave the yard, or sleep over at a girlfriend’s house was given a one-way ticket to New York at 18. Along with the ticket, Anita got encouragement from both parents to make it big as a dancer.
Once in New York, she signed with Complex Four Agency and rented an apartment in Connecticut (this country girl needed grass), commuting to New York City by train. In 30 days, after many auditions, Anita got a job touring with PrimeTime. Gigs with Dennis Yost and the Classics IV followed, and later she became the lead dancer and choreographer for hairdresser-turned-disco star Monti Rock.
At a rehearsal in Connecticut, Anita found herself in the right place at the right time. For some people, having a zipper break would throw a wrench into their day, but not for Anita. On the hunt for a safety pin, she bumped into Larry Spellman, who was looking for new talent for the William Morris Agency. He knew who she was and invited her to lunch. Anita refused because, she says, “my mom wouldn’t have let me go to lunch with a strange guy.”
But Spellman persisted. After the third attempt, Anita relented. Over lunch he told her she had amazing talent and suggested she move to Hollywood. She took his advice. Once in L.A., she continued her dance training, studied acting with Lee Strasberg at the Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute, did commercials, and auditioned constantly. Anita fell in love with Los Angeles, and her mother bragged about her daughter being in Hollywood. And if Anita had had a fan club, her father would have been president.
Because the Bronks were a close family, Anita went back to Wisconsin every June to help with the school’s annual recital. One night in 1981 she and her dad talked until 2:00 a.m., and he told her how proud he was of her and that he knew she would realize her dreams. Anita remembers saying, “Dad, it sounds like you’re going to die.” By 5:00 that morning, John Bronk had passed away.
After that, nothing was the same. Audrey began to have problems with her speech, at first suspected to be due to a stroke. But she was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, also called “Lou Gehrig’s disease”).
Classes in the early days cost only a dollar, and studio founder Audrey Schreck sometimes accepted potatoes and tomatoes as payment—she wanted nothing to come between children and their dance education.
Anita’s then 14-year-old sister, Julie, couldn’t care for her mother, so Anita “gave up [her] Porsche and apartment in the Hollywood Hills,” she says, and moved back to Muskego in December 1982. As her mother’s health worsened, Anita helped run Muskego Dance Center. And she met her future husband, David Olson, who had been Julie’s fourth-grade teacher.
Audrey thought David would be a good match for Anita, and she was right. Even though Anita was having a long-distance relationship with a noncommittal Hollywood producer at the time, in 1984 she married David. “It was so quick, the old boyfriend didn’t even know,” Anita says.
A year later, the Olsons’ first son, John, was born. In April 1988, two months before Audrey would have become a grandmother for the second time (to another boy, Christopher), she died from ALS—but not before completing a list that detailed what she wanted Anita to do with Muskego Dance Studio. First on the list: Anita was to take over the school and make it grow.
Anita ran the business with her sister for a short time, but then Julie moved out west with the man of her dreams. As the sole teacher for 250 students, Anita taught 60 classes a week. With two young sons and a rigorous work schedule, she had to confront whether she really wanted to continue being a studio owner. David, still teaching fourth grade, asked, “Are we going to do this dance studio or not?”
Realizing that dancing and teaching were her passion, Anita said yes. David quit his job and the couple bought Julie’s share in the business. In 1994 the Olsons renamed the school Anita’s Dance Center (in honor of Anita and her namesake grandmother) and moved it to its current location, a 20,000-square-foot space with 11 studios in Muskego’s Lincoln Point Shopping Center. “I didn’t want to leave [this area] because the community was so good to [my mother],” Anita says. David worked on the studio’s marketing and helped take care of their sons, and the enrollment grew to 800.
Twenty-two years after Audrey’s death, Anita’s Dance Center has 30 teachers and serves more than 1,000 students from 40 surrounding communities. Anita teaches tap to teens—and she knows every child’s name, every parent’s name, and something about each family.
With a memory like that, she hasn’t forgotten to fulfill the rest of the items on her mother’s checklist: Midwest Connection has stayed in operation, her students have danced at Disney World in 1992, and in 1996 the studio performed at the Olympic Games in Atlanta.
In addition, the Olsons continue to help the Girl Scouts, and they started a nonprofit called Anita’s Dance Companies, which owns all the studio’s costumes and whose mission is to make dance affordable and accessible to all. The studio provides scholarships of $300 or more to help all graduating seniors (more than 100 of them in the past decade) attend some form of higher education. Fund-raising provides the majority of the money, and the Olsons personally subsidize any remaining small amounts. Remaining committed to giving back through dance—checked from the list.
The Olsons plan to expand their business and build a convention center and 1,000-seat performance venue adjacent to their studio. And in April 2010, in honor of National Dance Week, Anita’s Dance Companies premiered the 1st Annual Hollywood Dance Convention, held at Anita’s Dance Center. Desiree Robbins, Nick Drago, and Keri LaGrand were featured master teachers.
Any hesitation Anita had about being a studio owner has long disappeared. She loves what she does. When asked what she would add to the list her mother started, she says, “To continue to be the best dance education available. I never want to be an elitist studio. I want to create a space for boys and girls to take risks, to enable kids to dance and be creative in a world that under-funds the arts.”
And when Anita looks toward the immediate future to the celebration for the studio’s 50th anniversary in 2011, she says, “Oh, we’re going to make it big—just wait.” Her parents would be proud.
Project Motivate: small in size, big on ideas
By Karen White
The studio owners and teachers filling The Gold School studio had a million questions—about marketing techniques, dealing with problem personalities, balancing work and family, providing quality education, and making money.
One new owner admitted she’s worried about dealing with it all and not losing her mind. “What should I do?” she asked.
Rhee Gold’s answer was short and sweet. “Quit!”
The teachers laughed, but they also learned plenty during the three days of Gold’s latest Project Motivate, held at his home studio in Brockton, Massachusetts, last July. Unlike Gold’s DanceLife Teacher Conference, which attracts upward of 600 studio owners and teachers, Project Motivate (DLTC’s precursor) is cozy, with more than 60 attendees at the event. The long weekend included lectures on web-based marketing, Q&A sessions, discussions of revenue-generating and recital ideas, sample dance classes taught by Gold School instructors, and a performance by Gold School intensive program dancers. And, of course, lots of encouragement from Rhee.
“I’m really liking this intimate atmosphere,” Gay Barboza, owner of AMJ Dance Center in Attleboro, Massachusetts, said. “I like the juxtaposition of the classroom and the business ideas. People are willing to share; there’s no stress here; and it’s close to my hometown. Could this be any more fabulous?”
Owners from 15 states and Canada mingled and chatted, traded marketing materials, and commiserated about the frustrations of running a dance studio business. “I love that we get to choose the topics,” said Ann Marie Frank, president of AMA Dancers & Co. in Des Plaines, Illinois. “I find comfort in learning that so much of this happens to all of us—that it’s not unique to my studio.”
The weekend was laced with Rhee’s brand of tough love—nothing can stop you from achieving your dreams, he said, but it’s going to take a lot of work. “Know that everything you do has a piece of you in it. You have to give a bit extra to get the job done. We have the ability to say, ‘I am not going to leave any stone unturned.’ ”
Certainly no stones were left unturned—and nearly no topics unmentioned—by the studio owners. They asked about inspiring dance team members and firing inefficient teachers, satisfying parents and protecting quality, increasing revenue and reducing gossip. Many shared their secrets for success. Others lamented hurdles they can’t get over or goals they’ve yet to reach. One studio owner admitted that her seemingly great success—930 students—is overwhelming her life.
While “you can make a darned good living” owning a dance studio, Rhee said, it won’t make you a millionaire. Instead, what connects dance teachers is their lifelong desire to dance. Teachers should fully appreciate the impact they have on the lives of students. A studio’s best dancer, he said, is not always the most advanced team member, but “the preschool kid with the enormous smile on her face.”
A dance studio is about more than just training dancers, according to Rhee—it’s about what goes on in the heart and soul of your students. “Look at every kid who walks in the door and say, ‘I can make a difference in this kid’s life.’ Even if they have a size 13 foot, or weigh 300 pounds, or have a mother who’s a maniac.” He added, “This stack of money will grow because you are [touching kids’ lives] so well.”
Owners also heard plenty of solid business pointers. One seminar covered communication and advertising, with Rhee describing how to use e-newsletters, Facebook pages, and websites to keep in touch with current clients as well as attract new ones. Websites should be inviting and arranged in an easy-to-find-information format, especially for parents whose children may be new to dance. Pictures should illustrate the studio’s personality but also emphasize fun classes and happy students.
One of the biggest advantages of social media, he said, is the ability to track viewership—to tell almost instantly, for example, whether a Facebook advertisement is gathering any attention. A communications program such as Constant Contact will keep you updated about who is opening (and hopefully reading) notices or monthly newsletters.
There’s power in positive advertising—such as an ad showing a grinning toddler. Those scenes happen every day in every studio, he said. Rennie Gold, Rhee’s brother and owner of The Gold School, said he keeps a camera in each studio and takes snapshots when students are changing shoes or at other downtimes. Occasionally he walks around the studio videotaping class or rehearsals. He uses the images in advertisements or “commercials” found on the studio website.
“I’ve been listening to Rhee and Rennie for years. They’re teachers’ teachers. I came here hoping to network, but this is just so inspirational.” — teacher Barbara Ostromecky
Even if your school has an excellent record training top dancers, Rhee said, it’s not always wise to show images of advanced dancers on pointe, emphasize competition awards won, or rave about teachers’ professional qualifications. Most parents want a once-a-week, fun dance experience for their children. Intimidating customers is never a good idea.
Nicola Kozmyk, owner of Pure Motion Dance Co. in Calgary, Canada, said learning about marketing tools is one of the top reasons why she enjoys Rhee’s conventions and workshops. “After the Orlando [DLTC] convention, I went home and revamped my studio website,” said Kozmyk, who has owned her studio for three years.
Katie Hignett, owner/director of Dance Innovations Dance Center in Greenland, New Hampshire, said she was also on the lookout for marketing and advertising tips. “I started with 69 students. Now I have 150, and I’m putting in the floor in my second room. I’ve doubled my clientele by word-of-mouth, but now I need to advertise.”
In-classroom expertise was also on display. Kathy Kozul, a former member of Boston Ballet and current Gold School ballet instructor, ran through a detailed description of how to encourage proper alignment through floor barre exercises. If the exercises strengthen the back and abdominals, she said, they will improve turnout. Teachers need to make sure that students use correct muscles and proper hip placement when doing floor exercises such as développé à la seconde or rond de jambe.
While several studio owners took to the floor to feel the alignment for themselves, the next day’s classes were for viewing only. Rennie Gold taught sample classes to two levels, preteens and advanced dancers. He explained the finer points of his method (one point is calling all students “dancers” to create a professional atmosphere) and how he allows even the younger dancers to contribute to the choreography with small sections of improvisation.
The studio owners seemed most amazed by what happened at the end of each lesson—all the students surrounded Rennie to say a personal “thank you” before exiting the class.
It’s common practice at his studio. “If it’s a bad day, [that personal contact] gives you a moment to look that child in the eye so he knows you’re not mad at him,” he said. “Parents love the fact that their children are so respectful.”
That comment was indicative of the weekend’s theme—that the personality of each studio reflects its owner. When the discussion turned to dealing with negative comments from disgruntled moms or sullen students, Rhee asked his audience to consider their own in-studio attitude. “Everyone will dance to the same beat. If you walk into the studio depressed, upset, or not into it, that will be the atmosphere of the entire building,” he said. “Your parents and kids will be just like you. Instead, make sure the energy you bring into the classroom is positive.”
Forget about that one negative comment after a stellar recital, he said. Believe you are smart enough to know what to do in every situation. Have confidence in your own abilities. “If you fear losing students, your fears are holding you back. If you’re not doing well financially or you’re not happy, that’s a lack of confidence,” Rhee said. “It all starts with the person whose dream it was to start this studio. Have the guts to go for it, and run your school that way.”
This sort of talk is what brings Barbara Ostromecky back time and time again to Gold’s events. “I’ve been listening to Rhee and Rennie for years,” said Ostromecky, who runs a dance program for Girls Inc. of Worcester, Massachusetts. “They’re teachers’ teachers. I came here hoping to network, but this is just so inspirational.”
Also inspirational was a performance by The Gold School Project Moves intensive dancers, which ended with a lyrical piece inspired by the passing of a beloved local dance teacher who urged dancers to “come to the edge.” As the piece neared its end, one dancer spoke: “They came. He pushed. And they flew.” Many of the studio owners in the room were in tears.
The weekend ended on a high note, with several teachers describing creative ideas for recitals or finance-generating performance teams. Rhee started the conversations but always handed off the microphone to the studio owners, asking what they do well and what works for them.
When Rhee chipped in, it was to offer solid advice earned over his lifetime as a studio owner’s son, title-winning dancer, master teacher, convention director, and motivational speaker: Dance is evolving faster now than ever, and studio owners need to be on top of it with innovative ideas and a willingness to change. You need to find your strength—perhaps it’s preschoolers or recreational kids—and “go ballistic.” Work hard if that’s what makes you happy, and if you reach a goal, take time to savor your accomplishment.
Some advice may be tough to hear (“If you can’t take a kid peeing on the floor, you’re in the wrong business!”), but it always comes with Rhee’s full understanding of what it means to be a dance teacher.
“The day when that little girl comes up and says, ‘I love you’—you will never remember much about the money, but you will remember that. If you’re not surrounded by people who believe [in what you do], get rid of them,” he said. “Give it all the passion you’ve got. Know you are going to make a difference and that you are going to be remembered because you made a difference.
“How cool is that?”
Founder’s daughter sticks to what’s worked for 65 years
By Neil Ellis Orts
After 65 years, Miss Jeanne’s School of Dance Arts must be doing something right. Last Memorial Day weekend saw more than 60 adult dancers, ranging in age from late teens to 60-something, performing a finale for the school’s 65th recital. Some of those dancers had to drive or fly to Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, to participate in this special alumni number, but that goes to show the dedication and loyalty Miss Jeanne’s commands among its students.
Founded in 1945 by Jeanne Meixell, the school has been in the same building for the last 45 years, teaching countless students all aspects of the dance arts from ballet to tap to jazz. About 400 students now take class in the school’s four studios. Meixell retired in the early 1990s. The school continues on with her daughter, Barbara Piotrowski, as director, assisted by an office manager and a secretary. Of her five teachers, four are Miss Jeanne’s alumni.
These days Piotrowski mostly teaches students 10 years old and younger. She still visits all the classes regularly and she substitutes for regular teachers if they are absent. “I’m teaching everybody at some time during the year,” she says.
This is the only life she ever wanted, Piotrowski says. She grew up in the dance studio environment and began teaching at 17, then left home and lived in New York briefly. But she never intended to stay. “I studied in New York on scholarship at June Taylor’s school,” she says, “but I knew I always wanted to be in Bethlehem and [be] part of the dance studio.”
Since her mother retired, Piotrowski says, the biggest change has been the erosion of the camaraderie that her mother had with other studio owners. “It’s not like it was years ago when my mother was very prominent in the business and the local dance teachers would get together perhaps one time a month to go out to lunch,” she says.
“People don’t do that today,” she continues. “I don’t know if it’s a busier world, but I remember my mother always going out to lunch with four dancing teachers. There are many more schools and when we see each other here and there, we say, ‘Hi, how are you,’ but it’s not sitting down and breaking bread together.”
She fondly remembers going to Steel Pier, an amusement park in Atlantic City, New Jersey, as a student. “Our studio was invited to dance on the Tony Grant [Stars of Tomorrow] show [there]. That was a big thing at that time,” she recalls. “And we always enjoyed the extracurricular activities that took place outside the studio—dancing in Christmas shows, dancing in parades.”
One thing that hasn’t changed too much for Piotrowski is running the school. “I think, because my mother and I worked so closely for so many years, it’s been running pretty much the same way, with the same ideas and the same rules and regulations,” she says.
“What has changed in the dance world is the music, the ’60s music versus what’s playing today. That changes the look of things and keeps it current. You try to go out of your box each year to make it different. That’s where your creativity has to step up. But as far as running the studio, I think pretty much of it is the same way my mother ran things. Tried and true.”
Over the decades, many of Miss Jeanne’s students have had dance careers—dancing on Broadway or cruise ships or running dance studios. Piotrowski, however, doesn’t see pursuing a dance career as the only reason to study dance. “It’s wonderful to watch children grow in the art of dance instead of sitting in front of the TV or computer as they do today,” she says. “They use their dance, all the poise they get, in their jobs as they grow up, in their interviews. I just wrote a letter of recommendation for one of my fellas; he’s up for the drama teacher [position] at one of our local high schools.”
As for the school’s namesake, Meixell “looks wonderful,” says her daughter, but suffers from Alzheimer’s disease. “My mother is now in a senior assisted-living program and walks with a walker,” Piotrowski says. “But if I say to her, ‘Mom, do step shuffle ball change,’ she’ll stand up with her walker and do step shuffle ball change.”
Piotrowski’s mother attended as much of the 65th-anniversary festivities as she could, such as the alumni luncheon. “I don’t think she stopped dancing at the luncheon,” Piotrowski says. After arranging for the DJ to play “One” from A Chorus Line on her cue, she fixed her mother’s hair and makeup, then led her back into the room. “When she heard that music, she even pushed the walker aside. She used the walker as a prop and danced around it!”
Dealing with Alzheimer’s is difficult, for both Piotrowski and her mother. “Here’s a woman who has this very sad disease,” Piotrowski says. “Sometimes I talk to her and she has no idea what I’m talking about. I have no idea what she’s talking about. But the common bond of dancing brings her right back. They tell me all the time that she’s trying to teach everybody how to dance at the assisted living [facility]. How wonderful!”
She remembers working with her mother on dance studio business, like selecting costumes, and notes how much of their relationship has been lost. “Now she doesn’t understand. We did that all our lives and we can’t share that anymore.”
Still, with sadness a real part of her life, Piotrowski remains upbeat about her life in dance. “Dance is a very happy career. I have wonderful customers. Maybe I have two or three who give me a little trouble, and maybe those two or three will keep me awake at night,” she says. “But I always have to go back and remember how many wonderful people are at the studio and with the 65th recital, how many people came back to respect and support the studio.”
As the new school year was about to begin, Piotrowski was looking forward. The alumni reunion was a lot of work, but then every recital is—and all that work is coupled with fun and excitement. “I’ll put the same amount of time and energy into the 66th as I did in the 65th,” she says. “It’s not like this isn’t as important. Oh, yes it is.”
For some families, the world of the arts is a foreign place. But in nearly any community, there’s a great way for people to access the arts, including dance, in familiar surroundings: the local Y.
I taught ballet at a YWCA for seven years. These community centers serve neighborhoods by providing a common space for the public to meet. And they’re accessible in other ways. They offer good classes at inexpensive prices to families who wouldn’t have known how to choose a studio or couldn’t afford classes elsewhere. For this reason, the diversity of the population is likely to be greater than that of a private studio. Because of the Y’s reputation for welcoming all, choreographers such as Alvin Ailey found performance space in New York City’s Ys in the 1950s. In fact, Ys have played an active part in race relations since the 1940s.
Parents who might feel strange at a dance studio (especially fathers) have probably had experiences of their own at a Y, so they’re on familiar ground. And since dance classes at a Y are often taught in a gymnasium or recreation room, the physical space is less intimidating.
Teaching at a Y can be a great way for a young teacher to get a start or, better yet, develop a program with the support system of the institution already in place. Money might be scarce, but if you’re the only teacher there, as is often the case, you have the space to be as creative as you want.
The ultimate example of a dance program at a Y taking off is NYC’s 92nd Street YWHA. Martha Graham, Agnes de Mille, Merce Cunningham, Jerome Robbins, and many other bright stars of the dance world got their start there. Alvin Ailey started there and then moved over to the West Side YWCA on 8th Avenue and 51st Street, into the Clark Center for Performing Arts. That Y, with its beautiful studios, sadly, is gone. The 137th Street Harlem YWCA was also a thriving center of the dance world, opening its activities building in 1925 and offering dance classes to adults and children.
Now 75 years old, 92nd Street Y continues to offer dance classes of all types, including forms from many different countries: Afro-Caribbean, Middle Eastern, flamenco, and Israeli folk dance.
The Y gave me the chance to teach the graceful and strenuous, disciplined and creative moves of dance to an inspiring cross-section of the population.
In 2008, the Leggs Hill Road YMCA in Boston opened brand-new studios and programs. The space includes studios exclusively for the use of Boston Ballet, but there are also dance classes and workshops for the community.
In a small Y, such as the one where I worked, few students are interested in a career in dance. I believe that everyone should dance, so it was the perfect situation for me. It gave me the chance to teach the graceful and strenuous, disciplined and creative moves of dance to an inspiring cross-section of the population. It also gave me the chance to prepare the dance audience of tomorrow. I sneaked in quite a bit of dance history by producing very abbreviated versions of classics such as The Nutcracker, Swan Lake, Giselle, and Les Patineurs. (The students’ parents called them “Reader’s Digest” versions.)
Many of my students were talented and enthusiastic. When I saw that someone needed more opportunity than I could offer in my once-a-week program, I recommended an appropriate studio for supplemental classes. Directing those who wanted more to schools where they would be successful was satisfying and kept me in touch with the other teachers in my area. Since I worked alone, this contact was important.
For me the joy was in creating my own program at a tiny Y and seeing where my creativity led me. I taught children and parents who had never heard of Martha Graham or Mikhail Baryshnikov. Reaching parents who were otherwise unacquainted with dance and seeing them learn and enjoy what they saw on visitors’ days and at our short, low-key, no-budget performances was truly gratifying.
Of her work in community outreach programs, former Houston Ballet principal dancer Lauren Anderson says, “I want them to experience the wonder of an accomplishment in theater and dance” (“Shining Star of Texas,” DSL, October 2008).
My sentiments exactly!
Jackrabbit Technologies will hold a user conference October 20 to 23 in Las Vegas, Nevada, for customers who would like to gain more insight into the business and class management system’s features and enhancements.
Jackrabbit Technologies provides web-based class management and billing systems for classed-based organizations including dance studios, cheer gyms, and other instructional enterprises.
The conference, to be held at the Luxor Hotel and Casino, will provide educational tracts, discussion groups, and one-on-one time with support teams experts. To register, visit www.jackrabbitdojo.com/client_login.
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Why can’t people see what dance brings to children and the community? We are going into our seventh year, and when most studios are growing we are not. Enrollment is low and parents think we are like Burger King and that they can have it their way. Parents don’t like rules here and the whole town revolves around church and sports.
We have great teachers, backed with degrees and experience, and our business manager is well organized and strategic. The technique we teach is professional and inspiring. The location of the studio is the problem, and we have no money to relocate.
We have 30 or 40 students and parents who support what we do, but we can’t survive on that in years to come. Any advice? —Kayla
As a school owner, you’re well aware of the lifelong benefits that dance can offer a child, and it sounds to me like you need to share those with your community. Often, it’s not the degrees or the technique that are important to those who might consider registering their children at your school (even if they should be).
But first, think about your attitude toward your community. I can feel your animosity when you say the town revolves around church and sports. The tone of the entire email reveals your frustration. If I can feel it, maybe your community feels it too.
The knowledge that your community is into church and sports is excellent information that you can use to become better acquainted with the public—your potential clientele. It should inspire you to find creative ways to increase your school’s visibility and, more important, to gain the respect of this demographic.
Maybe your school should sponsor a team or become involved in the sports programs by offering something to the athletes, like a strengthening and stretching class. Or you could offer a class to the cheerleaders, or do a demonstration on the athletics of dance for the sports teams. The possibilities for becoming involved in the sports community are limited only by your own imagination.
I’ll even take a stab at involving the religious community. How about producing a benefit for a charity or the town (or anything the entire community would support), and inviting the religious institutions to participate? They might let you speak to the church congregations about the event, which would help you become a trusted member of the community. In turn, it would likely give you opportunities to educate.
Dance people need to take the hand they are dealt and figure out how to make it into the best hand possible. To be successful, we must apply the same kind of creativity to our businesses that we bring to the classroom or choreography. Approach your community with confidence, leaving no stone unturned. Chances are you will gain people’s respect and it will lead to the success you imagine. Good luck. —Rhee
I’m dealing with a school that is trying to start an all-out war between my school and theirs. How do I combat that and still keep my good reputation intact? They moved in two years ago and ended up taking about 20 percent of my clients. I’m going into my 20th year in this business and my reputation is great in the community. The other school is attempting to tarnish my name, so I’m not sure what to do. —Sarah
With a solid reputation, one of the worst reactions you could make to this unfortunate circumstance is to publicly “combat” this other school. Each time other school directors take an action or speak negatively against you, their unethical behavior tarnishes their own reputation. They will undoubtedly say the wrong thing to the wrong people, who will eventually catch on to what they are all about.
Though it takes time for this kind of behavior to backfire, in time you will discover that some of the students who left you will return or quit dance altogether because the grass was not greener on the other side.
Having said that, my advice is to avoid having negative confrontations with any students or parents who leave your school. Instead, tell them that your door is always open and you look forward to meeting up with them in the future. This proves that you are confident about your school and what you do. It also does not give those who leave any ammunition to speak negatively about you. They just might be the people to spread the word that the rumors are not true.
I know that because you’re hurt and discouraged my advice is hard to implement, but do everything you can to make a public show of confidence. This incident will pass and you will be just fine. In the meantime, instead of thinking about what this other school has done, spend that time brainstorming new concepts for your school and your students that will leave the other school in the dust. I wish you the best. —Rhee
For more than 30 years, I owned a successful school with more than 500 students and three generations of student families. I sold it in order to relocate, but after a year my husband and I returned home. I have tried to get involved in other fields but always seem to end up back in dance.
My family is encouraging me to open another studio in a different town than my old one is in. I could still teach the pre-ballet and tap classes but would need to find well-groomed teachers for the rest. Do you know anyone who opened a studio after being out of the business for a while? It might be the right thing for me, but I need to talk with someone who has done it and is successful. —Tap Diva
Dear Tap Diva,
If your passion lies in teaching, then by all means you should open another school. Imagine going for a second round having all the knowledge of what works and what doesn’t from your years of experience with the first school. How cool is that!
If you can’t manage a full teaching schedule, then it is important to surround yourself with faculty members who share your philosophy and will be team players in helping you achieve success. Again, your knowledge certainly should help you to find the right teachers.
With all this said, there is one thing that I must address. When you sold your school, no doubt the person(s) who purchased it never expected you to go back into business, especially as their competitor. Setting up shop in a different town is a good idea, but I would take that further by going somewhere that won’t attract students from your former school. Also, when hiring teachers for your new school, do not solicit your former employees.
After 30-something years in business, many people in your community will remember who you are and that you sold your business. Do not give them the chance to gossip about how you came back at the expense of the people who bought your school. That is not good for your reputation, and it is very hard to open a school if you start off at war with another.
Enjoy your second round. It proves that once dance is flowing through your veins, it never stops. I wish you all the best. —Rhee
I am wondering how best to answer a question from a parent. I have a 12-year-old student who is on both our dance and gymnastics teams. The father is against spending a lot of money on dance classes. His question is, “What is she going to do with dance?” The parents are talking about colleges, etc. I just don’t know the best way to respond to this. —Sammy
This is an easy one. Dance instills a sense of discipline and determination in the soul of the child. With these attributes, young people have the confidence to handle college and job interviews, and they learn that they must balance their academics with their passion for dance—always a good thing for young people to comprehend!
As for a career in dance, there are many opportunities, from performing to teaching and everywhere in between. Some former dancers move on to careers as dance critics or writers; others become physical therapists, Pilates specialists, and so on. Many become lawyers or doctors because they have what it takes to make it through the educational process. Why? Because they learned about commitment in their dance classes.
This dad needs to understand that the activities his child has passion for are worth the investment. They are learning experiences that prepare young people for success. If parents don’t think the dollars are worth it, they need to look around their communities to see the kids hanging out at fast-food joints, quitting school, or getting into trouble. Spread the word! —Rhee
A studio owner’s non-dancing daughter tells all
By Diane and Siobhan Gudat
I have read wonderfully insightful articles about the struggles of children whose dance teacher is their parent, such as “My Life as a Studio Owner’s Daughter,” in the January 2009 issue of this magazine. All children who live in the shadow of a parent with a dance studio experience both struggles and advantages. But what of their non-dancing siblings? What kind of pressures and problems do they face when they don’t share that world?
I have a dancing daughter, Caitlin, who was constantly by my side at the studio. She received her BFA and now teaches dance and performs in Chicago. When she was a student, we traveled the world together, with Caitlin competing and serving as my demonstrator at conventions and workshops.
My other child, Siobhan, does not dance at all. As a young child she took class and performed; she was possibly more talented than her older sister. But when we began to clash in the classroom, I realized that although she loved being at the studio with her friends, she did not love dance. During a year off she tried school sports—basketball, kickball, volleyball—along with piano and gymnastics (not at my studio), before finding her passion on the field in a summer softball league.
My husband was thrilled. While he supported our dancing daughter, to him softball was a real live sport, something he could understand. After causing Siobhan much embarrassment, her sister and I eventually learned the rules of the game and what to yell from the sidelines. We ate “walking tacos” and cheese dogs and did our best to embrace her world.
With this change in our lives, I saw Siobhan only in the mornings before school and briefly in the afternoons before I left for the studio, and perhaps at the end of my day if she was still up doing homework. I missed some weekend games and tournaments because of rehearsals or competitions. Attempts to get the family together at summertime national conventions sometimes clashed with events at home that were more important to Siobhan.
Luckily, my husband—a wonderful, nurturing parent—has a flexible job, allowing him to manage Siobhan’s life and social activities. With personalities that complement each other, they have a comfortable, loving relationship. Siobhan, who plays softball year round and trains younger players, has the best bat, cleats, and gloves we can afford and a top-rate batting coach.
My sporadic attempts to coax Siobhan back to dance class were not successful. Like most working mothers, I have bouts of guilt about the limited amount of time we shared while she was growing up. But Siobhan brought a quality to my time that dance could not. Having such a strong-willed, focused daughter flips my world upside down. She has taught me that there is infinite value to a day spent in a lawn chair and that thousands of people live happy, healthy, and interesting lives that contain no dance at all. I am grateful to have seen so much of the world outside the dance studio through her eyes.
Still, I often wondered what she thought about it all. So I sent her a questionnaire, though I wasn’t sure I wanted to know her answers. As it happens, I had nothing to worry about. And one thing is clear: I made the right decision in not forcing her down a path she wasn’t inclined to take.
What is the hardest thing about being the non-dancing daughter of a dance teacher?
My mother tends to apply dance terminology to my sports life. She always tells me to work hard in “class” (ball practice), do my best at “auditions” (tryouts) and wishes me good luck at my “competitions” (tournaments). She asks me to make sure I have my “costume” ready when she knows it is my uniform!
What’s good about it?
By playing sports, I bring something new to the family. And my dad can feel like a “normal” father. At a softball tournament, he helps drag my equipment bag and cooler full of Gatorade instead of hairspray, costume bags, and Caboodles.
What are your memories of being a young dancer?
I remember an awesome trip when I performed at Disney World; a regional dance competition where I stayed with friends at a hotel; interview practice for a title competition; and many, many, many car rides. I also remember all the fun with friends in class, dancing to songs like “Disco Inferno” and “Deep in the Heart of Texas.”
What does recital and competition season mean to you?
Recital season means total chaos at home. Costumes and boxes everywhere, papers stacked on papers, music and dancing in the living room, and constant projects to complete. Competition season means chaotic weeks but calmer weekends when Mom goes out of town to judge, and maybe some extra spending money. (So it’s not all bad.)
Are people surprised that you don’t dance? What are your reasons?
Yes! Dance world people who know me as Diane Gudat’s daughter consider it a sin that I do not dance. As for my personal reason, I am not the dancer type. People I know now find it very funny that I used to dance.
Do you have any “outsider” impressions of the dance world?
Sports people are always competitive, yet dance people often work for their own satisfaction. They are artists first, competitors second.
How is your house different from your friends’ houses?
My friends come over when they need glitter, fabric, a mom who can sew, French braids, fake eyelashes, a costume for Halloween or spirit week, puffy paint, Sharpies, or stickers. They never understand why all of this stuff sits permanently on our kitchen table, along with thousands of papers and costume catalogs.
Do you think your life is better or worse for having a dance-teacher mom?
It’s better, more interesting. I may not be able to ask for help on my chemistry homework like kids whose parents are chemists, and my mom and sister may not really understand sports, but life is sure out of the ordinary.
When you were dancing, did you ever feel different?
Yes, I remember being yelled at in dance class or on the car ride home because I was talking. But if I wanted to work on something in the studio in our garage, Mom would help me. That’s how I received some of my favorite solos.
Do you sometimes wish your mom and sister were in another line of work?
No, it’s what they love, so why change it if they’re happy? Sure, they may have some personality quirks no one but a dancer can understand, but that’s half the fun.
Are your mom’s and sister’s friends different?
My mom’s dance friends are the strangest yet funniest people I have ever met. The dance world is something you are drawn to—like a person who spends his entire life in a laboratory. That person would use weird scientific terms, make dorky jokes about the Greek alphabet, and solve ridiculous math problems in his head. Dance people are the same, except they use French terms, make jokes about dancers and songs, and can figure out 32 counts of ridiculous tap choreography in 10 seconds.
How did growing up with dance shape your future?
When I was 3, I saw myself becoming a dance teacher. That’s changed, but I still love children and want to work as a physical trainer for kids—which is like being a dance teacher, but with less glitter.
By Lynne McCarthy
After reading about the sofa school owner Kelly removed from her observation room because of a sleeping parent (“Ask Rhee Gold,” DSL, December 2009), I have a story to tell.
I have a new frosted French door, painted black, to my tiny office, and a new counter, also in black, blocking off the spacious and comfortable waiting area. I installed the door so I can reach the office without pushing past parents who insist on blocking the entryway between two studios. I swear I have seen 20 grownups crammed into that little space trying to peep through a chink in the blinds.
The countertop is there to deter parents from crowding around the reception desk and kids from playing hide-and-seek under it, making a nuisance of themselves and a joke out of the words “privacy act.” I have signs posted everywhere: “No eating chips at the desk; no doing hair at the desk; no changing diapers at the desk.” My next and most pointed activity will be to get a swinging door and a sign that says, “Staff only beyond this point.”
I have been teaching dance for 30 years and I know there was a time when waiting in a dance school was like waiting in a doctor’s office. You sat on wooden benches, and everything was hushed. If you wanted to talk to the dance teacher you had to knock on her door (oh-so-quietly, so as not to offend), and she might or might not answer. She might pretend she wasn’t there even though you had seen her enter and shut the door.
Respect seems to have diminished for dance teachers and, in particular, school owners. I have to brandish my authority like a sword to get any respect these days. And why? Back to the sofa.
A former employee of mine saw the changes to my school and said, “It looks so professional. Now all you need is a sofa. The studios I’ve been in lately all have a sofa, and it has to be white leather. You place it so that the parents can watch the flat-screen TV on the wall. No more photos; they don’t care about photos. They want to watch movies. And put another countertop in, and a fridge, and sell coffee and sandwiches. You’ll make more money doing that!”
We were laughing because what she said is so true. In the last three years, three new schools have opened in my area. The latest boasts 10,000 square feet, offers a free tutu with registration, and has a cafe and a TV room. Plus the sofa—in white leather, naturally.
My staff and I can boast of a 100-percent pass rate in exams (and mostly with honors) for our students, in ballet, tap, and jazz. We have awards coming out of the wazoo, including several world championships and highest-mark scholarships. This year, since we have been featured in three articles in the local paper, people recognize our name, and everywhere my teachers, dancers, and I go we hear them say, “You must have lots more students.” Sadly, no. Enrollment is down. Some of my seniors left to go to university, but more important, these huge studios with sofas and God knows what else opened up down the road. They pay for advertising on buses and take out center-page spreads in the local newspaper.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think all large, flashy studios are necessarily bad, and not all small schools are good. But as my former employee says, “I tell you, Lynne, some of the studios aren’t as nice as yours. But what do the parents boast about? It isn’t the dancing, it’s ‘We have a white leather sofa and a TV!’ ”
It doesn’t say much about the discerning public, does it?
Obviously Kelly made the wrong move. I suggest she put the sofa back and deal with the sleeping parent separately.
Gone are the days of respect for other people’s property, respect for your teacher, respect for authority. This is a battle we have to face one-on-one, and it’s a battle none might win. You upset the parent because she sleeps on your couch while others stand, and you might lose the student. But you will gain some respect back, even if it’s only from yourself.
Bring back the sofa, Kelly! I’m buying one.
One family’s commitment to dance keeps Dance Generation going strong
By Steve Sucato
From humble beginnings and homemade costumes, through decades of new dance trends and new family members, Dance Generation in Montgomery, Alabama, has remained true to its hardworking, high-striving roots.
“My mother always told me, and our students: ‘If you are going to do something, do it right. Give it all you’ve got—otherwise, you are just wasting your time,’ ” says Janice Ransom, a second-generation co-owner of the studio.
At one time, Ransom ran the studio with her mother, Loree Atkins, who founded the school in 1937. Today Ransom and daughter Shawn Ransom Parker continue to teach a new generation of students, remaining true to the family’s commitment to dance as a discipline, not just a fun hobby.
It all began with Loree, 7, and her older sister, Julia, on the family farm in rural Tallassee, Alabama, in the 1930s. With no television and few other forms of entertainment or educational enrichment available, the girls’ mother signed them up for weekly dance lessons from a traveling teacher. Soon afterward, looking for more advanced training, the girls stopped taking classes in Tallassee and began at a school in Montgomery (a 30-mile trip by car each way). They practiced in their yard under the tutelage of their switch-wielding mother, always a believer in a strong work ethic.
The family quickly committed to dance. When Loree Atkins’ teacher offered to take her promising student to New York for a few weeks of advanced training, Loree’s father sold two cows to pay for the trip.
Loree was only 9 and Julia 12 when they began teaching tap, ballet, and acrobatics to other children in the basement of a shoe repair shop. The Atkins Sisters (as they and their fledging studio were known back then) held their first recital in 1937. The girls choreographed the routines and all 20 of their students, including their brothers, wore handmade costumes.
Atkins remembers those simpler days. “Everyone taught by piano music back then,” she says. “Records and record players were a rarity. We did all of our acrobatic tricks on the floor because we did not have mats.”
As the sisters got older, they continued to teach while traveling and performing with a swing band at clubs in the South. They also performed for troops stationed in Montgomery and for a visiting President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and were one of the opening acts for a Hank Williams concert.
After Julia got married the sisters went their separate ways. Julia started a dance studio in Prattville, Alabama, while Loree stayed on in Montgomery, taking sole ownership of the sisters’ original studio and renaming it Loree Atkins School of Dance. The studio offered classes in ballet, tap, and baton twirling. Students performed in community shows and appeared weekly on a Montgomery television show called Dancing Dolls, says Atkins.
Atkins’ philosophy—dance as a discipline, not a hobby—was reflected in her studio’s outlook and procedures and was passed down to her daughter and granddaughter as they grew up in the studio environment.
“My mother had a crib at the studio and I would be tended by a sitter or the office secretary,” says Ransom. “I remember riding my tricycle up and down the sidewalk while my mother was teaching. It was the same for my daughter when she was born. We grew up in the business.”
By junior high, Ransom was teaching select classes; after high school graduation she taught full-time. In the late 1960s she used experience gained as a high school majorette to found a competition baton team. Competitive twirling was at its peak, and Ransom’s team won the Alabama state championships four years in a row.
As always, simplicity was key. “I had a truck with a camper on the back, and I would take the students all around for baton competitions,” says Ransom. “Now I look back on that time and think, if I was a parent, I would have never have sent my kid off with some 18-year-old to travel the country. It was a different time then and I guess the parents trusted me.”
While baton competitions eventually died out, the studio still offers classes in twirling. Parker, a former Auburn University majorette, believes that dance and baton twirling go hand-in-hand. “Dancing is what gives your body the correct form and coordination it needs to not just twirl but to incorporate movement into your routines,” Parker says. “Just like ice skaters use ballet to improve their artistry, a twirler needs some form of dance.”
As some things changed, others remained the same—such as the family’s insistence on improving as teachers and continuing with their own dance educations. “I can remember my mother taking me to Betty and Danny Hoctor’s Dance Caravan when they were just starting out,” says Ransom. “We took classes there from teachers like Art Stone and Jack Stanley.”
Ransom’s introduction to jazz dance also came at one of the dance conventions she attended. “We didn’t have jazz dance [in our area] until the 1960s,” says Ransom. “The biggest influence for me in starting to teach jazz at the studio was Joe Tremaine, whom I took classes from at a dance convention in Atlanta.”
When Atkins retired in 1986, Ransom changed the studio’s name to Dance Generation to reflect not only the generations of family ownership, but the generations of students who were trained there. “My mother taught students whose children I taught and whose grandchildren we are teaching today,” says Ransom.
Today Dance Generation is housed in a 5,000-square-foot, fully equipped, two-studio facility in Montgomery that Ransom and Parker own. One special feature is the studio’s teaching stages, raised areas where a teacher can demonstrate dance steps and be seen by all students in the room.
Dance Generation’s curriculum of ballet, tap, pointe, lyrical, baton, and gymnastics is taught by Ransom and Parker, with the help of a former student now on faculty and several teaching assistants. Typical class sizes range from 12 to 15 students. “It’s always been a studio policy to not take on more students than the teaching staff can handle,” says Ransom. “We believe quality instruction is our top priority, more so than increasing enrollment.”
Dance Generation students also perform in community shows, lecture-demonstrations, parades, and dance competitions. “We tell our students on our six competition teams that you want to do everything in your power to win, but winning isn’t the most important goal,” says Ransom. “The most important thing, no matter the outcome, is to do your very best.”
Annual recitals, such as 2009’s “Come Fly With Me,” complete with elaborate scenery, props such as rolling luggage, and sound effects (including pilot announcements), are a far cry from the homemade-costumed recitals of the Atkins Sisters.
While much has changed, Ransom feels the biggest change has been in the attitudes of parents, many of whom do not work with their children to improve their skills or challenge them with enough responsibility.
“People think that 3- and 4-year-olds cannot learn a lot because they are so young,” says Ransom, whose grandson, Jack, is 4. “We push our younger students to do more, such as put on and take off their own shoes. We feel children are like little sponges when it comes to learning. They will absorb as much as you put out there for them.” Further illustrating that point, Ransom and little Jack won Gold 1st Place for their tap duet, “Little Engines,” at the Alabama State Dance Championships last April.
For Ransom, the most rewarding aspect of continuing the legacy her mother began back in 1937 has been the studio’s sense of family, shared by owners and students alike. “You form a special bond with your students that lasts long after they stop dancing,” she says.
Jackrabbit Technologies, producers of class management software for dance studios and other educational settings, has unveiled a new option that is free to users and will help them market to prospects with greater ease and cost-effectiveness.
The Unlimited Lead File gives Jackrabbit customers a way to segregate inactive users from active users and keep them in the system so they can market to them. By offering this option, Jackrabbit also enables customers to reduce their active student count and in turn, reduce their active student-based fees.
The option also opens up new marketing capabilities because customers can not only move inactive students from their Jackrabbit active file, but they can also enter prospects who have never enrolled with their organization and create a full-fledged marketing database.
The new feature allows prospects to be placed in the Unlimited Lead File in three ways.
Contacts can be uploaded from data files, such as Excel; entered individually; or moved from the active contacts in the Jackrabbit system.
The Unlimited Lead File has no associated quantity limits, so users can aggressively build prospect databases and maintain contact with students and families that have a history with them. The size of a customer’s Unlimited Lead File also has no impact on active student numbers, and therefore adding contacts to it does not increase monthly system cost.
To learn about Jackrabbit solutions for specific types of class-based organizations, visit www.Jackrabbittech.com.
Scarsdale Ballet Studio in Westchester, New York, is adding a third classroom at the school in the Vernon Hills Shopping Center as the studio celebrates its 19th anniversary in September.
“More space gives our students and teachers more opportunities to share and enrich their dance experience,” said artistic director Diana White.
The studio also has added Abi Stafford, a principal dancer with New York City Ballet, as a master teacher. Stafford, who remains with NYCB, recently moved to Westchester. She will join faculty members from NYCB, the Bolshoi, Ballet Hispanico, and other companies.
For further information visit www.scarsdaleballetstudio.com or call 914.725.8754.
Same school, new owners—the realities of purchasing an existing business
By Maureen Keleher
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?
If you’re ready to go down the ownership path, taking on an established school—and its students and parents—might be challenging and rewarding enough. And doing so allows new school owners to learn about managing a business without having to build a clientele or leave their community. Read on for two stories about women who have purchased established studios and are loving their new lives as business owners.
In August 2006, Donna Lee Studio of Dance in Homestead, Florida, opened for business with two new owners, both experienced teachers: Alicia Norwood and Vicky Gonzalez. Before her retirement, owner Donna Lee Roach offered the studio to both women to run as a team. Gonzalez and Norwood had grown up training at the studio and understood Roach’s founding ideals. Along with the three-room studio that serves 400 families, the new business partners also inherited Expressions Dance Company, a nonprofit troupe that provides performing opportunities for the studio’s serious students.
For Norwood, 45, being handed the keys to the studio was like a passing of the torch. She had been assisting Roach with advanced classes since she was 18, while continuing her dance education at conventions such as Florida Dance Masters. ”I had helped build this studio and its clientele,” says Norwood. “I didn’t want to throw out all the time and energy I spent here- I wanted this studio.”
Thirty-one-year-old Gonzalez, who had danced with American Repertory Ballet and Roxey Ballet, had been teaching at Donna Lee Studio since 2000 but didn’t have any business experience. “I think [Roach] chose me to be with Alicia because I would help to bring the studio into the next generation while maintaining the integrity of what she built over the course of almost 30 years,” Gonzalez says.
The school is known for its high-caliber training in ballet, tap, jazz, acrobatics, lyrical, and hip-hop. ”The original owner started on a small scale. We were stepping into a huge responsibility,” says Norwood. Despite the change in ownership, student enrollment has remained steady. Students take fewer classes because of the tough financial times, but overall enrollment has not changed dramatically in the past few years.
While Norwood and Gonzalez immediately felt respected by the teaching staff, parents, and students because of their prior teaching experience, both had to adjust to the responsibility of being “the boss,” from discussing student level placement with parents to making appropriate business decisions. “To parents with concerns, we used to be able to say, ‘You can go to Donna,’ ” says Norwood. “Now we’re the complaint department.
“I was unprepared for the business aspect,” adds Norwood. She says she had no experience with clerical projects like mailing registration packets or developing studio literature; Roach had handled all the administrative work. “I feel like when I do a task on my own, I have to have two or three people look over what I’m doing to make sure it makes sense,” Norwood says.
“It was important to gain the trust of parents in my new role before changing the way classes were offered.” —owner Michelle Reis
Attending dance business seminars and keeping in contact with Roach have helped both women play catch-up with their business training, learning such business strategies as how to search for potential clients within their community and then target them via direct mail. A new, glossy, tri-fold summer dance camp brochure about themed dance camps yielded the studio’s most successful summer in terms of revenue and dancing. “Who knew the paper you print on would make such a difference?” says Norwood.
In the past three years, Gonzalez and Norwood have struck a balance, utilizing each other’s specialties as teachers and business owners to keep the studio running smoothly. Norwood primarily teaches tap, jazz, and the “babies” classes; she also handles the payroll and accounting. Gonzalez runs the ballet program and uses her computer skills to work on the email, advertising, and rehearsal schedules. Both contribute about 40 hours a week to the studio and share equal responsibility for teaching and developing choreography for Expressions. After almost four years of ownership, Gonzalez says that she has settled into her role as co-owner.
Although the studio’s curriculum hasn’t changed, the shift in leadership, according to 12-year office manager Melissa Reimeres, brought changes in communication with the administrative staff. “It’s very satisfying to see them succeed,” says Reimeres, who handles the studio’s billing. “They allow me to offer suggestions and they keep me updated on financial information. It’s a privilege to work for them.”
The duo’s advice for a stellar studio? “Back your standards and make sure they are in the best interest of your studio and students,” says Norwood.
Gonzalez concurs. “Our families were at this studio because it was a good fit for them. If we had made changes, they would’ve gone elsewhere. You have to know your clientele and give them what they want.”
A family affair
When Michelle Reis decided to purchase Dance Art Dance Studio, she knew she couldn’t do it alone. The 41-year-old mother of three, who continues to hold down a full-time job as an administrative assistant at Washington University in St. Louis, was willing to take every helping hand.
“One of the hardest parts of becoming a studio owner is managing your time,” says Reis, who works almost 80 hours per week between her university job and running the studio. “I have a wonderful staff of instructors and receptionists who keep the studio running on a daily basis. I am fortunate not to be in this alone.” And she found that purchasing a studio that was established in the community offered the advantage of a following of nearly 300 students.
In 2006, Reis and her husband, Mike Reis, purchased the studio and its two locations: a 1,500-square-foot studio in Fenton, and a 2,000-square-foot studio in Eureka, Missouri. Reis, who holds a degree in arts administration from Butler University and danced with Butler Ballet and Ballet Des Moines, was thrilled to become the owner of the studio where she had taught since 1996.
The whole family jumped in to help: Michelle’s mother, Sheryl Hansen, handles the books; Mike Reis runs errands and takes care of maintenance issues; Michelle’s father, Jim Hansen, creates scenery and props; and Michelle’s oldest daughter, Ashley, 17, assists with tasks such as filling in for a teacher or cleaning the studio.
To ease the transition, former owner Susan Scharnhorst continued to teach at the studio for three years after the sale. Still, with ownership Reis faced the responsibility of balancing teaching duties with administrative work and handling conflict. She admits that in the beginning she wasn’t mentally prepared for all her responsibilities as a school owner. “I can no longer just come in, teach, and leave,” she says. “There is always something to do, prepare, or fix.”
Reis took several steps to make sure she wouldn’t have regrets later. She hired an attorney to get everything in writing regarding the purchase to avoid any potential “he said, she said” mishaps. And even though she had new ideas for the studio, she chose to get to know the parents, students, and staff better before making any executive decisions. “It was important to gain the trust of parents in my new role before changing the way classes were offered,” she says.
Over the course of four years, Reis revamped the school’s curriculum to make classes more age and developmentally appropriate; previously all classes had lasted one hour, regardless of student age or level. Now the youngest dancers take 45-minute classes, while the older dancers’ classes last an hour and a half. Reis bases tuition on how much time each student spends in the studio rather than on the number of classes taken.
Teacher Judy Bergin says that working under Reis has been a positive experience, and she credits the changes in the studio to Reis’ fresh perspective. “Michelle touches base with everyone,” she says. “I feel like I can go to her with any questions or issues.” For example, after a medical leave, Bergin wanted to schedule all her classes on one day instead of spreading them out over the course of the week, and Reis accommodated her request.
While it has taken Reis a few years to transition from teacher to studio owner, she feels that, in 2010, the studio is finally her own. Her own dance experience has given her a positive outlook on the adventures of running a business. “Everything is running smoothly; enrollment is getting up there [after] the downturn in the economy,” she says. “Sometimes it takes a few ‘rehearsals’ to get it right.”
Scott Danahy Naylon Co., Inc. has a new tailored program for insurance for dance studio owners that includes abuse and molestation. In addition to liability insurance, recitals are covered for no additional charge as well as accident insurance. The premium could be as low as $450. (Terms and conditions may vary by state.)
Visit http://www.sdnins.com/dance.html to find a link to a questionnaire that dance studio owners can fill out to obtain a no-obligation quotation. For more information on the company’s new program or help in completing the online form, call Joanne Klenk at 800.728.6362.
Previews for Precious are rolling, as are tears down my cheeks. A mother in a scene from the film throws a frying pan at a child and later snarls, “You’re a dummy. Don’t nobody want you, don’t nobody need you.” Some people are embarrassed to find themselves crying at the slightest provocation (even Hallmark commercials can make me reach for the Kleenex), but I’m not. I like to think of my quick-on-the-draw emotional response as part of my professional equipment as a teacher. It leaves me open to moments that can touch my core and lead me on a spirit-filled journey of reflection and gratitude for a life in dance.
Recently, I cried private tears of joy as I watched Lucy, a longtime student, rehearse my studio’s signature piece, Heat, set to Peter Gabriel’s “Rhythm of the Heat.” Over the years since she was 4, Lucy has watched it performed as she has sat in the house of Blacksburg’s Lyric Theatre with the other children until it was their turn to dance onstage. Now 17 and a high school senior, Lucy is finally dancing in Heat, and I could not ask for a more appreciative and elated student to receive the privilege.
Heat is a rite of passage at my school. Younger students aspire to perform it because they’ve seen older dancers as well as their instructors conquer the choreography of controlled, staccato, and African-inspired movements. Through dedication, commitment, and years of study, students develop the strength—and show the humility and confidence—needed to perform its intense and intricate choreography.
As younger children look to the advanced dancers’ performances with high aspirations, my staff and I look to the students for inspiration and reasons to remain motivated. Not long ago I talked with a childhood dance colleague, Amy DeCesare, now co-owner of The Dance Corner in West Windsor, New Jersey, about teaching younger children. She says, “I have always found that if I look the little ones in the eyes, it reminds me of how spontaneous and full of life they are.” Like DeCesare, I find classes for children ages 7 and under to be lively, fun to teach and watch, and full of surprises. Like when one little dancer named Emerson always waves hello when I arrive to teach. Then, without fail, she gives me a big hug at the end of class. I teach two classes after Emerson’s, and on sluggish days her warm hug is a motivational boost that reinforces why I do what I do.
Heat is a rite of passage at my school. Younger students aspire to perform it because they’ve seen older dancers as well as their instructors conquer the choreography of controlled, staccato, and African-inspired movements.
I teach my classes, cast the dances, order the costumes, and hold performances year after year partly because of an inspiring, sweet hug from a bright-eyed 7-year-old. Or because of the show of appreciation from a high school senior, who jumps up and down with giddy joy when she learns that she will perform the dance of her dreams. These acts remind me that all of the efforts, sacrifices, losses, and gains of operating a dance studio yield the dividends of seeing a student graduate from high school and enter Harvard, or another one achieve a doctorate in aerospace engineering. These are my experiences. These are my student success stories. I like to believe these students achieve their accomplishments because they once watched or performed Heat. But I have no doubt that their discipline, commitment, dedication, and ability to follow through, all honed in the dance studio as well as onstage, are channeled into their academic and professional pursuits.
Previews of a heart-wrenching movie sparked a writing flame in me, reminding me that inspiration can be found anywhere. It has been found in an affectionate child, a grateful teenager, aspiring choreography, and dramatic media. Regardless the source, inspiration motivates me to maintain opportunities for dance enjoyment, achievement, and excellence, so there can be future casts of dancers who know success from performing Heat.
I have a confession: I am the other woman. Sort of. The other teacher, actually. I worked for someone and left to open my own studio. But it’s not what you think.
Once upon a time, I was a burned-out college dance major. I decided that I wanted to be a “normal” person and did not want to change clothes three times a day. I took a break from college, had an awesome summer internship at a museum, changed my major to philosophy, and graduated from college and into a staff position in higher ed. But I didn’t leave dance cold turkey. I kept thinking about it, going back and forth in my mind and taking classes when I could. Finally, after a big move and marriage, I began teaching part-time for the very studio where I had danced as a young teen. It was a full-circle moment.
My relationship with that studio steadied over the next couple of years. I taught minimally, given my 40-hour workweek behind a desk, but even so teaching reminded me how much I missed being immersed in the dance world. It had sparked something in me, restoring the dancer I had all but cast aside in my efforts to be “normal.” And so I began to nurse thoughts of having my own school. I began exploring the idea, improving my dance skills and business acumen. I started a business plan, working on it haphazardly for nearly a year.
I never intended to cause friction. The studio owner knew of my plans, however distant at the time, and though I think she might have been initially surprised, she encouraged me and allowed me to discuss it candidly. If I followed through with it, my school would open a good 20 miles and 30 minutes away in a neighboring town, and none of my current students would know. (Nor, do I think, would they have traveled out of their way for me, given the dance studios on nearly every block in between.)
But I can’t help acknowledging this unshakeable feeling—even years later—that I should have gone farther or done more to preserve the relationship with the lady who had become a subtle influence, like an unintentional mentor. I did not think of my leaving as a betrayal. But now I wonder if she thought of it that way, even in the slightest, and put on a happy face to wish me well. I did not take any students or staff members away from her and I set up shop in another city, but I wonder if I could have done more to put her mind at ease. Or perhaps she didn’t give my departure much thought. Either way, it’s clearer to me now that I came close to crossing a line that is not normally touched in our industry.
I don’t regret my decision. My studio is like a second home, a second family. I love my customers. I love my employees to death; I am immensely proud of them and would be very sad to see any of them leave as I did. It is rewarding to see how my school has grown and how it’s different than I expected. I’m excited and nervous to see what’s next for us. But I might not have done it at all if it hadn’t been for that chance opportunity to teach years ago, to nurture my passion again.
I promise I’m not writing this to assuage any guilt. But I give in to the “what-ifs” at times, and the questions do hit me: “What if she didn’t see it the way I did?” and “What if the bridge I thought I left intact is actually in an ashy heap?”
So Cindi, if you’re reading this, let me say this better than I did in that silly thank-you note four years ago: Thank you for real. Thank you for giving me a chance. Thank you for inspiring me. Thank you for letting me read your Goldrush (the precursor to Dance Studio Life). And thank you for letting me go and make my own little dance world possible. I believe—no, I know—that we are all a product of our collective teachers, and I’m glad you were one of mine.