I own a school that was founded by my grandmother. I grew up knowing that someday I would take the reins and I always looked forward to it. I am proud of what we have built, but my children have their own interests, and they don’t include directing the family school.
For studio owners and dance teachers, summer’s inevitable slowdown means that we finally have time to recharge our batteries and reboot for a new season. Every summer, opportunities abound for continuing education—a dizzying number of dance classes, teaching seminars, conventions, and conferences to choose from. But what if those are out of reach this year? What if you have a tight budget, or you can’t travel, or the timing is bad—or all of the above?
Most studio owners have become experts at a diverse array of tasks: generating new ideas, maintaining mailing lists, sending out newsletters, updating websites, devising marketing plans, and scheduling, emailing, choreographing, costuming, and handling studio conflicts. Most of the time our efforts yield positive outcomes—what we wanted and expected. But sometimes the results are weak or even negative. Why? How does that happen, and why are we caught off-guard when it does?
By Karen White
The five wild turkeys were in no rush, scratching their way methodically across the DanceLife Retreat Center lawn, looking up and loping into the woods when a car crunched across the gravel drive.
Dance studios cannot survive without attracting new students. But retaining the ones you already have makes sound business sense.
She hired them believing they would strengthen and nurture her dance program. With no warning, they left and opened a new studio four miles down the street, taking as many students and teachers with them as they could hustle.
Mrs. Marsden is the best dance teacher there is. At 73, she still teaches all her ballet classes. She allows every student to perform; she encourages even those who think picking dance wasn’t a great choice.
As a studio owner, it can be wonderfully satisfying when the newest teacher to join your faculty is a former student who “grew up” under your tutelage.
As a studio owner, I am endlessly pondering and planning business opportunities and new sources of income. Still, one of my biggest successes—a performance team for 5- and 6-year-olds—sprang from a simple observation by my husband.
I never wanted to be anything but a dancer, but that proved to be only the beginning of my career’s evolution. As my development from dancer to teacher to choreographer to director has proved, you never know what you can do unless you try it.
What can email do for your business? If you’re like me—not a computer whiz—it’s probably more than you think.
Miss Carolyn has been my mentor; she is like a second mother and has helped shape the teacher and person I am today. She truly loves what she does, and does what she loves like no other. She acts as a role model for all her dancers, instilling the characteristics of what a true young dancer should strive to be.
When Azin Mahoozi Shalan was growing up, dance classes were forbidden to her. Yet today, as director of her own dance company and a dance studio owner, Shalan has overcome cultural and religious impediments to reshape her life while opening up a world of dance—literally—to her students in Vienna, Virginia, a suburb of Washington, DC.
A dance studio owner may view an inspection by occupational safety regulators the way the ancients regarded the appearance of a comet: as a harbinger of doom. But such inspections need not be an ordeal.
Here’s a confession: I’m writing this article for myself. With five kids, a dancewear store and studio, 700 students, and a new job as managing partner of five daycare centers, I have reached a whole new level of multitasking.
For thousands of teachers and school owners, the start of summer is a time to brainstorm, to plot and dream about everything they want to achieve during the upcoming dance season. It’s a time to look back on the lessons of the past year—some learned the hard way and others in a flash, those light-bulb moments that make us wonder why we didn’t think of that idea years ago. It’s through the live-and-learn process that we become better at what we do.
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.
You know that great feeling of walking into your studio and realizing that all is well? Teachers are excited about teaching, the dancers are happy, and the office staff greets you with a smile. Wouldn’t you like to re-create this team atmosphere every day? You can—by creating a comfortable workplace where your employees feel appreciated for what they bring to the organization and are inspired to work for you for many years to come.
We live in a very small town in Kentucky. For more than 36 years we were the only studio in town. Now a girl from out of town is opening up a studio and my students and their parents are asking all kinds of questions, like “Did you know there is a new studio?” I really don’t know how to respond to them. It’s hard to know whether to have faith in my parents to do the right thing and stay with me or say something now to try to prevent them going. Any advice? I have been up nights worrying about this. Dance dollars are few with the struggling economy, and now having to compete with a new place is causing me great stress. Thanks so much! —Patricia
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.
Dear Rhee, I have a student who has a mischievous side that seems to come out when she is at my school and, from what I understand, at public school too. She does things like drop mean notes in the other students’ dance bags. Sometimes she calls them fat or ugly and is always just plain mean. She never signs her name to the notes, but we have determined that it is her because of the handwriting.
Dear Rhee, In my school I have several employees, both faculty and office staff. In the past my employees have arrived late for work and some haven’t followed procedures because they wanted to save themselves some time—which I know saves no time because we have to redo the things that they didn’t do right the first time.
When it comes to recital time, do you dream about putting on that perfect fantasy production? Well, think again—it might actually be the right time to consider cutting back. “Cut back!” you say. “Forget it! Last year’s recital was really good and I am going to have to do something to top it.” But cutting back on recital expenses might be the best business move you could ever make.
No two people are alike, so it follows that no two businesses are alike either. There might be a dozen dance studios in the country with identical names, all of which offer jazz, tap, and lyrical, but if you look beyond the surface, each is distinct. What makes them so? You, the school owners, that’s who. You are unique and your one-of-a-kind personality infuses your business. If there’s one idea I came away with after spending four days with roughly 500 dance teachers at the DanceLife Teacher Conference last summer, it’s that each dance studio is different.
“Break a leg!” The theatrical well wish for actors and dancers has an irony that often escapes young performers. Indeed, for most young, healthy dancers, the possibility of injury feels remote and doesn’t factor greatly into their daily routine. For their older, more experienced teachers, however, the reality of injury and the desire to prevent it create a serious responsibility.
Owners of dance studios that participate in competitions know that to do well requires hard work, good choreography, and dedicated and talented dancers. So when you hear “And the first-place winner is . . .” and your studio’s name is called, you have reason to be excited and proud of your accomplishments. It’s likely that a lot of people participated in making that number first rate: the teachers who gave the students good technique, the studio owner who provided them with the opportunity to compete, the choreographer who shared his or her creativity with them—and of course the students themselves, who carried out the assignment effectively.
For 17 years I ran my school in the same rented location. Then this year a perfect space in an up-and-coming area with many children became available, so I decided to take the plunge and go for the new space.
Do you love being an independent professional? Do you relish the freedom, the flexible hours, and the 4:00 p.m. naps? Sure, but chances are you don’t savor the quarterly taxation and high start-up costs, and most likely you will miss out on the paid vacations, insurance benefits, sick leave, and other pluses that employees enjoy. There isn’t much you can do to avoid the taxes, but there is a way for you to squeeze by the other pitfalls. Are you looking for a creative way to save money or, better yet, not deal with money at all?
For dance teachers, enduring a year feels like being stuck on a warped carousel. Through the ups and downs, there is no way to keep it from spinning or to slow it down. For the most part, the ride is fun and exciting—you never know what is around the next turn. But since dance teachers do not live the same kind of life as people in other professions, why should we adhere to the same calendar? I’ve devised one with a more realistic view of our year, plus some suggestions to make it more suited for our nontraditional needs.
I have been an owner/director of a studio for 16 years. I have had a group of teens for a while now, my competition team, who are pretty dedicated, good kids. One of them is the daughter of one of my teachers. That teacher told me that a girl who is very negative and disrespectful is upsetting her daughter, and she mentioned going to another studio if her daughter is not happy here.
Young people today have many options when it comes to entrepreneurial careers, and owning a dance studio is a popular one. Considering its physicality and long hours, it’s a career that seems to suit the young quite well. Fearlessness and technical savvy come into play as well. The following people contributed their stories, expertise, and wisdom.
“Most people come to find their fortune in New York City at age 21. I did it in reverse. I came during middle age,” says Toni Noblett with a laugh. “It is amazing that you can do something completely different with your life at age 55.” Two years ago the dance teacher sold the studio that she had operated for 25 years in Roxboro, NC, and moved to New York City.
I own and direct a dance studio in a small Midwestern town. I was wondering what percentage of a school’s students should return from the previous year. I’m concerned about my low number of returns but hopeful about all my new enrollments.
Owning my own dance studio was always a goal of mine. And opening my first studio in the mid-1980s also meant that striving for more was almost inevitable. I had done everything right—I had the dance training, had studied teaching techniques, and had been teaching for 10 years.
Conventions make an exciting complement to dance-studio education. More and more studios are opting for competitions that come with a learning component or forgo the gold and silver of competitions altogether in favor of the convention experience.
Fall is a time to start the new dance season with energy and enthusiasm. For many studio owners it’s also the time to consider which competitions to attend. Then the dreaded paperwork starts.
“Nina has grown the studio—one of the newest—to be the biggest in our area. She has achieved more success in 5 years than some people have in 20!
If you’re like many school owners, you hold an annual open house to welcome the community and potential new clients. Great idea! Now put aside the temptation to use the occasion to prove how terrific your advanced dancers are—the goal of the day should be to show how fun dance can be, not to show off.
Do you wonder why some studios prosper and grow year after year while others struggle to maintain their current students?
All dance school owners eventually encounter a problem employee. It’s not easy to deal with, and if the problem can’t be resolved it can put you in the difficult position of having to dismiss that employee or teacher.