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.
Arthur Murray Dance Studio and Farmers Market in The Woodlands, Texas, have joined together to sponsor a flash mob event to show support and raise funds for Adam and Adrienne Davis on May 18 at 10am in the Grogan’s Mill Center. Adrienne was an Arthur Murray dance instructor in San Antonio and more recently at the Boston Arthur Murray Dance Studio who lost a leg in the Boston Marathon bombing.
“We remember seeing Adrienne in San Antonio at our state meetings,” said Brian Pablo, instructor for Arthur Murray Dance Studio-The Woodlands, told the Cypress Creek Mirror.
“Understanding her passion to dance makes us all ache for her. It helps define who she is—it’s her life—and she shares it with others.
“We’re doing this flash mob event to show our support for her and help her make this recovery. She has such a passion for dance and strong determination to do it again even with a prosthesis. We’re hoping to have a big turnout for this short event. We want it to be one that will show that Texans are with Adrienne and all of the Boston Marathon survivors supporting and cheering them on.”
The event will be held at Grogan’s Mill Center, 7 Switchbud Place, The Woodlands. For information on Adrienne’s progress, visit www.gofundme.com/AdrianneFund.
Florida Southern College in Lakeland students will be able to study dance and learn choreography as part of a new musical theater major in a brand new dance building now under construction.
The Ledger reported that groundbreaking ceremonies were held this week for the Wynee Warden Dance Studio, named for Winifred “Wynee” Warden of Orlando, a major benefactor of the private college. The construction of the building is part of the school’s Fine Arts Department expansion, and will be completed in spring of 2014.
Anne Kerr, president of the school, said she was inspired to start a dance program after talking with students. “Every year I host a series of dinner conversations with groups of students,” she said. “For years, students have requested more dance classes, especially ballet and, believe it or not, ballroom dancing.
“While we will emphasize a classical ballet program, we will also offer noncredit classes in ballroom dancing. I am excited to add this important dimension to our performing arts curriculum. It also helps us with our new musical theater major [launching this fall], which of course, requires dance. There will also be dance classes tailored to fit the various dance requirements of our productions.”
The new, 4,700-square-foot studio building will be constructed at the southwest corner of Johnson Avenue and Park Street. The college will tear down an older home previously used for office space to make way for the building.
To see the full story, visit http://www.theledger.com/article/20130506/NEWS/305065040/1134?Title=Florida-Southern-College-to-Build-New-Dance-Studio.
Shari Trujillo of On Your Toes School of Dancing in Rapid City, South Dakota, will be celebrating her studio’s 10th anniversary with a trip to Scottsdale, Arizona, to attend the DanceLife Teacher Conference—thanks to a video contest scholarship sponsored by Hollywood Connection Dance Convention and Competition.
“I am so thrilled and beyond thankful to Dance Studio Life magazine, Hollywood Connection, and to everyone who ‘liked’ my video to be able to have won this opportunity,” she said to DSL. “Living in South Dakota and being a smaller studio, I didn’t even think it would be possible to win. This couldn’t have come in a better year. I am celebrating my studio’s 10th year in August. So this is the cherry on top.”
Trujillo said when her senior competition team shows her the video they had created, “we all cried watching it because it was so touching and meaningful.” As a solo teacher/studio director handling more than 30 classes a week, she could never find the time to attend the DLTC convention and do “something just for me.”
“I think I am most excited to get to learn things to bring home to share with my studio, and also to talk to someone else who is in the field I’m in,” Trujillo said. “I don’t think everyone understands a dance teacher unless you are another dance teacher, and I’m excited to just be with ‘my kind.’ ”
The DLTC is set for August 1 to 4 in the luxurious, five-star Phoenician Resort in Scottsdale, Arizona, and will include four ballroom/theater spaces running simultaneously with technique classes, business seminars, and motivational sessions. Visit www.dancelifeconference.com for more information.
When Rhee Gold was designing his new DanceLife Retreat Center, top priority was creating an environment where dance teachers and studio directors could relax, chill out, and feel the pressure of the dance studio business lift off their shoulders.
Inside, the comfortable cabin-in-the-woods feel encourages seminar attendees to stretch out on the plush rug or sink into an overstuffed coach in the great room, nibble a snack in the inviting kitchen, or check emails as the daylight stream in through the elegant wall-to-ceiling windows.
Outside, take a dip (or just dip your toes) in the sparkling in-ground pool, join a conversation on the open-air porch, or admire the deep woods view while taking a break on the patio. And everywhere, helpful staff persons (including Gold himself!) are on hand to make sure you are comfortable and content.
In between all that relaxing, Gold leads you and other seminar attendees through business and creative-oriented sessions guaranteed to help you take a fresh look at your studio business—and rejuvenate your lifelong passion for dance education.
Three-day sessions start in June. For all the details, visit http://www.danceliferetreat.com/#.
“Thank you for giving me such a golden opportunity!”
Misty Christopher-Mollitor of Dance Dimensions of SWFL wrote to Dance Studio Life to thank Jackrabbit Dance and all the companies who sponsored scholarships in the recent DanceLife Teacher Conference video competition.
“I have wanted to attend a DanceLife Teacher Conference for years, and something has always taken priority. It always seems that my family, my kids, studio priorities, or finances take the front seat, and my ‘want list’ sits anxiously in the back seat waiting for a turn. Every time I start a new dance season, I regret that I didn’t get to attend the convention to get the much-needed fresh motivation and fresh ideas for the upcoming year.
“This year there are no more excuses! Rhee Gold and the DLTC are now in the front seat, and I’m driving full steam ahead to get a healthy new outlook on dance, my business, and my career, thanks to all of you!”
Christopher-Mollitor, who has been teaching for 30 years and runs two studios in two states, knows firsthand the often “overwhelming, exhausting” job of a studio director, and didn’t even realize DLTC scholarships were available until her students submitted a winning video.
“As I listened, tears rolled down my face at the beautiful things that the students said about me and all the time that it took to make the video. It really made me feel loved, and past emotions of not being appreciated were all erased. It’s amazing what ‘Thank you’ and other kind words can do!”
“This video was the beginning of becoming more inspired, and ready to teach and carry on my love for dance for many more years to come. The trip to Arizona to the DLTC will be one of my greatest gifts, and just what I need as a teacher/owner to continue to share my love of dance with students and families for years to come.”
To learn more about the DLTC, summer and fall session at the DanceLife Retreat Center, and other programs for dance teachers and studio owners, visit www.dancelifeteacherconference.com and www.danceliferetreat.com.
Some days don’t you just wish you could vent about the crazy, complicated dance studio world to someone who truly understands? Then sign up for one of the summer sessions at the DanceLife Retreat Center and spend a weekend with adults who know exactly what you’re going through—and who care.
Limited to 30 participants, DanceLife Retreat seminars are not only a chance to learn successful strategies for running both the business and creative end of your studio, but three blissful days surrounded by colleagues with a passion for quality dance education. Rhee Gold has spent his entire career encouraging teachers and studio owners to stay strong, believe in themselves, and focus on providing the best dance education they can for all their students—a dance philosophy rooted in positivity that’s shared by educators from across the country and the world who attend his seminars and conventions.
Come spend a weekend in Gold’s rustic hideaway in the pine forests of Norton, Massachusetts, and make personal connections that you will keep for a lifetime. Not only do attendees trade advice and troubleshoot issues as they enjoy scrumptious catered meals and informal jam sessions, the conversation with these new friends continues every day on the DanceLife Retreat Center Facebook page.
Talk dance, make friends, relax. It’s the perfect summer self-indulgence.
Friday/Saturday/Sunday sessions are set for June 14 to 16, July 12 to 14, July 19 to 21, August 16 to 18, and August 23 to 25; plus July 7 to 9 (Sunday/Monday/Tuesday). Visit http://www.danceliferetreat.com/ for all the details.
Running a dance studio can be a challenging, frustrating job, but after just one three-day weekend session at the DanceLife Retreat Center, you’ll not only remember why you started your business, but you’ll have plenty of new strategies to help you glide through years to come.
Registration is now underway for 2013’s summer sessions: June 14 to 16, July 12 to 14, July 19 to 21, August 16 to 18, and August 23 to 25 (Friday, Saturday, Sunday); plus July 7-9 (Sunday, Monday, Tuesday).
Here’s a sneak peek:
• The Personal Side: discover that it is OK to pat yourself on the back for a job well done; strengthen your leadership skills and boost your overall effectiveness; learn strategies to handle the tough parents, negative attitudes, and “know-it-alls”; gain the confidence to run your classroom and school the way you know is right.
• Profit Centers: in-house dancewear sale options (wholesale vs. referral programs); income-generating master classes and other in-house events; costume profits, deposits, and distribution; recital tickets, fees, and bundling options; summer income generators such as camps, intensives, and unique concepts to jumpstart fall enrollment.
• Business is Business: build customer loyalty and improve student retention; protect your trade secrets, student lists, and other key business documents; learn to delegate with confidence; work the numbers/determine how much income that class really generates; create an organized and efficient business structure; find practical solutions for collecting tuition, costumes deposits, entry fees, and other payments.
• Faculty and Staff: benefits of non-compete contracts, job descriptions, handbooks, and more; employee compensation and benefits; good communication with your employees.
Sound good? Check out www.danceliferetreat.com for all the details. Sessions are limited to 30 participants. Book today!
Advice for dance teachers
I have a dedicated 14-year-old student who shows up for every class and rehearsal by walking or taking the bus to the studio. Her life has been one tragedy after another. Her mom died when she was 8. For a while relatives dropped her off and picked her up at the studio. They were always late with tuition and other payments, but I let it go. About three years ago her older brother was killed and recently her father had a mental breakdown. Now no one drives her to dance or pays her tuition, but she manages to get to the studio almost every day.
A few weeks ago she showed up at my house asking if she could stay the night because she was locked out of her house. I invited her in, fed her, and called the uncle she was staying with. He didn’t respond until the next morning, when he told me that the girl knows the house key is in a secret place. He seemed angry and didn’t offer to pick her up. He said he had to go to work and that she could get in the house if she needed to.
Ever since then I have felt the need to check in on this girl. She has stayed overnight with me a few times, and no one seems concerned when she is not in her own bed at night. I asked her if she wanted me to call the authorities or another relative to get her some help, but she cries and tells me that she doesn’t want to go to a foster home and that all she wants is to dance.
I am not sure what to do. I don’t want to cause her more trauma. Do I continue to help and keep quiet? Do I contact Child Protective Services? I am willing to have her move in with me, but I don’t want her to be put in a foster home or have to stop dancing.
Dance seems to be her thing, and it might be the key to keeping her on track. Please let me know your thoughts. —Concerned Teacher
Wow, what a story! Thank you so much for being a concerned teacher. Often I tell teachers that dance involves a lot more than classroom instruction, and you have proven that point vividly.
Please know that I am not a professional and can only offer you advice from my heart. I think I would contact Child Protective Services anonymously to find out what the possibilities are. You might be able to become her foster parent or guardian if her uncle or other relatives welcome the idea. It doesn’t hurt to inquire.
Try to speak with the uncle soon to learn more about the girl’s circumstances. Does the father show any concern for his daughter? Is he still her legal guardian or is he out of the picture? These questions might help you decide what to do to help the child.
It is obvious that she looks up to or feels safe with you, because she sought your help even though she has a home. That means that you have made a positive impact on her life already. Be proud of yourself for that.
I am assuming that you have provided this child with costumes, shoes, and other dance-related needs, so you have already taken on more responsibility for her than would be expected. Pursue your options for continuing to help, because this could turn into the most rewarding experience of your teaching career. I wish you all the best. —Rhee
My heart is broken at the loss of one of my longtime teachers and friends who taught for my studio since it opened more than nine years ago. It all came out of left field when I got an email telling me she could not return to her employment with me because her new husband felt that I have been ripping her off all these years. He thinks I should have made her a partner in the school or at least offered her a percentage of the profits because she had been with me for so long.
I wanted this teacher to be my partner when I opened, but she didn’t accept at the time and never mentioned it again until this email. She started at a rate of $15 an hour and it rose to $44. As the school grew, I gave her raises and bonuses, and I took her to conventions, covering all of her expenses.
She was one of my best friends until about six months ago, when the man she married came into her life. I accepted that our friendship had changed but never expected that she would quit without talking to me. I am willing to talk this out with her and her husband, but she doesn’t return my calls or respond to my emails.
The kids and parents are asking about her, and I have a hard time explaining what happened. Do I just move on, or should I continue to try to reach her? —Heartbroken
My instinct tells me that you should move on. Your pain seems to be more about losing a friend than an employee. It’s time to move forward knowing that you have done the best you could. It is she who won’t return your calls, and it is she who chose not to become your partner when the option was offered.
This is not the first time I have heard this story. Apparently some non-dancing husbands believe their dance-teacher wives are being ripped off by rich school owners. Forty-four dollars per hour is actually above the standard rate for dance teachers—which most often runs $25 to $35—and you went beyond that by covering her expenses for continuing education and giving her bonuses. And I get the feeling that if she had asked for a raise you would have given it to her. But she never gave you that opportunity.
My guess is that your former employee will come to realize she didn’t have it so bad, especially if she pursues another teaching job. You made the choice nine years ago to invest in your business and to work hard to establish it; obviously you have done something right. Pat yourself on the back—and know that this probably won’t be the last time you will be dumbfounded by one of your employees.
As for what to tell the students and parents, explain that the teacher has decided to leave and that you will miss her. Don’t reveal any hard feelings on your part. Show the respect for her that she didn’t show for you. Good luck! —Rhee
As far as I know, dance studios traditionally run their schedules on an academic school-year calendar. However, more and more people want to register halfway into the season, in January. It’s a great problem to have, but it does raise other issues, such as students missing the groundwork of technique from prior months and late recital costume orders. Should I run semesters/sessions or keep our traditional schedule? The way we are set up now gives me the advantage of knowing what my income is for nine consecutive months. Any suggestions? —Diane
Maybe you should consider running a separate 10-week (or longer) session for the new, mid-season students. They would not participate in the recital, but you could give them two complimentary tickets so that they can attend and get excited about it. Then, if they want to continue with classes, register them in the regular program for the following fall. You won’t be turning them away, and you’ll avoid some of the issues you mentioned. All the best to you. —Rhee
Museum’s Public Art Project is to the Pointe
“It was a good fit.” And with that pun, Sarah Hall Weaver described the impetus behind a public art and fund-raising project by the National Museum of Dance—24 five-foot-tall pointe shoes, decorated by area artists and sponsored by local businesses, scattered about the tourism town of Saratoga Springs, New York.
Weaver, NMD assistant director, told Dance Studio Life that the idea of oversized shoes dovetailed nicely with a current exhibit, “En Pointe,” which explores the history and mystery of pointe shoes, as well as with the museum’s longstanding desire to stimulate the local arts community.
The participating artists—painters, sculptors, and artists working in mosaic, collage, metals, and other 3D media—were encouraged to infuse the work they did on the shoes with their own artistic vision. Many thought they had to base their work on a dance-related theme like ballerinas or tutus. “We explained that when you see a work of dance, it’s not always about dance—that’s just the medium. That is hard for people who are not so dance savvy to understand. You could hear the sighs of relief” from the artists, she said.
After an official unveiling May 31 at the museum, the shoes will be scattered around town, where Weaver hopes they will intrigue passersby for years to come. “It’s cheeky, and a little fun, and a way of warming up new audiences to dance.”
Writers Take the Prize at Joffrey Ballet School
It usually takes raw talent, impeccable technique, and visible promise to make it into one of the top summer ballet intensives. At the Joffrey Ballet School in New York City, it might, instead, take a neat turn of phrase, a catchy anecdote, or a moving story.
This winter, Christopher D’Addario, Joffrey Ballet School’s executive director, waded through 1,000 personal essays submitted by students eager to win a full two-week tuition/housing scholarship to one of the school’s intensives in New York, L.A., Miami, and elsewhere.
The huge response was unexpected, he said—the first year of the contest, only 100 essays arrived; the second year, 500. D’Addario, who was up until 1am for longer than a month trying to read all of the essays, told Dance Studio Life he wasn’t looking for “grammatically correct writing,” but “great personal stories” from young dancers who are passionate about dance.
Awarding scholarships based on essays instead of auditions works because Joffrey recently restructured its intensive program to include a beginner level, he said. About 30 lucky essayists will win scholarships for summer 2013—prizes given in addition to $1 million in talent-based scholarships. “I’m very happy that we can touch so many dancers’ lives,” said D’Addario.
Dance Studio Industry Revenue Tops $2 Billion
Times might seem tight at individual studios, but the dance studio industry as a whole is expected to generate $2.1 billion in revenue in 2013, reports industry research firm IBISWorld.
In a report issued in January, IBISWorld said the dance studio industry has experienced annual revenue growth of 1.2 percent over the past five years, despite challenges caused by the recession, with growth of 2.4 percent predicted for 2013. The growth is due in part to the impact of dance-inspired TV shows, with the lion’s share going to ballroom-based studios and events, which have experienced a 35 percent attendance spike over the past decade.
“Rising consumer interest” will also fuel growth in the number of dance studios, which is expected to increase at an average annual rate of 1.2 percent to a total of 8,264 studios in 2013, with annual revenue continuing to rise as well.
The World Weighs in on Web Ballet
Call it choreography by crowdsourcing. California’s Diablo Ballet—a ballet pioneer of live performance tweeting and Pinterest—is continuing its march through new media by soliciting ideas for the movement, mood, and music for its latest ballet via Twitter.
This winter, fans not only voted for which musical selection (choices by Vivaldi, Sibelius, and Bach) would be used, but chimed in with suggestions for emotions, theme, storylines, and even steps. Diablo dancer Robert Dekkers then took seven of those suggestions and, in a little over two weeks’ time, choreographed a ballet that premiered March 1 and 2 at Shadelands Arts Center, Walnut Creek.
Co-founder and artistic director Lauren Jonas said while the idea might not work for other dance companies, it fit with Diablo’s preference for presenting in intimate venues and encouraging interaction between performers and the public. “I feel there are so many choices nowadays of what people do with their time and how they spend their money,” she told Dance Studio Life. “How do we continue to reach that audience and get them interested and involved? We have to remain open and embrace all sorts of outlets.”
Dekkers, who has choreographed both for Diablo and his own company, Post:Ballet, told DSL the “web ballet” process was a test of his choreographic ingenuity. “I have to go past being in control of all the ideas and concepts, take these seven suggestions, and develop a piece that is interesting and is a cohesive work. I wanted the best of both worlds—to use technology to get people involved, and still maintain a high standard of creativity and presentation.”
“Being a studio owner is NOT a job for the weak,” said Nikkie Frost of Studio Dance in Kentwood, Michigan, one of 15 scholarship winners in the DanceLife Teacher Conference video contest. Frost contacted Dance Studio Life to express her gratitude and thanks as the winner of a scholarship sponsored by the dance competition and convention company, Dancers Inc.
“As a studio owner and instructor, I try to get out to as many conventions as I can. I only ever dreamed of making it to a DanceLife Teacher Conference . . . the ‘mack daddy’ of all conventions,” she said.
Although her studio has only 75 students, a video made by parents and students received almost 400 “likes” to propel Frost into the finals. “August can’t come soon enough. I really look forward to taking class from the best of the best. Learning from amazing people like Misty Lown will be unbelievable. She is brilliant and I can’t wait to learn more from her!”
Other DLTC scholarship winners included Michelle Spillman of Dorr Dance Academy, Dorr, Michigan, winner of the MusicWorks Scholarship; and Linda Mercer-Botelho of Onstage Academy of Performing Arts, Fall River, Massachusetts, winner of the Center for the Performing Arts in Memory of Caitlin Ledwell Scholarship.
The 2013 DanceLife Teacher Conference is scheduled for August 1 to 4 in Scottsdale, Arizona. To learn more, visit www.dancelifeconference.com.
When Milton [Georgia] High School graduate Spencer Maxwell finished school, he expected to attend Florida State University and get a business marketing degree. Now, a year into his studies, he is opening a new business in Alpharetta that is dedicated to the high school class he loved the most.
Maxwell and partner Jen MacQueen—a professional dancer, choreographer, and elite gymnast—will open what can best be described as a Cirque-themed dance studio this summer called Cirque Freaks, reports the Revue & News.
“I realized I wanted to do Cirque the rest of my life,” he said. “It becomes a part of you, but how do we make money off this?”
The answer was to open a Cirque-themed studio in a space off GA 9 in Alpharetta, Forsyth County, where students can learn how to work with Cirque apparatuses such as aerial silks, Spanish web, Chinese pole, aerial straps, the barge, rings, static trapeze, and the Cyr wheel.
The partners expect to have eight employees during the summer, a number that could expand to about 15 in the fall. All the employees would be teachers. “There’s a feeling of play you get to revisit as an adult,” MacQueen said. “People would be nicer if they get to play more. Hanging from the monkey bars, you get a sense of freedom. It’s just fun.”
For more information, visit www.cirquefreaks.com. To see the original story, visit
Words from the publisher
When was the last time you took a vacation? How about a day off just to rest and refuel? If you’re like many of the dance teachers and school owners I talk to, you’ll say you don’t have the time or the money. If that sounds like you, then maybe it’s time to rethink your priorities.
Most school owners will spend money on a dressmaker to alter recital costumes; that’s certainly an expense that can be justified. You can easily rationalize laying out cash for basic equipment, the newest technological advances, and more faculty. Covering costs for a few kids who still owe payments for their ballet shoes is OK, too. And that visiting choreographer you brought in for the seniors? Sure, her time was expensive, but you felt obligated to make the seniors feel special during their last year at the studio.
Another thing we spend like it’s small change is our time. Texting, emailing, and checking our Facebook pages hourly are important. The many all-day rehearsals to get the kids ready for performances are time well spent. And you had to spend a couple of days at the studio during the holiday break to get caught up after the first four months of the season, right? And that half a day spent on the phone with an irate mom, trying to convince her to keep her daughter in the school—surely that was worthwhile.
But if I suggested that you spend a few days away doing something for yourselves, I’ll bet your immediate reaction would be to feel guilty for even thinking about it. And what would others, especially your clients, think when they found out you spent money and time on yourself? Oh no. They would make nice gifts for someone else, but time for relaxation and replenishment aren’t things you give to yourself.
Dig a little deeper and you’ll probably discover that almost everything you do is part of keeping the business of life under control—and attempting to please those around you. Maybe it’s time to cut back on the number of days of rehearsal, or stop giving out your personal phone number to your students’ parents. Maybe it’s time to stop long enough to fuel your own soul. A few days to tend to yourself might actually allow you to enjoy all the rest of your days a little more.
Yes, you deserve it. You probably have trouble accepting that because saying we deserve something makes most of us feel self-serving. I am not sure if I feel bad about writing those words—you deserve it, I deserve it, we all deserve it—but I think I’ll figure it out on my vacation!
By Thelma Goldberg
Adult tap classes are a great way to boost enrollment and build your studio’s presence in the community. Whether you aim for a recreational program or an expansion of your company, adult tap dancers will bring enthusiasm, dedication, and long-term support to your studio’s programming.
First, consider your market and resources. Will your audience be young working professionals, mothers looking for a morning class, or middle-aged and senior adults? Do you have an experienced tap teacher who enjoys working with adults and has a great sense of humor?
An adult tap program requires an experienced and dedicated teacher who can work well with mixed ages and levels. My adult program students range in age from 16 to 87, and although I now offer three levels and four classes a week, I initially had one class. Being able to accommodate a wide range of personalities and abilities is key to building a strong adult tap program.
Getting them in the door
Thirty years after starting my program, I now have 50 weekly participants. Word of mouth is the best advertising, but it’s not enough to establish or sustain a program. I’ve offered guest passes, free trial classes, and “bring a friend” classes; placed flyers at supermarkets, coffee shops, and gyms; and done demonstrations at senior centers, nursing homes, and community events. And I feature adult students on my website, YouTube account, Facebook page, and, most important, in my recital.
Students’ parents are ready-made fans of your school and often will try a class. Create a special “pitch” during observation weeks.
In every recital, I include the three adult tap levels in one production routine, which accomplishes two important things: it brings my adult tap students together with a common goal and shows off a large and successful adult program. People who say they never realized what a big adult program we have often talk about it in the community—more word-of-mouth advertising.
Market to your students’ parents. They are ready-made fans of your school and often will try a class. Create a special “pitch” during observation weeks.
Emphasize the benefits of tap dancing. It offers a low-impact, weight-bearing activity that builds coordination and strength and boosts overall wellness through musical aerobic activity. It’s also a great way to connect with new friends. Consider offering refreshments after class to promote a sense of community.
Offer a free trial class with a discount on a class card if purchased the same day, senior discounts, or a two-for-one special if a friend signs up. Adults love a bargain!
Getting them to sign up
Make the price right. Class cards and drop-in prices offer flexibility. Julia Boynton of Boston Percussive Dance Center offers short sessions that cost less than paying week by week.
If possible, offer day and evening options. To build a strong adult tap program, you need to be sensitive to the work and personal demands that might interfere with students’ weekly attendance.
Collect old tap shoes and let new students borrow a pair until they’re sure they want to commit to class. Make sure to mention this in your marketing materials.
Make new students feel welcome. Introduce them to everyone and compliment them by name during the first class. Instill an attitude of acceptance within your adult community by making each dancer feel wanted.
Follow up new students’ first classes with a phone call or email to say how much you enjoyed dancing with them.
Maintaining a vibrant adult tap program
Be passionate about teaching adult tap and committed to a long-term relationship. An older, experienced teacher who knows how to structure a class for adults and is sensitive to aging bodies is imperative to building a strong program. Whether your students want to dance like Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire or Chloe Arnold and Jason Samuels Smith, once they start making rhythm they’ll be hooked for life!
NOMINATED BY: Lisa Johnson, parent: “I love how Mrs. Lisa not only keeps the dancers grounded and informed but includes the parents as well. I find myself intrigued with the tap history lessons and videos she uses and references for the students. My daughter has been with the company for two years and during that short time Mrs. Lisa has analyzed my daughter’s strengths and weaknesses perfectly in terms of her dancing and even more deeply in molding her into a young person in society.”
YEARS TEACHING: 27 years
AGES TAUGHT: 9 to 25 at Capitol Tap; all ages at Knock On Wood
GENRE TAUGHT: Tap as a musical art form in the jazz tradition
WHY SHE CHOSE TEACHING AS A CAREER: I believe I’m doing exactly what I’m supposed to be doing. My mother owned a dance studio and put me in a playpen right there in the studio, so from the beginning music, movement, productions—all of it—surrounded me. My mother gave me the middle name Antoinette—naming me after Tony Grant. He was the host of Tony Grant’s Stars of Tomorrow on the Steel Pier in Atlantic City for 32 years. He adored my mother, who performed on his program for many years.
HER GREATEST INSPIRATION: Definitely my mother. I watched her create dancers. She had a way of bringing out the best in her students. And she could do it all, from teaching all genres to designing and making costumes to choreographing. Her students are titleholders or have gone on to professional careers, and now their children are growing up as dancers.
TEACHING PHILOSOPHY: My favorite question is “Why?” Giving the reasoning behind why you need to flex your foot to lift your toe higher to get a fuller sound when it strikes the floor; and why you need to leave your tap on the floor for that half second longer to accentuate that step; and why you tilt your shoulders to create some drama—just doing these movements is only good for mimicking, but knowing why gives students the opportunity to apply that learning to other steps.
WHAT MAKES HER A GOOD TEACHER: Good teachers are good listeners. I have a true interest in the art of tap, and I have a true interest in each tapper. I listen with my ears, my eyes, and my intuition.
HER FONDEST TEACHING MOMENT: One of my students was about to perform a solo at the Kennedy Center. She had worked hard to make it clean, but I could see her confidence wasn’t there. Just before she went on, I quickly took her aside, pumped her full of the truth about her strengths, and then sent her onstage. She nailed it, and I was so happy for her to be able to experience that joy.
ADVICE TO DANCE TEACHERS: Every dance teacher should always be actively engaged as a student. If you stop taking classes you stop learning, and you lose the perspective of being a student. I take a weekly class and I also attend master classes and festivals as a student.
IF SHE COULDN’T BE A DANCE TEACHER, SHE WOULD BE . . . a psychologist. I have a degree in psychology and spent 10 years in the field working with adults and teens in hospitals, group homes, and community assistance programs. I truly loved that work and it provided such a strong base for me in how to communicate with all personality types and deal with diverse situations.
ADDITIONAL THOUGHT: Being able to do what they love as a career is what every human being should experience.
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.
Better at choreographing than accounting? Let a financial whiz handle the numbers.
By Julie Holt Lucia
Raise your hand, studio owners: how many of you decided to open a dance school because you love accounting? Anyone?
Most studio owners are passionate about dance and teaching, not accounting or financial planning. “The dance side” of the studio, as we are wont to say, is what we love, and live for. “The business side,” however, is what we grudgingly plod through because it allows us to do what we love. From daily accounts receivable and accounts payable, to monthly account reconciliations, to marketing, to data entry, to preparing annual tax returns—the business side requires diligent attention if we want our studios to succeed.
So, what if we hired someone who was as passionate about the books as we are about dance? It would be the best of both worlds—and it’s possible. The owners of three studios who operate this way were willing to share their tips on working with a business manager, or director, or advisor. No matter the title, these folks take the financial bull by the horns.
A business manager’s role
What distinguishes a business manager from an office manager? The biggest difference is that a business manager’s role extends well beyond the day-to-day operations of the studio. For example, at Florida School for Dance Education in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, business director Brenda Lougheed’s tasks run the gamut: she not only handles the daily front desk duties, she maintains the payroll, accounts receivable and accounts payable, and prepares the studio’s financial statements and tax returns. She also lends her budgeting expertise when the owners plan for special events and productions.
“The dance side” of the studio is what we love, and live for. “The business side,” however, is what we grudgingly plod through because it allows us to do what we love.
“Three of us own the studio together,” explains director Michele Zehner, whose co-owners are Lougheed and assistant director Maria Konrad. “Maria and I knew that we did not have great heads for accounting and business, so we felt that Brenda would complete the picture.”
Lougheed agrees that her role as business director helps round out the studio. Her degree in accounting, along with her love for the arts, makes her a perfect match for the school’s business needs. She is able to act as a liaison with the directors, instructors, customers, and vendors. “[The directors and instructors] are not burdened with parental concerns or account issues, allowing them to focus on the instructional aspects of the business,” Lougheed says.
Similarly, Steppin’ Out Studio of Dance in Fort Wayne, Indiana, has three co-owners. One is business manager Kris Laughlin, whose background includes 26 years in banking marketing. Laughlin typically works behind the scenes (the school has front-office staff as well), managing the financial and administrative tasks. Her duties include monitoring accounts receivable and accounts payable, maintaining the school’s website, communicating with parents, and editing music.
“My marketing and business management skills were a good match for this work,” says Laughlin, who fell in love with the dance world at her two daughters’ first dance recital in 2004. She started volunteering in the front office soon after and became a co-owner in 2010. “I make about 20 percent of my former salary, but I’m far happier.”
Steppin’ Out’s studio director and principal owner, Beth Berry, considers Laughlin to be one of the school’s most important assets. “I am so blessed to have [a business manager] with an MBA and an extensive background in banking,” Berry says. “With her values and shared vision for the studio, we make a great team.”
Things are structured differently at Tonawanda Dance Arts in Tonawanda, New York, where Melanie Boniszewski is the sole owner and director. Her husband, Kevin Boniszewski, has been handling the business affairs of the studio for 17 years, although not as a paid employee. His role is more business advisor than decision maker, overseeing the “big picture” of the finances while allowing Melanie to focus on the details. He studies the studio’s monthly income and expenses, budgets for the slower summer months, and considers which investments should be made.
“I learned very early on after I purchased this business that I would need someone to help with the business end of it,” Melanie says. “Doing the financials is not my strength or my favorite thing to do. [Kevin] gives me all the financial information I need to know before I make final decisions.”
Pros and cons
As with any job, business management at a dance school has its benefits and challenges. At Steppin’ Out, one of the challenges is geographic. Berry has one residence in Fort Wayne, Indiana, where the school is, and one in Los Angeles, California, where she oversees her daughter’s acting and modeling career.
“She is very involved in most aspects of the studio,” says Laughlin, “but having Beth in California is tricky sometimes. Other than when she’s here on visits, it’s communication by phone or email.”
For the Boniszewskis, the challenges are twofold: planning for the lean summer months at Tonawanda Dance Arts, and working on the business at home together.
“Planning for the months when revenue is scarce is tough,” Kevin says. “As for working with your wife, a family business is just that. Sometimes you would like to turn it off at home, but that cannot always be done easily.”
At Florida School for Dance Education, Zehner and Konrad believe that Lougheed is the perfect complement to their artistic endeavors—and Lougheed loves her role as business director—but sometimes there are unavoidable communication hiccups.
“Sometimes people get left out of the loop,” particularly since the school is still growing, Zehner says. “We do have a weekly meeting, but things come up and the information may not make it to all of us.”
Still, all parties agree that the benefits of having someone dedicated to the business dealings of a studio outweigh the challenges. Berry, for example, appreciates the security it offers as well as the savings to the school’s bottom line. “It is reassuring for me to know that I have a committed and knowledgeable person handling the finances and assisting me in marketing,” Berry says. “Many studio directors may feel they cannot afford a business manager, but I actually save money because I give my outside accountant minimal work to do. Whenever I have a business or finance question, all I need to do is ask Kris.”
Konrad believes that having a business manager allows her to work more effectively and efficiently. “The model we have with a business director allows my students to know that I am here solely to do what I do best,” she says. “They know there is a separation that allows us [teacher and students] to connect artistically, and what is occurring financially/administratively is left out of the classroom or rehearsal hall.”
Konrad and Zehner also agree that Lougheed’s business expertise helps them focus on being creative, instead of getting weighed down by financial concerns. They might think an idea is off the table because of high costs, but often Lougheed will find a way to make what they want to do—creating a new work or restaging a ballet, for example—possible within their budget. “I take great pride in using my financial background to solve financial and budgetary issues,” Lougheed says.
Melanie Boniszewski recognizes that one of Kevin’s biggest contributions to Tonawanda Dance Arts is advising her on how to spend money wisely in order to get a proper return on an investment. With his guidance, she says, they have proved the old adage “You have to spend money to make money” to be true. “We spend quite a bit of money on advertising,” says Melanie, “and we track our advertising to make sure that it is working, to see where it is working best.”
Kevin also ensures that they spend money in ways that boost Melanie’s knowledge and skill as a teacher and business owner, like having her attend continuing education classes and business seminars. Spending money on those things has motivated Melanie to try new things—such as improving the school’s social media presence—and in turn, made the business more successful.
Recommendations for studio owners
If you’re going to hire a business manager who has a presence at the front desk, it should be someone who’s tough enough not to get pushed around, suggests Zehner.
Lougheed is adamant that those in a position like hers should have a strong financial background, and goes even further, saying that “it is essential that a studio have a business director, preferably someone who is not an instructor and who is focused on the operations of the business and its marketing and growth potentials.”
The Boniszewskis feel similarly about their business model. Whether the person is paid by the studio or not, says Kevin, you’ll want to know that he or she is trustworthy and works well with others, because handling the finances is such a vital role at any business.
Laughlin makes the point another way: “Studio owners can survive in this business without business skills, but they may not succeed long-term. Artistically inclined owners should spend time doing what they love—dancing and teaching.” She has helped Steppin’ Out grow through her business oversight—monitoring the budget and collections, and helping develop new student opportunities, such as short-term classes at local afterschool programs.
“Let someone else, who enjoys the ‘administrivia’—like me—do that part,” she says. “It works for us.”
It just might work for you, too.
Tiffany Owen of The Dance Gallery in Robinson Creek, Kentucky, had no idea a competition team dancer and her mother had created a video filled with praise and positive thoughts until it was posted on the Dance Studio Life Facebook page in this spring’s DanceLife Teacher Conference video contest.
“I was extremely touched and honored to be nominated by their efforts,” Owen said about the mother/daughter video team. “I have thanked them over and over again!”
Winning the scholarship to this summer’s DanceLife Teachers Conference—one of two scholarships sponsored by Costume Gallery—will allow Owen to absorb plenty of information vital to the growth and continued success of her rapidly-evolving studio. “Four months ago we finished construction on our new studio, which has been a lifetime dream of mine,” she said. “It has been wonderful to see how much we have grown and hopefully will continue to grow. But like with all growing things, we are having growing pains—finding qualified instructors and studio management software, working to retain students, expanding our competitive team program, thinking of ways to give back to our community.
“So, as you can see, not only will I benefit from attending this conference, but my entire studio will benefit. I have wanted to attend this conference for quite some time!”
Fifteen teachers/studio owners were awarded scholarships to this summer’s DLTC conference, set for August 1 to 4 in Scottsdale, Arizona. In addition, runners up (winning a $200 gift certificate to a DanceLife Retreat Center seminar, courtesy of the Rhee Gold Company) included Gail Skinner of Joan’s Dance Studio, Brookhaven, Pennsylvania; Claudette Lee of Discovery Dance of Fennville, Fennville, Michigan; and Beth Trombley Wildes of Eleve Danse Centre, Bellingham, Massachusetts.
For more information on the DLTC, visit www.dancelifeconference.com.
Dancing was something that always made Adrianne Haslet-Davis feel alive. “Like I’m floating,” she told The Boston Herald. “When I’m dancing, I don’t feel the need to be doing anything else. My joy is complete.”
It’s been just over a week since Adrianne and her husband of four years, Air Force Capt. Adam Davis, were watching the Boston Marathon when they felt the blast of the second bomb on Boylston Street. Both were injured, with Haslet-Davis’ foot almost detached. Later, at Boston Medical Center, the 32-year-old dance instructor at the Arthur Murray Studio in Park Plaza had a portion of her left leg amputated below the knee.
When asked by a reporter about the dark moments since losing her leg, she said, “Yeah, I’ve had plenty. I’ve thrown my walker across the room and haven’t used it yet. But I realized you have to be selfish about the things that matter the most. My husband. The job I love. Dancing is my life. Yeah, having my foot blown off, that really sucks. But I can’t wallow in ‘Woe is me.’
“I can’t let someone come along and steal my whole life. So, I’ll dance again. And next year, though I’ve never been a runner, yes, I plan to run the marathon.”
A fund has been established in Adrianne’s name with the help of friends and her employer at the Arthur Murray Dance Studio Boston (www.gofundme.com/AdrianneFund).
To read the full story, visit http://bostonherald.com/news_opinion/columnists/peter_gelzinis/2013/04/dance_instructor_injured_in_bombing_vows_ill_dance.
Why offer modern dance? 5 reasons to get you motivated
By Bonner Odell
You’ve thought about it. You really have. But you’re on the fence about adding a modern class to your studio schedule.
You’re tempted. You’ve seen modern performances that moved you, and you can picture a handful of students—the ones who love to experiment with new ways of moving—eating up modern-dance classes. Maybe you’ve even studied modern yourself. Yet you’re doubtful that it will appeal to most of your clientele. You wonder if enrollment would cover the cost to pay a teacher. Or maybe you’re just not sure which style to teach or where to find a qualified instructor.
These are valid concerns among studio owners for whom ballet, tap, and jazz have long been their bread and butter. But there are compelling reasons to offer modern dance at your studio and, for your more serious students, even to require it.
Expand understanding of movement and the body
Modern dance, by nature, seeks to explore the unexplored. Ballet, tap, and jazz each take a specific approach to movement. Classical ballet strives to express the ideals of harmony and dignity inherent in its origins among the European nobility. The movement quality is predominantly light, smooth, and sustained, with a frontal orientation to the audience.
The pioneers of modern sought to break from classicism by exploring themes they thought more relevant to 20th-century life, including the angst of modern warfare and the social effects of industrialization. They explored these themes by experimenting with movement, drawing inspiration from their contemporaries working in music and visual art. Angular hands, flexed or turned-in feet, contracting torsos, and a sense of weight and effort replaced ballet’s verticality and appearance of ease.
Ballet, tap, and jazz each take a specific approach to movement. Modern dance, by nature, seeks to explore the unexplored.
The best of modern dance today retains that emphasis on relevance and movement investigation. “Sometimes students who study only ballet or jazz can develop an ‘external’ approach to their dancing,” says Cathy Young, director of the dance division at The Boston Conservatory, the first college in the U.S. to integrate ballet and modern. “The focus is primarily on imitating what they see in their teachers without an in-depth understanding of how the body works or what movement principles are informing the technical training.”
Modern, Young points out, can be profoundly helpful for young dancers because it guides them toward a more internal experience of dance based in anatomy.
Because today’s modern-dance teachers have such a rich, diverse legacy to draw on, they can expose students to a whole new world of movement qualities. An undulating spine, a snap of the hip, a vibrating shoulder, an indulgent arch of the upper back: the possibilities for combining qualities are endless. As a result, modern explodes the potential for expressing complex and mercurial moods and emotions. (Hello, adolescence!)
The process of exploring and refining new movement also builds physical strength, control, and flexibility in under-utilized parts of the body, resulting in more finessed, articulate dancers.
Open doors to dance beyond the studio
Once the applause has died down after the senior solo, what’s next for that graduate you nurtured through her teen years? Whether she wants to enter the professional dance world straight out of high school, audition for a dance conservatory, or explore courses through a college dance department, you’ll invest in her dance future by sending her off with experience in modern. College dance departments are overwhelmingly modern-dance based, and modern features prominently at most dance conservatories, even those with a ballet emphasis.
The Boston Conservatory has graduated many dancers who now dance for top ballet companies, but Young believes that “even a dancer who is focused on ballet as a career path needs some modern-dance training to be competitive in the field today.” She points out that “most ballet companies now perform contemporary ballet repertory, which requires the dancers to be able to fall, curve, spiral, roll on the floor—all learned through training in modern dance.” Ballet companies are also increasingly commissioning works from modern-dance choreographers.
Even the playing field among students
You may be surprised when a dancer who still can’t seem to land a pirouette after two years of practice nails a backward shoulder roll on the first try. And so will his peers. One of the best ways to combat a culture of envy and comparison in the studio is to diversify the class offerings. Because modern dance is in itself diverse, it invites all kinds of bodies and propensities for movement. The acrobatic risk-taker, the quirky, meticulous mover, the aggressive space-eater? All are likely to find that what once seemed a liability proves to be a strength in modern.
A lens for young dancers
Those of us who started dancing as children would be lying if we claimed to be drawn to dance by anything other than romance and flash: those sparkly tap shoes, the graceful flit of the Sugar Plum Fairy, the sexy Fly Girls on In Living Color. But mature dancers possess an awareness of dance’s role in society, past and present. They have knowledge and experience of dance not only as a means to transcend or escape from reality (a gift it will always bring), but also to respond to it.
Perhaps no period in history has seen such rapid, sweeping changes in culture and society than the 20th and 21st centuries. Because modern dance arose out of and in answer to these changes, it gives students an embodied understanding of the unique and complex era in which they live. It also gives them a vocabulary for expressing the sometimes dissonant and confusing aspects of modern life.
If you want proof, try watching Martha Graham’s Heretic with a group of teenagers. The dance pits an individual dancer in white against an unrelenting wall of women costumed in black. The clenched fists and oppressive movements of the group, set against the tense resistance of the kneeling “heretic,” speak worlds to the experience of teens today. Graham choreographed the dance about a rebel pitted against the social structure of 1929 America, but it could just as easily be about the barrage of peer pressure faced by teens in 2013.
Modern encourages innovation
Concert dance is an endangered species in this country. To survive, it needs to cultivate new audiences among rising generations. This is no easy task since it must compete with unprecedented digital alternatives, from Netflix to high-definition video games. But the limitations of dance may prove its salvation. In a world where we’re wired 24/7 and log more daily hours of screen time than face time, the novelty of live bodies in motion has the potential to stop us in our tracks.
That said, dance will keep our attention over the long term only if we refuse to reinvent the wheel by choreographing in the same styles our dance mentors did, and teach our students to do the same.
Because the modern tradition is one of innovation and experimentation, no modern-dance curriculum can be totally true to the form’s roots unless it includes a creative component. Giving students the chance to improvise, choreograph, and experiment with movement—be it a teacher’s, their own, or each other’s—can revolutionize their relationship to dance. It develops their sense of agency. It prepares them for a professional landscape in which dancers are increasingly called upon to contribute to the choreographic process. And it nurtures young dancers to become the great choreographers of the future.
What and how
All right, you may be thinking, all this sounds convincing enough. But what kind of modern dance are we talking about?
“I encourage studio owners to think about which types of modern-dance training might best support the work they are already doing,” says Young. “A studio owner who feels that her students need to develop more strength or flexibility, or a better understanding of line and shape, might consider one of the classical, architectural modern techniques—Graham or Horton, for example. Cunningham and Limón techniques both develop dancers with beautiful facility in the legs and feet and the ability to curve and spiral the upper body.”
Dunham technique is another classic that develops fluidity and control in the torso and hips, perfect for helping ballet-trained dancers discover the expressive potential of the spine. Itself inspired by Afro-Caribbean dance, Dunham is a cornerstone in the curriculum at The Ailey School.
For students who need help developing a stronger personal voice, Young recommends focused work in improvisation. Contact improvisation develops partnering skills that are useful in all dance forms.
If you don’t have a teacher at the ready who is trained to teach one of these styles, techniques can be integrated based on the instructor’s experience. The majority of teen modern-dance classes across the U.S. are an amalgamation of styles. A typical across-the-floor combination might progress from a sweeping Limón curve into a Humphrey fall and culminate in a handstand inspired by release technique, a recent style that emphasizes gravity, momentum, and ease of muscular tension.
Combining styles gives teachers creative license in crafting curriculum. It also exposes students to the rich, varied legacy of modern dance, particularly if the teacher takes the time to point out whose style she is referencing throughout the class. Teachers can also incorporate short dance history lessons. Dance artist Kiki Jenkins tried this approach when she launched a modern-dance curriculum at Dance Arts Studio in Morehead City, North Carolina.
“I wanted the students to learn about great modern dance choreographers,” she says. “So I had them read brief bios and watch short video clips while they stretched in the beginning of class.”
Jenkins says she was heartened by her experience teaching modern in a small Southern town. “I found that two types of dancers readily enrolled—those who love to dance and take every class that is offered, and those with a more artistic bent who are interested in choreography and ways to express themselves more freely. Mostly older students signed up the first year, but the young dancers signed up the second year. I think this might have been because they liked the modern-dance piece in the recital.”
Jenkins suggests gauging student interest by offering a master class or a summer intensive if you are not sure you will get the necessary enrollment to merit hiring a teacher right off the bat. If the timing is right for an ongoing class but no qualified teacher presents herself, you might try emailing the dance department at the nearest university or statewide dance consortium. Many state and regional dance organizations, like the North Carolina Dance Alliance or California Dance Network, send out regular e-blasts in which you can place a listing free or for a nominal fee. Even if the announcement doesn’t reach a potential teacher directly, it might reach someone who has a contact.
Another option is to invest in training studio faculty who have experience performing modern dance but little to none teaching it. Many studio owners fall into this category. If you’re among them, consider attending some dance education workshops with a focus on modern or creative dance. Conferences such as the National Dance Education Organization’s annual event offer invaluable teacher-training opportunities and chances to network with other educators.
Whether you take a week away for a teacher-training intensive or a single Saturday for an afternoon conference, the investment in your professional development will invigorate your overall teaching practice. If we want our students to take risks and experiment, we have to be willing to do the same. Diving into new teaching territory can be disorienting and a little scary, but it can also be exciting. The spirit of modern dance, after all, is about learning to expect—and relish—the unexpected.
After a tornado this past April destroyed Spotlight School of Dance in Creston, Iowa, owner Adonica Struhar received money from a Joplin, Missouri, dance studio to help rebuild. This year, she has “paid it forward” by sending money to a Kansas City dance studio in need, reports the Creston News Advisor.
When the tornado hit Creston two weeks before the dancers were to perform at a recital, it tore the roof off the studio and rain spilled in through cracks in the concrete ceiling, causing water damage.
“There was such a potential of mold that they took out everything, down to the concrete floor and all of the studs in the walls,” Struhar said. “And, that meant everything: all the mirrors, all the ballet barres, everything.”
Dance classes were relocated to the Elks’ Club, then to two schools, until finally moving back into the renovated studio space in October—partially financed by $2,000 sent to Struhar by Nicole Druin of Karen’s School of Dance, who had received a donation of music from Struhar after her studio had been destroyed by the Joplin tornado.
“So, then, we were at a dance competition the weekend of February 22, and I heard on the news that this studio in Kansas City had lost their roof because of all the snow,” Struhar said. “And, I just knew that it was my turn.” Struhar sent approximately $2,000 to Priscilla and Dana’s Dance Studio, owned by Priscilla Brogoto and Dana McGuire.
To see the original story, visit http://www.crestonnewsadvertiser.com/2013/04/15/its-my-turn-to-give-back/awu1bjn/.
Hurrah’s Nest, a book of poetry by Dance Studio Life editorial manager Arisa White, has been selected as a finalist for the 82nd annual California Book Awards.
White, an MFA graduate from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, is a recipient of the inaugural Rose O’Neill Literary House summer residency at Washington College in Maryland, and has also received residencies, fellowships, or scholarships from Port Townsend Writers’ Conference, Squaw Valley Community of Writers, Hedgebrook, Atlantic Center for the Arts, Prague Summer Program, Fine Arts Work Center, and Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference.
Her debut collection, Hurrah’s Nest, was published by Virtual Artists Collective; her second collection, A Penny Saved, was released by Willow Books, an imprint of Aquarius Press, in November 2012.
Since 1931, the California Book Awards have honored the exceptional literary merit of California writers and publishers. Each year a select jury considers hundreds of books in search of the very best in literary achievement. Eligible books must be written while the author is a resident of California, and they must be published during the year under consideration.
Awards are presented in the categories of fiction, nonfiction, first work of fiction, poetry, Californiana, notable contribution to publishing, juvenile literature, and young adult literature.
The ceremony for books published in 2012 will take place June 6 in San Francisco.
To see the full list of nominees, visit http://www.commonwealthclub.org/node/3032.
The editing of a song can make or break a competition routine, recital number, or concert piece, and finding a user-friendly editing service is a top priority of many dance teachers and studio owners today.
The editors at Dance Studio Life magazine are wondering if anyone has used either of these professional music editing services: Dancers Delight (http://www.dancersdelightedits.com/Welcome_To_Our_Studio.html) and Marquette Productions (http://www.marquetteproductions.com/).
If not, who or what do you use? If you would like to share your findings with other DSL readers, please send your comments to Lisa at Lisa@RheeGold.com. And, as always, thanks for your input!
Parents and students of The Elite Dance Studio in Lake Charles, Louisiana, are heartbroken after thousands of dollars they raised toward a summer trip to Puerto Rico were stolen during a fundraiser, reports KPLC-TV.
“For someone to walk through those doors, a place that’s supposed to be safe, and take something from someone who is just like them . . . . It’s saddening,” said Helen Daniel, studio executive director, who takes her students on annual trips “because I feel like exposing our children to something greater than themselves helps them to become better.”
The studio had been fundraising for months before a community dance fundraiser at the studio at the end of March when an individual stole $2,000.
Police are conducting an investigation. The dancers have come to terms that their money is gone, but their determination to get to Puerto Rico is still as strong as before. “At the end of the day, the show will go on . . . make no doubt about that, it will happen,” Daniel said.
To see the full story, visit http://www.kplctv.com/story/21823367/thieves-steal-thousands-of-dollars-from-local-dance-studio.
Words from the publisher
We are in conference mode here at the Rhee Gold Company and Dance Studio Life. What started as Project Motivate with 20 attendees in 1998 has morphed into the DanceLife Teacher Conference, which attracts more than 700 teachers, school owners, and studio managers from across the United States and Canada, and from as far away as Italy and Australia.
As we celebrate our 15th anniversary as conference producers, we’ll offer more than ever—well over 100 classes and seminars in the first four days of August, presented at the five-diamond Phoenician Resort in Scottsdale, Arizona. The diverse faculty includes some of the brightest minds in the field, coming from backgrounds in hip-hop, classical ballet, tap, contemporary, jazz, preschool education, and more.
It’s important, I believe, to get back to basics with dance classes. Although there are numerous conventions that offer advanced master classes, few provide the chance to learn new concepts for preschool, beginner, and intermediate students. Yet these classes are exactly what every school owner or teacher needs to do well, in order to maintain their school’s financial health.
A full track of business sessions for studio owners includes concepts and techniques for marketing, office organization, summer programs, websites and social media, building new profit centers, plus more. In addition, there will be special sessions for studio managers and closed “studio owner only” events.
Since communication is key in dance education, many schools have brought their entire faculty and staff to our last few conferences to ensure that everyone is learning and sharing with a singular mind-set. Often, while the teachers take classes, the studio managers and school owners attend the business seminars. Together they build camaraderie and bring a bounty of new ideas back to their home studios.
As the conference director, I have a goal of bringing the dance community together to share a love for the art of dance, while simultaneously providing opportunities to learn and grow as professionals—and thus improve as teachers and as business owners. I look at the conference as a way for attendees to rejuvenate their dance spirit, build confidence, and learn new teaching skills that will not only improve students technically but also inspire them to develop a lifelong passion for dance.
As I look back to the beginning of my journey as a conference producer, I remember the skeptics who told me that dance teachers and school owners were too competitive to want to share their knowledge. My instincts told me that wasn’t true. As the DanceLife Teacher Conference has proved over and over again, dance educators embrace the chance to communicate and to celebrate their common bond.
Words from our readers
I am currently the proud owner of a subscription to Dance Studio Life and about 25 copies of the issue with this article [“Through the Lens of Gaga,” November 2012]. To say I was floored, honored, flattered, and humbled would be a huge understatement. What a lovely article, what beautiful writing, glorious sentiment, and honest reporting. I was blown away by the depth of the piece and its completeness. Ohad [Naharin] would be very proud indeed.
I am so in love with this technique, the genesis of it, and the way it can transform dancers, and I feel so privileged to have been included in something like this.
Always so excited to open Dance Studio Life magazine when it comes in the mail! Hands down the best magazine for dance studio owners!
Misty’s Dance Unlimited
By Carol Crawford Smith
For 18 years, my studio’s enrollment has remained steady. I have seen students graduate from high school and move on, only to be replaced by little ones now old enough to join Fundamentals of Dance, a class for the youngest dancers. Some students move away while an equal number of dancers change studios and come my way. Yet attracting male students to the school and sustaining their enrollment was like picking apples off a pear tree—until I added hip-hop to the roster.
With modest marketing efforts, my hip-hop classes have attracted seven boys this year. That’s huge! In a town where soccer, karate, and baseball are king, for boys, dance has simply been something their sisters do while they wait in the lobby playing with trucks, reading a book, or doing homework. Now it’s the sisters who read the books while their brothers pop to beats by Kanye West.
I see them in the studio laughing, smiling, and having fun while they worm across the floor and do semi-circle challenges. One boy, beet red from the workout, takes a water break and quickly returns to his spot for more locking action. Another boy in class is a black belt in karate. I have always known him as a quiet, reserved little brother, but after his hip-hop class he is talkative and outgoing.
Maybe it’s the music that pumps them up and leaves them feeling fierce and confident enough to move and carry themselves in new ways. Moving to music is natural to me, so it comes as no surprise to see that the boys love classes whose music practically commands them to move. Maybe dance competition TV shows or movies that highlight street and social dancing phenoms like tWitch and Darrin Henson convey the message that it’s cool to be male and demonstrate what the body instinctively wants to do when a dope beat is heard. Or maybe it’s the fact that my hip-hop classes are taught by a teacher named Benjamin.
Attracting male students was like picking apples off a pear tree—until I added hip-hop classes.
Ben can dance hip-hop like nobody’s business. He moves with fluidity and grace in one instance, shifting into sharply accented steps when the words and music dictate. He interprets music exquisitely and teaches the students to do the same. Under Ben’s instruction the class learns both hip-hop technique and choreography.
Ben is one of 11 children. Having grown up with six younger siblings, he is familiar with the dynamics of working productively with school-aged children. He is calm yet authoritative and engages with his students on their level, encouraging them to demonstrate their best moves without reservation. Then he’ll take those moves to another level. The students know they presented an inspiring move when Ben shows what he does with that inspiration and directs everyone to model it.
Parents ask where I found him. Like many of my instructors, Ben is a student at Virginia Tech. When he contacted me about teaching the hip-hop style he had performed and choreographed for many years, I invited him to teach two introductory classes to see how he teaches and to gauge the students’ interest. I was immediately delighted, and continue to be so, as are the parents who support the class by enrolling their children.
I have struck gold! My studio is rich now with the bright, sparkling smiles and gleaming eyes of boys who love to dance. Hip-hop draws in the sons of pleased parents and brothers of young ballerinas—boys who want to bust a move.
Dance is moving in so many new and exciting directions. It took a while, but I am reaping the rewards, both practical and spiritual, of moving with the flow of sought-after dance forms. I’m enjoying a priceless journey because I dug deeper to find more dance joy.
Online scheduler takes the pain out of private rehearsal planning and payment
By Karen White
A frustrated Allison Thornton was venting about her school’s scheduling and billing system for private and semi-private rehearsals and lessons. “Wouldn’t it be great if I could send all my students to a website where they could book and pay for rehearsals online,” she said, “and I wouldn’t have to worry about any of it?”
In a typical week, Thornton, owner and manager of The Dance Club in Orem, Utah, would schedule 4 to 10 hours of rehearsals for solos, duos, and trios. When the studio was gearing up for a big event such as nationals, rehearsals might run 20 to 25 hours per week. Trying to keep track of who, what, when, and how much—and collecting payments—had become a huge headache. When Thornton’s husband, Gary, commented that probably half of a batch of bills—representing thousands of dollars—would remain unpaid, the couple agreed that something had to change.
So they created RehearseWithMe, spending two years in development and “who knows how much money,” Gary says. The couple had searched for help online but found only calendars and appointment-scheduling software—nothing that included all the functions that Allison, as a dance teacher, wanted and needed.
“We built it just for me, but we thought we could help other teachers by expanding it and making it available to everyone,” says Allison, who has been using the system herself since 2010. Now available to the public, RehearseWithMe launched in July 2012.
Trying to keep track of who, what, when, and how much—and collecting payments—had become a huge headache.
The online system works like a front desk signup sheet. Student or parent users can log on to see which days and times a particular teacher has available for rehearsals and then reserve a slot, paying for it immediately via PayPal. Confirmation emails are sent to both the student and teacher.
RehearseWithMe allows teachers to view all scheduled and open rehearsal times, as well as students’ contact information (address, email, and phone), which rehearsals each student has completed and which are yet to come, and the account’s payment status. If teachers prefer payment by cash or check, they can bypass PayPal and use RehearseWithMe to keep track of details such as check numbers or bills paid in cash.
The program works independently of a dance studio’s management software and can be accessed by teachers at any time from any internet-based device.
Such a system has been a long time coming, Allison says. Squeezing in scheduling and teaching of private and semi-private lessons around her office manager and regular teaching duties—plus trying to take care of her two toddlers—made for a “crazy schedule,” she says. Often she’d drive the half-hour to the studio for nothing—the student had forgotten to show up. “And honestly, there have been times when we’ve been asleep on Saturday morning and the phone rings—Alli had forgotten the rehearsal,” Gary says.
But collecting the money owed was the bigger problem. Every system they tried had a snag. Prepaid punch cards seemed simple, but kids would forget or lose them. Requiring payment at the lesson didn’t work because parents would forget to bring a checkbook, or the student would be dropped off by a relative who had no cash, or only two students of a trio would pay.
Allison tried sending invoices after each lesson, but there always seemed to be a more pressing matter to handle first. “I wasn’t very good about staying on top of that. Gary would help me, but it would be months and months before we would invoice,” she says. “Then we’d send them and nobody would pay. The [delayed] invoice didn’t carry the weight it did at that moment when they needed to rehearse.”
With no software engineering skills (Gary’s background is in human resources and insurance), the couple outsourced the development of RehearseWithMe. But they were careful to tailor the system’s design and functionality to a dance teacher’s needs.
That’s why, before a new student accessing the system can book rehearsals, the system requires the teacher’s approval. Students only need to be approved once. This feature was particularly important, Allison says, if RehearseWithMe was going to prove useful to professional-level teachers who teach independently at one or more locations. And at The Dance Club, the system works well for master teachers who make occasional weekend visits. “They don’t have the time and they don’t want to work with every kid,” Allison says. “Now approved students can log in and pay before the teacher even gets into town.”
A teacher can customize her schedule, for example, to offer various services (hour-long choreography sessions, half-hour technique lessons, and such), hours and dates (January 3 and 5 from 2 to 4pm, January 8 from 3 to 6pm, etc.) and locations. An email function allows teachers to communicate easily with students.
During rehearsals Allison makes sure the students understand how many more rehearsals will be needed, and she has worked personally with a few overeager kids to ensure that everyone who needs slots can get them. “I sat down with one student and her mother, and we did the bookings together,” she says. “Otherwise, I knew she’d be on the site trying to take all the available times.”
With the RehearseWithMe marketing campaign revving up, the couple hopes the system’s current user base of a dozen teachers will increase to 100 by the summer. Initial feedback, from users as well as teachers introduced to the product at summertime conventions, has led them to consider some additions and modifications. Since the system’s launch a reminder feature has been added that sends out text and email notifications to both students and teachers on the day of a scheduled rehearsal.
They’ve also learned that while most West Coast studio directors like the way RehearseWithMe allows teachers and students to interact independently, Gary says, representatives of East Coast and southern studios still want all scheduling to run through the office. “It’s something for us to think about,” he says.
In the Thorntons’ studio, parents and students adjusted to the new system with no griping, and every rehearsal is now paid for. “It’s been great. The level of stress involved with my ‘to-do’ list has definitely decreased,” Allison says. “It eased the relationship with parents when I didn’t have to worry about getting paid. I can just focus on the student and teach. And I gained some valuable time in my life, which is almost worth more than the money.”
RehearseWithMe offers a 30-day free trial, after which billing is done monthly ($19.99) or annually ($199). For more information, visit RehearseWithMe.com.
In five short weeks, Kick Start gets kids jazzed for fall
By Megan Donahue
Soccer. The beach. Family vacations. So many things keep students out of the dance studio for the summer. To avoid losing students whose interest may wane over the course of a long break and to build interest in dance, Darla Lemay, who owns Stageworks Academy of the Performing Arts in Leduc, Alberta, Canada, has created the Kick Start Program, a short session that follows the regular dance year. The program seeks to “kick start” technique, offer kids inspiration and fun, and keep students engaged in dance.
Not only were family trips and summer camp drawing kids away from Lemay’s studio, nature itself provided strong competition for her students’ attention. The Alberta summer is short, and July and August are the only months with consistently beautiful weather. “We can’t compete against that,” says Lemay. Having classes in the summer just wasn’t worth it, and Leduc’s strong sports orientation made it difficult to have classes in the late spring. “We were running our school like most people do, but we were competing with sports in the spring,” Lemay says.
Students are encouraged to spend the time strengthening their technique in dance styles they already study or to try something completely new.
So she decided to stop competing with sun and sports and end the dance year early. The school now presents its final recital during the first week of May, making it possible for students who want to do sports to stay in their regular dance classes. But it left Stageworks with little going on from the second week of May until September. So in 2010, Lemay created the Kick Start Program to fill the gap.
The program runs for five weeks and ends before the regular school year does, leaving summer open for students’ family trips and plans. The classes focus only on technique, not choreography or performance. Students are encouraged to spend the time strengthening their technique in dance styles they already study or to try something completely new. “It’s a good program just to kick start everything,” says Lemay.
Lemay designed the program as a way to focus on technique. Stageworks’ students receive report cards, and their class placement depends on their skills. Usually dancers progress with the other members of their class, but sometimes “kids aren’t strong enough, but if they worked harder and more intensively, they could [progress to the next level],” says Lemay. Kick Start gives them five extra weeks to focus on their technique. “They go into the program knowing what they need to work on,” says Lemay.
Often the prospect of moving to the next level heightens a student’s work ethic. And when students work hard enough in the Kick Start Program to move up at the end of the session, Lemay finds that they maintain that work ethic. “They’re inspired after that; you can’t stop them,” she says.
The program offers no guarantees, however. Lemay credits the report cards and teacher-student communication with giving students an accurate picture of their skills and progress. “Sometimes the kid herself will say, ‘Yeah, I better stay where I am,’ ” Lemay says.
Lemay wants her dancers to find inspiration in unexpected places and see the range of possibilities in dance. “I’m all about the diversity,” she says. Because she’s found that very young dancers tend to gravitate to one style and never consider others, she set up a non-traditional combination class for younger children that includes hip-hop and ballet.
“At first they questioned it,” Lemay says, but the chance to try two very different dance styles in one class sparked kids’ curiosity. “It really did create some buzz,” she adds, and the class became quite popular among the younger set. The combo class gave some students who thought they didn’t like ballet the opportunity to discover that in fact they did; others grew to love hip-hop.
Stageworks teacher Brogan Weber taught the hip-hop/ballet class, and has taught in the Kick Start Program for two years. “I found it really exciting,” she says. “It was a good learning experience, not just for the kids but for me as well.” She liked the challenge of giving students a good foundation in both dance styles in only five weeks. “I think it’s good for them to find out what they’re interested in.”
In 2012 Lemay added more options for preschool and kindergarten students, and she encourages all students to think of the program as a five-week trial class and just have fun. The exploratory aspect of the program seems to appeal most to the 6- to 11-year-old crowd, and the technique-boosting aspect resonates most with ballet students, but Lemay thinks there’s something in it for everyone.
The program also appeals to kids who are interested in dance but are too busy to participate on a regular basis. Some of these kids do only the Kick Start Program—but they do it every year, as their only dance training.
Kick Start can be helpful for new students who are planning to take classes in the fall, says Lemay. An inexperienced older student or one who wants to switch dance genres may feel more comfortable with the head start they gain in Kick Start. For example, Stageworks offers a 6- to 8-year-old hip-hop class, and a 9- to 11-year-old hip-hop class. “A new 9-year-old might start class with kids who’ve been dancing for three years already,” says Lemay. “The Kick Start Program gives them the confidence to start in the fall. They’re already five weeks in.”
Kick Start serves the studio as well as the students. “There is a financial benefit, but that’s not really our motivation. We only charge $50 for the whole five weeks,” Lemay says, adding that she thinks it would be fairly easy for other schools to make more money on a similar program. But more important than the additional income Kick Start generates are the new students the program attracts. Lemay estimates that 40 of the 100 students who participated in 2012 were new to the studio, and often that trial period turns into a long-term commitment.
Twelve-year-old Hannah Wurban was one of the students who tested the waters and stayed. She had never taken dance classes before, but enrolled in jazz and tap classes in the Kick Start Program in 2011. Over the dance year, she worked her way up several levels, and then in Kick Start 2012 discovered that she loved lyrical and contemporary dance. Now a dedicated student, she credits the program with getting her started. With her initial interest sparked by Kick Start’s tap and jazz classes, and further inspired by its lyrical and contemporary offerings, Wurban is a fan. “I think those classes helped me become the dancer I am,” she says.
While many kids discover a new style they love during the Kick Start Program, some figure out what’s not for them. In such cases, says Lemay, “parents are happy it’s not a yearlong investment.” She points out that figuring out a bad match is good for students and the studio too, “because if it’s the wrong class you’re dealing with a lot of negativity.”
Lemay also uses Kick Start as a testing ground for new faculty. She can give a teacher on her substitute list the chance to take on a class and see how she runs it. She can identify a good or bad fit or teachers who are or aren’t good with children. With only a five-week commitment, there’s less risk for the studio—far preferable to some situations Lemay has experienced during the regular school year, which would have been “less dramatic without long-term contracts.”
After three years of operating the program, Lemay thinks she’s going in the right direction. By keeping her students dancing in the late spring, she fuels their interest for fall classes. “I’m just trying to keep them in dance,” she says.
Advice for dance teachers
Do you have any advice about working with competition kids and determining who is in the front row, back row, etc.? These are 7- and 8-year-old kids in their second year of competing. It is only a group of 10, so the majority of times they’re in either the first or second row. I try to rotate them as much as I can, but there are always the stronger ones I need at that age. It bothers me because I always try to make sure they all feel important and a part of the routine. How should I base which dancers are in the front row—do I assess them or give preference to the kids who have been with the studio longer than the others?
I want to have a talk with the parents, and I get tired of explaining the same thing over and over about all kids excelling at different times. Help! —Gina
I never predetermine who will be in the front row, nor do I use two lines very much. It’s better to make all the dancers look good by creating many formations and patterns, as well as being so imaginative with the choreography that no one can determine who the strongest or weakest dancers are. Also, it’s best to avoid creating pieces that are loaded with tricks that some of the dancers may not be able to do properly.
By telling parents that children excel at different times in their training and development, you are confirming that you do in fact place the stronger dancers in the front. And that means you are subliminally telling the parents of the second-row kids that their children are not good enough to be in the front.
Also, the judges can tell when a teacher has created a piece that features the best dancers and tries to hide the weaker ones in the back, which in the long run never helps the dancers (or the choreographer) receive a higher score. Actually, once the judges figure it out, they score the piece lower because they know you are hiding something.
Instead of creating another competition piece that uses the standard tricks of the trade, consider your choreography a work of art. Make it so creative and moving to the audience (and the judges) that they never think about how strong the dancers are—that becomes secondary to the fact that in viewing your work they felt or saw something that impressed them. When you put thought into making every dancer look good, you give your students the confidence that they are all good enough. That confidence gives the kids the freedom to love being onstage. Audiences and judges can see that joy and respond to it.
The competition experience shouldn’t be about putting the best dancers in front; it should be about helping all students gain self-confidence, which in turn inspires them to be the best they can be. And that happens when their teacher believes in them. When you do that, the parents will stop asking questions and you will have classrooms filled with happy children. Good luck! —Rhee
I am a studio owner, and I recently had the awesome opportunity to host a master class. I want to pay this talented professional, but I am unsure of the proper etiquette regarding payment. Are there guidelines? Does it vary from instructor to instructor? Thanks for your time! —Tom
There are lots of variables, but the majority of master teachers are paid by the hour. The rates vary based on experience; for example, $200 to $500 per hour for someone who is performing on Broadway or in a major company, and $1,000 to $1,500 per hour for some of the hot dancers or choreographers from national TV. Some teachers might require a deposit up front to reserve the dates for you, while others might ask for a contract that states that they will be compensated in case of cancellation. It is the norm to cover round-trip transportation and hotel accommodations as well.
Consider inviting dancers and teachers from neighboring schools to help defray your costs and to build camaraderie within your dance community. I wish you all the best. —Rhee
I am a single mother of 2, recently separated. My dream has always been to open a dance school of my own. I have studied dance for many years throughout my life (not consistently) and I am going into my third year of Teachers Training School with DMA. I also am working toward CDTA accreditation for ballroom and I’m continuing my ballet studies.
I don’t have a lot of money to open a studio, but I have thought many times about turning one room in my house into a studio and starting out small with private lessons. What would your advice be on how to get started? —Ashley
You deserve a pat on the back for seeking out the best training to prepare to be a well-rounded dance educator. Certainly you could launch a school in your home. That is what my mom did to start her business, which after several years grew to the point when she could afford to purchase her own building.
If you choose that route, be sure that your town will allow you to run a business from your home. Also, think ahead about the available parking for your students and their parents. If you’re teaching only private lessons, parking won’t affect your neighbors, but if you decide to expand to group lessons, it could have an impact.
An alternative to operating a school at your home is renting space in a church hall or community center, which usually offers more affordable rents than commercial spaces. The catch is that you probably wouldn’t have permanent mirrors and barres because you’d be in a multi-use space.
Here’s another idea: years ago I taught classes at a low-income housing project. I did not pay rent for the space, but I did offer a discount to the children who lived there. I was allowed to enroll students from the surrounding communities, which was gravy in an already successful rent-free situation. This location was a win–win for me and the children who might never have had the chance to dance if it hadn’t been brought to them.
With some creative thinking you will be able to follow your dream in a way that will allow you to ease your way into the major expenses associated with owning a school. Never stop dreaming! —Rhee
What is the best way to handle a class of 5- to 7-year-olds when the parents are observing and the kids are out of control? Some parents do not approve of my teachers saying, “If you continue, you will be sitting with your parents,” or “Please act in a respectful manner,” or “If you continue to act in this manner, you will need to go to the baby class.” What is so wrong with these statements? What would be a better way? —Brenda
This is a case where the delivery really matters. Put yourself in the place of the parent (or the child) who hears the teacher say something like, “Behave or you will go into the baby class.” Are they hearing a mature adult speak, someone who is considering the implication of her words on the self-esteem or well-being of the student? No. The message is demeaning, even threatening, rather than a constructive comment delivered in a way that encourages the child to engage.
I believe in discipline in the classroom, but it can be achieved by gaining the respect of the students and their observing parents. First, teachers must keep in mind that they are mature mentors who choose their words wisely. With a disruptive child, the teacher might smile and take her hand, leading her to the front of the class while saying, “Boy, you have a lot of energy today, Susie! Come to the front of the class with me so you can share it with everyone else.” My guess is that those words and actions would be met with a smile instead of with concern from the parents.
Also, telling unruly students that they should behave or they’ll be sent out of class to their parents is risky because that might be exactly what the children were hoping for. Instead, have the disruptive child sit down at the front of the classroom for a few minutes.
Although there are exceptions, often when a group of 5- to 7-year-old students is out of control the reason has as much to do with the teacher as it does with the children. Why are they feeling comfortable enough to misbehave? In this or previous classes, have they been led to believe that such behavior is OK? Is the pace of the class giving them enough time to get out of control, and if so, why?
I suggest that you do an evaluation with your faculty to identify better language and actions to use when dealing with behavior issues. Most important, discuss how the teachers can improve the structure or pace of their classes to maintain control. Good luck! —Rhee
Words from the publisher
I recently ran into a dancer for whom I had choreographed solos when she was a teenager. I had followed her successful performing career in New York and Los Angeles, and by anyone’s standards she would be considered a hardworking professional. Now in her mid-30s, she told me she’s ready to shift into the next phase of her career, which is to open a dance school. Her plan of action is to open a studio in a town that doesn’t already have any dance schools. She has saved an impressive chunk of money that will get her new small business off the ground.
I was impressed—until she told me that she planned to teach only the best kids, while the teachers she hired would work with the everyday students. “After all my professional experience, I can’t see myself wasting time with kids who don’t have talent,” she said.
If you read this column regularly, you know that at this point my blood was beginning to boil, but I just listened. Finally I said, “If you are just starting out, where will the strong dancers come from?”
Without a moment’s hesitation she told me that last spring she had gone to the dance recitals presented by the schools in the towns near her proposed studio space. At each show she grabbed the programs and noted the names of the strongest dancers. Via Facebook and internet searches, she found contact information for more than 40 of those students.
It is her plan to send them an audition notice and accept 25 of them on full scholarship so that she can launch her new company. She also contacted several teachers at those schools to try to persuade them to teach her everyday students.
She seemed so proud of herself, while I was completely disgusted with her lack of ethics and respect. Apparently she had never considered that those school owners had spent years molding their strong dancers, putting the right faculty in place, and building reputable businesses. In her mind it was all hers for the taking.
I didn’t say anything. I couldn’t. The situation will be a live-and-learn one for her—the hard way. She will be one of those school owners who can’t figure out why all the dance teachers in her area can’t stand her. She will be the school owner who won’t make much money because the dancers on scholarship will expect everything for free, and so will those who come after them. She will be the school owner who will lose her everyday students because she doesn’t respect them and the advanced kids as equals. The controversy she will create will distract her, leaching time and energy from her efforts to make her school successful, and she will be alone in her dance community.
As dance teachers you are role models, and with that responsibility comes the obligation to teach young people about ethics. Teach your students that people in the dance world need to respect each other. One way to do that is by showing generosity to your fellow studio owners and teachers. Another is by treating all students as equally worthy of your attention.
Why? Because dance is for everyone.
By Misty Lown
Are you offering quality dance classes in your community? Great. Are you creating an experience for your students, keeping them engaged and talking about your program? Even better!
Why is that important? Take the iconic brands Apple, Nike, and Starbucks, for example. Each sells quality products, but more important, each has created a tribe of enthusiastic followers. Apple sells membership in the “think different” club, Nike peddles motivation, and Starbucks brews up as much vibe as coffee. These companies sell an experience. And they talk about the experience so much that it becomes their message, creating a positive and powerful marketing cycle.
So what is your message? In a crowded market in which everyone is selling the same service—dance lessons—what are you doing to set yourself apart? What makes your studio yours and not the place down the street?
At my studio I have been selling the message “More Than Just Great Dancing” for 15 years. I do this by continually pushing this message to the front lines of our advertising, communication, and customer contact: “We have a quality curriculum, trained teachers, professional management, and we are very involved in the community.” Repeat. The medium and the pictures are rotated for freshness and variety, but the message never changes.
In a crowded market in which everyone is selling the same service—dance lessons—what are you doing to set yourself apart?
Truth be told, we don’t do much selling of actual dance lessons these days. Instead we focus on painting a picture of the kind of experience families will find when they come in our doors. Pictures of organized classrooms, smiling kids and teachers, and community performances dominate our website and Facebook page. And we stay on message with this in all of our print materials, public relations announcements, and speaking opportunities at community performances. If there is a chance to advertise, present, or perform somewhere in our community, we use it as a platform to share our message.
Having a great message isn’t enough, however. What families experience once they sign up has to match the message or people will become disillusioned and leave (or worse yet, be unhappy and stay). For example, it wouldn’t do me any long-term good to sell a message of elite competition teams when we value camaraderie and community service above getting awards. Somebody who is looking for a super-competitive experience isn’t going to be happy at my studio. You will attract what you put out in your message, so be sure your studio’s message matches its DNA.
In talking with studio owners from across the country I have found a spectrum of messages, ranging from non-competitive to super-elite, from very approachable to super-polished. Some focus on people, others on programs or price. It doesn’t matter which way you go, as long as the message you put out represents what you value and the service you deliver.
A quick online search of dance studios turns up the following messages: family-friendly; character education; award winning; singing, acting, dance; non-competitive; world-renowned choreographers; specializing in beginners; huge variety in classes; beautiful, clean facilities; affordable; voted the best of county; fun for all; personalized attention/small class size; growing young women (and men) of achievement; triple-threat training; pre-professional; home away from home; age-appropriate choreography and costumes; teaching kids to love dance; professional performances.
It is important that the keywords, meta tags, and meta titles used in your search engine optimization reflect your message. That way, if someone is typing “family-friendly dance studio” in the search bar, and that is your message, your studio will show up. The person who handles your web design should be able to help you with this.
And, now for the best part—taking action! What gets you excited about owning a dance studio? What do you hope to accomplish in your classrooms? What do kids learn in your program? You can start by creating a message and then building the experience for your clients around it, or you can observe the experience already in place and create a message to match. Either way, you will boost your marketing power by selling a message instead of a service.
Angelina Ballerina finds a new home at North American dance schools
By Joshua Bartlett
Angelina Ballerina may be an 8-year-old British mouse at Camembert Academy, but she’s already an astute businesswoman and a worldwide celebrity. And now she’s branching out into the dance world. As of September 2012, 117 dance studios in the United States and Canada have signed on to the Angelina Ballerina Dance Academy program, targeted at children ages 3 to 6.
Inspired by the hugely popular Angelina Ballerina book series and the PBS television series, the program is licensed by AB Studio Licensing, a branch of HIT Entertainment, a leading children’s entertainment producer. In short, Angelina Ballerina, whose iPhone app is among the top 150 of all apps, is a superstar in the media—and perhaps ballet’s answer to Harry Potter.
Sam Beckford, marketing director for AB Studio Licensing and director of Guildford School of Music and Dance in Surrey, British Columbia, says talks began three years ago with producers in the United Kingdom (where the series originated) who wanted to expand the branding of Angelina Ballerina.
“Marketing studies show 66 percent of moms in North America know about Angelina Ballerina,” says Beckford. “That’s great brand recognition. There are around 15,000 dance studios in North America; the 117 studios with the Angelina Ballerina program represent 1 percent of studios that offer ballet in North America.” The goal, he says, is to reach 3 to 5 percent of them.
Angelina Ballerina is “the perfect character to bring into the studio. She embodies such a love and joy of dancing. That’s pretty much what little girls do.” —Nancy Solomon
Choosing to adopt the program for her school was a no-brainer for Angela Floyd, director of Angela Floyd Schools in Knoxville, Tennessee, since so many young girls know the Angelina Ballerina stories. “My decision to become a partner was instant when I found out how fabulous the curriculum was,” says Floyd, who was attracted by the “national, classically based curriculum with nutrition, etiquette, and reading. I was completely sold.”
Nancy Solomon, director of Studio B Dance Center in Eastchester, New York, appreciates the bridge between dancing and literacy. She signed on because she believes the title character is “the perfect character to bring into the studio. She embodies such a love and joy of dancing. That’s pretty much what little girls do. They love dance so much that they want to dress like a ballerina. Angelina Ballerina is so enthusiastic about dancing that every time she sees a chair she has to use it as a ballet barre.”
A coherent curriculum
Marketing aside, any curriculum has to be qualitatively coherent to be useful. AB Studio Licensing contracted Beverly Spell, who developed the Leap ’n Learn curriculum used in more than 1,000 studios worldwide. “Beverly was able to incorporate the child-developmental angle into the curriculum of a dance program,” says Beckford. “She understands how and why kids learn instead of just saying it’s all about movement.”
Spell, director of Ballet Studio in Lafayette, Louisiana, worked closely with HIT Entertainment in developing a curriculum that keeps the integrity and personality of the Angelina Ballerina character through the story lines. “I wanted a program that was developmentally sound, based on the processing of information—how a child develops cognitively, physically, emotionally, socially, all of those things,” says Spell.
Every class includes a short reading of one of the stories. “Angelina Ballerina is always learning lessons in her stories,” says Spell. “I incorporate something that is learned in that story through creative movement. It’s also a great way for kids to increase their reading comprehension. They’re not only listening to the story but acting it out through their bodies to create memory stores.”
In essence, the Angelina Ballerina pre-ballet curriculum (Level 1 for ages 3 to 4 and a half; Level 2 for ages 4 and a half to 6; with 34 weeks allocated for each level) is an extension of Leap ’n Learn, which Spell developed with her daughter-in-law, child psychologist Annie W. Spell. (There is also a curriculum for a one-week summer dance camp for both age levels.) Included are tools to help children learn, to inform teachers what to expect children to learn at various stages, and to help teachers recognize the various modalities, such as reading materials, CDs, listening exercises, props, vocabulary, and rhythmic instruction, that create a better learning environment.
Angelina Ballerina students discover that ballet is based on French terminology. “They learn that ‘plié’ means ‘to bend’ and ‘tendu’ means ‘to stretch,’ ” says Spell. “By the end of the nine months they know quite a bit. All of the information, my beliefs and theories I feel so strongly about, are built into Angelina Ballerina as well, because [the curriculum, based on Leap ’n Learn], works.”
Requirements and costs
To become an Angelina Ballerina partner studio, owners must apply and fulfill certain requirements. Eligible studios must have been in business for at least three years with qualified, experienced teachers. The owners must pass criminal record checks and be insured and licensed for recordings. Once accepted, they must teach the Angelina Ballerina curriculum and adhere to the program’s guidelines. “We didn’t want to just put the Angelina stamp on a crummy curriculum or devalue the brand,” says Beckford.
The initial licensing fee is $1,995, with a monthly fee of $299. For multiple physical locations of the same studio business, the initial licensing and monthly fees stay the same, but each additional location requires an initial fee of $995 plus $199 per month. All of the curriculum is included, as are the CDs, video curriculum, online videos, story books with lesson plans (one book for each of the nine months), and props such as dance mats, maracas, and scarves. The curriculum includes choreography for the year-end recital, which teachers are not required to use, and optional suggestions for recital costumes. Angelina Ballerina tutus and mouse ears are available for an extra fee.
The props are important, says Spell, to teach fluid, graceful movement. “Even for a 3-year-old to learn to change the scarf from the left hand to the right hand takes coordination,” she says. Placement mats come in various shapes—squares, rectangles, circles, and ovals; maracas are used for teaching musicality and counting. “These are great teaching tools,” says Spell. “We use them as scaffolding to teach them something, and then you eventually take that away.” The branding—the Angelina Ballerina character and stories—provides the context and a springboard for the classes.
Curriculum and levels
In one sample curriculum lesson, the children practice four passé walks around mats that represent unpacked boxes in Angelina Ballerina’s new house. They then hold a maraca in the right hand and plié in parallel position while circling the maraca overhead, and switch it to the left hand as they straighten their knees and circle the maraca again. After that, they gallop in lines sideways across the floor. (Angelina Ballerina loves to gallop.) The class transitions to creative movement with the students holding onto ends of a scarf in pairs.
When Angelina Ballerina practices her dance steps, she pronounces the words as she executes them. “There is a lot of listening to the rules of the games,” says Solomon, who has owned her studio for 17 years but no longer teaches. “There is memorization and the use of levels. When Angelina says go to a high level, we stand on our tiptoes and reach high. Mid-level is on the knees and low level is crawling. They also learn fast tempo and slow tempo.”
Level 2 presents more complicated movements than Level 1, with more combined steps. Both involve acting out scenarios and doing pantomime. Classes can be either 30 or 45 minutes long.
Studio owners, parents, and teachers are sometimes unclear about the program’s differences or advantages versus other pre-ballet classes. Apart from the focus on Angelina Ballerina, the primary difference is the format. “It’s a well-structured program, and I find that children respond to the structure,” says Solomon. “Their listening skills are developed very well. They learn to be partners with other children and take turns.” She tells parents who are trying to decide on a program that Angelina Ballerina Academy has a more definite structure than her regular pre-ballet classes.
Many studios that have adopted the Angelina Ballerina program have retained their regular pre-ballet classes to see which are more popular. Spell, who is about to move her school into a larger facility, has about 250 students. She decided to offer both Leap ’n Learn and Angelina Ballerina pre-ballet classes; enrollment for the debut season was split 50/50 between the two options.
Last year Beckford’s three schools had a total of 192 3- to 6-year-olds enrolled; this year the number rose to 241, with a 50/50 split between pre-ballet and Angelina Ballerina. In Solomon’s school, the enrollment numbers for fall 2012 stayed the same, but parents chose Angelina Ballerina more often; Solomon ended up with four pre-ballet and six Angelina Ballerina classes. She even added a Sunday class to accommodate the demand. (Some studios charge more for Angelina Ballerina classes than for other pre-ballet classes; at Beckford’s school the rate is $5 more per month, while Solomon’s studio has no price differential.)
Nonetheless, many teachers believe that the success of Angelina Ballerina is not a reason to stop their regular pre-ballet classes. “Kids develop differently, so some 3-year-olds are ready to focus,” says Solomon. “But then you have kids who love to move, and Angelina Ballerina is too structured for them. You want to have another option that has freer movement and allows them to grow to the next step.”
What about the reactions of teachers who have taught pre-ballet for years and are now instructed to switch to a new system? Beckford says some of his studios’ teachers wanted to switch all their pre-ballet classes to Angelina Ballerina Academy. But Solomon felt the need to ease her teachers into the program. “It’s a little intimidating for some teachers, especially if they’ve been teaching pre-ballet for years and then have a curriculum and lesson plan that are so specific,” she says. “On the other hand, it really makes your program run better because it puts the teachers on the same page.”
Solomon started with just two teachers learning the program and says that next year, if the program expands, she will send them to Angelina Ballerina boot camp, which she attended. (Yes, there is an Angelina Ballerina boot camp for teachers. The first intensive was held last August at The Ailey Studios in New York City.)
One might wonder if a very pink mouse with a British accent might be a turnoff to minority students or students of color. “The old series was pretty white,” admits Beckford. “You almost felt like you had to go to high tea in England after watching it.” The newer TV show, which started in 2009, has a tad more diversity and is set in an urban environment. Marco, a mouse from Costa Rica, loves soccer and drumming, while A.Z. is an American hip-hop mouse (albeit a comically stiff and oddly vertical one). But the main attraction is still Angelina Ballerina, and not every child will identify with her.
Beckford states outright that it’s not the best program for boys. “The way the curriculum is written, I don’t recommend this as something you should push the boys into,” he says.
Perhaps the biggest advantage of the Angelina Ballerina Academy, however, is the lucrative marketing angle. “You’re taking a known brand and piggybacking your marketing on it,” says Beckford. “McDonald’s is good at marketing and attracting kids. Their marketing strategy is based on branding with others, like a new Smurfs movie or Alvin and the Chipmunks.”
Schools have “the leverage of a brand that has spent millions of dollars establishing familiarity and likability,” adds Beckford. “You can get dance classes in a multitude of places. It’s almost like being a cell-phone dealer. You either sell the iPhone or you don’t.”
An official branding method might not be a fit for every studio, however. A corporate, McDonald’s-style approach to ballet branding might feel constricting or inauthentic to some teachers, or take away a sense of spontaneity and creativity that teachers feel makes their own style of training unique. Or they might feel that the emphasis is too commercial for their tastes.
Yet some studios are using those marketing advantages. Solomon has offered free Angelina Ballerina classes at local libraries to increase registration and says the boot camp for teachers provided a great networking opportunity for sharing marketing ideas. Floyd has held read-a-thons at local elementary schools and distributed bookmarks bearing both the Angelina Ballerina (used with permission) and Angela Floyd Studios logos to all Knox County libraries. She also plans to make a presentation at the Children’s Festival of Reading at the World’s Fair Park in Knoxville.
Beckford thinks perhaps the best marketing opportunity of all comes through the contractual partnership with PBS, which allows Angelina Ballerina schools to have customized local TV spots made. At the beginning and end of the show, Beckford explains, “it will say ‘Angelina Ballerina is brought to you by Debbie’s Dance Studio, an official Angelina Ballerina studio. For more information, visit this website.’ ” Costs vary depending on location, although Beckford says he bought a yearlong sponsorship spot for one of his studios for $2,500. (The studio licensing fee includes standard press releases that studios can use for publicity.)
AB Studio Licensing handles all live appearances by Angelina Ballerina, which cost extra. Studios within 100 miles of each other can split costs by booking an appearance on the same day.
The reason a mouse in a bubble-gum-pink tutu has created such a stir in the media and in early dance education? Spell says it’s about children’s affinity with the character.
“Angelina loves ballet, and everything relates back to ballet, but she goes through a lot of little things children can identify with,” Spell says. Above all, the Angelina Ballerina Academy provides a great marketing program that is supported by a solid, education-based curriculum: “The children will enjoy and love the classes, but at the end of the year, they’re going to know their terminology,” Spell says. “And they’re going to know how to dance.”
Sharing a teacher, sharing success
By Misty Lown
I like to think I’m good at thinking outside of the box, but when I needed a part-time ballet master for my dance studio, I went beyond that. I went out of the state—to neighboring Rochester, Minnesota, and Janet Johnson of Allegro School of Dance and Music.
But before I tell you more about Janet, and the “sister studio” relationship we now enjoy, I am going to introduce you to Kennet Oberly, the ballet master we share.
An unexpected call
I first met Kennet when he made a cold call to my studio in 2009 looking for an opportunity to teach a master class. He was working as the academy director of BalletMet in Columbus, Ohio, and was exploring the idea of opening his own ballet school in Decorah, Iowa, about 60 miles from my studio. He explained that he was checking out possibilities for additional work should he decide to open a school.
To say Kennet had an impressive resume would be an understatement. Having danced with Stuttgart Ballet (Germany), Maurice Béjart’s Ballet of the 20th Century (Belgium), Boston Ballet, Houston Ballet, and Tivoli Pantomime Theatre (Denmark), he went on to become artistic director of Ballet Iowa (now defunct), and a ballet master for Finnish National Ballet. As a guest choreographer and ballet master for Estonian National Ballet, Kennet set two Bournonville ballets on the company. He also served as director of the Wolcott Children’s Ballet (Vermont)—a project for which he was featured in Smithsonian Magazine (May 1995). He had performed in our area in 1985 while on tour with Ballet Iowa and had liked it so much that he and his wife wanted to relocate here to build a pre-professional program.
I hired Kennet for a weeklong series of master classes. As soon as he took control of the classroom I was mesmerized. His resume was great, but it didn’t touch on his attention to detail, kind and encouraging manner, or his creative choreography. For the first time, my students were participating in concert-quality works, not just recital pieces. I booked him for a return trip before he left.
Kennet visited two more times over the next year. During his third visit he came to a realization that changed the course of his plans. “I knew I wanted to build something, but I didn’t have the capital, desire, or business skill to run a ballet school on my own,” he says. “Misty had an established program, enthusiastic students, and an open mind. It made a lot more sense to partner with her than struggle to build something on my own.”
And so we began discussions in earnest about what a relationship with my studio might look like and how we could get him to move here full time. It didn’t take long to realize, however, that I could not offer full-time work and he could not live on a part-time salary.
Enter Allegro School of Dance and Music
After some consideration, I came up with a possible solution. If I couldn’t swing hiring Kennet on my own, perhaps I could partner with another studio to make it happen. It couldn’t be just any studio, however—it would have to be close enough to drive to and yet far enough away not to be a direct competitor. It had to have an established program with a reputation for quality instruction—a studio that valued art above awards. I thought of Janet and her school right away.
Allegro is about a 75-minute drive from my school, and Janet and I had enjoyed a friendly relationship over the years. I had taken my students to her studio for workshops and she had come to mine to judge our Performance Company auditions. And I had recently taught in the “Master Class” series hosted by Allegro.
Although Janet did not need any ballet teachers at the time, she asked Kennet to teach a master class for her. This was enough to convince her that he would be a great asset to her staff. After no small amount of schedule wrangling and multiparty communication, she and I each had an employment contract with Kennet for fall of 2011. Allegro gave him two days per week and Misty’s Dance Unlimited offered him three.
“Going into it, we were all a little unsure how this would work. The effort was great, but the rewards have been amazing,” says Janet.
There was quite a bit of excitement among the students when we announced that our studios would be collaborating to bring in an artist-in-residence for the 2011–12 school year. We built momentum for Kennet’s arrival by talking with the students and their parents about how this would bring our ballet programs to a whole new level.
“The integration of Kennet into our program took some time, but some truly incredible collaborative results grew, both in and out of the classroom,” says Janet.
The collaboration continued to build with the announcement of a shared “Evening of Ballet” to be held at my studio in December featuring works Kennet had set on students from both studios during the first semester. Afterward I invited Janet’s Performance Company to be guest performers in our Christmas Social, and Janet invited our Senior Company to perform at her school’s Spring Showcase. What had begun as an exchange of ballet performances was quickly branching out into jazz and contemporary as well.
Making it work
As good as it can be, an employee-share arrangement doesn’t come without challenges, including sharing the prime days. “There are certain days of the week that are more conducive to ballet enrollment than others,” Janet says. Scheduling, we have found, requires a lot of give-and-take. In our second year of the job share, I have the premium days—Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday—and Janet has Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Next year we will switch so that Janet has the premium days.
Scheduling wasn’t the only sensitive issue; students and staff had to make some adjustments as well. For example, my program has always been stronger in jazz and tap than ballet, so having a new teacher come in and ask kids to take ballet class in just black leotards and pink tights (no skirts) was a bit of a shock for our students.
Thankfully, Kennet was gentle but firm in his approach. “As I build the ballet program, I understand the fragility of it. I try to set up an atmosphere of being inspired,” he says. “It’s good for them to be exposed to the real thing.”
Janet had a different challenge to navigate. “We already had a very strong ballet program, so it was important to send the message of ‘continuous improvement’ and yet still show great respect for the teachers who had been teaching at our studio for years,” she says. “All teachers brought their strengths and opinions to the curriculum meetings and in turn, learned to listen to and incorporate other ideas and approaches. The ballet department has grown and advanced immeasurably as a result of this unique job share.”
Then there was the question of how to navigate the extras, such as Nutcracker rehearsals, staff meetings, and teaching-training days—something we stayed on top of via email. We have a standing agreement that performance trumps rehearsal, so that if one of us has a performance at the same time as the other has a rehearsal, Kennet attends the performance.
But for all the challenges we have faced as employers, the person who has had to make the biggest adjustments is Kennet. “I’ve learned a lot and I’m still learning a lot about studio life. It’s a lot different [than company life],” he says. “The kids here are growing up with dance as a part of their lives, but it’s not the only part. In a professional school it can be about making dancers at any cost. [Studio life] has made me mellow out a little and really look at the dancers as people. It’s been good for me.”
Looking ahead, we are planning another “Evening of Ballet” for both schools, other concert performance opportunities beyond our respective studios’ usual recital venues, and a joint field trip to a Milwaukee Ballet performance. Additionally, a few students at each studio will be working with Kennet to first attend and eventually participate in ballet competitions—a first for both studios.
But our shared goals go beyond classes, events, and competitions—we are looking ahead to offering more intensive ballet training opportunities and exposure to experiences beyond our studios that will help build stronger relationships with the community.
“One of my goals is for our students to participate in more concert-length choreography—more intricate, technical pieces and experiences,” says Janet. “I also want them to learn how to take class and audition professionally, as well as dance to live accompaniment in the classroom or in performances. We would also like to draw people to our studio from other areas for intensives in the future.”
My goals include building a pre-professional ballet program at my studio and collaborating with the local symphony and community theater groups on biannual performances of concert-quality works. We already have many performance opportunities for jazz and tap; I see Kennet as our chance to elevate ballet in our community.
An unexpected bonus of the job-share arrangement has been the “sister studio” relationship forged across state lines. I enjoy the camaraderie with a studio owner who is pursuing her business for the same reasons I pursue mine. It’s great to know I can shoot out an email or pick up the phone for feedback or to bounce out a new idea. Every couple of months we meet halfway between our two studios, in a little café on the Mississippi River, to discuss schedules, curriculum, events, and goals.
The students have benefited as well. “Our kids know now that there are studios you can be open and honest with and interact with in a non-competitive way. That doesn’t usually happen at a competition or across town,” says Janet. “They see that we are allies who love doing the same thing, and that is empowering for them.”
Kennet continues to be the bridge between the two studios. “I enjoy the variety; each studio is so different,” he says. “Misty’s has such a welcoming energy, and I truly treasure that environment. Janet’s is set up as more of a ballet school, so there is joy in getting to work with some strong ballerinas. Both schools give each other energy, and that’s a real treasure.”
Is job sharing for you?
In considering a job-share arrangement, finding the right studio to work with is essential. Above all, it’s important to partner with someone who shares your values and goals. Beyond that, it’s important to be clear about communication and expectations and as flexible as possible. And always have a written contract.
In sharing an employee, school owners can forge a relationship that makes their studios more than neighboring schools—they can contribute to someone else’s success, and perhaps even make a friend for life.
TutuTix, a provider of ticketing solutions for dance studios, has announced the availability of an iOS ticket scanner application that provides a quick, efficient, and low-cost way for dance studio operators to verify and redeem tickets for dance performances.
The app is available as a free download from the iTunes App Store. TutuTix chief marketing officer, Eric Housh, said the scanning app was driven by client feedback. “Last year, when we announced the launch of free e-tickets and smart phone tickets, we immediately heard concerns around ticket redemption. Specifically—how would studio staff quickly be able to tell if the ticket was valid, and for the correct performance?”
The app allows for ticket barcodes to be scanned with the camera on an iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch. The scanner reads barcodes from paper tickets or the screen on customer’s smart phones. All scans are synchronized with the ticketing system to prevent duplicate and invalid tickets.
To download the free TutuTix App, visit https://itunes.apple.com/app/id586030335?mt=8&ign-mpt=uo%3D4.
TutuTix is a ticketing services and software company dedicated to serving the needs of dance studio operators and performing arts companies. For more information, visit http://www.tututix.com or call 855.222.2TIX.
Step-By-Step Dance Studio of Waltham, Massachusetts, will present its eighth winter performance, this year titled “Let Your Heart Move Your Feet,” and a Valentine Gala Benefit to honor The Andréa Rizzo Foundation, in February.
The event will be held February 9 from 6pm to midnight at the American Legion Post 440, 295 California Street, Newton, Massachusetts.
“Let Your Heart Move Your Feet” is the slogan for The Andréa Rizzo Foundation’s nationwide fundraising effort, “Dance Across America,” which raises funds to bringing dance therapy to children with cancer and special needs in pediatric hospitals, public schools, and Ronald McDonald houses across the country.
Created in memory of a young dance therapy graduate student and survivor of childhood cancer, killed by a drunk driver at the age of 24, the foundation aspires to bring dancers together to blend dance and compassion.
The Step-By-Step dance performance, open to the public, will feature more than 100 performers. The Valentine Gala Benefit event will feature a DJ, hors d’oeuvres, and basket and raffle items. General admission is $35, with all proceeds benefiting the foundation. For event tickets, contact the Step-By-Step Dance Studio’s Pamela Caira at 781.891.5678 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ballet teacher and former professional dancer David Arce will be sharing his words of wisdom and sound teaching advice as the latest Dance Studio Life “Two Tips” contributor.
Arce will be replacing original “Two Tips for Ballet Teachers” writer Mignon Furman, who died December 4. Furman had been writing the column since July 2007.
A San Diego native, Arce trained at Ballet Yuma and San Francisco Ballet School, and danced for 12 years with San Francisco Ballet. He is now artistic director of the Juline Regional Youth Ballet and teaches advanced pre-professional classes at Juline School of Dance in Modesto, California.
Arce joins the other DSL “Two Tips” writers—Geo Hubela for hip-hop, Gregg Russell for tap, and Bill Evans for modern—in this popular monthly feature. To peruse past tips, visit www.dancestudiolife.com.
Dance Gallery 2, a California dance studio owned by Lucy and Doug McLemore, is in the midst of a fund-raising campaign to help meet county ordinances that require the business to undertake roadway construction and other improvements before opening a newly-constructed studio building.
Through the Pave the Way campaign, the studio and its supporters have already raised more than $20,000 to pay for necessary permits and construction design costs to build a turn lane that will allow studio customers to safely access the business off of the main road, Lucy McLemore said. Fund-raising activities included a workshop taught by Dominic “D-Trix” Sandoval, a So You Think You Can Dance finalist, who trained at the studio.
The roadway and other improvements required by the county, such as construction of a 10,000-gallon water tank, and a commercial well and septic system, will run close to $100,000.
For more than 20 years McLemore has run her studio out of her home and garage, located on a 20-acre lot in Roseville, and several years ago began construction on a 3,200-square-foot detached building on the same site. In a letter to Dance Studio Life, McLemore said the improvements and costs now required by the county are “out of our reach” and feared they might cause the studio to “close its doors.”
“We are all so busy trying to make our dance businesses do the best they can,” she said. “We just feel we need our story told.”
To learn more about Pave the Way, visit http://www.dancegallery2.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/Pave-the-Way.pdf.
For each DanceLife Teacher Conference, Rhee Gold assembles a faculty of some of the most creative and enthusiastic leaders in the entire dance studio industry. Their resumes are impressive, for sure, but what really makes them tick? What brought them to dance, and what keeps them there? What do they love about teaching, and makes them keep moving?
In this installment of “Get to Know Your DLTC Faculty,” we learn more about Maureen Gelchion Corso. Maureen has owned and directed Astoria Dance Centre in Astoria, New York, for three decades. She received her bachelor of arts from Queens College, is a certified member of the Dance Educators of America and the Associated Dance Teachers of New Jersey, and is an advocate of National Dance Week.
What is your version of the perfect day?
Maureen: Lounging in my PJs all day, watching some TV with my husband, cooking a fabulous dinner, and sharing a great bottle of wine.
If you could have lunch with three great villains from history or fiction, who would they be?
Maureen: I steer clear of villains!
If you were a superhero, what special skill would you like to have?
Maureen: I think I would like to have lunch with Misty Lown and ask her about this question!
A genie in a bottle is granting you three wishes: what are they?
Maureen: That my husband stays healthy, and I stay healthy so I can continue to teach. And I would love to win the lottery. I would share!
To learn more about the DanceLife Teacher Conference scheduled for August 1 to 4 in Scottsdale, Arizona, visit www.dancelifeteacherconference.com.
For each DanceLife Teacher Conference, Rhee Gold assembles a faculty of some of the most creative and enthusiastic leaders in the entire dance studio industry. Their resumes are impressive, for sure, but what really makes them tick? What brought them to dance, and what keeps them there? What do they love about teaching, and makes them keep moving?
In this installment of “Get to Know Your DLTC Faculty,” we learn more about Stacy Eastman. Stacy, co-director of Gloria Jean’s Studio of Dance in Connecticut and an instructor at Perkins School of the Arts in New York, is a master teacher for the DMA National Convention, DMA chapters throughout the U.S., and for the Dance Teachers’ Club of Boston. She has traveled to Germany to the World Tap Dance Championships first as a competitive dancer and later as one of the USA Tap Dance Team coaches.
What do you do for fun (other than dance)?
Stacy: Shopping—it’s a problem (ha ha!); hanging with friends, vacations.
What is your favorite movie/book/TV show?
Stacy: Movie: Love & Basketball, The Wedding Planner. TV show: Friends, CSI.
What was the hardest thing you ever did in dance?
Stacy: I had to ask a family to leave because the parent was harassing other kids.
What was your greatest accomplishment?
Stacy: As a competition dancer, I won the title of Miss Dance of America, and that was a huge accomplishment for me. As a teacher, I feel accomplished every day when I see my students progress and love what they are doing, and know that I passed on the passion for dance. I am always proud when my alumni students come back and teach or choreograph for me—that is what makes what I do all worth it.
To learn more about the DanceLife Teacher Conference scheduled for August 1 to 4 in Scottsdale, Arizona, visit www.dancelifeteacherconference.com.
For each DanceLife Teacher Conference, Rhee Gold assembles a faculty of some of the most creative and enthusiastic leaders in the entire dance studio industry. Their resumes are impressive, for sure, but what really makes them tick? What brought them to dance, and what keeps them there? What do they love about teaching, and makes them keep moving?
In this installment of “Get to Know Your DLTC Faculty,” we learn more about Hedy Perna. Hedy has been co-director of the Perna Dance Center in Hazlet, New Jersey, for 23 years, where she has become an expert at presenting show-stopping recitals.
In your opinion, who is the greatest dancer to ever dance? The greatest choreographer? The greatest teacher?
Hedy: I am all old-school; MGM musicals, vaudeville, and Broadway. Greatest dancer: Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, Cyd Charisse, Eleanor Powell, Dick Powell, Danny Kaye, Vera-Ellen, Van Johnson, June Allyson, Ann Miller, etc. etc. (OMG! They just don’t make them like that—triple plus threats!)
Greatest choreographer: Gene Kelly, Stanley Donen, Fred Astaire, Hermes Pan, George Balanchine, Jerome Robbins, Jack Cole, Gower Champion, Bob Fosse. (Nowadays: Kathleen Marshall, Susan Stroman, and I like Chris Gattelli’s work.)
Greatest teacher: of course, Gertrude and Willis Wylie, my first teachers who instilled a love of dance in me at a young age and whom I credit for much of my dance creativity and inspiration. I was not the favored dancer in class, and although a front line dancer I wasn’t center or featured as a lead. They never told me I “had it” and I don’t even remember them ever talking to me about anything other than class instructions. They weren’t particularly encouraging; there were so many more talented students who took hours and hours of class and I only took ballet and acro.
But I found something at that studio. I found something in both of them that made me love the dance and performance process. I thought life should be a musical—everyone should sing and dance all the time. They gave me the tools and I built my future. I’ll always be grateful to them.
To learn more about the DanceLife Teacher Conference scheduled for August 1 to 4 in Scottsdale, Arizona, visit www.dancelifeteacherconference.com.
In this installment of “Get to Know Your DLTC Faculty,” we learn more about Misty Lown. Misty is the owner Misty’s Dance Unlimited and a dancewear store in Onalaska, Wisconsin; founder of the Chance to Dance Foundation; a business consultant and faculty member with Dance Revolution; and a Dance Studio Life contributor.
What do you do for fun (other than dance)?
I love old things—old houses, vintage furniture, architectural salvage. If I have some down time, I am always hunting for my dream rehab project. There is some about giving old and broken things a second chance that speaks to my heart.
What is your favorite movie/book/TV show?
I love the movie Rudy. It’s the ultimate underdog, feel-good show.
What person/event was the biggest inspiration in your life?
My kids inspire me to be the best person I can be. I have five kids and they are all completely different, completely amazing little people. My kids have also taught me a lot about appreciating individual personalities, gifts, and talents. Once you have kids you will forever wear your heart on your sleeve!
Steps on Broadway/Celebrity Dance Competition Scholarship winner Alexa Dorohoy and her dance studio, Dance Explosion of Puyallup, Washington, are raising money for 15 families from Mrs. Rosemary’s Dance Studio of Staten Island, New York, who lost their homes during Hurricane Sandy.
Staffers at Steps on Broadway made the connection between the studios, and have planned a fun-filled day for the dancers and their families January 19, including a master class with Smash choreographer Joshua Bergasse and attendance at a performance of the off-Broadway show, Stomp. Families will also receive will present Target gift cards from Dorohoy, as well as gift bags courtesy of Capezio, Sony Music, Celebrity Dance Competitions, and Marquee Merchandise.
Donations and services were provided by Educational Performance Tours of Staten Island, Academy Bus, and Frankel Green Theatrical Management.
“I am so incredibly grateful how quickly our community pulled together to make this day special for these dancers and their families,” Suzy Norton-DiCerto, Steps director of group sales, said. “But it really was the students at Dance Explosion who had the compassion and willingness to get it all started.”
Maywood Fine Arts (MFA) in Maywood, IL, which lost its dance studio to a devastating fire in March of 2010, will hold its 2nd annual Dancers Helping Dancers fund-raising showcase, Dance for a Dream, on January 26 at 7pm at Trinity High School, River Forest, Illinois.
MFA instructor and board member Tiffany Lamar said the event is a way for the studio to “return the favor” for assistance offered after the fire. “Even though we lost our dance space, we never lost our spirit. While we are still trying to get a building of our own, the energy, good will, and kind spirit of the dance community that came out to support us last year has inspired us to keep the good vibes going,” she said, adding that a portion of the proceeds will be used to support dancers impacted by Hurricane Sandy.
The showcase will feature rising stars and dance studios from across the Chicago area.
A judge has ordered Ann’s Studio of Dance in Huntsville, Alabama, to end a student drop-off and pick-up policy that has caused a major rift with neighboring homeowners, according to AL.com.
In a ruling issued Tuesday afternoon, Madison County Circuit Judge Billy Bell said the dance studio can no longer have parents line up their vehicles on Center Avenue and Alabama Street in the Mayfair subdivision. Neighbors have complained for years that dance traffic blocks driveways and makes it difficult for emergency vehicles to get past.
Bell’s order, which resulted from an appeal filed by Alabama Street resident Joe Jefferson, says studio owner Ann Brown must start providing a shuttle service for her 582 students. The judge did not specify where the shuttle should pick up and drop off dance students but said it needs to be a location outside the Mayfair neighborhood.
Anyone else entering the studio—teachers, staff members, parents, vendors, and others—will be required to use the business’ 18 on-site parking spaces, the judge said. (In October Brown was found not guilty of disorderly conduct stemming from an altercation in a neighboring business’ parking lot where several dance teachers had parked their cars.) Also, Brown will have to put up a sign telling exiting vehicles that only right turns are permitted onto Whitesburg Drive.
Bell did side with Brown on one key point: he upheld an earlier variance from the Huntsville Board of Zoning Adjustment that allows the studio to operate with six fewer parking spaces than city codes require for a building that size.
The judge said he understands that forcing Brown to use a shuttle service will cost her money and inconvenience her customers. However, Bell said his order is “necessary to balance the granting of the requested variance with the interests and rights of the owners and occupants of the homes in that adjoining residential area.”
To read the full story, visit http://blog.al.com/breaking/2012/12/judge_nixes_vehicle_pick-up_li.html.
It’s almost the start of a new year, and at Dance Studio Life, that means the publication of our annual Global Dance issue.
Flip the pages of our January issue and find yourself traveling to exotic, colorful locales where dance is alive and evolving. Peek inside Russia’s contemporary scene, where an entire contingent of new choreographers is creating dances fresh with new ideas. Or pack your bag and hitch a ride with the teachers of the American Dance Festival as they introduce eager students in Asia and elsewhere to the power and purpose of modern dance.
Along the snowy west coast of Canada, one clan of aboriginal dancers are cherishing and sharing the traditions of their ancient ancestors—using dance and traditional crafts such as mask making as they create vibrant new works. Then slide down to sunny Brazil where a group of pre-professional students from Maryland immersed themselves in the color and passion of a vibrant South American dance scene.
Kick up your heels with the students at Brigham Young University as they learn folk dances from home and afar, or sit back and drink in a performance that’s a satisfying mix of bhangra and Mexican dance heritages.
Look for your Dance Studio Life January issue soon, or start the year off right with a subscription. Visit http://www.dancestudiolife.com/subscribe/ for details.
Diane Gudat, freelance writer, teacher, and choreographer known to Dance Studio Life magazine readers for her humorous and heartfelt takes on the life of a dance teacher, will be a faculty member at next summer’s DanceLife Teacher Conference.
The conference, set for August 1 to 4 at the Phoenician Resort in Scottsdale, Arizona, will feature 27 teachers and speakers—from professional company directors to business experts and master teachers—sharing anecdotes and information with teachers and studio owners.
A native of Indianapolis, Indiana, Gudat began The Dance Company in 1979. She is the artistic director of the Indianapolis Children’s Dance League and originally produced/directed the Indiana State Dance Championships.
Gudat has served as a guest artist and choreographer to numerous private studios, high schools, and companies all over the United States and Canada, and served as a master teacher for many dance teachers’ organizations, including Dance Masters of America, Dance Teachers Club of Boston, Florida Dance Masters, Southern Association of Dance Masters, and the Chicago National Association of Dance Masters. As an independent, award-winning choreographer, she has staged a wide variety of musicals and has choreographed numerous show choirs and dance lines. She was one of the coaches to the 2002 gold medal USA Tap and Showdance teams at the World Championships held in Germany.
Gudat is the author of three dance books: Acrobatics for the Dance Studio, The Time Step Dictionary, and Music Theory for the Dance Classroom. Her humor and energy have made her a popular judge and faculty member for numerous conventions and competitions across the U.S. and Canada.
For full details on DLTC, visit http://www.dancestudiolife.com/dltc/dltc-fees-info/.
By Eliza Randolph
You could call Marcus Alford and Annie Day the duke and duchess of jazz dance. Partners in marriage and in business, both studied with jazz masters and have choreographed, performed, and taught for more than 30 years. Alford performed with jazz legend Gus Giordano for a decade, and Day studied with the likes of Luigi and Phil Black, and then worked as second in command to JoJo Smith, founder of what is now Broadway Dance Center.
Now based in Atlanta, Alford and Day own a thriving studio, Dancentre South, Inc., and produce Jazz On Tap—the Metro Atlanta Jazz and Tap Dance Festival, now in its 26th year. Their love of jazz encompasses respect for the “founding fathers” with whom they studied and welcomes the continual development of the form through the influence of popular culture.
Their jazz roots
Alford, after earning a dual degree in modern dance and business administration from The University of Alabama, planned to pursue modern dance further with a master’s degree from Florida State University. Before he got to Florida, however, his family gave him the gift of a three-week workshop with Gus Giordano, who was to visit UA in 1975. “Well,” he says, “Gus Giordano did not show up, for some reason, and in his place there was a woman named Lea Darwin [Giordano’s assistant, who put his technique down on paper]. She was an amazing instructor. I will never forget, the first day, she said to us, ‘Put your leg as high as you can, and then arch your back.’ And I thought, ‘You’re insane, lady. Someone’s going to tumble over.’ And then I thought, ‘Oh my god, that’s the coolest feeling in the world.’ It was a back layout.”
During the workshop, says Alford, “I basically caught on fire.” Darwin offered him a scholarship to the Giordano studio, and he took it, moving to New York by the end of the summer. Within three years, his career as a Giordano dancer was launched.
If you define jazz dance as a form linked with popular music and embracing a wide variety of styles, then it’s not only relevant, it’s foundational to the ongoing growth of the entire field.
Day’s love of jazz began when she was about 8, in an Ohio studio where she first studied Luigi technique. A few years later, having an older sister living on Long Island gave Day a big chance. “I started traveling to study in Manhattan when I was about 11 or 12,” she says. “And I would take with Chuck Kelley, and Luigi, and Phil Black—anybody who would let a young person into class.”
These classes were formative for Day. “I just remember the thing Luigi said. He saw me in class and said, ‘Dance like the bad girls in your neighborhood.’ Oooh, delicious! Forbidden! For a little person who grew up in farm country in Ohio, to be in Manhattan and in that environment was really cool.”
After a decade of performing with Giordano, Alford felt ready to move out on his own and accepted a position directing a small company in Atlanta. In 1986 he founded his own company, Jazz Dance Theatre South, with which Day performed before the two married and went into business together. Since founding the Jazz On Tap festival, Alford and Day have watched the field of jazz dance grow and change dramatically.
What is jazz, anyway?
Alford and Day acknowledge that, depending on whom you talk to, jazz dance is either becoming obsolete or it’s the most relevant form in the field today. And this all depends on how you define “jazz dance.” “Old school,” or classical jazz in the style of masters such as Luigi, Frank Hatchett, and Giordano, might be called obsolete by younger students of hip-hop, for example, or of “contemporary dance”—another term with varying definitions.
But not at Dancentre South, where they teach jazz classes right alongside classes in both hip-hop and contemporary. If you define jazz dance as a form linked with popular music and embracing a wide variety of styles, then it’s not only relevant, it’s foundational to the ongoing growth of the entire field. That definition encompasses both old and new schools of jazz.
“I don’t think it’s obsolete. I just don’t think that what we call jazz dance now is what it was 10 or 15 years ago,” says Alford. “I think many people misconstrue what jazz dance is. It’s basically now the core of a lot of contemporary.”
Day agrees, and elaborates on how new approaches build on and enrich the old. “The vernacular that we’re already accessing is just enhanced by a quirky line here, or a different jump there, or a different piece of music than what you might normally work with. I think those things keep your teaching fresh, your choreography fresh. And it keeps challenging the students.”
When building jazz dancers, both Alford and Day start with the basics. Says Day, “I would say we give a clean, technical base—good body awareness, good alignment, use of the plié, beautiful feet, clean port de bras. Basically, the building blocks of any strong dance technique have to be there first, and then an understanding of the vocabulary, the steps, and the terminology. And then style is the icing on the cake. You can’t be a good jazz dancer unless you have style.”
And style is what changes the most over the years, Alford explains. For example, he says, the Giordano technique “is still alive, but that style, that regal, almost effortless jazz that he did, is just not taught so much.”
All about context
Since students don’t always understand that new styles grow out of old ones, Alford and Day work to keep classical jazz alive and relevant in a changing dance scene by giving context to the material they teach. “I have my own style, my own technique,” says Alford. “But I bring in Giordano. When I teach, I’ll say, ‘This is a Giordano exercise,’ or ‘This is a Luigi exercise,’ or ‘This is Horton,’ educating the students. Sometimes a young student will say, ‘Who is Gus Giordano?’ ” In response, Alford points to the sky and says, “He’s up there!” and gives some background.
Alford also teaches jazz in the dance department at Kennesaw State University, where he enjoys providing his college students with even more historical context for their studio practice. “There I can really break it down,” he says. “ ‘This is a Giordano jazz hand; this is a Fosse jazz hand,’ etcetera.” One of Alford’s college students, in a teaching evaluation, wrote, “He teaches half old jazz and half the new stuff. Why doesn’t he just teach the new stuff?” Says Alford, “I thought that was a compliment.”
Alford understands that the explosion of dance in popular culture—on TV, for example—can obscure the foundations of the form and its study. TV shows like So You Think You Can Dance often don’t give students enough context for what they’re seeing and for how deep their study of dance needs to go. Alford is a savvy teacher, and he works hard to keep his teaching fresh. He and Day both regularly serve as judges at competitions. “I love to sit up there and see what’s going on,” says Alford. “What is it up there that fascinates that dancer? That tells me this is the newest and latest thing to do.”
His energy for teaching and even performing seems boundless. “I’m 58 years old,” he says, “and I’m still learning, seeking, and wanting as much as they do.” Also, keeping up with popular music helps the teaching duo stay up to date. “I can be old-school,” says Alford, “but I love listening to all kinds of new music.”
Student Bailey Caves, a high school senior who has studied with Alford and Day since age 2, says of Alford, “He’s very fun, and each class is very exciting. I always look forward to both their classes every week because there’s always variety and you don’t get bored.” Caves has enjoyed her study of jazz so much that she’s planning to enter a college dance program focused on jazz and tap. She was a shy kid, she says, and jazz “really brought out my personality and gave me a lot of confidence. It’s my favorite style to do. It’s very well rounded. [Alford and Day] do a really good job of giving you all different styles of jazz.”
The Jazz On Tap festival, which includes performances by companies from around the country and abroad, as well as master classes with a variety of teachers, also keeps Day and Alford current with developments in the field. “We continue to tweak the faculty and what we offer for master classes,” says Day. “We didn’t used to offer hip-hop, years ago when we started. Now we offer hip-hop, and we offer contemporary, where we used to maybe offer lyrical. We try to broaden the plate of classes that we’re serving up for the kids.”
Through all the growth and change in jazz—the shifts in terminology, the additions of new styles—Day maintains a practical stance. “Jazz is a very employable art form,” she says. “And although we like to do art for art’s sake, you can’t be a professional unless someone pays you for what you’re doing. The audience appeal of jazz has never waned. It’s always been an audience pleaser and an entertaining dance form.”
At Phunk Phenomenon, hope and potential offer reasons to dance
By Karen White
When Reia Briggs was growing up, there was no glamour to hip-hop, no big purses or prizes. Winning a circle battle meant bragging rights; losing meant more practice. It was social, and it was fun. As a youngster in Chelsea, a hardscrabble abutter of Boston, Briggs and her friends would make up hip-hop routines in someone’s living room or show off their moves in local talent shows or under-21 clubs.
But then two events changed the way she thought about dance. Once, when Rennie Harris Puremovement performed in the area, her street crew was invited to perform at the show’s close. On another special day, members of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater taught the “Wade in the Water” section from Revelations at her public school.
Those events “changed my life,” she says, and made her determined to use hip-hop as a basis for so much more than street battles and bragging.
And she has. Now Reia Briggs-Connor, the dance teacher founded Phunk Phenomenon Dance Complex in 2000 in Everett, Massachusetts, with 75 students. Today her dancers wow the crowds at Boston Celtics games, appear in movies such as Step Up Revolution, and are former Hip Hop International world and U.S. champions.
Today Phunk Phenomenon’s dancers wow the crowds at Boston Celtics games, appear in movies such as Step Up Revolution, and are former Hip Hop International World and U.S. Champions.
And in 2011, on season six of MTV’s America’s Best Dance Crew, the Phunk Phenomenon crew of seven guys and one girl took their Boston brand of hard and fast, in-your-face swag blended with humor, theatrical panache, and acro, all the way to second runner-up.
“I grew up doing tap and jazz, but hip-hop grew up around me,” Briggs-Connor says. “My mom did send me to dance school, but I grew up in the city, so I experienced both sides. But they didn’t call it hip-hop at the time. When my first dance teacher wanted me to come back and teach, she asked me what I wanted to label my class; I called it hip-hop after the type of music.”
After high school, she considered the slim pickings of dance jobs in the Boston area and, in 1995, ended up as a New England Patriots cheerleader. When that job ended four years later, her boyfriend at the time—Brian White, son of Boston Celtics great Jo Jo White—arranged for her to pitch an idea for a dance team to the Celtics organization. The Celtics didn’t bite, but Briggs-Connor kept sending in demo reels of a crew she had put together—Phunk Phenomenon, a coed mixture of break dancers, street dancers, and studio-trained dancers ages 18 and older. After about two years, she finally got an OK. In 2000 Phunk Phenomenon began performing during breaks in Celtics games two or three times a month, she says, as well as at grand openings and radio station events, charity events, and area hip-hop shows.
About five years later, when the Celtics started developing its own all-female dance team, it severed ties with the Phunk Phenomenon adult team but asked Briggs-Connor’s younger team, Lil Phunk, to share the Celtics’ spotlight.
Founded in 2004, Lil Phunk is a coed crew of about 30 dancers ages 6 to 13, and a powerhouse of energy and attitude. Members, chosen through auditions, must commit to a heavy performance schedule that, along with Celtics games, includes performances at WNBA games and other sporting events, charity events, store grand openings, and in commercials. “They get seen a lot at the games, and the calls come in. They are constantly performing,” Briggs-Connor says. “People want them because they’re cute and have a lot of energy—plus they’re really good.” (She generally splits Lil Phunk into two groups that alternate performances.)
What the crew doesn’t do is competitions, with one exception: Hip Hop International’s championships, held each summer in Las Vegas. Because of HHI’s limit on crew size, only eight Lil Phunk kids can make the trip. “It’s an expensive trip and they pretty much have to give up their summer to train hard,” says Briggs-Connor. “Some of the kids [not selected] get sad, but I tell them, ‘You get to go to the beach instead of the studio.’ ”
All that training pays off. Lil Phunk was named HHI’s U.S. champion in 2010, bronze medalist in 2011, and world champion in 2009. The studio also sends two other teams to HHI, a “varsity” crew of teens (U.S. champions in 2010) and an adult crew (second in the U.S. in 2010).
Dancers who want to be on crews but don’t fit the requirements or don’t want to take on the commitment needed for Lil Phunk and Phunk Phenomenon can join (with Briggs-Connor’s approval) one of the studio’s other teams: Future Phunk, a self-run, self-choreographed crew of older teen dancers; Junior Phunk, a preparatory team of 8- to 12-year-olds; or Teen Phunk, accomplished teen dancers who “age out” of Lil Phunk.
Barely a weekend goes by when at least one Phunk crew isn’t performing, Briggs-Connor says. Bookings for paying performances such as bar mitzvahs or corporate events are handled through R and B Entertainment, which she and White founded years ago as a full-service talent agency; it now mainly manages the crews.
Along with hip-hop, Briggs-Connor is building a slate of ballet, tap, and jazz at her studio. Since the crews’ class time is generally spent on choreography, she insists that members take at least two other classes at the studio, hip-hop or another type of dance.
Making sure her dancers are well rounded is a lesson she’s learned from graduates who find that as professional dancers they are expected to be fluent in more than hip-hop. One who danced for Lady Gaga found that he needed to do ballet onstage but had never studied it. “He came back and told the kids, ‘Get in those classes.’ I tell them they have to differentiate between when they need to be up tall with pointed feet and when they have to swagger for hip-hop,” she says.
True, says Jean Carlos Lloret (aka B-Boy Bebo), who auditioned for Phunk Phenomenon at 16. A member of the Phunk America’s Best Dance Crew team, he’s also taught at the studio and was a featured dancer in Step Up Revolution. “I’ve been break-dancing since 14, and through Phunk I learned other styles of dance,” he says. “I loved watching so much diversified talent under one roof.”
And Briggs-Connor isn’t fazed by students who take hip-hop with her and other technique classes elsewhere. “A lot of people these days are not loyal to one studio. I don’t mind as long as they show up when I need them,” she says.
A faculty of 14—plus Briggs-Connor, who teaches 12 classes a week—handles the studio’s 400-plus students. This fall she opened a satellite studio in Peabody, Massachusetts, called The BR Boys Dance Academy, named for “Billy” Rich, the late father of Chris, Nikko, and Trey Rich, members of Phunk who performed on America’s Best Dance Crew. With her young, ambitious hip-hop teachers often getting the itch to strike out for performing jobs in California or New York, Briggs-Connor hopes that more teaching hours and responsibility will encourage valued faculty members to stick around.
In fact, one of the reasons she started her studio was to provide steady income through teaching jobs for her original Phunk Phenomenon dancers. “You are dealing with people who are really good at what they do,” she says. “It’s a constant battle to try to keep everyone here.”
Another idea that’s percolating in Briggs-Connor’s mind is the creation of a hip-hop–based dance production, blended with poetry or dialogue that would follow a storyline, that her faculty and adult dancers could take on tour. “That’s been my dream,” she says.
She’s already proved there’s more to hip-hop than attitude and saggy jeans. In every episode of America’s Best Dance Crew featuring Phunk Phenomenon, the super-large lettering on the dancers’ T-shirts shouted out “Hip Hop for Hope.” Their hope, shared by the entire Phunk Phenomenon Dance Complex community, concerns her son, Jared, 8, born with a rare genetic disease: Sanfilippo syndrome, an inability to produce certain enzymes.
“My whole thing was: can we get on this show and get exposure for my son’s disease?” says Briggs-Connor. “Individually, it boosted the careers of those dancers, and we did get some exposure for the disease because they always got to wear their shirts.”
When Jared was 2 his stalling development concerned Briggs-Connor and her husband, Rick Connor. Doctors initially thought Jared was autistic, but testing revealed the true diagnosis. “They basically told us our son had a rare genetic disease with no cure and no treatment. He wouldn’t be able to do a lot of things and would lose skills along the way, and have a life span of 10 to 12 years,” she says. “They said to take him home and love him.”
The initial shock of the diagnosis led Briggs-Connor to consider giving up her studio, but she instead decided to use it to raise awareness for Sanfilippo syndrome—which is seen in about 1 in 70,000 births (according to PubMed Health, U.S. National Library of Medicine). Awareness might help parents recognize the disease and encourage researchers to take up the cause and pharmaceutical companies to invest in finding a cure or developing treatments. “At 98 percent of the shows we do, I get up and speak [about the disease],” she says. “Getting on MTV was just another platform.”
Channeling her personal grief into action has worked “as therapy” for Briggs-Connor, she says, by giving her strength to continue to live her life and enjoy dance despite her son’s illness. And while her studio has always had a philanthropic bent, with crews performing regularly for no charge at charity events such as the Special Olympics or Walk for Hunger, “Hip Hop for Hope” has brought her studio members closer together.
“You can feel it at the studio. They all dance for another reason, a deeper purpose. Everybody has a shirt with Jared’s picture on it, and it’s caught on to where people from all over the world buy our shirts,” she says.
Devin Woolridge, 27, a member of Phunk on America’s Best Dance Crew, and now a choreographer and teacher, agrees. “What makes this special is that we dance for Jared,” he says. “[Before,] I just did it because I liked it and it was fun. But having a person you perform for—and to get to send the message ‘Hip Hop for Hope’—makes you feel good.”
Who knew hip-hop had such potential? Certainly not the Chelsea girl who would engage in dance battles one day and trot down the street to tap and jazz classes the next.
“When I started the studio, the people in Phunk Phenomenon were not trained dancers, but real underground hip-hop dancers,” says Briggs-Connor of her first “crew” of teachers. “I had to show them how to bring that into the classroom. People say the hip-hop at my studio is ‘raw’ and ‘real,’ and that’s why—it’s not jazz transformed into hip-hop, but hip-hop with a whole foundation and vocabulary to it.
“I always wanted to have an adult company and a traveling show,” she continues. “Then I just started teaching the kids and having a good time, and it turned into a monster!”
Improve your business by examining how you work
By MaryBeth Kemp
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?
To answer those questions, we need to reflect on and examine our actions. Learning how to be more introspective about how we manage our studios and lead our staffs will increase our chances of getting the results we want.
What is introspective leadership?
Introspection is an examination of one’s own thoughts and feelings. Leadership is the capacity or ability to lead. Introspective leadership is the action of analyzing your thoughts, practices, and experiences to improve outcomes for those you lead, your organization, and yourself.
Implementing an introspective style of management and leadership can help you launch your business to new heights, bring your dancers to new levels of development, and give you more personal satisfaction. Being an introspective leader is not as difficult as it sounds; spending time on a few simple exercises will create big changes and have a major impact on the success of your business.
Begin by putting into practice the first principle of introspection—reflection. This is not the same as scrutiny. Reflection means taking the time to simply contemplate; to mull over an idea, a thought, a question, or an issue. To start, take a moment to reflect on the characteristics you think a good leader possesses. Make a mental note of these qualities, or better yet, write them down. You may even find that this is a good way to recognize the leadership qualities you already possess.
Examination can be uncomfortable and challenging, but without it you risk immobilizing your business or settling for things you really don’t want.
You’ve probably listed characteristics such as organization, passion, honesty, charisma, and level-headedness. And it’s true; those are qualities of a good leader. But to gain them, you first have to recognize and identify these qualities. Then you can master them and put them into practice.
It takes time to develop the skills that lead to success. Just like a dance movement, your leadership qualities will become stronger and more refined with practice. Keeping your personal list handy and adding to it regularly will remind you of the leadership qualities you most aspire to, especially during particularly challenging times.
Here’s a sample list of desired leadership traits. Your list might look quite different, but this will give you a starting point in identifying what you value most.
• Tough-loving: challenging students to do their best by being firm but fair.
• Educated: understanding and explaining reasons for instructions, critiques, and procedures.
• Patient: doing whatever it takes to make sure students are fully prepared before they present at a competition or showcase so that they do not suffer harm to their self-esteem or confidence.
• Encouraging: believing in second, third, and even fourth chances; trying hard not to let students become discouraged and give up.
• Enthusiastic: celebrating success and creating a happy environment.
• Organized: conducting business affairs in a purposeful, consistent, timely, and reasonable fashion.
• Sensitive: demonstrating understanding and consideration, especially when dealing with delicate personal issues.
• Honest: practicing honesty by finding a balance between full disclosure, discretion, and tact.
• Gracious: applying a compassionate, thankful, pleasant, good-natured attitude in all you do at the studio.
• Caring: listening to and watching your students attentively as they share their talents or stories; and responding with sympathy, understanding, enthusiasm, or joy for what has been shared with you.
The act of reflection can be applied to any aspect of your business. Just remember, it is the actual practice and development of characteristics and behaviors you’ve identified during the process of reflection that will help you to become an effective leader.
And good leadership cannot help but improve your business. A studio with a strong, capable studio owner at its helm gets noticed. Your students and parents will recognize the professionalism you bring to your business, and word gets around. Increase your leadership capabilities and you’ll increase your studio’s visibility, enrollment, and the quality of your faculty and students.
An introspective leader takes time to examine her organization. It’s easy to forget this when you are busy—pulled in many different directions and influenced by many factors, both positive and negative. How do you even begin to know what you want and what works for you? Examining and defining what you want from your studio and your dancers are crucial processes in laying the groundwork for business and personal success.
You might want your enrollment numbers to increase by 25 percent, maybe even 50. Or you may see that you need to increase the number and type of classes you offer. Perhaps you want your students’ ballet technique to improve significantly. Maybe you simply want to boost your dancers’ technique, period. Another goal might be to find a better balance between work and personal life.
Examination can be uncomfortable and challenging, but without it you risk immobilizing your business or settling for things you really don’t want. Get honest and listen to yourself. Write down your business objectives, the ambitions you have for your dancers, and your ideas, aspirations, and goals. Keeping a journal is a good idea. It will serve as a reminder and a prompt to stay on task and focused, with a clear mind. After you have taken on the challenge of defining what you want, then and only then can you forge a path to attain those desires.
Another aspect of evaluation is careful analysis. When you analyze something you dissect it from every angle. You identify the positive features, any negative outcomes, and what strengthened or weakened the results of an effort or a project. Once that task is complete, you can apply this new knowledge to build an outline for a new strategy.
This practice can be applied to every aspect of your business. For example, to address enrollment numbers you’ll probably want to analyze your current marketing plan—why and how it’s working or not working—and then identify and implement a new plan. You might also look at ways to improve communication, upgrade technology, spruce up the studio, or develop new and improved organizational skills. A close analysis of the level of your students’ dancing might make you formulate a plan to invite guest teachers to give master classes, or to attend more workshops yourself.
Dance teachers and choreographers put systems of evaluation into play all the time. Teachers adapt their communication styles and teaching methods for greater effectiveness. Choreographers change, clean, and polish routines until they have become what they want them to be.
The same practice, applied to your business, will help you build a stable, well-run school whose standards of excellence ensure the loyalty of old clients and attract new ones. Introspective evaluation will clarify goals, missions, and standards and help identify ways to implement them in an organized manner. This clarity and organization can only improve business practices and increase business.
So give yourself permission to slow down and take a few deep breaths. Reflect on, examine, and analyze the management and leadership of your studio. Listen to yourself and allow yourself to be more aware and find new perspective. Your leadership will grow to be exceptional and distinctive. Then watch how your business, your studio, and yourself become more lucrative, productive, and rewarding.
Dance Studio Life editorial manager Arisa White has been nominated for a NAACP Image Award, which recognizes outstanding artistic work and diversity in movies, television, music, and writing, for her poetry collection titled Hurrah’s Nest.
This week, as the nominees were announced in Hollywood, California, NAACP board member Leonard James reflected on the history of the ceremony, saying “The Image Awards is unique in that it celebrates art and supports our social justice work.”
White was one of five artists nominated in the category of “Literary Work—Poetry.” Her book, Hurrah’s Nest, is described as an imaginative and emotionally honest exploration of growing up the second oldest, first daughter of seven siblings; a collection of poems that addresses family loyalties, dysfunction, violence, and differences. “Hurrah’s Nest—from the confusion of our lives—asks us to make meaning and good from what we’ve bargained and haven’t bargained for,” says an Amazon.com review.
White is a MFA graduate from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and author of Disposition for Shininess. Her play, Frigidare, was staged for the 2011 PlayGround Festival at the Thick House Theater in California. Recipient of the inaugural Rose O’Neill Literary House summer residency at Washington College in Maryland, she has also received residencies, fellowships, and scholarships from Squaw Valley Community of Writers, Hedgebrook, Atlantic Center for the Arts, Prague Summer Program, Fine Arts Work Center, and Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference.
Nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2005, her poetry appears in numerous journals and is featured on the recording “WORD” with the Jessica Jones Quartet. She lives in Oakland, California, and is co-editor of HER KIND, a blog for VIDA: Women in Literary Arts.
The 2013 NAACP Image Awards will be presented live on NBC, February 1 at 8pm. To see the full list of nominees, visit www.naacp.org/news/entry/2013-image-awards-nominations.