“Dance mom” Alaine Kowal has written and released a children’s book, The Little Dance Teacher, as a charitable project to support her local dance studio, Dance Tech Inc., of High River, Alberta, Canada. And the story behind it is very close to the author’s heart.
“Little Miss Jenny-Ray is a dance teacher in a small town at the base of the mountains,” Kowal told the High River Times. “When her little town floods, Miss Jenny-Ray wants to help but doesn’t know what to do. So she does the only thing she can think of—she dances and helps bring back the spirit of her dancers and the town.”
This is Kowal’s first book, and since her two daughters are dancers with Dance Tech, she wanted all proceeds from book sales to go back into the dance studio. “The main reason for putting together a children’s book was to raise funds for the dancers who were affected by the flood,” she said. “There are still many dancers at our studio who are dealing with the flood.”
She noted that Dance Tech owner Amanda Messner was a huge inspiration for the book because of all of the hard work she put into rebuilding the dance studio after devastating floods swept through Alberta in the spring of 2013. Messner had a hard time putting into words her feelings about the support her studio is receiving.
“It’s really overwhelming and I didn’t expect any less from the community but since the flood, our team has gone from a team to a family, so our motivation is different because we have bonded together with a different heart,” she said.
The book is available online at www.routesmedia.com/store. To see the original story, visit http://www.highrivertimes.com/2014/04/21/childrens-book-comes-to-life-to-support-dancers.
Louie Perez, owner of VP Dance Academy in Fishkill, New York, is fulfilling the spirit of National Dance Week (April 25 to May 4) in a big way by teaching a jazz class at 14 different studios from New Jersey to California over the course of 13 days.
Perez’s endeavor, the “Coast 2 Coast: Dance Across America” tour, was christened with a kickoff event at his studio March 28, but begins in earnest tonight (April 23) at 6:45pm at American Repertory Ballet in New Brunswick, New Jersey. His tour will then take him through Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado, and Nevada, before ending May 5 at Perez’ home studio, the Debbie Reynolds Studio in North Hollywood.
Once he came up with the idea for the tour—which celebrates NDW, along with the 10th anniversary of his studio—Perez began calling studios he found online and offering to teach a jazz master class at no cost to students or the studio. Many were too busy with competition season, but others were very enthusiastic, he said.
He’ll be making the trip with two friends, radio host Jimmy “DJ Sizzle” Lyles handling the technical aspects of the trip, and Ryan Dutcher, who will be filming and creating a remembrance video. Their schedule is tight—basically teaching and driving—and run on a bare-bones budget. But it’s better than Perez’ original idea for NDW: he was going to start in Times Square and literally “dance” across America. “Brother, you will die,” was Lyles’ response. “Let’s make it a little easier. Let’s stop at dance studios.”
To follow the Coast 2 Coast, visit https://www.facebook.com/DJJSIZZLENY.
Anyone who’s ever crossed paths with arts entrepreneur Jane Weiner is instantly captivated by her ability to get things done, to find a way to fix things. It’s because of Weiner’s determination that her decision to close down Hope Stone Studio will come both as a surprise and as a warning to art consumers and supporters, reported Culture Map Houston.
“We have made the hard decision to take a year to right-size our business by reducing overhead and closing Hope Stone Studio, refocusing on the programs that make the greatest impact, and deploying our resources in the most cost-effective way,” Weiner explains in an email to the company’s subscribers. “This has been a difficult decision, but I believe the right one for the organization.”
The space, located in the Art Deco Tribeca Lofts on West Clay Street, has hosted dance and movement classes for children and adults for 10 years. An artist-in-residence program offered emerging choreographers a rehearsal and performance venue in which they could embark on their creative journeys. (See “Art for Art’s Sake, Dance Studio Life, November 2013, http://www.dancestudiolife.com/2014/01/art-for-arts-sake/.)
Weiner explains that all commitments have been met for the 2013–14 season. Classes will continue through May 16. It’s important to note that it’s only the physical space that’s ceasing operations. Founded in 1997, Hope Stone Dance Company will continue its performance series.
To read the full story, visit http://houston.culturemap.com/news/arts/04-19-14-cutting-edge-houston-dance-company-plans-to-close-studio-end-classes/.
The UDMA Dance Resource and Costume Show, an annual opportunity for dance teachers and studio owners to meet face-to-face with the industry experts in services, products, and education, will hold three events this October.
Shows have been set for October 4 to 5 at the Gwinnett Center, Duluth, Georgia; October 11 to 12 at the Meadowlands Exposition Center, Secaucus, New Jersey; and October 18 to 19 at the Renaissance Schaumburg Hotel and Convention Center, Chicago, Illinois.
Attendees will have a chance to talk with vendors about the latest products and services, see the latest styles of costumes modeled by dancers, and attend Art of Teaching workshops led by master teachers Peff Modelski (Georgia), Patricia Dickenson (New Jersey), and Roni Mahler (Illinois).
Guests will have the opportunity to take part in a sweepstakes to win $4,000 in UDMA Gift Bucks; as well as drawings to win prizes like an Apple iPad, workshops passes, or a free hotel stay. To register, visit www.udma.org/attend/register. For additional information, visit www.udma.org or call 800.304.UDMA (8362).
The website for the Knoxville Dance Project captures its mission: Dance at Any Cost. Classes are offered by this studio four nights a week at Cumberland Estates Recreation Center in West Knoxville, Tennessee, under a “pay what you can” tuition setup, reports WBIR-Knoxville.
Jesie Browning started the non-profit Knoxville Dance Project about three and a half years ago.
“I saw that there was a need for children from all financial backgrounds to be able to take dance lessons,” said Browning, who grew up involved in art and dancing.
At first, Browning—as the only teacher—handled the three classes and 35 students. Now the studio has two additional teachers and offers three times as many classes for twice as many dancers.
There’s a suggested monthly tuition of $35, but families decide what they can afford. Fundraisers help the nonprofit continue its mission to not only teach dance, but also inspire creativity and confidence.
“The things on the inside come out, and you watch them meet friends and accomplish a goal and learn a step, and so it is just so amazing to watch them grow . . . really, that’s where the satisfaction comes from,” Browning said.
To see the full story, visit http://www.wbir.com/story/news/local/five-at-four/2014/04/16/knoxville-dance-project/7770513/.
A longtime Manhattan dance studio will have to move out of its West 19th Street space by the end of summer, after a looming rent increase priced them out of the neighborhood, owners told DNAinfo New York.
Dance Manhattan is leaving its 14,000-square-foot location at 39 West 19th Street after nearly 20 years because its landlord is doubling the rent at the end of August, according to one of the dance studio founders.
“It’s crazy. But, you know, I guess I hear that Chelsea in particular seems to be the Silicon Valley of the east,” co-founder Elena Iannucci said. “The fallout of that is that you have the Googles and the Yelps and the Yahoos . . . who are looking for space and they become the people that buildings like this one want to rent to and not necessarily to those of us in the arts who are providing dance to the public.”
Iannucci, who grew up in Long Island and left her corporate job to pursue dance full time after her father passed away, co-founded the studio in 1992 to teach dance to people of all skill levels who want to learn styles like swing, tango, salsa, and ballroom.
Iannucci said the space not only tries to make dance accessible to the general public, but also to foster an environment in which professional dancers and teachers can perfect their craft. “During the day we provide them with free space so they can pursue their own dreams, so they can rehearse their own troupes, create their own choreography that they then go and take to other communities around the world, around the country,” she said.
Swing dancer Dan Bates said the loss of Dance Manhattan would be a huge blow. “It is one of the biggest and best studios in New York and is known throughout the world,” he said. “Dancers coming through New York on their way elsewhere always make a point of stopping off there to check it out. It’s a community as well as great space, and to lose it would be terrible.”
To see the full story, visit http://www.dnainfo.com/new-york/20140414/flatiron/popular-dance-studio-has-move-because-of-rent-increase-owners-say.
More than 250 people from dance studios in the Boston area participated in a flash mob at Boylston Plaza Sunday to introduce a new song commemorating the strength of a city torn by the bombings at the marathon last year, reported the Boston Globe.
“The idea is, instead of dwelling in the pain and the misfortune of the bombings, we wanted to do something fun and uplifting,” said Eytan Nicholson, one of three partners from the FAM, the jingle-writing group formed out of Berklee College of Music that became popular for “So Good”—known as “The Boston Song.”
“ ‘The Boston Song’ was sort of like a city anthem that everyone sort of chants together,” Nicholson said. “This one is called ‘Beat as One’ and it’s all about when something really difficult happens, as a community, that’s where we find our strength and essentially everyone’s hearts beat as one and that’s where we come together.”
Lena Andrade, who runs the South End dance studio The Z Spot, said she held four practices last week and people turned out “in the masses.” “The excitement has been fantastic,” she said. “It’s a very heartwarming experience because the message behind the song, bringing community together, has been really empowering.”
“We’re really proud to be a part of this and we’re proud of where we’re from,” said Ariana Incorvati, 16-year-old co-captain of Next Step Dance Company in Waltham. “I feel a connection with all these people I don’t even know—we’re all helping each other—and it’s all through dance and it’s special.”
To see the original story, visit http://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2014/04/13/flash-mob-sings-celebration-boston-strength/jjao727hGLCpDFcHnf39pL/story.html.
Willow Street Dance Theatre of Mokena, Illinois, will be hold a “Dance for a Cure” benefit performance for The Andréa Rizzo Foundation’s nationwide fundraising effort, “Dance Across America,” on April 30 at 7pm at the Lincoln Way East High School Auditorium, 201 Colorado Avenue, Frankfort.
“Dance Across America” is one of many fundraising efforts created by The Andréa Rizzo Foundation, a non-profit, 501 (c) (3) tax-exempt organization dedicated to bringing dance therapy to children with cancer and special needs in pediatric hospitals, public schools, and Ronald McDonald houses across the country.
Willow Street Dance Theatre owner and director Donna Ziegler will oversee 61 dancers ranging in age from 5 to 18 as they perform jazz, lyrical, hip-hop, contemporary, and tap dance numbers. The public is invited to the event, which will include raffles and a silent auction. Tickets at the door are $12, with 100 percent of the proceeds benefitting Dance Across America.
In a unanimous decision issued Friday, the appeals court ruled that Madison County Circuit Judge Billy Bell was within his rights to impose conditions on a city variance that allowed the Whitesburg Drive dance studio to stay in business with an undersized parking lot.
Following a December 2012 civil trial, Bell upheld a Huntsville Board of Zoning Adjustment decision that allowed the studio to operate with six fewer parking spaces than city codes require for a building that size.
However, the judge ordered owner Ann Brown to start a shuttle service for her 582 students rather than let parents form car lines behind the studio on Center Avenue and Alabama Street. (The studio property has only 17 parking spaces.) Neighbors have complained for years that dance traffic blocks driveways in the Mayfair subdivision and makes it difficult for emergency vehicles to get past.
Bell did not specify where the shuttle should pick up and drop off students but said it needs to be outside the Mayfair area. The appeals court rejected Brown’s argument that parents will send their daughters to other dance studios rather than put them on a shuttle bus, possibly forcing Ann’s to close.
To see the original story, visit http://blog.al.com/breaking/2014/04/anns_studio_of_dance_in_huntsv.html.
On Sunday, DanceLife Teacher Conference faculty member and Dance Studio Life columnist Bill Evans will celebrate his dance company’s 40th anniversary with, of course, a dance concert, reports the Democrat & Chronicle.
“My 30th anniversary concert was in New Mexico, and I thought that was going to be the end of it,” says Evans, the internationally renowned dancer and choreographer who retired from teaching at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque that year. “I thought I was done.”
But then Evans, now 73, decided he wasn’t finished and joined the dance faculty at The College at Brockport, State University of New York.
“I found these beautiful dancers here in Brockport and decided to continue with my company here,” Evans says. “Here were dancers devoted to my work, and I wanted them to have the chance to perform it, because studying it is (just) one thing.”
Teaching has been the foundation of Evans’ company since he founded it in Utah and choreographed its first concert at the National Cathedral in Washington, DC, in the summer of 1975. He still travels nationally and internationally conducting workshops and lectures and has a personal fondness for teaching and choreographing in Mexico and Latin America.
“I don’t know of anyone in the dance world that doesn’t think of him as a master choreographer and teacher,” says Debra Knapp, director of dance at New Mexico State University, who danced with Evans’ company from 1986 to 1991. “He is an incredible mentor.”
The concert will be held April 13 at 4 and 7pm at Hochstein Performance Hall, 50 N. Plymouth Avenue, Rochester, New York. For tickets, visit http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/584347.
To see the original story, visit
The arrival of South African ballet instructor Lizette Nel in the Canadian town of Merritt represented a big psychological boost for a beleaguered town reeling from the closure of one of three sawmills, as well as the gymnastic club, the figure skating club, and the karate club.
Now the Love To Dance studio has closed its doors, too. Nel is returning to South Africa on instructions from the federal government, an apparent casualty of a collision between the unbending juggernaut of immigration policy and the occasionally rough-hewn, just-get-it-done intentions of a small town volunteer arts administration, reports the Vancouver Sun.
Earlier columns dealt with how initial delays meant that by the time Nel arrived to take up a post teaching ballet to the girls of the small interior ranching and forestry town, class size had dwindled to unsustainable levels.
Nel took a $10-an-hour pay cut from the initially agreed-upon wage of $25 an hour while she renewed the Royal Academy of Dance syllabus-based program. This breached the original work permit and earned the attention of the federal government’s Integrity branch, which makes sure foreign workers aren’t ripped off by unscrupulous employers.
However, a last word from the ballet instructor. She hopes she can return to Merritt and finish what she started. In fact, she says in an email, she plans to study specialized dance instruction methods for the disabled and complete a special-needs program planned for next year.
“I still have a dream for ballet and dance in Merritt,” she said in an email. “We will open the Love To Dance Academy again and develop it further to include even more dance genres, an academy where children and adults can enjoy the many benefits of dance. I am not giving up hope! Learn from this episode that those who have determination will eventually win. Do not allow senseless situations to stop your dreams.”
Advice for dance teachers
I am writing to see if you have any input on a situation I am facing at my small dance studio. Recently we had a “Bring-a-Friend Week” and one of my recreational teen female dancers brought a boy with her. He was fabulous! He tried really hard and kept up as if he had danced all his life. He decided he would like to join the class. Of course I welcomed him.
A week later, three parents of students in this class approached me to say their daughters did not feel comfortable having a boy in their class and asked how I could have put him in there. I calmly explained that we do not discriminate on the basis of gender, race, religion, etc. However, I am facing the real possibility that I may lose three students if this boy stays in the class.
I understand teenage awkwardness and that these particular girls are shy and a little sheltered, but I cannot turn this student away and feel good about it. Of course, in terms of business, I cannot afford to lose three students to gain one. If you have any insight about how to handle this situation, I would appreciate it very much. —Nancy
Unless I have missed something—for example, this boy is creating a problem in the classroom—these parents are off the wall. Actually, as a male and a former dancer, I am offended that they have any reservations about a boy being in class with their daughters. Excluding the boy from this class would be discrimination, and the parents of these girls need to know it.
We must stand up for our beliefs and do what we feel is morally right. If I were facing this situation, I would tell these parents that this boy is entitled to take any class he is capable of, just as their daughters are. If they can’t accept that and decide to leave your school, I believe you will gain respect from the majority of your clientele because you held firm to your policy of non-discrimination.
Think about it: if you don’t allow this boy into your classes, you will close the door to dance at your school for all boys. Word will get around in your community that boys are not welcome. This will hurt not only your enrollment but your current students, who would benefit from having boys as fellow dancers in any genre and as partners in ballet classes. By excluding this boy, you would perpetuate the misconception that dance is for girls only.
My guess is that if you call these parents’ bluff, they will decide to stay. If they still want to leave after you explain all the negative repercussions of denying this boy his right to dance, then they should leave. I wish you the best. —Rhee
What happened to the days when dance teachers presented themselves as professionals? I’m talking about dressing and speaking appropriately, both in class and in public.
Recently, several teachers in our community were invited to an important arts council meeting to explore how the council could better promote dance and how we could develop a mutually beneficial relationship. One school owner and her teachers showed up in T-shirts, pajama bottoms, and ball caps; when they spoke they giggled like teenagers and made offensive remarks about a school whose owner could not attend. (The school they criticized has been in our area for 40 years and is respected by the rest of us.) This school owner and her teachers were disrespectful and unkind. Many of the other teachers, including me, felt uncomfortable and embarrassed by how they represented our dance community.
The meeting was successful, but I can’t stop thinking about the negative impression these teachers made. I feel like I should say something to them because they make all of us look bad. Should I? —Catherine
This is an interesting situation, and I understand why you would be ill at ease. But I am sure the arts council people know that the attitude and behavior of these teachers are not representative of all the teachers in your community.
Unless the offensive school owner or one of her teachers contacts you, I think it’s best to say nothing. Chances are good that they will not be interested in working with the other schools in the area, and it will be their loss.
Think about the positive: what happened at this meeting was productive in building relationships within the arts community. Also, those of you who did present yourselves as professionals probably left the meeting appreciating each other more than you did when you walked in. The representatives of this one school, by dressing and speaking inappropriately, showed the rest of you exactly what you don’t want to do in such situations.
I say you should look forward to the next meeting and the opportunities it could bring, and forget about the way these people acted. —Rhee
I run dance competitions, but formerly I was a school owner. You always talk about how to be a good competitor—what would you say when a teacher asks you to keep another school out of a certain competition? The teacher promised that if I did that, she would send me $30,000 in entry fees and bring everyone to nationals. I asked why she wanted to keep out the other school, and she said having them there is not good for her business. The other school has been to a lot of our competitions. They cause no problems, but they are much smaller in terms of entry fees. It is hard to turn down the money, but I do not want to keep anyone out of my competitions. What would you do? —Uncomfortable
Turn down the deal! You have a loyal client in this smaller school, and they have never created any issues at your events, so why should you penalize them? They may spend less money than the one offering big bucks, but I’d bet they would never make such a request of you.
As a former competition director, I can say with confidence that the schools you want to attract to your events are the ones whose owners and teachers have integrity, loyalty, and strong ethical standards. The size of the school is less important. The request you received is unquestionably an uncomfortable ultimatum. But there is only one response.
On another note, the school owner who called you probably doesn’t realize it, but anyone who thinks she can pay off someone to prevent her students from having to compete with a certain school is not a teacher who will last long. My guess is that she will be swallowed up by her own insecurities. Have a great season! —Rhee
Words from the publisher
Today I learned of the passing of Frank Hatchett, whom I admired for many reasons. Thinking about him takes me back to my childhood, and to my early career as a dancer and teacher.
Long before he founded Broadway Dance Center, Frank owned a dance studio in Springfield, Massachusetts. I was about 10 years old when my mom took me to one of Frank’s recitals. It was the first time I’d seen African dance, and drummers onstage, and I loved it.
One thing I’ll always remember is that the second act opened with Frank sitting center stage in an oversized upholstered armchair, surrounded by his preschool students. Some of the children were sitting on his lap and others were on the floor nearby. He asked each child to say his or her name, and then he would say something like, “Show everyone what you learned this year.” Each child would do a kind of improv to the live drumming. The moment was personal and kind. Frank was like a grandfather sitting with his flock of loving grandchildren.
Years later, Frank and Maurice Hines took over what had been Jo Jo’s Dance Factory (directed by Jo Jo Smith) at 1733 Broadway in New York City. The school, which launched as Hines-Hatchett, eventually became Broadway Dance Center, one of the most famous and respected dance studios in the world.
At the time, the classes were filled with hundreds of dancers clad in Lycra (and, of course, legwarmers), and sweat was flying all over the place. Frank’s classes were always jammed, as they would continue to be until he retired a few years ago. He had a way of making everyone feel comfortable, regardless of their ability. His high-energy personality and style would take over the room, and everyone’s spirits soared. No matter what kind of class you had, you always felt great afterward. Frank made his students feel like part of his family, and they left his classes feeling good about themselves.
As I grew older, I had the opportunity to work the convention circuit with Frank, where that Hatchett energy was always present. There was never a time when Frank didn’t give his heart and soul to a class. The teachers, the kids, and the kids’ parents loved him, and he always lived up to his reputation of being one of the best in the business.
As we say goodbye to our friend, a legend in the dance world, I can’t help but think how cool dance was and is because of masters like Frank. He and the jazz dance he taught set us free to be the dance people we are today. He was a pioneer who taught us that dance is an expression of the soul, and many of us will continue to pass that legacy on to future generations.
Thank you, Mr. Hatchett. You will be missed.
By Kevin Ekmark
When parents and kids walk into the studio, you can count on them to have their smartphones at hand. Outside of the studio, you can bet that other parents are sitting in the carpool line at their kids’ schools, passing time by searching the internet. Some of those parents might even be searching for a dance studio on their phones.
Many dance websites receive 35 percent or more of total visits from a mobile device. Consider what people experience when they view your site on a smartphone. Do they need to pinch the screen in order to zoom in on the text? Can they easily navigate and find your most important information? If they can’t, then there’s a good chance that you do not have a mobile version of your website. This can be an issue for studio owners who are concerned about making a great online impression on potential customers.
Consider what people experience when they view your site on a smartphone. Can they easily navigate and find your most important information?
Because smartphones and tablets are ingrained into our lives, we need to use that fact to our advantage. If you’re like most dance studio owners, you’re always interested in improving your website. Making it mobile-friendly will help get more dancers into your studio and improve the online experience of the families you’re already serving.
You may know about some versions of mobile websites. The form you are most likely familiar with is seen when you go to a site (examplesite.com) on your smartphone and the site automatically switches to a mobile one (m.examplesite.com). Essentially, these are two different websites. Since most studio owners barely have the time to update their main website, you’re probably wondering how you can be expected to update two.
While there are various ways businesses can create mobile-friendly websites, one technology makes it especially easy for small business owners. In fact, it happens to be the method that both Google and Bing agree should be used to build most websites: mobile responsive website design.
A mobile responsive website seeks to provide the best viewing experience for multiple types of devices. It recognizes whether someone is on a laptop or smartphone and automatically adjusts to fit the user’s needs. It only needs to be updated once, regardless of whether it will be viewed on a desktop, iPad, or smartphone.
The mobile responsive website provides dance studio owners with a highly functional, efficient internet marketing solution. Since mobile responsive websites are built as one website, you save both time and money. Many use a content-management system, which makes updating your website as easy and quick as creating and saving a text document.
Think back to those parents sitting in the carpool line, searching for dance studios in your area. Imagine how your site will stand out among the rest because the parent can easily read the text, find your phone number, and click on it to call your studio, or even register online. Your website will be working for you, drawing in new dancers and filling classes.
There are easy ways for dance studios to convert to a mobile responsive design. One of the simplest ways is to create a WordPress.com website—and it’s free. WordPress is a content-management system that makes it convenient for studio owners to update pages or write blog posts in real time. As of now, there are approximately 65 mobile responsive website designs available for free from WordPress.com.
Studio owners who want a more customized solution can use a self-hosted WordPress website with a premium theme. WordPress makes its software available to website developers, giving them the creative freedom to customize and manipulate it. A custom solution gives you more control of the design, but you will need a web developer’s help to get started. You will likely have to pay the web developer, and web hosting companies charge fees, usually $5 to $7 per month, but a self-hosted WordPress website is as easy to maintain as the free version.
Mobile internet use is an important part of any marketing plan. It’s not enough to have a website anymore; you need to have a site that’s user-friendly for people on the go—and these days, that’s everyone.
Ten years after selling my studio to two of my former students, I still miss being a dance teacher, with all the fun and heartaches that go with that job. Only now can I discuss, tear-free, not owning a studio. A few years ago I went to a recital at my former school, and it brought home to me all over again how important teachers are. The audience was filled with former dancers who came to acknowledge the 50-year history of a dance studio in a small Georgia town.
For the finale, the owners, Terri and Kim, asked former students to participate in “Footloose,” a number that had often ended my recitals and had always been a hit. Some of the dancers who participated had graduated as long ago as 1978 and some as recently as 2011. Some lived more than 1,000 miles away. Most of these dancers had done the number years before, and of course the choreography came back to them immediately. Eighty-six former dancers filled the stage with big smiles and lots of enthusiasm.
After the show, at a cocktail party, I talked to former students I had not seen in many years. We reminisced about old shows, how talented they were or were not (age, it turns out, brings brutal honesty), dances they performed, and costumes they wore. Throughout the evening, I was reminded again and again about the importance of dance teachers in the life of every student. It is wonderful to have students who dance on Broadway or in Las Vegas, join a prestigious ballet company, or become stars at Disney. But I am also proud of the dancers who chose a different career but still have the love of dance in their hearts.
Carolyn and I became big sister/little sister, mentor/student, and, most important, friends.
After coming down from the high of that evening, I began to think about my first dance teacher and how important she was—and is—in my life. “Miss Carolyn” was from Atlanta. Each week she rode the bus to Jackson and several other towns to teach dance. This was the first exposure the people in these small towns had to dance, and Carolyn was an instant success.
My father had recently died and my mother had no cash, so Carolyn gave me dance lessons in exchange for three nights of room and board each week. Carolyn and I became big sister/little sister, mentor/student, and, most important, friends. One of the most difficult days in my life was Carolyn’s announcement that she was getting married and moving to Virginia. She had arranged for another dance teacher to take over, but classes were never the same.
Not long after Carolyn said, “I do,” she and her husband invited me to visit them. They showed me around Washington, DC, and I spent the better part of that summer with them. It was the 1950s, and Elvis Presley was becoming hugely popular. All I could talk about was his upcoming show in Atlanta and how I would give anything to see it. As I boarded the train to return to Atlanta, Carolyn gave me the name of one of Elvis’ backup singers, in case I ever got to a concert.
When I got home, my mother surprised me with tickets to the concert—and after the concert, Carolyn’s friend introduced me to Elvis! He kissed my cheek, and I still consider not washing that part of my face! My mother and Carolyn made my dream come true.
While I was attending the University of Georgia, Carolyn and her husband returned to Atlanta. Carolyn opened a studio and asked me to teach for her one day a week. The tables had turned—now I was staying at her house.
Carolyn opened so many doors for me. I am the person I am today, in part, because in 1951, a young dancer from Atlanta came to a small Georgia town and took the time to befriend a girl who had lost her father and needed support. We have remained friends through all these many years, and still we talk, laugh, and have fun together.
Hats off to you, Carolyn Phillips Fleetwood. You made a difference in my life and the lives of so many others.
How and why to put your philosophy and goals into writing
By Lisa Okuhn
What is a mission statement? At its simplest, it’s a written description of who you and your school are, what you provide, and how you provide it. Why does a dance studio need one? Because it not only tells clients and potential clients who you are and what you offer, but how you offer it, and why; and it keeps your entire organization focused on what matters most to you.
A mission statement doesn’t have to be called that. You can call it your “Statement of Purpose,” or “Core Principles.” You can park it under a label like, “About Us,” or “Who We Are” on your studio’s website. The important thing is that it communicates your purpose and values and articulates the ways in which you’re pursuing them.
I do not believe a mission statement should be created for marketing purposes. It should not be a crowd pleaser. It should truly reflect the fiber of the organization. —Kathryn Sprankle
Regardless of what you call it, a mission statement is essential, says Kathryn Sprankle, owner of Sprankle Leadership, a nationally active governance and business strategy consulting firm. “It’s a very important element of communicating what an organization is, both to its public—its audience or clientele—and to its employees and other stakeholders,” she says.
How a mission statement functions externally
What you emphasize in your statement and how you articulate your priorities have the potential to shape your organization from the outside in. A mission statement should not be a generic banner telling the world that you teach dance, love dance, and think dance has the potential to change the world. Such statements are undoubtedly true, but they’re unspecific and not very useful to people who are trying to decide where to enroll their children or themselves in dance classes.
Clients have many schools to choose from. It serves both those families and your school to make sure people know what they’re getting. Crafting a welcoming message with specific language defines your organization and lets clients find the school that best suits them.
Your statement, whatever form it takes, should not necessarily be created to capture the largest share of the available market. “I do not believe a mission statement should be created for marketing purposes,” Sprankle says. “It should not be a crowd pleaser. It should truly reflect the fiber of the organization.”
That means being clear about what drives your organization, what’s important to you, and especially, what makes your school different from others. For example, Laura Ward-Moran, owner of Maryland School of Ballet and Modern Dance in Bel Air, Maryland, wanted to convey the fact that her 125-student school has a pre-professional or precollegiate focus—it’s largely designed to prepare students for a career in dance and/or for a college dance program. She also wanted potential clients to understand that “they’re not just learning ballet and modern dance, they’re learning about their bodies; they’re learning anatomy and kinesiology.”
Ward-Moran included the following language on her studio’s website: “Distinguished dance-degreed professionals who approach teaching from an anatomically correct perspective instruct all classes, and professionalism is maintained at all times by teachers and students.”
Putting the mission statement on the website, Ward-Moran says, has steered toward her school those students who seek serious training and expect to learn about optimal physiological functioning and reap its benefits. Occasionally competition-oriented students wander in, but they leave when they discover that there are no sequins or trophies to be found there. Overall, Ward-Moran believes her mission statement works well as a natural sorting mechanism.
Chan Hon Goh, director of Goh Ballet Academy in Vancouver, British Columbia, communicates the school’s purpose in both a mission statement and “A Message From the Director,” on the academy’s website. The message is welcoming and inclusive and clearly identifies the academy’s overarching goals. “I wanted our mission first to reflect our openness to all races, all genders, everybody in our community,” Goh says. “Anybody who wants to dance is welcome. We have a number of programs to suit different needs.”
At the same time, however, she and others at the academy—whose graduates fill the ranks of top-tier ballet companies across the globe—want to communicate to the public that they offer serious ballet training. “Dance can be beneficial for everybody,” Goh says, “but we are known to be the training ground for professional dancers. We want to be clear about who we are so that the message will differentiate us from other academies, schools, and institutes.”
Goh’s message also reads, “The unabashedly forward-looking and internationally focused Goh Ballet curriculum enables students to develop the skills necessary to thrive in the diversely interconnected world of the 21st century.” This communicates another important aim of the academy: to offer an international dance education.
“It’s important for the academy to make it known that we are very much aware and want our students to be aware of what’s happening internationally,” Goh says. “In Vancouver we mustn’t be looking only at the training here, but at the training that goes on all over the world, in New York, in London, Paris, Moscow.”
Inside your organization
Along with informing the public, a mission statement keeps faculty and staff focused on a school’s purpose, principles, and long-term goals.
Goh Academy of Ballet’s language states: “We are a caring, supportive, and inspiring institution with high standards and high expectations. We take tremendous pride in the commitment and accomplishments of our students. Our world-class faculty demonstrates innovation, loyalty, sustainability, care, dedication, teamwork, and leadership by example. These same values are shared by our administrative team, our ballet shop associates, and our volunteers.”
When everyone inside an organization agrees that they are united in pursuing principles like those outlined by the Goh Academy, Sprankle says, “it becomes a beacon for an organization’s culture.”
Goh believes that stating common values has served the academy well. “It’s an overall understanding that we all share this commitment as an organization. I think we function better as a whole when that sense is communicated.” At the same time, she does not expect uniformity in teaching style or temperament. “I value the artistic minds and the artistic personalities I bring in to the organization, and believe in the individualism and strengths of each faculty member,” she says. “They’re the people who get students to the next level.” But, she adds, “within that it’s important that we all feel of like minds when it comes to what we want as a whole.”
A good mission statement can draw like-minded teachers and staff to your school from the outset. Ward-Moran says that more than a few of the people who work at her studio were attracted by the philosophy articulated in her statement.
Amy Kweskin, who teaches arts business courses at the Art Institute of California–San Francisco, says a good statement allows potential employees to “understand your approach, your philosophy, the choices you make as a business, artistically and administratively.”
From time to time, Sprankle says, a business owner needs to refer employees to the statement that articulates an organization’s core principles. If the employee’s goals have shifted, she says, “That’s fine. We wish them well. There are plenty of other places.”
Whether you are creating a business or operating one, a mission statement reminds you that you can’t be everything to everyone, and that doing what you believe in and do best is the most strategically sound principle on which to build success. Keeping these values in the forefront can sometimes be difficult, says Sprankle, “but that’s where the courage comes in.”
Ward-Moran agrees. “We’ve run a steady business with the same philosophy and never veered away from it,” she says. “Many times, I’ve wondered if I should change this and do that and that would draw more students. But I pretty much stick to [what we’ve established].”
Other studios might have 500 students, Ward-Moran says, but each student may only attend once a week. She has 125 students, “but 75 percent of my students dance four to five times a week, and they’re paying to be there that many times.”
How to develop a mission statement
According to Sprankle, the first step is to ask the important questions. Number one is “why bother?” doing what they do. Next she asks, “What’s truly important to you? What drives the organization?”
Getting past pat answers and platitudes is crucial, Sprankle says, although it can be difficult. “My clients will say, ‘We want to be there.’ I say, ‘What is there?’ They’ll state something and I’ll say, ‘What does that mean? Why is that important to you?’ ” If you’re working on your own, you’ll need to question yourself and strive for clarity. “You have to question these statements deeply, and from an objective standpoint,” Sprankle says.
Kweskin describes formulating a mission statement as following a formula of sorts. She says, “I always start with your greatest intention; for example, ‘We believe every child should have the opportunity to express herself through dance.’ Then the mission states how you’re going to fulfill that intention.” For example, you might say, “Our outreach programs funnel students into the school in a low-cost, donor-subsidized curriculum taught by renowned professionals.”
A longer statement, Kweskin says, can include “your philosophy on teaching, your engagement with students, how you utilize your programs, how people can engage in those programs, who it is you think you are serving.”
She recommends using the language of the consumer or the target market. “Avoid ‘weird-speak,’ ” she says, meaning pompous, self-referential arts language. “Your clients or potential clients should be able to say, ‘You’re talking to me!’ ”
And, according to Sprankle, the message should be easy to reiterate. “If someone asks, ‘Why do you go there?’ or ‘Why do you support that place?’ it’s nice if [clients] can say, ‘They’re really interesting because ABC. Or XYZ is important to them.’ A mission statement should capture and articulate that.”
In addition to a mission statement, Sprankle says, an organization should have what she calls a vision statement. For a small business such as a dance studio, this is most useful as an internal tool rather than a published statement—in other words, it’s a guideline for growth.
A vision statement defines where your business is right now and where you want it to be in, for example, 5 years and 10 years. “It’s intended to be, almost literally, a picture,” Sprankle says. It can take the form of a narrative or graph that depicts how your organization will look at specific times in the future. While for-profit companies normally measure growth in revenues or profits, a dance school might also use enrollment, recital tickets sold, or number of community events as a metric.
After you’ve established a mission statement and a vision statement, it’s useful to develop a strategic plan, which will lay out your strategy for getting where you want to be in 2019, 2024, or any other time in the future.
A statement, a vision, a plan—why do you need them? Goh states the reason simply: “Our philosophy, what we view to be of great importance, has to be felt within. It is a very important part of who we are. Having the statement out there is putting into words what we’ve always believed in.”
One dance department’s unique relationship with Paul Taylor Dance Company
By Rachel Berman
On a Friday evening in early autumn, 40 minutes east of New York City, Adelphi University’s dance studios are teeming with activity. Orion Duckstein, a former member of Paul Taylor Dance Company (1999–2010) and a full-time Adelphi faculty member, is choreographing a new work—a comedy—for the fall concert, “Dance Adelphi.”
The Taylor/Adelphi history reaches back six decades, when the modern-dance icon was finding his artistic voice. By passing on Taylor’s distinct movement style and rich legacy, Duckstein challenges his students to “learn from the great minds of the past and to go beyond them”—an Adelphi philosophy.
For more than 75 years, an amazing array of dance artists and educators has passed through the dance department’s doors, including Jack Cole, Hanya Holm, Norman Walker, Carmen de Lavallade, and Paul Taylor.
There is an easy camaraderie between Duckstein and his cast of 12 female students as they balance laughter with complete focus on the task at hand. The women—collaborators in his creative process—mimic the lush movements Duckstein’s body cuts through space, or offer variations at his prompting. The Taylor influence is easy to see in the way they initiate movement from their backs, move across the floor in a grounded sweeping style, and in the sly wit and humor of Duckstein’s work.
Now 83, Taylor—perhaps the greatest living pioneer of American modern dance—discovered dance while attending college on a swimming scholarship. After training with Martha Graham and others, he was chosen by Graham to be her partner; seven years later, he forged his own choreographic path. He has made 139 works since 1954 and shows no signs of slowing down.
Taylor’s work can be lyrical, athletic, humorous, satirical, or terrifying—often mixing elements of “dark” and “light” within one dance. He is an expert at holding up a mirror to the many facets of humanity and often does so in a tongue-in-cheek fashion.
A notable history
Adelphi, a private university on a lush 75-acre campus on Long Island, has had a long and illustrious history, yet its dance department remains a hidden gem. Founded in 1938 by modern dance pioneer Ruth St. Denis, it is one of the first American dance departments established outside of a physical education department.
Adelphi’s president at the time, Paul Dawson Eddy, whose wife studied with “Miss Ruth,” was intrigued by her idea of dance as an expression of spirituality. Eddy offered her a unique opportunity to train dancers in a variety of techniques and in her exotic stylings. The brochure announcing the department’s formation noted that joy would be “the keynote of all teaching.”
For more than 75 years, an amazing array of dance artists and educators has passed through the dance department’s doors, training and influencing generations of dancers and pushing them to advance the field. Jack Cole, Hanya Holm, Norman Walker, Carmen de Lavallade, and Paul Taylor are among the most notable. Taylor taught intermittently at Adelphi in 1962 to keep his fledgling company afloat. “We used to do it all in the old days,” he says, “choreograph, teach, perform.” His iconic solo, the heart of his groundbreaking dance, Aureole, was choreographed—via pencil and paper—while riding the Long Island Rail Road to Adelphi. “That was the only time I had to plan it out. I then re-created the positions I had drawn when I got into the studio.”
According to Duckstein, Taylor’s work is particularly suited to the Adelphi students. “We’re not focused on producing one version of one perfect dancer,” he says. “We’re invested in finding the best dancer inside each student. Paul’s work offers a lot of room for a dancer to invest their whole personality.”
Sasha Smith, a current senior Adelphi dancer, concurs. “What speaks to me about Taylor’s work is that it provides endless opportunities to project who I am through dance. Taylor’s work/class/style has extended into all aspects of how I dance by giving me a sense of foundation, grounding, and a place I know I can go to in order to feel present and alive while dancing. It also gives me a sense of belonging to an extensive modern-dance history and tradition.”
A revitalized relationship
In 2008 the department began a new chapter in its history, opening a 53,000-square-foot Performing Arts Center comprised of state-of-the-art concert and recital halls, studios, classrooms, and offices—a far cry from its humble beginnings in the school gymnasium.
The exhibition and ceremonies that surrounded the PAC’s opening were held in tribute to Miss Ruth, commemorating the department’s 70th anniversary. That same year Adelphi awarded Taylor an honorary Doctor of Arts, almost 50 years after his teaching stint. Adelphi president Dr. Robert A. Scott, already one of PTDC’s greatest champions, became even more intrigued with the man behind the artistry while writing Taylor’s honorary citation. He was invited to join Taylor’s board of directors by the Paul Taylor Dance Foundation’s executive director, John Tomlinson, another Adelphi graduate.
With a revitalized Taylor relationship, the chair of the dance department, Frank Augustyn, began negotiations with Tomlinson to secure a Taylor work for his students. The result, a month-long residency by the six-member second company Taylor 2 in the fall of 2010, transformed Adelphi into a hub of Taylor activity.
Partially funded by the New York State Council on the Arts, the residency consisted of a restaging of Taylor’s 1975 Esplanade on the Adelphi students, master classes, open rehearsals, and outreach throughout the surrounding Long Island communities; it culminated in a performance by PTDC.
“I thought Taylor’s work would be a good fit for our students; I hadn’t even thought about a residency,” says Augustyn. “It turned out to be a wonderful and invaluable experience. Not only did our dancers perform a choreographic masterwork, they were able to interact with the Taylor 2 dancers and better understand what it takes to be a professional.”
Duckstein had joined the Adelphi faculty that same fall, mere weeks after his retirement from PTDC. In fact, because there were not enough male dancers to fill out the cast, he performed Esplanade alongside his students—an experience that formed a nice segue into academia, and, for his students, directly connected the Taylor legacy from classroom to stage.
“Being a part of Esplanade my freshman year,” says Smith, “gave me the desire to make all my dancing generate the same euphoric and energetic feeling.” Consequently she attended two Taylor summer intensives to further immerse herself in the repertoire.
In its current incarnation, the department has a core of three full-time faculty members, all with illustrious professional backgrounds. Augustyn danced for National Ballet of Canada, Catherine Denisot-Lawrence for Pina Bausch and Nederlands Dans Theater, and Duckstein for Taylor 2 and Paul Taylor Dance Company. Adjunct faculty members, most of them former professional dancers, teach Graham technique and Pilates, among other classes.
The department, with about 60 dance majors (of whom 11 will graduate this spring), is the perfect size, according to Augustyn. “We can go up to about 65 majors in total, but keeping class sizes small means we get to know our students and their needs.” Intimate class size is a selling point for students, says Smith, who adds that it allows professors “to push us past technique.”
Acceptance into the department is based on both a dance audition and academic record. The curriculum is a conservatory-level performance-based Bachelor of Fine Arts degree with daily classes in modern and classical ballet technique, plus choreography, improvisation, music, functional anatomy, and dance history, balanced with university-required academics. Electives are offered in partnering, pointe, and pas de deux. Duckstein also teaches a “how to audition” class.
Each semester, in addition to several concerts highlighting student choreography, a new theme is chosen for “Dance Adelphi,” which showcases work by both faculty and outside choreographers. The cast acts as a mini dance company, readying for the concert. Over the years “Dance Adelphi” has presented choreography by, among many others, St. Denis, Doris Humphrey, Hans van Manen, Michel Fokine, Martha Graham, Jirí Kylián, and Taylor. Augustyn hopes to present work by Pina Bausch in the future.
This academic year, both guest works happen to be by PTDC alumni. In the fall David Parsons (PTDC 1978–1987) set his 2005 Wolfgang on the students, and in the spring Takehiro Ueyama (PTDC 1995–2003) will set his 2005 Sakura Sakura.
Beyond the classroom
It is the human connections beyond the classroom that make Adelphi unique. Norman Walker directed the Adelphi dance department from 1972 to 2004, touching many lives, including those of two students, both Long Island natives, who went on to dance with PTDC.
Cathy McCann, a powerhouse of a Taylor dancer from 1979 to 1991, owes her career to Walker. “I was a commuter student, so I didn’t get much of the college experience. But it turned out to be the best place for me,” McCann says. “The connections I had with my teachers established my whole career.” A few years after graduation, Walker made a call that got McCann into the invitation-only PTDC audition, where she was hired. In 1993 and ’94, she returned to Adelphi to teach master classes and choreograph on the students.
Another PTDC alum indebted to Walker is Maureen Mansfield (PTDC dancer 1997–2002). “I was lucky to be accepted into Adelphi on pure potential. Because I had only begun dancing a few months prior, I was told I would have to work very hard,” Mansfield says. “I was always pushed to be my best. It was a nurturing yet challenging environment.”
Coincidentally it was McCann who pegged Mansfield as a future Taylor dancer when she saw her perform. She and Parsons were guests in that same concert, in which they performed a duet from Taylor’s Runes. Walker passed the compliment on to Mansfield that night, changing her life.
An Adelphi education goes beyond the classroom, giving students the freedom to participate in internships and independent study. For example, Duckstein arranged for Smith to work two days a week in the PTDC fundraising department during her fall semester, where she learned about the inner workings of a nonprofit organization. “I feel like I have been connected not only to New York City, but also to the world through study-abroad intersessions,” she says. She’s referring to the study she and a small group of fellow students, primarily dance majors, did in Bangalore. For two and a half weeks in January 2013, they taught dance classes and participated in cultural exchanges with Indian dancers. This year she travels to Taiwan for a similar program.
The majority of the Adelphi dance students are from the New York tri-state area, though in the past few years the department has recruited aggressively in other states. Augustyn says that while the department’s curriculum and faculty have grown over the past decade, he wants it to retain the familial feel.
Smith and many of her peers plan to move to New York City and pursue professional careers, following in the footsteps of alumni who have danced on Broadway or with companies such as the Joffrey Ballet, Eliot Feld, Merce Cunningham, Pilobolus, or PTDC.
Though the Taylor connections run deep, Augustyn wants his students to have a broad experience with a variety of guest artists and styles of work throughout their four years. The goal: to give the students a well-balanced curriculum and connect them to the professional world.
Teaching musicality means going beyond counts and steps
By Mary Ellen Hunt
“Get on the music! Can’t you hear the counts?”
It’s a common refrain voiced by frustrated dance teachers in countless studios. The real question is why students have trouble with musicality. And how can we help them? One way is to offer a workshop that focuses on musicality, and summer is the perfect time to stretch a curriculum beyond the usual fare.
“Most dancers don’t have trouble memorizing counts, but that’s an intellectual process,” says Tim Murphy, a veteran accompanist who has played for classes, auditions, rehearsals, and performances since 1973 throughout the San Francisco Bay Area and has taught choral singing at the University of San Francisco. Ask the dancers what step happens on 4, and they probably can tell you, Murphy says; what’s missing is an internalized sense of the music.
Debussy, Mozart, Brahms, Chopin, Tchaikovsky, Stravinsky, Copland, Britten, Elgar, Prokofiev—the list goes on. Working with any of them will help develop a dancer musically. —Michael Vernon
Whether your students work with live accompaniment or a recording, by emphasizing musicality and an understanding of music you are not giving dancers merely another set of professional skills; you’re helping them find an inspired synergy between two art forms. It’s an aspect of dance training that is often underdeveloped, even as teachers everywhere exhort their students to pay attention to the music.
Listening to the music for a cue results in the dancer forever being a little late, Murphy says. “When I see this, it disturbs me tremendously, because the quality that is missing is something that a person walking in off the street can see without knowing anything about ballet.”
Viewers can instinctively tell that something is off when the musical dynamics, phrasing, or beats they are hearing don’t match what they see in the movement.
The challenge, it seems, is twofold: on a cerebral level, how do you give dancers the tools they need to articulate and communicate with musicians, and on a more visceral level, how do you develop their ability to respond appropriately and sensitively to what they hear?
One simple first step is to expose students to as much music in as wide a variety as possible. A rich diet of musical choices is of enormous importance, says Indiana University ballet department chair Michael Vernon, who thinks that even the musical choices a teacher makes for a class or recital piece can have impact.
“I think the music one uses for choreography is an under-utilized tool,” he says. “Debussy, Mozart, Brahms, Chopin, Tchaikovsky, Stravinsky, Copland, Britten, Elgar, Prokofiev—the list goes on. Working with any of them will help develop a dancer musically.”
Vernon has piloted a class offered during a two-week summer intensive held at IU that helps introduce pre-college students ages 13 to 18 to music. “We found that students, especially ones coming from smaller studios, lacked music education,” he says.
Taught by Brenda Brenner, a violinist and music education faculty member, the hour-long weekly class takes a broad approach. “I treat the class as a whirlwind tour of music and its relationship to dance,” Brenner says. She offers examples of everything from medieval plainchant to contemporary minimalist composers, and dance music from The Rite of Spring to Bolero.
“The first portion of class focuses on elements of music—melody, harmony, rhythm, texture, all the parameters that go into determining the style,” she says. “Then we can talk about large-scale formal ways of putting music together, melody, contour, phrase links, the beat structure of a piece, how to recognize changes in form or structure.”
As she and the students work through musical examples, Brenner also weaves in parallels between the music and what was happening in the world of dance at the time the piece was composed, as well as the social and political milieu in which the composer worked, to give students a broader, more holistic view.
“They are avid listeners,” she says. “In class, they’ll use an app to identify music and come to me afterward to make sure they’ve downloaded the pieces we talk about. And that’s part of my biggest hope—that they will surround themselves with different music styles and continue to explore and listen to new things.”
Robert Ray, who directs the trainee program for Joffrey Ballet School in New York, agrees that exposure to a wide variety of music is key for students. “Dancers dance the art which is inside them,” he says. “A generation raised mainly on popular music will not have the degree of culture a dancer trained in a variety of musical forms does. Understanding the complex rhythms of Stravinsky, Webern, or Prokofiev takes much musical training.”
In the shorter, more basic format of a summer workshop, in-depth musical training is out of the question. But that doesn’t mean students can’t move beyond the familiar. They might have heard of Bach, but do they know other composers from the baroque period? They might recognize the stormy opening to Beethoven’s Fifth, but do they know his music bridges the classical style of Mozart and the Romantic music of Brahms and Mendelssohn?
Since music history isn’t an area of expertise for most dance studio owners, Randall Benichak, who directs a three-year intensive music course for the Joffrey School trainees, suggests getting in touch with professional musicians at local orchestras or universities. They can discuss works of music they are performing or practicing, and which aspects of music history and genre might be important for dancers to know.
Bring in the basics
If you have time to go beyond music history, a worthwhile direction for a summer music workshop is to teach dancers the fundamentals of reading music, basic terminology, and how an understanding of those elements can improve what they do in class every day.
“There are many aspects to musicianship—qualities of music you’d like to see dancers incorporate in their technique, like the ability to move slowly or quickly, in a staccato way,” says Murphy. “The Italian expressions that describe music are qualities any dancer would like to have in his or her technique.”
Dancers will probably already have a working understanding of terms like “allegro” and “adagio” from technique class, but knowing a wider vocabulary and being able to read music, even at a rudimentary level, will help them; for example, they’ll be more prepared to communicate with accompanists and composers or work through complex music in shifting tempos.
Having a musician help teach students the basics of meters and rhythms, Benichak says, also provides dancers with invaluable insights on how to think about the way they phrase choreography, without having to be told.
“One thing I notice with dancers is that no matter what the meter is, they always count in 5-6-7-8, whether it’s a straight 4/4 or a waltz, which a musician would count as three beats,” he says. “With Stravinsky, where the meter changes all the time, that would be much more challenging.
“A lot of times I hear teachers screaming counts,” Benichak continues, “but when it’s a piece of music where counts don’t change, you don’t need to count it for them. Students have to be able to hear the phrases themselves and listen to music, otherwise they start to lose that natural musicality that is crucial to a dancer. They have to be concerned not so much about the exact beats, but feeling where the music is going. That ability is so important—you want them to feel what the music is telling them to do, even with a recording; then they will know what to do when they dance with live music, or in a situation where the dance drives the music.”
There are ways to improve students’ musical sensitivity that have less to do with music theory and more with developing how dancers hear music. It’s worth considering incorporating some tried-and-true methods of teaching rhythm into a music workshop.
The challenge of connecting movement to rhythm is hardly a new problem. More than a century ago, Swiss music teacher Émile Jaques-Dalcroze developed a method (named after him) that was meant to develop the ear-mind-body connection in students, to help them develop a kinesthetic awareness of music.
Once popular with such modern-dance icons as Mary Wigman, Marie Rambert, Rudolf Laban, and Doris Humphrey, the Dalcroze method has disappeared from dance training, even as it has taken hold in music conservatories. It is taught in schools from Juilliard to Oberlin College to the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, but today very few dancers are trained in it. However, the concepts can be easily taught to students of all ages, from preschoolers to adults.
Monica Dale, who leads workshops nationwide in the Dalcroze method for dancers and teachers, notes that the Dalcroze approach has three branches: improvisation; solfège, which uses syllables to train students to recognize pitch; and eurhythmics, which uses a person’s natural movement inclinations to encourage understanding such fundamental concepts as structure and expression as well as rhythmic accuracy.
In a typical class, the instructor improvises on the piano, playing musical phrases that they ask students to respond to with movement. Dale theorizes that few dance teachers teach eurhythmics in part because not many of them play piano. If you aren’t a musician, you could partner with an experienced pianist or use a percussion instrument instead (drums or shakers) to incorporate the basics of Dalcroze into a workshop exercise.
There are online resources that can give you ideas for typical exercises. A search on YouTube for “Dalcroze eurhythmics exercises” offers useful examples. Dale says that with younger children, she often starts with the group seated on the floor. She introduces a song or rhythmic pattern that eventually gets them up and moving as she begins to play on the piano. The key is to get students to listen to what they are hearing and then let those patterns emerge as physical movements.
“I might tell them to walk to what they perceive as the beat of the music,” she says. “Or listen to my right hand only, and clap that pattern. Then I’ll instruct them to put that rhythmic pattern somewhere else. Maybe it goes on your feet or nodding your head. Now if I play something different, how would you move? How would you go from the first movement to the second? From there you can build layer upon layer, until you have them moving in a way that is intricate and yet also creative and playful. It’s very experiential.”
According to Ray, dancers have an intuitive way of moving to music. But why not give them the added advantage of real knowledge? Familiarizing your students with the essentials of music theory, giving them a taste of music history, allowing them to experiment with ways of physicalizing what they hear—aside from giving them tools to become better dancers, these experiences can inspire artistry.
“Many successful dancers lack theoretical knowledge and get by on an innate musicality,” Ray says. “But dancers who are trained in music are better positioned to be more sophisticated and expressive in their interpretation.”
Music That Moves You
Here are some ideas for a classical playlist for your dancers that would not only expand their music horizons but also relate to dance repertoire.
• J.S. Bach’s Double Violin Concerto in D minor is used for George Balanchine’s Concerto Barocco.
• Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s German Dances for Orchestra is used in Angelin Preljocaj’s Le Parc.
• Johannes Brahms’ Piano Quartet No. 1 in G minor is used in George Balanchine’s Brahms-Schoenberg Quartet.
• Frederic Chopin’s Nocturne (Op. 32, No. 2), Waltz (Op. 70, No. 1), Mazurka (Op. 33, No. 2), and Prelude (Op. 28, No. 7) are among the Chopin works used in Michel Fokine’s Les Sylphides.
• Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s ballet music—e.g., Swan Lake or Sleeping Beauty
• Claude Debussy’s Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune is used for Vaslav Nijinsky’s ballet L’après-midi d’un faune (The Afternoon of a Faun).
• Sergei Rachmaninov’s beautiful preludes (Prelude in B Minor, Opus. 32, No. 10; Prelude in F Sharp Minor, Opus 23, No. 1; Prelude in A Major, Opus 32, No. 9) serve as backdrop for Ben Stevenson’s romantic Three Preludes.
• Sergei Prokofiev’s music for the ballet Romeo and Juliet is very well known, but other ballets to his music include Cinderella, The Stone Flower, and The Prodigal Son.
• Igor Stravinsky’s scores for Petrouchka and Firebird are great introductions to his music.
• Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring was used by Martha Graham for her work of the same name, but his Billy the Kid, choreographed by Eugene Loring, and Rodeo, choreographed by Agnes de Mille, are equally vibrant pieces for dance.
A summer session to boost mind as well as body
By Julie Holt Lucia
A few years ago, a once-a-week student (a second-grader I’ll call Susie) said she felt fat. Her mom did not blame anyone at my studio for introducing this thought, but she wanted me to be aware that it wasn’t an isolated remark. Susie continued to dance, and her mom and I kept our eyes and ears open. Eventually the “fat” talk disappeared. But I’ve wondered: does Susie still have those thoughts, years later? Has she simply internalized them? Is there more I could do to help her feel confident in her body and change her negative self-talk?
The short answer to the last question is yes. As focused as dance educators are on teaching dance skills, we also want to nurture our students as human beings; we want to help mold thoughtful, disciplined, and healthy youngsters who, whether or not they pursue dance long-term, become confident and work well with others. We want our students and their families to see dance as a positive influence.
Does Susie still have those “fat” thoughts, years later? Is there more I could do to help her feel confident in her body and change her negative self-talk? The short answer is yes.
Achieving this goal, however, is no small feat; we can’t jump into our students’ personal lives to gain a better view of their specific needs. But we can offer them the chance to learn more about the “supporting characters” in their dance lives—the non-dance things that can nurture a dancer’s overall well-being, both mind and body.
A weeklong summer session is the ideal time to do this, and the flexibility of summer means that you could potentially offer more than one session, perhaps divided by age groups (ages 7 to 10, 11 to 13, and 14 and up, for example, or simply by elementary, middle, or high school). With the right planning and research, you could use this mix of lessons to connect the dots between the positive in dance and the positive in life.
To help get things started, here is some sample content for a weeklong session called “The Whole Child.”
Over the course of a week, in addition to dance technique classes, the session has three subject areas: developing the critical thinker, caring for the young psyche, and maintaining a healthy body. We’ll touch on different aspects of each subject area each day.
To help keep things organized, give each dancer a folder with her name on it and some scratch paper inside. This will be a place for collecting handouts and making notes throughout the week. Encourage creativity by allowing the dancers to personalize their folders with crayons or markers.
Critical thinking and self-awareness
Although dance inherently involves some critical thinking (remembering steps, patterns, formations, counts; interacting with classmates), there are several ways to encourage and improve these skills to help students’ productivity in and out of the classroom. During these lessons, we’ll focus on time management and teamwork.
For young students, start the discussion about time management with a word-search or crossword puzzle (see sidebar). Talk about what those words mean, and about how we sometimes divide our time between what we have to do versus what we want to do. With older students, have them practice writing a typical day’s to-do list and talk them through how to prioritize tasks.
All ages can do this simple activity: on a sheet of blank paper, have each student write down recreational activities they enjoy (watching TV, checking Instagram, playing video games, etc.). Don’t put them in a list; scatter them across the page. Then have the students rip or cut off the parts of the paper with the words on them. What’s left of the paper is the time they have for necessities—homework, meals, chores, and so on. How much paper is left, a lot or a little? How can they give themselves enough time for the necessary activities of life and still have time for what they want to do?
Discussion could include ways to organize recreational activities and necessities so that they have time for both; using an agenda, planner, or calendar; and prioritizing. Asking, “How do you decide what to do first?” can allow them to analyze their paper and say, “Wow, I’m spending too much time on the computer and running out of time in my day for homework/chores. What can I do to prevent that from happening?” Hopefully this discussion will encourage the dancers to share ideas about what works and what doesn’t.
For a teamwork activity, nothing is more fun than a scavenger hunt. Easily customizable for different ages, a scavenger hunt allows students to follow clues that lead them to work together to achieve a list of quirky tasks. Divide the class into at least two groups, give each group a list, and set them on their way. Rather than designate a winning or losing team, have each team challenge itself to complete the tasks in an allotted time. Example tasks: link together a dozen bobby pins, make a tutu out of newspaper, or create a collage about dance from magazine pictures.
Another cooperative activity is something I’ve named “Story Cubes Choreography.” (Rory’s Story Cubes, if you are unfamiliar with them, are dice with a different image on each side.) Break the dancers into small groups of three or four, and roll at least three Rory’s Story Cube dice for each group. Using the images rolled, the dancers must create a storyline, then choreograph a short dance to tell their story. (Give them a limit on counts, perhaps 32 counts for young dancers and 64 for teens). Have some music selections for them to choose from, and be prepared to offer guidance to groups that appear stuck or have a shy member. Afterward, have each group perform its dance and then tell the others what the images on the dice were.
A young dancer’s mind can be a mystery in many ways (how many times do we wonder, “What is she thinking?”), but what’s clear is that every child needs self-confidence to succeed. And every dancer, even if she has concerns about her body or technique, needs to be encouraged to feel comfortable in her own skin. Confidence levels and body image can be tricky topics to tackle, but we can approach them in a sensitive way with fun yet thought-provoking activities designed to help the dancers view themselves in a positive way.
As an interactive icebreaker activity, put the dancers in groups and have them tell one another what they like and admire about each person. Then offer each student a self-esteem worksheet to complete (see sidebar). Ask for volunteers to read aloud their answers to one or two of the questions, and have the dancers share how it feels to acknowledge good things about themselves.
Having a “Self-Talk Talk” is yet another way to inspire young people to think positively. Explain that the way they think about themselves is as important as what is said out loud. Using a whiteboard, write down the dancers’ suggestions for affirmative self-talk phrases, like “My body is healthy and strong,” or “I love and accept myself for who I am.” Encourage them to choose a phrase they like and practice it until they develop a habit of talking to themselves that way. You may also want to discuss how positive self-talk can help them avoid being demoralized by kids who tease or bully; if you like yourself and believe in yourself, what those kids say won’t matter as much.
Have the group throw out positive things they or their friends might say to themselves, as well as some negative statements they might make. Write them down on a whiteboard or large piece of paper and then let them talk about how language habits affect their confidence levels. Practicing using compassionate language in reference to themselves on their own (on their own time) should be encouraged.
In the next activity, the dancers set goals and plan how to accomplish them by creating an “I Will . . . ” book. Give each student a stack of blank cardstock pages or small poster-board sheets. Ask them to write, draw pictures, or cut out images from newspapers or magazines to represent goals they wish to achieve. Each page gets a different goal. The goals could be short-term, such as “I will be more patient with my little brother,” or “I will eat healthier meals,” or long-term, such as “I will become a professional dancer.”
When the goals are set, have the dancers write (on the back of each page) a list of steps needed to reach that goal. (Help the young students think them through.) For example, if becoming a professional dancer is a goal, a student might list: take more dance classes; build strong muscles; become a college dance major; attend auditions. After all of the pages are complete, attach them together like a book for the dancers to take home.
Despite the physical activity dance requires, things like poor eating habits and stress can affect dancers’ health. The subject of physical wellness has many facets, but we’ll home in on nutrition, anatomy, and relaxation techniques.
An easy but effective nutrition lesson can begin with a discussion about the food pyramid. Then, using food and drink images on paper (like flashcards), move into an activity I like to call “My Lunch Plate Needs What?” Choose three items for a meal (say, a glass of milk, applesauce, and broccoli), and show them to the dancers. Then say, “What’s missing from this meal?” When they answer, ask how can they give the meal more protein, for example, and have the group sort through the images to find protein sources.
Try different combinations of foods for meals, and try different foods to fill in the missing nutrients, such as iron, calcium, or vitamin D. If someone chooses an incorrect food, talk about what benefits that food has instead and why it’s a better fit for a different meal. Have the dancers make notes in their folders about the types of healthy meals they enjoy (or think they would enjoy) so that they can share those meal ideas with their parents.
For a lesson on anatomy, use a drawing of the human body as a visual (see sidebar). Offer handouts to the class and discuss basic vocabulary for the musculoskeletal system. (Exclude difficult terms for the youngest dancers.) Then proceed through a “Dancer Says” (like Simon Says) game in which the students use the handout to help them find the parts on their own bodies. After the game, review a few dance moves and ask the students, “Which body parts do you notice working in plié? What about port de bras?” Then determine which muscles and bones help the body move correctly through those movements.
Learning how to de-stress can be as important for a child’s body as it is for her mind. During this lesson on relaxation technique, remind the dancers that taking care of their bodies sometimes means taking time in the day to simply be still and breathe.
Try a short, guided relaxation activity with the class: have the dancers lie down on their backs and close their eyes. (Dim the lights if possible.) Ask them to tense one body part at a time, holding it for a few seconds, then release it slowly as they exhale. Work from the toes all the way up to the eyebrows. Help the dancers be aware of their steady breaths, and ask them to imagine that every exhale helps them let go of stress and worry. (See sidebar for a link to a guided imagery script.)
Get your current students and parents excited about this session well before summertime rolls around by mentioning it on your website, on social media, and in your email newsletters throughout the busy spring. Use a catchy tagline, such as “The Whole Child: Dancing Positively Through Life” or “The Whole Child: A Summer Camp of Healthy Minds and Bodies.” Highlight the unique aspects of this session by mentioning parts of the sample schedule, and create some extra buzz by introducing a few themes during class time—perhaps with a teamwork activity or anatomy discussion.
As you talk to parents, remind them that the lessons offered will benefit their dancer’s life as a whole—at home, at school, and at dance. Whether or not their goals are dance related, students will walk away with new tools to build their dreams.
A new coach-parent communication system, MyKidsCalendar.com, is designed to streamline scheduling and communication for youth teams like competitive dance, says founder and operator Jeff Hill.
The system allows coaches to publish team schedules, post documents, build sign-up sheets, text last-minute changes, and confirm competition attendance from a laptop or mobile phone, and features free parent apps for Droids, iPhones, and iPads.
• tracks which parents have read emails
• keeps a record of emails sent; when, and to whom
• manages attendance for high-priority events with automated surveys and online reminders
• notifies all relevant parents of changes via email or mobile phone text message with a single click
• centralizes driving directions, contact information, and important documents for instant access
• offers a profit-generating email advertising program (MKC-ad)
• provides parents with simple, online access to up-to-date schedules
• builds custom sign-up sheets for car-pooling, etc.
The cost is $10 a month for a typical dance studio, with no cost to parents. MyKidsCalendar.com is now offering a free 30-day trial with no obligation to buy. (Initial setup usually takes only about 20 minutes.) For more information, visit http://www.mykidscalendar.com/
Members of Montgomery Ballet expected to have a normal Saturday of class and practice. They didn’t expect to be cleaning up broken glass—however, that’s what they found themselves doing after someone vandalized their property, reported the Montgomery [AL] Adviser.
Rocks and pieces of concrete were thrown through windows into the ballet’s studios in a shopping center on East Boulevard, breaking a mirror and fabric that was part of a stage design inside.
Office manager Sarah-Ellen Thompson said she was angry and confused. “We don’t know anyone who doesn’t like the ballet, and we don’t have any grudges,” Thompson said.
Nicole Miller, a teacher with the ballet and member for six seasons, said the most trouble they’ve had at the location were cars broken into a few years ago. Members of the ballet said they feel like the studio was a second home, so the incident was met with strong emotions. “I’m shocked and in disbelief,” Miller said. “I feel very violated.”
To see the original story, visit http://www.montgomeryadvertiser.com/article/20140330/NEWS01/303300026/Montgomery-Ballet-vandalized?nclick_check=1.
A popular dance studio in Denver that attracts dancers from across Colorado and the rest of the country has suddenly become very popular with thieves, reported 9News.
BBoy Factory, located at 6401 Broadway, has been burglarized twice in the past eight days. During the first robbery on March 18, thieves took off with $3,500 worth of equipment and merchandise, including turntables, speakers, an amplifier and mixer, a TV, cash register, and art supplies. When the studio asked for help through GoFundMe, the community rallied and helped raise almost $4,000 to buy new gear. Then just eight days later, burglars hit the studio again—this time making off with only a set of brand new speakers.
Studio owner Ian Flaws told 9News he’s shocked, but working on moving forward. The studio offers hip-hop classes in dance, DJing, and graffiti art both at its home base as well as in several schools, afterschool programs, and for the Denver probation office. The goal is to give kids—especially those on probation, he said—and adults a safe place to practice their art.
Officials from the Adams County Sheriff’s Office are investigating the burglaries but say they don’t have a suspect yet. Deputies say the best way to recover stolen electronics is to keep a record of serial numbers on all devices and equipment.
To see the original report, visit http://www.9news.com/story/news/local/2014/03/27/dance-studio-burglarized-twice-in-8-days/6986181/.
Leonard “Buster” Cooper, who inspired generations of Dallas dancers after opening a studio in 1951 and also leading the dance program he founded at The Hockaday School for decades, died Tuesday, reported the Dallas Morning News. He was 90.
Beloved by his students, many of whom went on to become professional dancers, Cooper prided himself on dancing in the same leathery footwear he had worn for decades. He saw it as a badge of honor that the stitches had come undone between the toe and the sole.
Even in his 80s, Cooper could tap like an elderly Savion Glover while leading 11 women in a morning class. He began dancing as a 3-year-old growing up in Magnolia, Arkansas. His first teacher, and the best by far, he said, was the family’s maid.
Cooper began dance lessons at 10, when a family friend marveled at his unusual gift and offered to pay for them. By 12, he was studying dance on Canal Street in New Orleans. At 17, he attended a workshop in Chicago and had the good fortune of being asked to stand in for Gene Kelly’s brother, Fred. It proved to be a pivotal moment, with members of the National Association of Dance Teachers applauding his energy and enthusiasm but most of all his rare skill.
Scores of his alumni went on to dance in productions at the Dallas Summer Musicals and on the Broadway stage, showing off moves Cooper had taught them in The Music Man, The Pajama Game, West Side Story, A Chorus Line, Cats, and The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.
American Ballet Theatre soloist Misty Copeland will visit Royal Expressions Contemporary Ballet, Greensboro, North Carolina, on April 21 to help the dance studio celebrate its 5th anniversary.
Copeland will teach two master classes at the 1220-E Battleground Avenue studio: beginner/intermediate from 10:45am to 12:15pm, and intermediate/advanced from 12:15 to 1:45pm. Classes are $40.
Copeland will also lead a “Lecture with Future Ballerinas” at 2pm, to be followed at 3pm by a book signing, at Black Network Television, 1325 South Eugene Street. Copeland is the author of Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina. Admission to the lecture is $10; the book signing is free.
Other studio anniversary celebration events include:
• Murder at the Ballet Murder Mystery Dinner Gala, April 22 at 7:30pm, Bella Collina Mansion, 9900 Mt. Carmel Road, Stokesdale; $75 single or $140 a couple. Partial proceeds will be donated to the Royal Expressions outreach programs.
• Royal Expressions School of Dance recital, April 26, 1pm; Greensboro Coliseum Complex, Odeon Theatre; free.
• Journey to Become/Bloom Encore Double Feature, April 26, 7pm; Greensboro Coliseum Complex, Odeon Theatre; $20.
For more information, visit www.royalexpressions.org.
More than 1,000 dancers ages 4 to 18, hailing from 18 Utah dance studios, took part in the “Will Dance for Food” competition held at Taylorsville High School Saturday. The event raised $40,000 for the Utah Food Bank’s Kid’s Cafe and BackPack programs.
The Deseret News said Penny Broussard started the Will Dance for Kids Project three years ago, after retiring from more than two decades working with the dance community. She said she chose the Utah Food Bank as the beneficiary of the event’s proceeds because 98 cents of every dollar donated goes to food, and because it allows kids to help kids of the same age who are less fortunate.
“The statistics on childhood hunger are staggering,” Broussard said. “One in five Utah kids doesn’t know where the next meal is coming from.”
This was the event’s third year and fundraising efforts began in October. The first year, $15,000 was raised. Last year, it was $35,000. “I never thought we would make it above $35,000 and here we are at $40,000. . . . It almost makes me cry every time I say it out loud,” Broussard said, noting that it takes the help of many, including sponsors and volunteers, to make the event happen. “Everyone is working together to make a difference. It’s just amazing.”
To see the original story, visit http://www.deseretnews.com/article/865598256/Dancing-for-Food-Dance-event-raises-40K-for-Utah-Food-Bank.html.
The Pointe Dance Studio team had been preparing the production number they presented last weekend at Nexstar National Talent Competition long before October 11, 2013. But on that day—when Tiffany Mogenson, the studio’s founder, was killed in a car wreck just a few blocks from her Prairie Village, Kansas, home—the idea that The Pointe could pull together a “production act” featuring nearly the entire competition team was anything but apparent.
Tiffany used to tell her students to dance like no one was watching. On Saturday, they decided that phrase wouldn’t do anymore. “Dance like Tiffany is watching!” they yelled, and headed to the stage.
The Prairie Village Post said that in the weeks following Tiffany’s death, her husband Mike, her mother Terri Platania, and sister Stacey Chaloux stepped in to take over operations of the Blue Springs, Missouri, studio Tiffany started in 2008 with just a dozen students. Steady growth led Tiffany to create competition teams three years ago, and in June she felt The Pointe was ready for the challenge of a production number.
At the time of the accident, choreography had been started; costumes were picked out. Members of the local dance community—choreographers Anna Lahey and Brigitte Bartola—stepped forward to help studio teachers drill the dancers. On Saturday, The Pointe’s production took second place in its category and received the judges’ “Powerhouse Award.”
It was a challenging weekend for Mike, Terri, Stacey, and the dancers, who “were able to focus onstage,” Terri said, “but when they got off, there was a lot of crying. The other studios must have been wondering, ‘What is wrong with these girls? They cry at every number.’ ”
Still, Terri said, there was comfort in seeing her daughter’s dream come to fruition.
“It was emotional to watch,” she said. “It was very satisfying to see that particular number come to life, because for Tiffany, that act was what was going to show that her studio had made it.”
A prestigious ballet school that has taught thousands of dancers in Riverside, California, for half a century is scrambling to find a new home or face eviction from the historic downtown landmark it helped save, reported The Press-Enterprise.
The Freeman family, which owns the 87-year-old Aurea Vista Building, gave Riverside Ballet Arts a two-month notice to leave the premises. The school—which opened on Central Avenue in 1961 as the House of Dance, moved to the former Aurea Vista Hotel in 1969, and was renamed Riverside Ballet Arts in 1984—launched the careers of countless dancers, including Darci Kistler of New York City Ballet.
The move comes after owners of the nearby bar Pixels applied for a liquor license to open a restaurant and nightclub on the ground floor of the Aurea Vista Building at University Avenue and Lemon Street. The pending application has led to concerns voiced by dance students’ parents about alcohol sales, nighttime safety, drunken patrons harassing girls, noise, and traffic problems.
The school’s artistic director Glenda Carhart said she can’t understand why the community would give a bar and restaurant priority over a dance school. “I think the thing that bothers me most is, ‘How can we throw our children under the bus?’ ” she told more than 75 parents, students, and long-time supporters who gathered at the school March 4 to launch a petition drive in protest.
The dance school is in danger of closing at least temporarily because there’s not enough time to find a new space and build dance studios, said Carhart, who led 200 people to City Hall in 1989 to protest city plans to tear down the building for a commercial project and helped the building win local landmark status.
The school will petition the Riverside City Council to intervene. Carhart prefers to remain there with a lease. Unless something is worked out, they plan to ask the council for help getting a one-year extension, finding a new space, and ensuring the building is preserved.
An updated report by IBISWorld announced that the dance studio industry is expected to grow by 2.4 percent in 2014, an estimate that would result in the generation of $2.2 billion in revenue.
This represents average annual revenue growth of 2.3 percent over the past five years. “The popularization of dance-inspired television shows and rising interest in dance as an alternative form of exercise have positively impacted the industry over the past five years,” says IBISWorld industry analyst Stephen Morea in a PRWeb release.
In particular, dance studios offering Latin-inspired, fusion, and ballroom dance classes have benefited from rising consumer demand. For instance, there was a 30 percent spike in the number of people taking ballroom lessons and attending ballroom events during the first decade of this century, according to USA Dance Inc.
The industry has not been without its challenges: during the recession, enrollment in dance classes declined and clients shifted away from private classes to more inexpensive group classes. The dance studio industry, however, was quick to rebound. Shifting consumer preferences towards niche and fitness-inspired dance classes mitigated industry revenue declines. As the economy improved and employment and discretionary income expanded, consumers shuffled back into dance studies, and industry revenue gradually improved.
“Fueled by rising consumer interest in dance over the past five years, the number of dance studios is expected to increase at an average annual rate of 2.1 percent, to total an estimated 8,455 studios in 2014,” says Morea.
To see the full release, visit http://www.prweb.com/releases/2014/03/prweb11634866.htm.
Advice for dance teachers
A few years ago I became the director of a dance studio where I had taught for years. The first year our enrollment flourished, and the second year it held steady. This year has been very difficult and enrollment has dropped. However, the students who no longer dance here did not leave on a bad note; they graduated or wanted to try new activities. Those families said they loved our classes and teachers but did not want to overextend their children with activities.
In the past, we dealt with the stigma of negativity regarding the former director and the studio’s name, which was changed immediately after I took over. I think we are still proving ourselves to the community.
I am trying everything to bring up our enrollment—advertisements, direct mailers, parades, community events, contacting past students (even from years ago), YouTube, Facebook. I am wracking my brain about how to improve the enrollment, especially of young children. I have even tried contacting local daycare centers offering programs and free classes to get the word out, but no one seems interested. I would be so thankful if you could give me tips on how to grow. —Frustrated
Sometimes it takes a while to eliminate the negativity surrounding a previous owner. I would continue the marketing you are doing. I would also add that it should be the goal of every faculty and staff person, and you, to ensure that every child (and parent) at your school can only rave about the experience. Give them excellent customer service, mature teachers who care for every child, and the most professionally run school in the area. To help attract parents of young children, go overboard with the little ones who are already enrolled by giving them great choreography for the annual recital. If you make them (and their parents) feel special, word will get around.
You say some students have dropped dance because they are overwhelmed with activities, but I have encountered many students who gave up other activities because they loved their dance teachers and classes. If you offer the best customer service possible and show dedication to every child, the negativity will diminish. Then you will be on your own to develop the best reputation possible. Good luck! —Rhee
I would love your thoughts on a situation. Two dancers (siblings) have missed two and a half months of rehearsals for our studio production number. Their mother felt that six hours with a video of the dance was adequate rehearsal, but I disagreed and removed them from one part (of three) of the production dance. I explained to these dancers that they could continue to work on the choreography for part one, and if it was up to the level of the rest of the group, I would gladly add them into it at a later date. I have 15 dancers who did come for those two and a half months and busted their butts to work on the choreography and staging.
This family also has decided to opt out of mandatory company events, workshops, and trainings.
The studio owner is not backing me up, which hurts, but I know I did the right thing for the 15 dedicated dancers and my colleague. The whole time, I was thinking, “teacher, leader, mentor,” and how the situation is unfair to the dancers who have worked hard. It’s also unfair to give these two girls false expectations and let them slide by with a poor work ethic. The owner has disappointed me by not supporting my choice as a professional. It’s been a very disheartening experience. —Raquel
I agree that these dancers should not be included in the choreography taught during the rehearsals they missed. Unless a dancer has a family emergency, a mandatory rehearsal must be exactly that, without exception. Too many kids and parents believe it’s OK to disappoint the dancers who do make the required commitment. For whatever reason, the families of dancers who miss classes and rehearsals believe they are different from the others.
When teachers or school owners go against their own policies, their credibility is diminished. Eventually everyone starts to miss rehearsals and take advantage of the fact that people at the school don’t stand up for what they think is right for the students, including instilling discipline, commitment, and respect for classmates.
You don’t mention why these kids missed so many rehearsals, or if there was any prior discussion regarding how the situation would be handled if they were absent. My best advice is to have a friendly talk with the studio owner to discuss why she isn’t backing you up and find out if there is more to the story than you know. I wish you the best. —Rhee
I have two questions I hope you can answer. I teach at the studio where my two daughters take class and are on the competition team. What is a reasonable discount on tuition for employees?
Also, my oldest decided to drop tap for the competition team and take it as a rec class. I teach that class. The owner gave me an adjusted statement showing the change in class, and now it costs more than when she did tap with the team. Should I be charged more for my child to be in my class versus another teacher’s class? The enrollment period was over, so she was not taking a spot another child could have occupied. —Teacher-Mom
There is a lot of diversity among school owners regarding discount policies for employees’ children, from 10 percent to a full scholarship. The variables might include the number of hours worked by the parent or the number of classes the child takes. In most cases, the expense of costumes, entry fees, or other non-classroom-related fees are not covered by the scholarships or included in any discounts.
Your second question is hard to answer because the school owner has the right to charge whatever she thinks is appropriate. I am not convinced that the fact that it is your daughter who is taking your class is relevant. And although initial enrollment is over, many schools accept new students on an ongoing basis. If another child with no relationship to the school registered for the class, she would pay tuition.
That said, I have no idea how much of a discount you receive already. In most cases, competition team classes are less expensive because of the number of classes required by the program policies. We also need to factor in the cost to the studio to run your class, including wages for you and office employees, utilities, and so on.
It might be better to think less about the cost of the tuition and focus on making yourself invaluable to the school owner. Then you can have a conversation about the amount of the discount she offers. I wish you the best. —Rhee
By Meghan Seaman
School owners are always looking for new and exciting ways to market their businesses. But for most of us, many opportunities already exist in our studios’ perks, programs, and other offerings. In marketing our current studio offerings as something special, we save money as well as time and creative energy.
Your facility is a great place to begin. Do you have sprung floors? High ceilings? Be sure to mention them as desirable safety features in your marketing materials. Make note of viewing windows, free wi-fi access, or quiet homework areas in brochures and on your website.
It’s likely that you spent quite a bit of money building or equipping your studio space, designing the dance rooms, and hiring quality instructors. While these things may seem like minimal requirements to seasoned dancers, for new customers they can be presented as perks. For example, Lori Laumann Weil, owner of Creative Dance & Music Studio in Harvey, Louisiana, has attracted and retained more than 200 dancers by such practical policies as accepting credit cards, keeping class sizes small, and offering only well-trained, adult instructors—all things she says set her studio apart from others in her area.
School owner Hedy Perna offers a raffle—the first 100 returning students who pre-register are entered into a drawing for a free dance class for the entire upcoming season. “It really works!” Perna says.
On a similar note, don’t underestimate the selling power of your location. I use the convenient downtown location of my studio, On Stage Dance Studio in Stratford, Ontario, Canada, as a selling feature. Its central location means that after school many students can take a city bus or walk to the studio together. Parents love the fact that they have one fewer trip to the studio to make, and older dancers help out by walking the younger students from their schools to the studio. When parents do need to make the drive into town, they can take advantage of the many nearby shopping centers to run errands or enjoy some quiet time in a coffee shop.
Registration is a great time to add some perks that might entice current students to return for another dance season. At Perna Dance Center in Hazlet, New Jersey, owner Hedy Perna offers a raffle for all returning students. The first 100 returning students who pre-register are entered into a drawing for a free dance class for the entire upcoming season. “You’d better believe that when they bring in their pre-registration forms, they all ask, ‘Did I make it into the first 100?’ It really works!” Perna says.
Another registration bonus offer might be a gift to the first registrants or all who register before a certain date. Things like car decals, water bottles, and T-shirts with the studio’s logo on them are low-cost options for freebies, and they work double duty— not only can they persuade families to register more quickly, but they serve as free advertising.
Marketing to current students works as well as marketing to new clients. Melanie Boniszewski offers a “Customer Appreciation Week” at her Tonawanda Dance Arts in Tonawanda, New York. During this week, all students may try any class in any dance genre, for free. Not only do the families feel appreciated and rewarded, but the trial classes often convince students to add a new style of dance to their weekly schedule. It’s a win–win.
Teffany Comeaux-Ibarra, owner of Teffany’s Dance Studio in Corpus Christi, Texas, has implemented a creative—and very successful—program for her preschool dancers: upon registration, they receive a free “Class of 20XX” T-shirt. She says this plants the idea in parents’ minds that “they are committing to the entire 12-plus years.” Since beginning this program, she says, only six preschool students have dropped out.
New marketing plans are always desirable, but first, don’t forget to look around at what’s already in place. Anything that sets your business apart can be advertised as a reason to choose it over others, and these existing selling points have the advantage of involving little time or cost.
What a turn-of-the-20th-century principle of economics means to you
By Misty Lown
True or false? The work of an Italian economist from more than 100 years ago is having a large impact on your dance studio business today. True!
In 1906, Vilfredo Pareto made a simple observation that changed the course of business management forever—he noticed that 80 percent of the peas in his garden came from 20 percent of the plants. He then observed that 80 percent of the land in Italy was owned by 20 percent of the people. Years later, in 1941, Joseph Juran expanded the Pareto principle from economics to quality issues. Have you ever heard the saying, “Twenty percent of the people cause 80 percent of the problems”? You can thank Juran for making that observation common knowledge.
Have you ever heard the saying, “Twenty percent of the people cause 80 percent of the problems”? From marketing to customers to choreography, you can count on approximately 80 percent of your results coming from approximately 20 percent of the causes.
Fast forward to 2014. Pareto’s principle is still being proved true in businesses today, and dance studios are no exception. From marketing to revenue, from customers to teachers, from exercises to choreography, you can count on approximately 80 percent of your results coming from approximately 20 percent of the causes. Let’s do some digging into your business and see what can be mined from “the law of the vital few,” as Pareto’s principle is also called.
Marketing and revenue
I’m starting in the same place Pareto did—economics. Six years ago, after learning about Pareto’s principle, I decided to give it a road test. I’ve always been a numbers gal. I like to know where my school’s enrollment is, how high payroll is running, which accounts are past due. Even so, I had never looked beyond the stats to see what was driving the numbers I liked to track. I began to dig deeper, tearing through every layer of my business in search of the vital few things that were making the biggest impact on its financial performance.
The biggest shock was discovering that my children’s classes (ages 2 to 8) were outperforming my advanced classes (ages 14 to 18). And not by a small amount—by 400 percent. That’s right. Those little once-a-week, 30-minute classes for kids were generating four times the revenue my senior-level classes were. I had found my vital few.
It seemed counterintuitive at first. The advanced students are the largest accounts; they take the most classes and buy the most costumes. However, the senior-level students also take class at the most deeply discounted multi-class rates; study with the most experienced and highest paid teachers; and require the greatest amount of administrative time.
This led me to two important conclusions. One, I needed to put even more time and energy into developing, marketing, growing, and staffing our children’s program. Second, the pricing for the senior-level dancers needed to be adjusted to more closely reflect the value of the training and support they received. Both decisions have had a positive impact on the business health of my studio, allowing me to expand it twice and update the lobby to serve families better.
Customers and teachers
After I tackled the economic side of Pareto’s equation, it was time to follow Juran’s lead and apply the concept to quality issues. I wasn’t sure how I would measure this factor and stumbled across the answer by accident, going through my emails one day. As I stared at a complaint from a parent, the third one that week, I was reminded of that person’s complaint from the week before and the week before that. You get the idea. With an excitement that can only be fueled by discovery, I looked at her thread of complaints with new eyes.
This lady and her daughter were not only proving Pareto true, they were beating the odds. The duo represented 10 percent of this particular class by enrollment, but caused 90 percent of the problems within that group. Complaints about placement, multiple exchanges of costumes, disruptions in class, disrespect shown to teachers, issues in the dressing room, and negative online behavior—you name it, it was a problem.
I called a conference with the woman and her daughter, which resulted in their withdrawing from the studio. Although I was sad to see the student go, I did breathe a sigh of relief when my inbox was no longer barking at me.
Perhaps you’ve been there, or are there right now. A quick survey of your messages and to-do list could reveal a handful of people who are causing you the greatest grief in your job.
Don’t get me wrong. I am all for listening to people’s concerns. Listening gives me a chance to course-correct if the school or I have missed the mark somehow, or to explain why, after 16 years in business, we do things the way we do. Listening is always a win. But I cannot allow a handful of people to hijack my time and energy with complaints on a regular basis. I am too busy serving the families who value our mission.
The same qualitative question could be applied to your teaching staff. Start tracking the comments you hear about teachers from parents and students. It won’t be too long before you notice a pattern. There will be one or two teachers who get a steady stream of complaints, and a few “rock stars” who get raves.
Put your time, attention, and resources into building on the success of your most capable teachers. They may be available for additional classes or responsibilities. Arrange for them to mentor younger teachers. Offer space for private lessons or have them lead an all-staff workshop in their area of expertise. Certainly, offer the struggling teachers as much support as possible to get through the season, but seriously consider whether to rehire them for the next season. In my experience, people who are not meeting standards during the school year do not magically turn around over the summer.
Exercises and choreography
This third, and perhaps most subjective category—exercises and choreography—is also governed by the 80/20 principle. Nowhere in your business is the impact of a few great (or awful) things more visibly felt than in your final product.
Consider recital and competition. There is always one piece that stands out. It’s the routine everyone talks about and buys a video of. On the other hand, there can also be that one number that doesn’t live up to your expectations. The choreography isn’t up to par, the kids aren’t well rehearsed, or the costumes don’t quite work. As many times as I’ve walked away from a performance ecstatic about the one piece that was amazing, I’ve also walked away haunted by one that missed the mark.
Classroom exercises and training don’t play out as publicly as recitals and competitions, but they are no exception to the law of the vital few. For all the hours spent in the classroom, it can be one correction, singular insight, or observation that will transform a student’s turns, placement, or alignment, affecting their long-term development as a dancer. Conversely, poor instruction in a few foundational concepts, such as spotting, alignment, or turnout, can put a student behind the curve for years to come.
In the case of classroom exercises and choreography, the importance of teacher training and ongoing mentorship cannot be overstated. Equip your teachers with instructional priorities, curriculums, and resources on the front side, but be prepared to observe, assess, and provide timely feedback once things get going. This is where most studio owners fall short. Preparing teachers to enter the classroom by giving them handbooks, lessons plans, attendance sheets, and music is only the beginning. A great finish is made through ongoing feedback, course correction, and mentorship.
Finding the “big rocks”
You’re probably familiar with the story of the college professor who showed his class the importance of the “big rocks” in life—another way of naming the few things in your work or life that are vital to you. To demonstrate his point, he filled a mason jar with big rocks. Although the jar looked full, he proved it wasn’t by adding pebbles, then sand to the jar, shaking the jar to make room for each addition. In a second demonstration, he put the items into the jar in reverse order—the sand and pebbles took up so much space that there was no room for the big rocks.
Consider the big rocks the 20 percent and the sand and pebbles the 80 percent. His point? If you prioritize the “big rock” issues—those vital few—there will be room in the crevices and corners for the non-essentials. However, if you allow your day to be filled with non-essential issues, low-priority projects, or drama (i.e., sand and pebbles), there will be no room left for what matters to you.
It sounds like a lesson Pareto would have liked, and it’s a great example of why prioritizing—paying attention to the “big rocks” first—anchors your work and personal life with what you value most.
What are the big rocks in your business, the vital few things that only you can do to move your business forward? Mine are creating programs, marketing, coaching teachers, and building strategic relationships in the community. I have the ability to do other things, such as bookkeeping, checking messages, cleaning, and ordering costumes, but so does my staff. And, for the most part, they do a better job. My time is better spent working in the areas that have the greatest positive impact on my business and that are things only I can do.
Finally, then there is the matter of you. Pareto discovered the 80/20 principle and related it to economics; Juran applied the concept to management. And now I am challenging you to apply it to your life as an entrepreneur. What are the vital few things in your life that, when you get them “right,” make you feel like all is well with the world? Name them. Write them down today and tape them to your computer screen. And then every time you open an email or look at your to-do list, filter those smaller concerns through your “big rocks” first.
Before Patrick Swayze hit the Catskill Mountains as Johnny Castle in Dirty Dancing, he learned to dance right here in Houston. And it was the good fortune of Jennifer Wood, Heights resident and Suchu Dance founder and artistic director, to end up in the studio where the magic began.
According to the Leader, Wood owned and managed a large studio and theater but, seeking to simplify things, moved her nonprofit company into a space at Ella Plaza, 3480 Ella Boulevard. It was only when Wood and managing director Vipul Divecha were doing paperwork that they saw that Patsy Swayze’s Houston JazzBallet Company was registered to their address. “It was intriguing,” said Wood. “Then we read in Patrick Swayze’s biography that he would walk across the street to Ella Plaza to take dance classes after school.”
The definitive proof came from a choreographer who had danced with Patsy Swayze and from other former students who sent her pictures of the building. Suchu Dance was in the exact same spot as the Swayze School of Dance—a fantastic marketing tool.
While Suchu is gaining momentum in its new home—the company just finished its first show, Nothing, in February—it was slow going at first. The building, for which Wood signed a three-year lease in October, had been abandoned for some time and needed a lot of sweat equity. “The floor wasn’t level and the walls were very purple,” said Wood.
To read the full story, visit http://www.theleadernews.com/?p=16247.
Stars of Tomorrow, a dance invitational for studios from New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut held at Purchase College, will be holding two events this season due to increased interest from local studios.
Stars of Tomorrow, produced by Dancers Responding to AIDS as a benefit for that organization, has planned “evenings of dance” for March 2 and April 13 at The Concert Hall Performing Arts Center, 735 Anderson Hill Road, Purchase, New York. Last year, more than $47,000 was raised to assist men, women, and children across the country affected by HIV/AIDS and other life-threatening illnesses.
Twenty-six studios will be participating in this year’s event. Dancers perform and take master classes with world-renowned teachers. All participating schools commit to selling tickets based on the number of dances they perform.
Dancers Responding to AIDS, founded in 1991 by former Paul Taylor Dance Company members Denise Roberts Hurlin and Hernando Cortez, is a program of Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, one of the nation’s leading industry-based, nonprofit AIDS fundraising and grant-making organizations.
To see a list of participating studios, visit https://www.dradance.org/Stars_Of_Tomorrow.
Former American Ballet Theatre and New York City Ballet principal Robert La Fosse has been passing down his expertise to students of the Scarsdale Ballet Studio in Westchester, New York, as the studio prepares to present Coppélia on March 29 and 30 at the Dance Lab at SUNY Purchase College.
Coppélia will be the first full-length ballet to be presented since the school opened its doors in 1992. Studio director Diana White and La Fosse have been coaching the students and sharing memories of their experiences dancing together at NYCB.
White said the ballet not only offers great opportunity to aspiring dancers to perform an abundance of solo roles and explore eccentric characterizations and work, but also provides the opportunity to perform with La Fosse, who will appear as Dr. Coppelius. La Fosse will reprise this same role later this month with NYCB at the David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center.
Coppélia will be performed March 29 at 6:30pm and March 30th at 1:30pm at the Dance Lab at SUNY Purchase, 735 Anderson Hill Road in Purchase, New York. Tickets are $25 for adults, $20 for children under the age of 12 and can be purchased in person at the Scarsdale Ballet Studio, located at 696R White Plains Road in Scarsdale, or by calling 914.725.8754.
Advice for dance teachers
What would you do about a student’s monthly tuition if she was injured (in athletics, not dance, and it required surgery) and out for a couple of months to recover? She is part of a team and her mom wants me to hold her place in the choreography. I’m on the fence about this since she cannot dance; the problem is that she was supposed to be in eight dances, and all of the teachers will need to remember to factor her in. I’m not opposed to waiving her tuition while she is out, but I want to make sure I don’t start something that snowballs with all the other “ouchies” in the studio. Thanks for your help! —Shelly
This is an opportunity for this child, her mom, and the rest of your dancers to learn more than movement. It’s where you teach respect, dedication, teamwork, and more. When young dancers and their parents are truly committed, an injury doesn’t prevent them from going to the studio. I believe injured students should observe all the classes they can’t physically take, and it is imperative that they attend all choreography rehearsals. Injury does not prevent a dancer from using his/her brain; observation can be as educational as taking a class.
As for the choreography, the dancer must know that it is her obligation to be prepared to step back into the piece as soon as she is ready. And she should be able to do this without the choreographer having to spend hours re-teaching the movement. Learning her part while injured is an example of having respect for her classmates and her teachers.
In this case, no refund is applicable. It is the dancer’s and parent’s choice whether to take advantage of the opportunity to be part of what they are paying for. Good luck! —Rhee
You helped me through a very bad time years ago when two of my students who grew up in my school took almost my entire dance troupe and opened a school down the street. I was heartbroken. Now once again I am getting calls from people dropping out right and left. I have tried having a meeting and no one will share what is going on. But we now have only six kids left in one troupe and eight in another. If we keep this number of students, we will lose money paying a teacher, but if we get rid of the dance troupes altogether, then we will lose the students who want to compete. What do we do? —Cathy
I am sorry you are dealing with this situation, but in all honesty I find it hard to understand why your instinct isn’t helping you figure out why these dancers are leaving. How was the previous season? Did the dancers and their parents have any issues? Were you on top of your game when it came to customer service, organization, faculty, choreography, and so on? There must be something you know in your gut that would explain this exodus.
I would like you to think about this: if these departing students or their parents are not offering you any clues about why they made the decisions they did, or if they are not giving you what I might call the typical reasons (“My daughter has decided to do another activity,” or “My child doesn’t have the time to commit,” etc.), then my guess is there is something wrong and they believe you should know what it is. Apparently they are uncomfortable being truthful with you. Work harder to get honest feedback, and if you get it, don’t take offense; instead think about what you could do to avoid doing whatever it is in the future.
With the two groups of students who remain, give them and their parents the best dance year possible, both educationally and in terms of customer service. Though I know situations like this are hard, you’ve been through something similar and you survived quite well. Make it your goal to figure out the reality of the situation, and then get to work making yourself better by learning from of all of these lessons you’re experiencing. —Rhee
I have been teaching for two decades at the same school. I feel like I am at home, and everyone there is an important part of my extended family. The owner and I have had a wonderful working and personal relationship, but it has been more than 10 years since she has offered me a raise. Almost 10 years had passed before I received the only raise I have ever gotten. That happened because I was getting married and I told my boss that I had to cut back my teaching hours in order to get a real job so that my new husband and I could afford our mortgage. She was very generous at that time, increasing my hourly wage from $12 to $22. I appreciated it very much, but the school and the number of students that I teach has doubled since then. Not more classes, but more students in the classes.
My dance family means so much to me and I don’t want to lose it or my relationship with my boss, but my own family thinks that I am being taken advantage of. We are struggling financially. How do I ask for a raise, and if I do will I lose the career I love? I am so scared and I don’t know what to do. Thanks. —Valerie
You should be commended for your appreciation for your dance family and your loyalty to your boss. I would love to have you as an employee. You need to speak up just like you did 10 years ago. If your boss is your “family,” and your relationship is strong, she can’t take offense at your asking for a raise. And if she does, then you must realize that the relationship may not be the same for her as it is for you.
A hint: this time when you speak to her, you should also ask her to agree to discuss wages on an every-other-year basis. You need to establish some sort of boundaries in the relationship. She may know how much your dance family means to you, so it’s possible she doesn’t bring up money because she’s confident that you would never quit. I am not saying it’s right, but it might be how it is in your situation. I wish you all the best. —Rhee
Note to our readers: In this column you often read my responses to studio owners who say their former students or employees open a competing school nearby. Often, when teachers leave, they take their students along with them, and the war begins. Sometimes the circumstances that create the problem in the first place are similar to Valerie’s. She wants to be loyal, and she wants to be part of the “family,” but she can no longer deal with the financial price of her loyalty to her boss.
Words from our readers
Thank you for the wonderful article about NBS’ Assemblée Internationale festival [“Assemblée Internationale 2013: Canada’s international festival proves there are no borders, nationally or technologically, in ballet,” by Joseph Carman] in the September issue of DSL. It looked great! Hopefully you’ll be able to join us for the next AI!
Senior Communications Officer
Canada’s National Ballet School
Thank you for including us in your October issue [“Showtime Styles: A look at who does what for recitals across the U.S.,” by Maureen Janson]!
Andrea In Motion/AIM Studio
Staten Island, NY
Social media’s popularity has given studio owners a bonanza of (free!) marketing opportunities. But because social-media platforms are so easy to use and because they feel informal, it’s also easy to forget that your studio’s reputation is on the line with each word you type and each photo you post. Don’t let missteps get in the way of your efforts. Keep your online integrity intact with these tips.
Before posting photos and videos of classes and performances, make sure you have permission from your students’ parents. Including a photo/video release statement with registration materials is best; if it’s too late for that, direct parents to a release form on your website or in your email newsletter.
To avoid having an “all about me” image, intersperse some inspirational quotes and images, or post links to relevant dance news stories or online articles.
The release should state that the parent allows your school to use photos or videos of their child in marketing materials, including on social media. If any clients are unwilling to sign the release, make a note in their account not to use images of those children.
When you do post photos and videos, make sure you don’t show favoritism toward a certain student, class, or performing group.
No disruptive opinions
Whether you’re posting a status update, commenting on a post, or tweeting, always pause before issuing a strong opinion. Avoid remarks that could be construed as sexist, racist, or politically divisive. If you know what you’re about to post is controversial and you still want to do it, preface it with “I understand this may be a hot topic, but I think . . .” or “This may be a point of contention, but my thoughts about it are . . .” Be prepared for a backlash, however.
Even when you opt for maximum privacy settings on your accounts, your posts can be traced back to you. On Facebook, for example, even if your profile is private, others may be able to see comments you make on friends’ posts.
It’s natural, and expected, that you’ll plug your studio’s events and brag about your faculty and students on your Facebook page or Twitter account. Showcase your school mindfully, by limiting the number of self-promotional posts, especially in a short period of time. To avoid having an “all about me” image, intersperse some inspirational quotes and images, or post links to relevant dance news stories or online articles. Celebrate the dance world as a whole along with marketing your school.
Watch those words
Don’t underestimate good spelling and grammar. Those who follow you on social media will be more likely to take you seriously and respect your opinions if they can clearly understand what you are saying. Always re-read your remarks before posting or tweeting, and check any spelling or grammar you aren’t sure about.
For example, it’s common to mistake your for you’re, or to mix up there, their, and they’re. Know the difference, and use them correctly so you don’t look careless. Do not overuse punctuation or emoticons; multiple exclamation points, slipshod apostrophes, and excessive use of smiley faces can look unintentionally juvenile.
Also be careful with abbreviations, like typing 2 in place of to, too, or two, or u for you. Although these shortcuts are commonplace on social media (especially on Twitter, where tweets are limited to 140 characters) abbreviations make it appear like you didn’t put time or thought into what you wrote. Save them for tweets or don’t use them at all.
Resist the urge to badmouth any person or business on social media, or to jump on someone else’s badmouthing bandwagon. If you had a personal misunderstanding or a terrible customer-service experience, say something constructive or say nothing at all. Don’t indulge in a rant that you might later regret.
The moral of the story on social media? Integrity and presentation are important! The way you communicate online should accurately reflect your level of professionalism.
Co-owner/director, Motion N’ Dance, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
NOMINATED BY: Jessica Gibson, co-owner and daughter: “My mother and I have been working together for seven years. She was given the chance to buy an existing studio whose owner had only 57 dancers left. My mother made the decision to rebuild and open Motion N’ Dance. We built the studio around the belief that there is more to dance than competitions, trophies, and medals. We provide students with proper dance education and performance opportunities that will help them grow as dancers. My mother has added more than 300 students to the number enrolled when we took over the school.”
YEARS TEACHING: 19
AGES TAUGHT: 3 to 18
GENRES TAUGHT: Ballet, lyrical, and jazz
WHY SHE CHOSE TEACHING DANCE AS A CAREER: It allows me to educate and mentor my students as well as provide a second home to them. I have danced my entire life—it is who I am. Growing up with a learning disability, I found that dance provided me with a purpose. It was the one thing I could do that made me feel confident and secure. I wanted to share my passion for the art, so I chose to teach.
HER GREATEST INSPIRATIONS: My inspiration comes from watching my students grow as dancers and individuals. My husband and family believe in me and allow me to follow my dream. My mother was also an inspiration; she was able to see me realize my dream before she passed away. However, my greatest inspiration is my daughter—with whom I am now able to share my dance life—as I watch her grow into the business.
TEACHING PHILOSOPHY: My philosophy stems from a quote I learned in childhood: “There is no such word as ‘cannot.’ ” I push my students to strive and reach for their own dreams and to understand that if they believe in their dreams, they will come true. Hard work and dedication do pay off!
WHAT MAKES HER A GOOD TEACHER: I constantly educate myself. One is never too old to take a class, read a book, or attend a seminar. More important, I know my students. I know how to fix their weaknesses and use their strengths. Furthermore, I understand that some may need a high five while others may need a hug at the end of class.
FONDEST TEACHING MEMORY: The Christmas performance for the patients of Sacred Heart Home, for cancer patients. I love watching the dancers interact with the patients, as well as the patients trying to dance along. Seeing the smiles on their faces is moving and rewarding. The dancers and I enjoy spending Christmas Eve at the home every year.
ADVICE TO DANCERS AND TEACHERS: To dancers: believe in yourself. To teachers: believe in your dancers.
IF SHE COULDN’T BE A DANCE TEACHER: I would open a home for children and take the time to mentor them.
ADDITIONAL COMMENTS: Dance saved me—it changed my life. I am thankful and blessed for all that I have. Because of dance, I have fight in me to push myself to want more and make things happen. I know to never give up. You will get knocked down, but if you believe in yourself no one can make you feel that you cannot accomplish your dreams.
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.
Cooperation is key in merger of two studios
By Mary Ellen Hunt
Neighboring dance studio owners go toe-to-toe all the time, about everything from dance competitions to capturing students to booking recital space. For Kathryn Barnett and Cathy Stucko, however, the unconventional and mutually beneficial solution to their separate problems lay in joining forces. Far from seeing each other as a threat, they merged their two studios into the singular Kathryn Barnett School of Dance and Allegro Dance Academy.
For some 30 years, Barnett owned a studio in Red Bank, New Jersey, where she built an enrollment of 200 students and founded a competition team, all housed in a building she’d owned since the school opened. In August 2012, however, Barnett was distressed when the county began a construction project on the street in front of her studio.
One day we were complaining about her issues and my issues. And then suddenly we said, ‘Why don’t we [team up] and have our issues together?’ —Kathryn Barnett
“People could not get in my door, and it lasted until December,” she says. “The students and parents, the teachers, everybody was frustrated. There was no parking. It really had an impact on my business.”
Meanwhile, Barnett’s friend Cathy Stucko faced a different challenge: searching for a new artistic director for her school, Allegro Dance Academy in Middletown, only seven minutes away from Barnett’s school. The mother of a dancer, Stucko purchased Allegro Dance Academy four years ago, to make sure, she says, it would still be there for the kids and families. But as a full-time nurse, she needed someone to help her with the business.
“I had to learn along the way,” Stucko says. “I was a dance mom—not like the TV show, of course, but I was always involved at the studio. Being a director as well as having a full-time job was hard. Someone worked the front desk at the studio until I could get there, but every day I picked the teachers up from the train station, drove them to the studio, took care of things at the studio, then took the teachers back again at the end of the night. And then I had to get up the next day and go to work myself.”
Stucko and Barnett were good friends, “and we used to get together all the time,” says Barnett. “One day we were complaining about her issues and my issues. And then suddenly we said, ‘Why don’t we [team up] and have our issues together?’ ”
The two women had known each other for years and have much in common. Not only were they both busy working moms who ran dance studios—Stucko’s daughter Lauren had danced in pieces choreographed by Barnett’s daughter Gabrielle—they discovered that they had similar philosophies about educating dance students. Allegro Dance Academy held classes only four days a week, and when KBSD’s performing troupe was looking for weekend rehearsal space in late 2012, Barnett rented Allegro’s studios.
As they discussed the idea of merging their studios, it began to make more and more sense. Barnett, a 30-year veteran teacher, would become executive director of the new venture and make artistic decisions, while Stucko would be program director and take care of administrative matters. When the proprietors of a cupcake shop next to the Red Bank building, which Barnett owned, revealed that they hoped to expand, it seemed like the moment was perfect to lease the space to them and move the studio.
“I wanted to teach more, and Cathy is a fantastic administrator,” says Barnett. “We have the same sensibilities—our goals, even our mission statements were very similar. Together we would have a nice healthy enrollment. She has a much bigger space—she even has air conditioning, which my school didn’t have.”
“We both believe in the same thing,” says Stucko. “That it’s all about the kids, teaching them how to dance, teaching them to love the arts, and giving back to the community.”
The Middletown studios are in Union Square Mall, an easily accessible, safe, kid-friendly location with plenty of parking. Before or after classes, students can get food and walk around, and parents feel comfortable dropping their children off early, knowing that the studio’s staff members are never far away.
Stucko notes that Allegro’s students mainly dance recreationally, and while Barnett trains Barnett Traveling Troupe—which this year will be split into competition and performance groups, the latter of which will dance for community events—her philosophy is to nurture in all of her students qualities that will serve them for a lifetime, in or out of the profession.
“Fewer than one percent of students will become professional dancers, but what’s important is that we give them the best possible dance experience,” says Barnett. “We are interested in building their self-confidence one class at a time, one performance at a time.”
Melding the students from the two schools took some careful planning. In spring 2013, Barnett and Stucko sent out a joint letter to parents announcing the merger, unsure of their reaction. Stucko says her students’ parents were happy for her, but Barnett got mixed responses.
“People don’t like change, even if it’s for the better,” Barnett says. “And it’s not easy. Some people have said, ‘I’m not going to come back because the new studio is too far away,’ even though it’s only seven minutes from the old studio. Parents were worried—would their daughter have this teacher next year for her classes? How would it work? We really worked to answer their concerns and said, ‘Of course it’s different, but we will get you set. Is it going to be the same? No, it’s going to be better!’ ”
As a precursor to the merge, Stucko and Barnett planned to do their end-of-year recital together in early June. “Talk about getting everyone on the same page real fast!” says Barnett. “Everyone was very positive, and we had two shows that were very polished, so it was a huge success. We got to see what they were about and they saw what we were about” in terms of how each woman organized and ran her show.
With those performances under their belt, they made the move official at the end of June with joint summer camp sessions: a two-week Blue Fairy Dance Camp for preschoolers, plus three weeks of classes and workshops for dancers ages 6 and older that included ballet, tap, jazz, acrobatics, hip-hop, conditioning, and yoga, and a special musical-theater master class with Broadway coach Janine Molinari.
Barnett made sure the students would feel at home. She posted a sign that the Blue Fairy, who was known to give sweet treats to the kids at the end of classes and for whom the tot camp is named, was moving with them. “The Red Bank studio is where I grew up,” she says. “When I was a little girl, the Blue Fairy came to live at the dance studio and was there for over 30 years. Magic is really important to me.”
Behind the scenes, Stucko and Barnett say they left most of the business details of the merger up to lawyers.
“A lot of it was just step-by-step,” says Stucko, referring to making the decision, informing parents, and making legal and staffing decisions. She emphasizes that she and Barnett try to communicate not only with each other but also with parents, so that everyone is comfortable with the joint venture.
The names of both studios, as well as the logos, are there in the new identity for the business, and Barnett’s PR person has helped them get word out. The directors work together on everything from picking recital and competition dates to choosing staff—most of Barnett’s staff will come with her, and at least one of Stucko’s teachers will remain, with the possibility that more will come in to conduct master classes.
“Cathy handles the business administration side, which she is brilliant at because she’s highly organized,” says Barnett. “She takes care of the registration and makes sure everything is put into the computer correctly, while I make sure we put the right kids in the right classes.”
Stucko says she has enormous respect for Barnett’s skills and vision. “Kathryn has been in business for 30 years, which is a phenomenal amount of time to be in this business. She has so much energy and a world of knowledge.”
The two directors had to make decisions about how to balance the recreational approach to classes, while also making sure the competition-level offerings remained vibrant. Combined, the school now serves preschool to adult levels, with classes in ballet and pointe, tap, jazz, musical theater, acrobatics, and Irish step dancing. The new curriculum, Stucko says, also includes the conditioning and strengthening classes and nutrition instruction Allegro offered, as well as more classes for teens, including hip-hop and contemporary.
“This year we have more levels and more opportunities to take class,” Stucko says. “Whereas in the past maybe we would have had a class on just Saturday, now we can have it on both Tuesday and Saturday.”
Any of the students ages 10 and older can benefit, she says, from Barnett’s free monthly choreography class. Students can bring a friend to a free hour-and-a-half session in which they watch classic dance films featuring Gene Kelly or Fred Astaire, for example, enjoy a snack, learn a little dance history, and learn routines re-created from the movies.
For the first fall session as a joint studio, Barnett and Stucko hoped to enroll some 200 students—by late August, they were well on their way with some 100 students registered.
“It’s been a leap of faith,” says Barnett about the merger. “But if you get with somebody you like and trust, I say leap and a net will appear.”
“We enjoy what we do,” adds Stucko. “The kids feel comfortable coming here, and the teachers are so much fun. After having a long day at work I love hearing laughter in the classroom. It makes everything else disappear. This doesn’t feel like work, it feels fun.”
Dozens of girls in the Girl Scouts’ Daisy and Brownie ranks from Dexter and elsewhere in Washtenaw County, Michigan, attended an annual one-day course and exhibition at Dancer’s Edge Studio D last weekend that allowed them to sew a brand new merit badge on their uniforms.
“We provide them with all of the requirements to earn the badge,” Valerie Stead, Dancer’s Edge owner and head coach of the University of Michigan Dance Team, told the Dexter Leader. “We talk about healthy eating, healthy living, and healthy lifestyles, and how great it is to dance—as well as the different styles of dance.”
Stead said this year’s turnout was impressive. “It’s a great way to give back to the community,” she said. “They learn a proper warm-up, which is important since it’s cold outside. They’re learning their skills across the floor, and then when they learn those combinations they put together a dance at the end that they can show their parents.”
The girls are also learning how to build self-esteem and confidence, which Stead says is important for any little girl to learn early on. Saturday was the first time Daisy Maddie Mcguire had taken a dance class. Her dad, Brian, said he would consider letting her taking more classes after she finishes up her karate class this season.
To see the original story, visit http://www.heritage.com/articles/2014/02/11/dexter_leader/news/doc52f97c4ace458161665092.txt?viewmode=default.
It started as a humble newsletter: Goldrush, created and published by Rhee Gold, was filled with articles written by dance teachers for dance teachers. It was an instant hit, and Gold—encouraged by the obvious interest of his friends and colleagues in a publication all about dance education—decided to launch a full-fledged, glossy magazine version of his little-newsletter-that-could in July of 2004.
Since that day, Dance Studio Life has grown into the top publication in the dance education industry, printing 10 high-quality magazines a year chock-full of informative, inspirational, and fun features.
In honor of this year’s 10th anniversary, Dance Studio Life staffers have been scouring the archives for favorite articles. Starting this week, three of those articles will be featured each week on the Dance Studio Life Facebook page: human interest features on Tuesdays, business-oriented stories on Wednesdays, and classroom success stories on Thursdays.
So, peruse at your leisure, and enjoy this DSL blast from the past!
Everything Old is New Again: Stories from Past Issues of Dance Studio Life to be Resurrected on Facebook
It started as a humble newsletter: Goldrush, created and published by Rhee Gold, was filled with articles written by dance teachers for dance teachers. It was an instant hit, and Gold—encouraged by the obvious interest of his friends and colleagues in a publication all about dance education—decided to launch a full-fledged, glossy magazine version of his little-newsletter-that-could in July of 2004.
Since that day, Dance Studio Life has grown into the top publication in the dance education industry, printing 10 high-quality magazines a year chock-full of informative, inspirational, and fun features.
In honor of this year’s 10th anniversary, Dance Studio Life staffers have been scouring the archives for favorite articles. Starting this week, three of those articles will be featured each week on the Dance Studio Life Facebook page: human interest features on Tuesdays, business-oriented stories on Wednesdays, and classroom success stories on Thursdays.
So, peruse at your leisure, and enjoy this DSL blast from the past!
Julie Mack lived to dance and to share her love of the craft by teaching others. Owner of Julie’s Studio of Dance in West Bridgewater, Massachusetts, Mack died this week at the age of 39.
She had been battling cancer since she was 2.
The Enterprise reported that even as she battled cancer for a fourth time, Mack came to her dance studio daily to share her expertise—thin, and with a cap covering her head, she was still teaching children days before being hospitalized about two weeks ago.
“She battled cancer heroically and with such grace for so long,” said Julie’s husband, Jonathan Mack, of Bridgewater. “Take comfort that she’s no longer in pain and that she’s dancing again. She has touched so many lives and is loved by so, so, so many.”
Mack said her passion for dance is what helped her endure repeated cancer treatments. “Cancer or no cancer, we all just keep swimming,” she told the newspaper just a week before Christmas, as she conducted classes for two dozen children.
She opened her first dance studio in 2005 at the former Joppa Grille site in East Bridgewater, and opened another studio in Bridgewater shortly afterward, before moving her studio, finally, to West Bridgewater last fall.
“Julie had two very important sentences that inspired her,” said her father-in-law, Ray Mack. “One was, ‘It is what it is,’ and, ‘This is not the life I would choose, but this is it,’ and that guided her so many times.”
She also had a wooden plaque on her wall that read, “We can do hard things.”
“That was her motto,” said Ray Mack.
Mack’s studio will remain closed for the remainder of the week and will re-open for dance classes on January 20. To see the original story, visit
American Ballet Theatre’s Studio Company will make its inaugural appearance at the 92nd Street Y Harkness Dance Center in New York City with four performances February 7 to 9.
In 1935, what became 92nd Street Y’s Harkness Dance Center provided a home to the fledgling American modern dance movement. In the decades that followed, every great American dancer and choreographer—visionaries including Martha Graham, Alvin Ailey, Merce Cunningham, Jerome Robbins, Agnes de Mille, Robert Joffrey and Donald McKayle—spent time at 92Y.
The ABT Studio Company is comprised of 14 dancers-in-training ages 16 to 20 who gain performance experience through residencies, cultural exchanges, and local performances. The works scheduled to be performed include a world premiere choreographed by Larry Keigwin, Martine van Hamel’s Trio a Deux, excerpts from Lynne Taylor-Corbett’s Great Galloping Gottschalk, Antony Tudor’s Continuo, and the pas de sept from Raymonda.
Tickets, priced at $25, are available at www.92y.org/dance. The 92nd Street Y is located at 1395 Lexington Avenue in New York City.
Whether in the dance studio or on a film set, John Virciglio has always considered himself an “outside-the-box thinker.”
Besides his position as an adjunct dance faculty member at The University of Alabama, Virciglio also owns and operates a film production company. Virciglio said the idea behind Sharkbite Productions, based in Birmingham, was rooted in his childhood experiences as a dancer.
“I always enjoyed the energy of dance,” Virciglio told The Crimson White. “My aunt ran a studio in Florida, and my older sister danced, so I was able to meet a lot of people who I had a lot in common with. That’s where I learned a lot about discipline and coordination, and those are two things that have helped me to this day.”
Virciglio said the idea for his film production company, Sharkbite Productions, stemmed from his collegiate experience. “When I was teaching during my collegiate years, I got bored of teaching the same kind of class all the time,” Virciglio said. “So I came up with a class where students would learn how to make a music video. The videos turned out to be MTV-quality, so I figured it was time to start thinking about this as a career.”
Cornelius Carter, a professor of dance and director of the dance program at the University, said Virciglio’s incorporation of technology and dance proves that he has an eye for what the future holds for dance. And technology skills are vital to aspiring dancers in the industry.
“Most companies these days ask for websites and video reels,” Carter said. “If you don’t have a solid, clear online presence for yourself, you can’t get a job. Your presence determines future, and you have to be clear on how you present yourself.”
To read the full story, visit http://cw.ua.edu/2014/01/14/dance-faculty-member-branches-into-film/.
Two business partners are shaking up downtown Riverside, California, with their new two-dance-studios-in-one: Room to Dance, World to Dance, reported The Press-Enterprise.
April MacLean, 33, and Julie Simon, 44 have created one of the fastest-growing small businesses in Riverside, carving a niche for adults only in an industry which generated more than $2 billion in revenue nationwide last year.
MacLean and Simon have doubled enrollment to 2,000. Nineteen teachers lead 39 weekly classes and workshops in 29 genres, including Zumba, ballroom, Bollywood, hot hula, belly dance, ballroom, Rio samba, and Latin jazz.
In July 2011, MacLean opened Room to Dance, Riverside’s first studio exclusively for grownups, at 3579 University Avenue. In 2013, she and Simon launched their satellite studio, World to Dance, a block away at 3485 University, with a smorgasbord of diverse, international dance styles.
On Saturday, the merged Room and World opened its doors under one roof at 3737 Main Street in the city-owned California Tower building. Through an online social networking campaign, MacLean and Simon raised $5,000 to cover the first month’s rent. “We knew we needed a bigger building for synergy and growth,” said MacLean.
In 2012, teaching a block apart from one another, Simon and MacLean met serendipitously in the downtown Life Arts Building where both had booked the same reception hall at the same time. Despite very different personalities, the women clicked and couldn’t stop talking, sharing their stories and ambitions. MacLean hired Simon as a teacher and then they became business partners.
To read the full story, visit http://www.pe.com/business/business-headlines/20140112-retail-new-dance-studio-hopes-to-rock-downtown-riverside.ece.
Lower Manhattan’s arts scene took a hit when Dance New Amsterdam vacated its TriBeCa home this fall. But last week a new tenant with equal dance-world credibility signed a 20-year lease for the 36,000-square-foot space at 280 Broadway: choreographer Gina Gibney, founder of Gibney Dance.
The Wall Street Journal says her nonprofit contemporary dance company and rehearsal center currently leases a floor of 890 Broadway, a Flatiron-area building with a long history as a creative hub. Gibney Dance has seven studios stretching over 15,000 square feet that it rents out to dance companies, Broadway shows, or anyone in need of arts-related space. (A story on Gibney and 890 Broadway appeared in the August 2012 Dance Studio Life.)
By adding the downtown facility, Gibney Dance will more than double its operations—and it’s not just empire-building. “The primary reason we want to expand is to save the space for the dance community,” said Gibney. “I think we had to do it.”
Affordable, convenient rehearsal space is one of the most pressing performing-arts needs in New York. The shuttering of DNA after it filed for Chapter 11 protection threatened a further reduction: it could have easily been leased and renovated into something other than a center for dance.
Although her plans for the downtown space are yet to be finalized, Gibney expects to renovate 280 Broadway in a way that will make it a resource for emerging artists, while 890 Broadway will be more focused on the needs of those in midcareer.
To see the original story, visit http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702303848104579310853484787882.
Advice for dance teachers
As an owner of a dance studio for many years, I wonder if it’s necessary to be at the studio every day. I’ve attended many of your conferences and I know your philosophy about how the owner sets the mood of the studio. I agree with that. But personal life has its ups and downs. I love the studio but feel burned out from time to time. I watch my customers take vacations as I work on the next project. Summer is a busy time preparing for the next season, so I feel like I don’t get a break.
I want the studio to have a good atmosphere, and I’m afraid my being stressed and feeling sad or overwhelmed will permeate the studio. I wonder if it’s OK to give myself a break from the studio and allow my staff to set the tone. Any suggestions? —Lisa
No, I don’t think you have to be at the school all day, every day. And certainly you can give yourself a break or take a real vacation. You will be a better leader if you give yourself what you need in order to stay fresh and able to appreciate what you have built. If you are feeling stressed and sad, you need to step away for a bit. Also, you need to know that you are not alone. The dance-education field is not as easy as most think it is, and many times teachers arrive at a place where they need to put themselves first without feeling guilty.
As for keeping the atmosphere positive, it won’t self-destruct if you are there less often; in fact, it might improve for everyone if you give yourself what you need. It’s obvious that you have worked hard to get your business to where it is today; it’s OK to take a vacation. I wish you the best. —Rhee
I need a morale booster about how to get more business. After 24 years my studio took a huge hit, and I don’t know why. I work so hard! I am hanging on by a thread, super-full of anxiety, and this has sent me into a depression. I’ve been hanging on to your positivity! —Tanya
I think you need to figure out why your clients left. Contact a couple of them (in the friendliest way) to discuss their motives for not returning to your school. It is important to know what their perception is so that you can move forward to eliminate the issues that caused them to leave. Also, it’s time to focus on bringing in a new crop of young students who will grow up to replace those you lost. Go nuts promoting the preschool and young children’s classes.
We sometimes get a kick in the butt that tells us we need to make changes. The catch is being able to recognize what those changes need to be. You can do this! Let go of the anxiety so that you can make good things happen for you and your school. —Rhee
Six dancers on my competition team were in a short video posted on Vine. They were twerking, and they made the video at my dance studio. They did not tag the studio or attach the studio to the video in any way, but they used their first and last names on it and have received a lot of attention (positive and negative) because of it. The video has tens of thousands of hits.
I have made it perfectly clear to them that I never want to see my studio used in such a video again. Some of the girls were remorseful and some are still proud of their popularity. I am so disappointed and frustrated by their choice to post themselves doing a questionable dance move when I constantly tell them to use proper judgment on social media. They have told me their parents see nothing wrong with it, which stuns me.
My dilemma: do I leave it where it stands, having discussed it with the girls? Or do I make an example of them and issue a consequence of some kind? I want the rest of my team and studio to understand that I do not condone what they did. Any advice would be appreciated. —Robert
I would sit down with the kids involved and their parents to explain that you are uncomfortable with them having used the studio to make the video. Whether or not they understand, you need to explain that reputation is the most important ingredient for success, in both the dance and non-dance worlds. If they choose to create something like this outside of the school and their parents don’t care, that is their prerogative. But if they choose to continue to represent your school, they must understand that you have the right to ensure that they do not tarnish your reputation.
Make it clear that if they do anything like this again, they will have to find another place to dance. It’s a new world out there, and we adults must keep trying to teach the next generation how important good judgment is to their success. I wish you all the best. —Rhee
This past summer brought lots of heartbreak and confusion to the studio I work at. A girl opened a studio right after high school, and a few girls went with her. Other girls went to other studios or quit altogether. Now my employer feels frustrated and I don’t know how to help.
The dancers who went to the new studio now realize it’s not what they want. A couple of them have been in contact, saying they want to come back, and one returned. However, another dancer I’m close to wants to leave the new studio but doesn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. Her mother has already let the studio owner know that she wants to switch, and so now we are all expecting her back. Yet the young girl feels torn.
This dancer is in contact with me, and I keep telling her she needs to be happy and that we will love her no matter what she and her parents decide. She appreciates that but now says she is going to quit dancing because she doesn’t want to upset anyone. I don’t want this to happen. I encouraged her to keep dancing, but I don’t know what else to do. I have been there for her every step of the way, but it’s starting to become irritating.
Is there anything else I can do to help? Or should I just back away from the situation? I’m confused! —Darlene
I think you need to step back a bit and not let this situation frustrate you. You can offer your best advice, but in the end the decision is up to the dancer and her parents. I would be sure to let any students who leave the school know that the door is always open if they change their mind, or if they just want to come back to visit. That is how school owners can make it less uncomfortable for young people to return if they discover they made the wrong decision.
My guess is that the school owner should evaluate why the students left. It might not be her fault, or it could be a sign that she needs to make changes that will boost her students’ loyalty to the school. Sometimes the hardest situations are the best learning experiences, but it can take a while to figure out what the lesson is.
I can tell how concerned you are about your students’ well-being, and I commend you for that. Now you need to get back to your classroom to inspire the kids who love to take your class. The rest will work itself out in the long run. Good luck! —Rhee
Words from the publisher
No, parents don’t tell us when their children should do a solo. We decide when.
No, parents don’t tell us what should be in the choreography. We decide that. The music and costume choices are ours, too.
We are the experts, and we are confident in what we know is right and when it’s right. If a parent wants to be in control, then we have no problem telling her our school isn’t the right place for her. Certainly we will explain our philosophy and do our best to educate the parent about why her child isn’t ready for that solo, but the parent can’t talk us out of what we know.
On the same note, we believe that “mandatory” really does mean mandatory. If a dancer doesn’t show up for a mandatory rehearsal, she cannot be in the piece. End of discussion. But we aren’t cruel—when there’s a death in the family or a legitimate emergency, we’ll excuse the dancer. But we can’t excuse her because she has a soccer game or because Aunt Susie is visiting. Commitment doesn’t work that way.
We have learned that in most cases the child knows what is right when it comes to commitment; the problem is the parents who believe their child is more special than the other kids. But since we know a dance education includes teaching life skills like commitment, respect, and dedication, we know we must stick to our policies.
The first time we make an exception to what we know is right, we open the door to allowing ourselves to be taken advantage of. We are no longer in control of what happens in our schools and classrooms. That loss of control makes us more stressed and less focused on what we need to accomplish; consequently, we’ll probably feel burned out sooner than we might have if we’d had the confidence to stick to our policies and beliefs.
Standing up for ourselves and what we believe in is liberating. When we do, we ensure that our students and their parents come to us for dance training because they believe in our philosophy and trust our judgment. In that kind of atmosphere, everyone thrives.
Words from our readers
I read the July issue with the story of the Christmas Butterfly [“Tempting Twists on Tradition”]. I enjoyed it greatly, but was wondering if there was a CD of all the songs from the story.
Editor’s note: We’re glad you liked it! There is no CD, but the songs are available individually on iTunes.
I was deeply moved by the thoughtful and detailed work that went into presenting Manatee School for the Arts and my life in the dance studio [“Ballet Scene: Ballroom to Ballet,” July 2013]. Joseph [Carman] wrote every detail in a thorough and compelling manner. The students, the principal, and I were delighted with the generous spread that you so artistically created. Even my dance teacher wrote to thank me for mentioning her in the article, and I thank Joseph for letting me do that publicly. It meant so much to me.
I was honored to be a subject that was promoted by the many talents of your staff. Thank you for sharing my love and representing MSA and me in expressing our studio life story.
Dance Co-Chair, Manatee School for the Arts