Advice for dance teachers
When I opened my school more than 12 years ago, a school owner a couple of towns away from my location decided that my little school was now her big competitor. As soon as I signed my lease, trouble started. Friends in my community told me that they had heard things like I wasn’t a qualified teacher or that I was a scam artist. Each time people told me something negative they’d heard, it got traced back to the other studio owner. The hard part was that I had no idea who this person was.
In the beginning, it freaked me out. Then I let it go until midyear of my first season, when I got a letter from her that ranted about how awful I was and that I should be ashamed for stealing her business. At that point, only two students had come to me from this school. I had no idea what she was so upset about.
I decided to ignore her antics. She wrote me letters, tried to call me, and said negative stuff about me to anyone who would listen. I just continued working on growing my business.
During my third year in business, a studio mom told me the other school had closed because of IRS and other financial issues. I was shocked because her school was five times the size of mine. Within a month of her closing we enrolled more than 25 of her students, and more trickled in. They came to me because there was nowhere else to go, not because I solicited them.
Immediately this woman started telling everyone in town that I put her out of business. She wrote nasty letters to the Chamber of Commerce about me, called my home and then hung up on me, and sent me hateful letters. She continues to stalk me today. On Facebook, she makes up false names and posts nasty comments on my studio page. She “friends” my students and sends them mean comments about me. She continually posts on her own page that she is reopening her school, but it never happens. She has even sent messages to my teachers offering them jobs at her new school.
Everyone around me knows this is crazy, but this has been a 12-year battle. I am so tired. I am at my wits’ end because she never stops. Should I go to the police, get a lawyer, begin to fight back, or what? Any thoughts? —Stalked
I believe “or what” is your best option. Think about this—the reality is that she has gone out of business because she didn’t know how to manage the finances. And maybe she spent too much time concentrated on hurting you when she should have been watching what was going on in her own studio.
As a result of her actions (not yours), she is obviously one frustrated person who has spent too many years blaming others for her own incompetence. You did nothing wrong. Twelve years of stalking does indicate that this person is obsessed, and my guess is that she wants you to be at your “wits’ end.” Don’t give her that satisfaction.
Ignore all of this, but do use it as motivation to continue to make your school better and to always be the opposite of what she perceives you to be, or what she tells everyone you are. My guess is that after 12 years, most of the people she spews her negativity to know she is full of you-know-what. This is her problem, not yours!
On a personal note: though the details are different, I have been harassed for 40 years by the same type of frustrated stalker you have described. She started on my mom and then moved on to my brother and me after my mom died. My mother made the decision to never respond and told us that we should do the same. It has worked marvelously, and I hope it will work for you too. All the best. —Rhee
I am so happy to have had the chance to teach thousands of kids how to dance. The memories are priceless, and the dance family friends will always be a part of my life. But I’m thinking it’s time to turn my school over to the next generation. I have two teachers who would like to become partners and purchase my business. How do I figure out the value of my business? Any pointers? —Carol
My first pointer is to go to an accountant, who can give you the best advice. With that said, I’ll offer you a basic starting point in determining the value of your business: two times the annual gross or five times the annual profit. For example, if I gross $400,000 annually, the starting point is $800,000. Or I could clear $100,000 profit annually, which gives me a starting point of $500,000. With this formula, the business is worth somewhere between $500,000 and $800,000. Good luck and enjoy the journey! —Rhee
I love teaching. I have been teaching all ages of kids at the same studio for two years, and I just lost my job because of pictures I posted on my personal Facebook page. I went to a bar with some friends and my boyfriend took pictures of us having a good time. My boss thinks they are inappropriate because she says I look wasted and because I swore in a couple of the posts. She said she is mad because I am friends with my students and parents, but they go to bars too. I don’t get it. I could see why she’d be upset if the posts were on the studio page, but what right does she have to fire me for what I do on my own time with my friends? —Frustrated
I am not a legal expert. For appropriate legal advice pertaining to the owner’s right to let you go, I suggest you contact an attorney. Putting the legalities aside, let me answer this question from a school owner/boss’ perspective.
You state that you teach all ages of kids. If you taught for me, I would expect that you would always be aware that you are a mentor, leader, and teacher. That image and responsibility would be expected wherever you come in contact with our clientele. You represent not only yourself but my standards as a school owner.
I’m assuming that you did look wasted in the pictures because you didn’t say otherwise. And you admit that your comments included swearing or profanity. You made the choice to welcome your students or their parents to your Facebook page. Consequently, I believe that everything on your page should be appropriate to the image of a teacher who is making impressions on the young minds in her care.
You need to think about how shocked some of your students and their parents might be at your posts, then think about what being a role model means. My guess is that you will discover that this was a hard lesson to learn and that it is something that you will never allow to happen again. Good luck. —Rhee
A dance team coach in Texas resigned after spending seven months suspended for one of the more banal and innocent reasons possible: a photo in which she was eating at a Dick’s Last Resort restaurant with a group of her recently graduated, 18-year-old seniors was posted on Facebook.
As reported in detail by the San Antonio Express-News and San Antonio Fox affiliate KABB, Harlandale (Texas) McCollum High dance coach Cassandra Rios resigned from the school shortly after the conclusion of her seven-month suspension, which was handed down by the Harlandale School Board because of a photo of Rios with students that appeared online.
In the particular shot in question, Rios and her former students were pictured at a Dick’s Last Resort restaurant on the San Antonio Riverwalk wearing hats with risqué slogans—though that is hardly uncommon for Dick’s Last Resort, where servers routinely make customers wear such garments as a humorous pseudo-hazing gesture intended to be charming.
According to one of the graduating seniors pictured in the photo alongside Rios, no alcohol was consumed at the dinner. Rios also was not responsible for posting the photo online: she was just tagged in the photo by one of the other girls.
Rios, 27, has worked for Harlandale for five years and helped lead the dance team to win a national championship last year. For months, a large group of parents and students rallied at school board meetings in support of Rios. Rios plans to continue her teaching career in her hometown of Laredo. To see the original story, visit http://sports.yahoo.com/blogs/highschool-prep-rally/texas-dance-teacher-resigns-following-suspension-over-photo-220313815.html.
The post from studio owner Teri Mangiaratti said it all: “For the record . . . I love this page! Every time I look at it I feel less like a crazy dance studio lady (or at least less like I am the only one!). Thank you all for sharing so openly the ups and downs of this life!”
Everyone who attends one of Rhee Gold’s DanceLife Retreat Center seminars is welcome to join this exclusive Facebook group, where studio owners share advice (“I have a dancer whose parents are always behind on paying tuition . . . ”), trade information (“Do any of you have liability insurance?”), offer up and receive support (“My very first recital is Saturday! Wish me luck!), and vent as only dance teachers can (“Just got back from a nightmare competi
While these are some of the topics Gold tackles in depth during Retreat Center seminars, the conversation continues year round on Facebook. Kate Florian completely agreed with Teri. “This page has helped me through those lonely “Am-I-the-only-one” studio-lady times for sure! Thank you, Rhee, and thank you studio owners for all you do!”
And Rhee Gold replied: “I’m so happy that this page is helping you all out, and I appreciate ALL of you!”
To join the online—and in person—conversation, sign up today for a DanceLife Retreat Center seminar. Three-day sessions begin in June and run on select weekends through November. Visit http://www.danceliferetreat.com/# for all the details.
You are not only a dance teacher; you are a mentor and a leader. This means that you set the example for your students. Please think about what you post on your Facebook page . . . be sure that it is appropriate for your students (who look up to you) to see. Don’t tell them you got lucky last night or that you are going on a drinking binge this weekend. Have a great day–Rhee
Film studio Lionsgate and Facebook are teaming up to create an online game based on the 1987 romantic film Dirty Dancing, according to stories in The Independent and The Wrap.
The film studio is working with Toronto-based Social Game Universe to create an experience set in a virtual getaway spot in the Catskill Mountains, where the film’s heroine, Baby, learned to dance while on vacation with her parents.
Players will join the film’s characters, sample music from the Dirty Dancing soundtrack, and host dance shows for guests. Dances can generate “romance waves” to spruce up the resort with tennis courts, hedges, and jukeboxes. The game’s watermelon currency will allow the purchase of these and more virtual items.
The partnership capitalizes on the success of the Dirty Dancing Facebook page, which has grown in two years from 700,000 to more than 10.9 million fans. It ranks as the ninth most popular film fan page.
A surge in popularity happened after the death of the film’s Patrick Swayze in 2009 and then again when co-star Jennifer Grey competed in the reality television show Dancing With the Stars. To visit, visit http://apps.facebook.com/dirtydancinggame.
For more details, read http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/gadgets-and-tech/dirty-dancing-to-launch-online-game-on-facebook-2354576.html or http://www.thewrap.com/media/article/dirty-dancing-game-launching-facebook-30941.
“You’re The Tap,” a fun and fancy-free Facebook tap dance contest from Roundabout Theatre Company’s Anything Goes, is asking fans to show off their own signature style for a chance to win a Broadway spree.
To enter, fans can record a video of their own rousing routine set to the toe-tapping title song “Anything Goes” and submit it to the Roundabout Theatre Company’s Facebook page through October 16.
One Grand Prize winner will be selected by Tony Award-winning director/choreographer Kathleen Marshall and will receive an Anything Goes spree in New York City. The prize package for two includes airfare provided by American Airlines, hotel accommodations at Flatotel, dinner at Aureole, and tickets to Anything Goes starring Tony Award winners Sutton Foster and Joel Grey, with a backstage meet and greet.
September and October are prime time for dance studios. Schools are back in session and parents are busy signing kids up for after-school activities. Make the most of the momentum with these tips to maximize the back-to-school enrollment wave.
New and improved
Take advantage of our increasingly digital society by having your website up to date. On your homepage, include an easy link to fall schedules and prices. Replace any images of your competition winners and accolades of your advanced students with pictures of preschoolers and other beginning students. It’s important to take out the intimidation factor for potential new clients who are making a virtual visit. And don’t forget to put your web address on every promotional item you distribute or print. A website only works if potential customers actually get to it.
If you have a studio Facebook page, link to it from your website. Facebook is a great place to post pictures of smiling children from your summer camps, share inspirational quotes about teaching children, and issue a timely invitation to upcoming events such as open houses, the first day of classes, and “Try It Day.” You can also use Facebook to send personalized invitations to these events to local moms groups, preschools, and other organizations focused on parents and kids.
Another way to use Facebook is to run a “profile picture contest” to win a free month of classes. Invite friends to submit pictures of their little ones in their tutus and princess costumes. The child selected to be your studio’s Facebook profile photo for the month of September also receives a free month of classes. (And, of course you will probably give all of the runners-up a free single class, because everyone likes to feel like a winner—and the point is to get them through the door.)
Even if you are not savvy with a computer, you can take advantage of technology to bring greater efficiency and effectiveness to traditional back-to-school marketing techniques such as mailers. Gone are the days of laboring on a postcard design, printing labels, and fumbling with stamps. Today’s direct mail companies can take you through the process from idea to delivery with a few phone calls. Additionally, they have the ability to target your mailing to specific ZIP codes and household demographics. Now you don’t have to waste time and money mailing your materials to everyone if your information only applies to certain groups.
Tried and true
Some tried-and-true methods are still yielding good returns on time and money.
Put it on your calendar to host a “back to dance” open house with sample classes, studio tours, and performances. Because this is a free event for the community, you should be able to get it listed in your newspaper’s community calendar free of charge. If you really want to create a splash, you could rent a bounce house, offer face painting and free root beer floats, and call it a “Back to Dance Block Party.” The idea is to get families to your studio to see your facility and to interact with your friendly staff.
Print advertising is another traditional method that still works well during certain times of the year such as September and October because parents are already thinking about joining new activities at this time. If you choose to buy print advertising, don’t forget to include a call to action, such as “Only 10 spaces left—register now!” or an offer, such as “Register by October 1 to receive a free pair of ballet shoes.” The goal of investing in print advertising isn’t just to introduce the readers to your brand but also to get them to your door. If you have a choice, go for a local parenting magazine over the newspaper because of the narrow readership focus.
The best advice
The most effective way to boost your business is simple: answer your phone. Your marketing efforts won’t amount to anything if people can’t connect with you. We live in a get-it-now culture, which means that people will often keep calling until they talk to someone—and that someone might be at another school. Studio owners who answer their phones consistently during September and October (or have their phones answered by someone cheerful and knowledgeable) will get the lion’s share of the enrollment in these prime-time months.
The New York International Ballet Competition is revamping its online presence starting with its Facebook fan page, to make the experience of connecting with fans easier and more fun.
The page can be found at www.facebook.com/pages/New-York-International-Ballet-Competition/187350377954486.
Fans can browse the photo or video galleries, buy tickets to performances, or meet other ballet enthusiasts and join the discussion. New and interactive content will be posted frequently. NYIBC will no longer be updating its other pages, as the organization continues to work to make this page the premiere destination for ballet enthusiasts all over the world.
Tickets are available on the page to the NYIBC gala celebrating the life and work of Ilona Copen, NYIBC founder and executive director emerita, March 22 at New York University’s Skirball Center. The event will feature artists from American Ballet Theatre, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Dance Theatre of Harlem Ensemble, Joffrey Ballet, Limón Dance Company, New Jersey Ballet, and North Carolina Dance Theatre. NYIBC will honor Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux and Patricia McBride with the first Ilona Copen Award, to be presented by Virginia Johnson, artistic director of Dance Theatre of Harlem.
Pennsylvania Ballet invites its fans and friends to go behind the scenes with the company and its dancers on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. By texting “PABALLET” to 77950, fans can join the ballet’s mobile club, MyPABallet, and receive special offers and news. The company’s web site, www.paballet.org, has also been re-designed.
With the onset of everything Internet, I have staff asking to be “friended” by their students, which they have done. Consequently, students contact them instead of me, the director, regarding studio info. Also, one teacher puts on her personal Facebook page what classes and where she is teaching. (She’s also with another studio, miles away from mine.)
All of this makes me feel threatened. I’m working on getting a studio Facebook page so I can post photos and videos or links to them, but I’m not that computer savvy.
Where is the line regarding boundaries for this issue, and how would they reflect in annual teacher contracts? —Gypsy
The ethical boundaries of dance teachers utilizing Facebook have not been established because the medium is too new. However, if common sense prevails, certain policies should be adhered to. One of them is that teachers who “friend” their students need to understand that they must never post anything that would compromise their professional image as a teacher. For instance, there should be no pictures of the teacher partying with a drink in her hand, nor should she tell the world that she got lucky last night. When a teacher decides it’s OK to have students as Facebook friends, she also must decide to continue to be the mentor and good example that she is in the classroom when she posts anything on Facebook.
The problem of students contacting their teachers via Facebook with studio-related questions may not have anything to do with Facebook. If students or parents have become accustomed to going to your faculty with questions, then Facebook would seem like a logical place to inquire.
Make it a policy in your school’s handbook and a clause in faculty contracts that all questions concerning rehearsals, scheduling, performances, and policies must be directed to the school office, not to the faculty. Tell your faculty that all inquiries must go through you, whether the questions come to them on Facebook, at the school, or anywhere else. That will ensure that the answers to all questions are consistent. When teachers comply with this practice, over time the students who are Facebook friends with their teachers will stop asking them questions about the school.
I would jump on creating a school Facebook page. (It is easier than you think.) This should help with directing students’ questions to you or the office. Don’t feel threatened by new technology; instead, embrace it as a way to enhance communication with your students and their parents. All the best to you. —Rhee
An unbelievable situation is going on in my school. A student’s father has decided to leave his wife for another student’s mom. In observing their body language in the school lobby, I thought they had become a bit cozy, but my suspicions were confirmed when I took a group of students to an out-of-town competition. The dad’s wife and daughter caught him in his hotel room with the other student’s mom.
The next thing I knew, both families had checked out of the hotel and left the event, which meant that several dancers could not perform because their partners had left. What made things worse was that everyone there learned what had happened because the dancers’ absence needed an explanation. I was humiliated because I try to create a family environment for my students. I believe the adults set the example for their children, and this event wasn’t the place to carry on an affair.
I refunded the entry fees to the dancers who did not get to perform, so this affair has cost me in both dollars and stress.
Now I have two students whose parents are having a war in front of all my students and their parents. The two students (who were also best friends) are humiliated. Parents have stopped coming into my school’s waiting area, but the rumor mill is churning. I don’t like the atmosphere it has created for my school. Can you offer me some sort of advice on how to better handle this very sad situation? —Noreen
My sympathies are with you and the children of these very immature parents. Their actions at the competition sound like something teenagers would do, not grown adults. This seems like a lose–lose situation for everyone at your school.
You can’t erase the effect on your school of these parents’ juvenile actions at the competition. But it would be appropriate to call a meeting with the parents having the affair to explain how their actions have disturbed your school. Explain that you had to reimburse the entry fees for the dancers who could not perform, and since their actions were the reason those children could not perform, request that they reimburse you.
As for the gossiping, I might quietly explain that people need to refrain from making judgments for the sake of the two children involved.
I’m afraid my advice will not resolve the core problem here, but maybe it will make things a little more comfortable for you and the kids involved. You might consider seeking input from a counselor or other professional to help you handle this delicate situation. I wish you all the best. —Rhee
As a ballet teacher I find it distressing that so many conventions are dropping ballet classes. I think this sends a strong message to both teachers and dance students. If dance educators are always pushing that ballet is the technical foundation for dance, why is this happening? And where are teachers who teach more than one subject (as I did for many years) getting innovative information and inspiration for their ballet classes? Without teachers who want to learn more to give to their students, won’t technique in other areas/genres stagnate?
For continuing education purposes, I have to go to workshops and seminars quite far from home that cost me a pretty penny. I hold a degree in dance but think it is of utmost importance to my students that I stay abreast of new developments and fresh in my approach. I know I am lucky to be able to afford this luxury.
I have discussed this with a respected teacher and judge whose opinion was that convention owners don’t want to pay for good ballet instructors when students seem bored and uninterested in attending the classes. I don’t believe that there are not ballet teachers who can hold students’ attention for an hour. When I was growing up, I loved the classes presented by the likes of Jo Rowan, Patricia Dickinson, and Janice Barringer. And I am a big fan of Judy Rice.
Just something that might be a good topic and food for thought for teachers and studio owners. —Rachel
I too believe that ballet is beginning to go by the wayside at some dance conventions, and I don’t like it. You’re right—it becomes difficult to preach the importance of ballet training when students attend events where no ballet is offered. That judge you spoke to may have hit the nail on the head in saying that convention directors are not going to spend the dollars needed to have a great ballet teacher if the students are going to be bored or not attend the ballet classes.
However, the root of the problem lies with the school directors who don’t practice what they preach when they explain that ballet is the foundation for strong dancers in any style. When those same teachers decide to attend conventions that have no ballet faculty, they are contradicting their own philosophies.
If school owners start to demand ballet classes and say they won’t bring their students to conventions that don’t offer them, I’ll bet convention directors would start to add more ballet curriculum to their events. It is time for school owners to speak up and be persistent about the need for ballet classes at any convention they attend. Only then will we see the tide swing the other way.
On another note, I’d bet that if So You Think You Can Dance and other nationally televised dance programs would start to include ballet, the result would be a huge influx of young dancers seeking classes with great ballet teachers. We can only hope that one day this will be true. Good luck, and please keep fighting for what you know is right for your students. —Rhee
Taking It to the Streets
Flash mobs. Specifically, dance flash mobs. They’re all over YouTube, and judging by the frequency with which people on Facebook link to them, they’re as popular with non-dance folks as with dancerly types. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you’re missing out on some big fun. Check out the ones called “Sound of Music | Central Station Antwerp (Belgium),” “The T-Mobile Dance” (even though it’s a commercial), Food Court Musical, and “Hit and Run Hula @ Union Square” if you want to feel a goofy smile creep across your face. Heck, you might even get a bit teary.
So here’s your cue to say, “Hey, I could do that! What a great way to share dance with the community.” Yes, you could brighten someone’s day, spark some conversation among strangers, maybe even get a few sideliners up and dancing with you. And who knows, maybe even rustle up a few new clients.
What’s that common wisdom—everyone loves a surprise? That might explain part of the appeal of flash mobs, but I’ll bet a good chunk comes from the infectious enthusiasm of the dancers. Who better than dancers to deliver some smile-inducing, mood-altering improbability into the humdrum of our workaday lives?
See you on the streets. And don’t forget to post a video on our Facebook page. I want to share in the fun. —Cheryl Ossola, Editor in Chief
One of my favorite quotes about dance comes off my coffee mug—“Dance is the only art wherein we ourselves are the stuff of which it is made.” Wordy, but nice. Sometimes in class I’d turn that into a riddle and see if any meaning jumped out. “What does a painter need to make a painting?” Paint, paper, brushes. “What does a musician need to make music?” An instrument. “What do dancers use to make art?” Ourselves, of course! Little kids wiggle with excitement when they figure it out—it makes them feel special, and rightly so.
Perhaps it is this idea of embodying art that makes dancers so eager to share with others. Teams of little kids in tap shoes are always trooping off to nursing homes, elementary schools, or community festivals. Sure, they love to perform, but there are more prestigious places to do so than the local senior center. Boy and Girl Scouts at least get a badge for doing helpful stuff—what do dancers get?
I started thinking about this after doing a story about New Bedford Youth Ballet’s performances in hospitals, senior centers, and schools (see Ballet Scene, DSL, July 2010). The kids were great, super-polite and accomplished. And they all talked about how important the experience of sharing dance was to them.
I recently took a group of my singing dancers (think Glee, but without all the pregnancies) to a nursing home. My idea was to give my youngest dancers, who started class too late to prepare a recital piece, a chance to perform. But gosh darn, weren’t those elderly people already sitting and waiting when we got there a half-hour early? Didn’t they smile and love it all? My motivation wasn’t to help other people, but that’s what we did, and how great is that? It was like that first ride on Space Mountain—I wanted to jump up and do it again.
Every winter my late tap teacher, Rosie Boyden, would take her adult tappers to do the shim sham at an assisted learning center. Rosie shared her life and she shared her dance. To her, they were one and the same. Studios everywhere provide these opportunities for their students, and it might be the most meaningful thing they do.
All that teaching time in the studio is making good dancers, but I have to believe that all this sharing is making those dancers better human beings. —Karen White, Associate Editor
The ABCs of Image
I hear a lot of talk about professionalism these days. I doubt I could find a dance teacher or school owner who doesn’t claim to have the training, experience, credibility, and expertise that we associate with being a professional. But even when you’ve got all those attributes, you need one more thing: presentation. If you make yourself look careless or uninformed—or even worse, uneducated—you’ve blown that professional image to smithereens.
What’s provoked this line of thought is a YouTube video that was all over Facebook not long ago, being widely ridiculed. Its title? “Grand battma.” That’s right—someone who claims to have enough expertise not only to teach but to produce a video demonstrating ballet technique—specifically grand battement—doesn’t even know how to spell the term. (As of press time the video was no longer on the site, but I did find another one posted by a similarly spelling-challenged person, called “jazz grande batma.”)
Maybe some dance teachers would shrug and say, “Nah, I can’t spell—but who cares? I’m a darn good teacher.” Who cares? Plenty of people. I’m not talking about typos; I mean inexplicable, gross errors that raise questions and eyebrows about someone’s ability, mistakes like “battma” instead of “battement.” That’s no slip of the fingers on the keyboard. And maybe, if you spell it that way in a handout for parents, they won’t know the difference—until, that is, their kids become complete bunheads and spend hours poring over ballet books and websites and discover its correct spelling. What would those parents think of your professionalism then?
Admittedly, I’m sensitive to these things—I’m an editor, after all—but spelling and its nasty companion, grammar, are critical, visible parts of a professional image. Would you go to a doctor who can’t spell “encephalitis” or a lawyer who stumbles on “jurisprudence”? How would you feel if your child’s high school math teacher sent home a note asking you for a “conferance”—spelling it that way not once but twice, so you know it’s not just a slipup? Sure, he teaches math, not English, but wouldn’t you begin to doubt whether he’s a good teacher?
Correct spelling of dance terms is only a click away, at abt.org/education/dictionary/index.html. Or keep a copy of Gail Grant’s Technical Manual and Dictionary of Classical Ballet on your desk. If your grammar is shaky, find a word whiz to double-check anything you write that will be read by students, parents, or prospective customers. And if you work in Microsoft Word, use its spell-check function—but with the understanding that its grasp of grammar is about as good as a 2-year-old’s. It can alert you to potential problems, but don’t assume it’s right. Look them up.
By the way, aside from its misspelling, the “grand battma” video itself came under a huge amount of fire, and rightfully so. But that’s a rant for another day. —Cheryl Ossola, Editor in Chief
Best of Both Worlds
Hello, fellow dance teachers. I can’t begin to tell you how thrilled I am to be the latest editor here at Dance Studio Life. It’s as if my two worlds have collided in the very nicest of ways.
My trajectory in dance followed a very typical path—years in a local studio lovin’ dance, but being pushed into a “real career” by parents and teachers who couldn’t be faulted for seeing only what my body could (or could not) do and for not seeing into my heart. “But you’re such a good writer!” everyone said, which led to 25 years of newspaper reporting and editing, plus plenty of freelance magazine and public relations work.
But I never left the studio, either, continuing to teach and take class. By day I was a writer of stories about wastewater treatment plants and bone-headed school committee decisions; by night, a dance instructor who could wrestle any class of “terror tots” into abject submission. People would ask, “What are you?” and if I answered one or the other, it felt odd, like an animal that doesn’t know if it’s fish or fowl.
But now, I realize where that schizophrenic career was leading—to a journalism job that’s all about dance. Dance all day, and dance all night! It may not be 32 curtain calls after Giselle, but it’s a triumph in my own little world. Cheers! —Karen White, Associate Editor
What social networking media outlets can do for you
By Christina H. Davis
It’s never been easier to get the word out about your studio. School owners now have a plethora of online marketing opportunities to choose from to reach students and parents, including popular social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. Learning how to put online marketing to use may seem daunting, but dance studio owners can harness the power of social media to help build their businesses. All it takes is a little research, experimentation, and effort.
Stepping out with Facebook
The hottest social media site continues to be Facebook, which boasts more than 400 million active users around the globe. While the site was originally launched by and for college students, it has attracted people of all ages looking to connect virtually, and it’s also become a great place for businesses to connect with customers—including dance studios.
While individuals can create pages to communicate with friends and family, businesses can create “fan pages” at no cost. Users of Facebook can then become a “fan” of the business and leave messages, post photos, and upload videos.
One studio that has begun experimenting with a Facebook fan page is California Dance Academy. Robbin Shahani, the studio’s executive director, and his wife bought what was then known as the Rozann-Zimmerman Ballet Center in Chatsworth, a suburb of Los Angeles, in July 2008. Less than a year later, they launched a Facebook page under the school’s current name.
Initially, Shahani had hoped to develop a portion of his school’s website as a place for current students to connect and post comments and pictures. But he soon realized that Facebook offered an existing platform to do that—and that many of his students and their parents were already on the fast-growing social networking site.
So far, it’s still slow going, according to Shahani. As of May 24, the school, which has 110 students and 10 teachers, had 149 fans on its Facebook page. “There’s been some interaction between the students, which is what I really want to foster and encourage more of,” Shahani says. “If we were better at regular posts, I suspect people would make it part of a routine” to check the page for updates.
Shahani’s measure of success is mostly anecdotal. “When students or parents take the initiative in posting what’s important to them, that’s obviously great insight for us as directors,” he says.
School owners use social media sites like Facebook for a variety of reasons, according to Stacey Marolf. She owns StudioOfDance.com, a Portland, Oregon-based business that focuses on websites for dance studios. She says some of her clients simply want to boost loyalty with existing customers by providing them with an online way to connect with the studio, much like California Dance Academy’s strategy. Other schools are focused on driving traffic from Facebook to their websites, while still others hope to generate new business.
At a minimum, Marolf says, owners should track how new students hear about their studios. “Asking new students and/or their parents whether they know about your Facebook presence, and whether it played a role in their decision, will allow you to measure your success,” she says.
One school that’s been more aggressive about tracking its Facebook page’s success is The Rock School for Dance Education in Philadelphia and West Chester, Pennsylvania. The school, which has a very strong ballet program for teens, launched its Facebook page in July 2009. As of May 24, it had an impressive 8,887 fans.
Alexander Spassoff, communications director for The Rock, says he uses Facebook primarily as a broadcast platform and is hoping to move it toward being “a help center” for teens interested in dance to ask questions. He pays particular attention to Facebook Insights, a free program that provides demographic information at no cost for any Facebook page. He can see clearly that the school’s Facebook audience is within its target market—females ages 13 to 17.
Facebook has attracted people of all ages looking to connect virtually, and it’s also become a great place for businesses to connect with customers—including dance studios.
Spassoff also delves into the analytics for the school’s website (therockschool.org) and says Facebook is consistently in the top three for referring traffic. As a one-man marketing operation for the 1,500-student school (1,000 in the regular program and 500 in the summer program), Spassoff’s time is stretched thin, but he’s convinced that Facebook is an important alternative to traditional newspapers for getting the word out about the school. “Maybe Facebook is not where it’s going to be,” he says. “Maybe it’s YouTube or maybe it’s something no one’s heard of. But everyone agrees that media’s changing.”
Of course, the resources available to The Rock School far outpace the average dance studio. So Marolf offers some words of advice to her clients who feel overwhelmed by the demands of keeping pace. “I think that a lot of social media can be great, if you are ready to commit to them and be consistent” by keeping online information current, she says. An out-of-date Facebook page or blog can send a bad message to prospective students.
Rather than setting up a Facebook page, a Twitter account, and a blog all at once, Marolf advises her clients to start with one outlet. She says studio owners should talk to their students and parents about how they would like to connect and go with the most popular method.
While Shahani and others are happy to jump onto the Web 2.0 bandwagon, some still keep their feet on the curb. One of them is Nancy Solomon Rothenberg, owner of Studio B Dance Center in Eastchester, New York. She loves using Facebook in her personal life but has no plans to create a page for her studio. “I believe in word of mouth,” she says. “If parents love you and talk about you, that’s the best form of advertising.”
Solomon Rothenberg says that other studio owners have reported problems or fears with sites like Facebook. A parent who posts a negative comment can scare off potential customers, she says. And the need to police constantly changing privacy policies worries many people.
There are ways to keep tabs on some of the online social media chatter, according to Chad Michael Lawson, a Phoenix-based website developer and marketer who owns RealDealDanceWebSites.com and RealDealDanceMarketing.com. He recommends setting up email alerts on Facebook, which notify you every time someone posts on your studio’s fan page. For other sites, you can set up custom email alerts through search engines such as Google or Yahoo with your studio’s name as a filter. You’ll automatically be notified every time your studio’s name is mentioned on the Internet.
Another potential problem with sites like Facebook is the blurring of the line that separates teachers from students and even parents. Solomon Rothenberg says she has banned her teachers from friending students on Facebook. At first, her teachers were “a little put off about the rules,” she says, but soon they came to understand that the policy was about maintaining the studio’s professional image.
While Solomon Rothenberg is cautious about social media, she isn’t ignoring the Internet. She has a studio website with a dynamic video introduction and a full page of testimonials from students about why they love dance. To her, that page of testimonials is worth more than any Facebook page. “Those are real kids,” she says. “You can just feel their enthusiasm coming through.”
Facebook and Twitter may be getting the most attention from marketers at the moment, but video-hosting sites can be equally useful for studio owners. What better way to show what a studio is about than through a video clip?
Cathy Patterson, owner of Point B Dance in Lawrence, Kansas, has been an early adopter of online video. Her studio focuses solely on adult students, most of whom attend the University of Kansas. After attending a marketing class that reviewed the power of video to draw people into a website, she knew she had to give it a try. Over the past year she’s uploaded numerous clips from rehearsals and classes at her studio, and she now features a video clip prominently on her site’s home page. “My enrollment has jumped up since I added the video on the home page,” she says.
But part of the reason why YouTube has worked for Patterson is that the majority of her students are college age, meaning that they can legally give their consent to appear in a promotional video. She says that if she owned a traditional studio with younger students, she’d be more hesitant to use the videos so prominently.
The novelty of starring on a short video clip has not worn off on the students at Point B.
“I have people texting me, asking me when that one is going up on YouTube,” Patterson says. “I didn’t think it would be that big a deal, but it is.”
Patterson uses a Flip camera (which retails for as little as $149) to shoot simple footage at the end of class. She announces that she’ll be recording and gives the students the choice to sit out. Then she uploads the video and it’s on her site within minutes.
Patterson hasn’t done much on Facebook or Twitter, and she shares some of Solomon Rothenberg’s misgivings about them. In fact, when she uploads videos, she blocks the ability for people to comment on them. “I want people to make their own opinions,” she says.
While Patterson is concerned about comments, she’s not worried about people stealing her or her staff’s choreography when they watch it online. “We would feel like it was a compliment,” she says.
Lawson is a big proponent of the power of leveraging social media. “You can’t put a website online and just think, ‘Oh, this is enough,’ ” he says. “It has to be alive. You have to be tied into [social media] in order for it to work.”
So when Lawson builds a website for a client, he’s sure to establish a presence for the business with Twitter, Blip (a video hosting site similar to YouTube), and Flickr (a photo hosting site), along with Facebook. He builds a simple interface with the various social media sites right into each client’s website content management system.
Establishing a presence on a variety of sites is important, Lawson says, because studio owners will find a different audience at each. The people found on Flickr, which is popular with photo buffs, are quite different from those who hang out on Twitter. And the users of Twitter are likely to only overlap slightly with those on Facebook.
Keeping each social site’s audience in mind is key, according to Lawson. For example, he says the best way to connect on Twitter is for dance studio owners to follow members of the local community and share news that would be of interest to potential customers. “If you want to use Twitter for business, post stuff going on around your town,” he says. “It’s like being a member of the chamber of commerce without having to leave your studio.”
Establishing a presence doesn’t mean giving prospective clients the hard-sell; that doesn’t work on social media, says Lawson. “If you come across too strong,” he says, “it’s like walking into a party and immediately saying, ‘Here’s my card.’ No one wants to talk to that guy. You have to mimic how you would act at a party.”
Lawson acknowledges the challenge in managing a business along with multiple fan pages, Twitter accounts, and YouTube channels. To cope with their competing time demands, he recommends something that dance people are very familiar with: discipline. “If you can carve out a half an hour in the morning, that’s all you need,” he says.
Social Media Basics
What is it? A website where people can connect with others to share photos, videos, and information.
How many people use it? More than 400 million active users.
The pros? Its popularity is skyrocketing, with a broad cross-section of age groups.
The cons? The potential for negative feedback and privacy issues.
What is it? A “micro-blog” where users share status updates (limited to 140 characters) with their “followers.”
How many people use it? Nearly 75 million (industry estimate).
The pros? It can create a lot of buzz around a dance studio if used properly.
The cons? The audience may not match with the demographic of the average dance studio.
What is it? A video hosting site.
How many people use it? The site receives 1 billion views per day.
The pros? Studio owners can upload videos for free and embed them on their websites or Facebook fan pages.
The cons? Some parents may not feel comfortable with their children’s images being posted on the site.
LehrerDance wants your vote.
Chase Community Giving is looking to give away a little more than $5 million to 200 local charities, and it’s inviting the public to vote for its favorite recipients on its Facebook site, http://apps.facebook.com/chasecommunitygiving/. LehrerDance, a contemporary dance troupe based in Buffalo, New York, has issued an appeal for votes.
Each person can vote for up to 20 charities but can vote only once for each. Voting continues until July 12, with results tallied the following day. The top vote-getter will get $250,000, with $100,000 for each of the four runner-up charities and $20,000 to the remaining 195
Increase your online presence with MySpace and Facebook
By Misty Lown
If you’re the least bit cyber-savvy, you’ve heard of MySpace and Facebook, two networking sites that have a huge following among the youth (and beyond) of the world. And maybe, knowing that, you dismissed them as having nothing to do with you or your business. Not so fast! You can use these heavily trafficked sites to increase your school’s visibility and send potential clients to your website.
I learned about the power of these sites two years ago when, unbeknownst to me, a college-age staff member of mine started a “group” on MySpace under my studio name. The teacher’s intentions were good; she simply wanted to connect with former studio dancers who had moved out of the area. When I found out about it, my first instinct was to ask her to end the group. But I realized that it would only be a matter of time before someone else (probably a student) started another one. So my two realistic options were: Stick my head in the sand and hope for the best, or open a MySpace account so that I could join the group and influence the activities being conducted under my studio’s name.
I chose to open both MySpace and Facebook accounts. And I’ve discovered that they’re a great way to connect with long-lost graduates, mentor current students in real time, and promote my school’s specialty events. I’ve also been hacked, shocked, and prompted to develop policies for my teachers and team members regarding my expectations for online behavior. Still, though their waters are sometimes turbulent, these vast seas of communication have much to offer.
How they work
MySpace and Facebook can function as chronicles of events, billboards that announce upcoming events, rallying grounds to support a cause, and journals in which to explore your thoughts. Of the two, MySpace could be considered the trendier, younger sibling, while Facebook is more grown-up and standardized, used by people of all ages and companies of all sizes.
People who have MySpace or Facebook accounts connect to other account holders through “friending” and joining “groups.” Just like “texting” has become an unofficial verb for the act of sending text messages, “friending” is what you’re doing when you gather contacts online. Opening an account gives you the option to allow MySpace or Facebook to search your email files for contacts who also have accounts with them. One “friend” is all it takes to get the ball rolling. Once you get a friend, then you can see that person’s friends (and they can see your profile if you choose to make it public). Some people have hundreds of friends, making the potential for connections exponentially huge.
The second way to connect to other people on MySpace or Facebook is to join a group. They can be generic and large, like “I Love to Dance,” which has thousands of members from around the world, or small and closely connected, like my studio’s group. Groups can be open or closed. Open ones tend to be larger and less controllable because anybody can join them. Closed ones are usually smaller and require the approval of an administrator (usually the person who started it) to join.
Joining MySpace and Facebook is easy (if you can’t figure it out, ask your kids or students to do it for you)—and it’s free. Once you establish an account, you can easily customize the look and content to your purposes.
Being a member of an online network is a great way to keep in touch with former teachers and dance graduates in an increasing mobile world. I can track down some of these people only via Facebook since their addresses and cell phone numbers change frequently. And staying in touch with former teachers and students isn’t just good for your heart; it can be good for your business too. Some of the best leads I’ve gotten for new teachers and guest choreographers have come from the people I already know. And online networking can speed up the referral process. Some people check their MySpace or Facebook messages more often than their email or voicemail and respond more quickly that way as well.
Perhaps the most promising way I have been using online networking is to promote special events at my studio. For example, we are producing an all-city, nonalcoholic teen dance and competition; in the past, I would have printed all of the promotional materials for this kind of event. However, this time MySpace and Facebook are generating almost all of its momentum.
Based on the success I’ve had so far, I have started promoting my studio’s workshops and visits from guest choreographers on MySpace and Facebook. This is also an excellent way to promote open-enrollment events like hip-hop or dance team workshops. With a minimal output of time and at no cost, you can send a weekly invitation to your network “friends” for a few weeks prior to the event, and then daily for the last three days. In addition, your students can forward the info to their school friends and encourage them to sign up. If I had to prepare a mailer for that many points of contact—well, I wouldn’t. It would take too much time, effort, and money.
Aside from the business benefits of joining online networks, my favorite way to use them is to stay connected to my students. Since I have small children at home, I no longer teach all of the advanced classes at my studio. It takes almost no time to send a quick note of encouragement to a couple of students via my online networks while I’m working from home.
Not just another website
Many dance studios and companies are using MySpace and Facebook to enhance their standard online presence: the website. Having these accounts is like having a satellite website where you can post pictures and text to promote your school or organization. Although networking sites and websites are similar in form, their functions are quite different.
I’ve discovered that MySpace and Facebook are a great way to connect with long-lost graduates, mentor current students in real time, and promote my school’s specialty events.
The first difference is in construction. Think of your studio’s website like a house—you build it to last and remodel it as you grow. Think of your studio’s MySpace or Facebook presence as decorations—you can change them easily and often. Quality websites tend to be expensive and relatively time consuming to build, and changing them often requires the expertise of a developer or host. In contrast, you can open a MySpace or Facebook account in a few minutes and update it just as easily.
The second difference can be in the content. Some people maintain their own websites and can make changes freely and without incurring any costs. Others, like me, make changes infrequently. For example, in the interest of cost control, the information on my website is not time sensitive. I update it once per year to coincide with registration, adding new photos and downloadable files of our current schedule and registration forms. But I can edit the layout, photos, and content on my MySpace and Facebook pages with a few clicks of the mouse, which makes them ideal places to post information that changes rapidly. I can make these changes myself, whenever I need to, for free.
Like everything on the Internet, there is a dark side to MySpace and Facebook. The same power of connectivity that makes these sites great marketing tools also makes them a breeding ground for problems.
Here’s an example. Remember that MySpace group I discovered under my studio name? I found it one night when I was doing online searches for my studio name, checking to see how well website optimization (a service I pay for) was working. Not only did my studio’s website come up in my search—so did a student’s very questionable MySpace page, because she was a member of the group using my studio’s name. It took only a few clicks to find the administrator (one of my staff teachers) and convince her to monitor the culture of the group. She was mortified to think that any parents searching for dance lessons in my area could have stumbled across this student’s page and its inappropriate photos and language. They would not have been impressed.
Watching your back online
After taking control of the MySpace situation, I let my involvement languish. Then a few months later a student of mine told me that inappropriate messages were being sent to all my contacts from my MySpace account. I was shocked. Fortunately, everybody who received the message blew it off, knowing that I wouldn’t send something like that. But I learned my lesson. No more using passwords named after the family pet! I still do not know who sent the messages from my account, but it was obviously somebody who knew me. Now my passwords are completely random and I change them often. I also monitor my sites daily. Each site lists your last login date and time. Sites that are logged into frequently are less likely to be hacked.
Standards for staff
In my teachers’ contracts I have always included a clause stating that employees can be terminated if they fail to “conduct themselves with the highest standards of moral integrity becoming of a teacher, team player, and role model for children.” Last year was the first time I had to clarify that “conduct” encompasses behavior not only in the studio and community, but also online. At our fall kickoff staff meeting I made it clear that I expect the online behavior of my staff to be consistent with their studio behavior. Put simply, that means not saying anything or posting a picture of yourself doing anything that you wouldn’t say or do at the studio. Going one step further, it means not posting comments by your buddies that compromise your character.
Standards for students
Enforcing standards for online behavior for employees is doable, but what about for students? How can you have the time, energy, or ability to enforce it? It’s true that you cannot (and should not) police all of your students’ behavior online. You have a business to run, classes to teach, and perhaps your own children to tend to.
However, for competition teams or performance groups, you can set high standards regarding online behavior from day one. When a student puts on your team jacket, the relationship between you has changed. Team members are more than just students; they are ambassadors for your program and they represent all that you stand for. You should be able to count on them to be positive role models, both onstage and online. You don’t need to police their pages on a daily basis, but it is probably a good idea to check their online photo albums and blogs periodically.
I’ve gotten into the habit of making positive comments to students about something I’ve seen on their MySpace or Facebook pages. I do it casually, while they’re getting a drink of water or leaving class. It’s a great way to accomplish two things with one sentence: First, I am giving them positive attention, which they crave. Second, I am letting them know that I am watching and that they are not anonymous online.
To be or not to be (online)
By now you might be wondering whether social networking sites are worth your time and energy. I liken my adventures in cyberspace to traveling. Taking a trip is usually worthwhile when I plan ahead, lock my car, and take a friend for company. The same common sense applies to joining these vibrant, growing online communities. Make a plan for your site, guard your passwords and change them often, and get a few key teachers on board to help watch your back and act as positive role models in the classroom and online. Then your online travels will be smooth sailing!