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Posts Tagged ‘studio’

After Successful Nationals, Dance Studio Left Reeling by Theft of Props Truck

Relevé Performing Arts owner Jamie Osteen and students; photo by Patrick Sullivan/Times-News

Relevé Performing Arts owner Jamie Osteen and students; photo by Patrick Sullivan/Times-News

Jamie Osteen, co-owner and instructor at Relevé Performing Arts Center of Hendersonville, North Carolina, and her troupe of 75 dancers returned home from Kids Artistic Revue’s national competition in high spirits June 29.

But spirits crashed last week when a trailer holding most of the props used in their winning numbers was stolen from the studio parking lot, reported Blue Ridge Now. “They were coming back on such a high,” Osteen said. “To come home and have this happen, I just can’t believe this.”

Stolen was scenery from the troupe’s national championship number, The Auction, a spooky routine choreographed by Osteen in which dancers creep out of the walls and props on stage; and oversized props such as a large blue Lego and gigantic blades of grass used in a production number, Honey, I Shrunk the Kids.

When the theft happened, two trailers were parked outside the studio: a 10-foot-long trailer emblazoned with the company’s name, address, and phone number, and a plain 12-foot-long trailer the company had borrowed from the father of Osteen’s business partner. The borrowed trailer was missing.

“They couldn’t have hit us in a worse way,” Osteen said. “As much as I hate losing the trailer, it can be replaced. The props can’t be replaced.” She estimated the props to have been worth at least $1,000 to the company.

The troupe is still hoping its props may be returned, and some of them—such as a wooden mountain range large enough for 10-year-olds to scale—could be easy to spot.

To see the full story, visit



Two High School Dancers Create Program to Share Love of Dance With Others

Just Dance creators Ashlee Schuh, 17, (left), and Kaitlyn Xavier, 16; photo by Mark Crosse/The Fresno Bee

Just Dance creators Ashlee Schuh, 17, (left), and Kaitlyn Xavier, 16; photo by Mark Crosse/The Fresno Bee

In a small storage room with no air conditioning at the Zimmerman Boys & Girls Club in central Fresno, California, a dozen youngsters in the Just Dance program must keep from banging into hockey equipment, boxes, and each other, but are having a blast learning how to dance.

The Modesto Bee said Just Dance was created last summer by San Joaquin Memorial High School and Fresno Dance Studio students Kaitlyn Xavier, 16, and Ashlee Schuh, 17. Every week, Xavier and Schuh take time between school and a rigorous rehearsal and performance schedule to teach children ages 6 to 12 basic dance moves.

“We wanted to share our passion for dance with little girls and boys that may not be able to afford to come to a dance studio,” Schuh said during the recent annual Fresno Dance Studio recital, where Just Dance children were guest performers.

The instructors sacrifice more than just time and energy to support Just Dance. Over the last year, they have sent out a barrage of emails asking for donations from friends, family, and teachers to help pay for costumes for performances. Schuh and Xavier spend their own money each week to provide the group with snacks.

Ralph Villarreal, grandfather of a Just Dance dancer, praised the program. “This is a great open door for these kids,” he said. “It’s an awesome experience for them.”

To see the full story, visit



RI Attorney General Brings Lawsuit Against Studio Featured on TV Reality Show


Rhode Island attorney general Peter Kilmartin has filed a lawsuit against a Warwick dance studio, claiming the studio owner’s fraudulent actions violate the state’s deceptive trade practices act, WPRI reported.

The studio, Triple Threat Performing Arts Center, was “rescued” in the first episode of a new reality show broadcast on Lifetime on June 24, in which the studio received more than $30,000 in donated flooring and other physical improvements.

In the weeks leading up to the lawsuit, the attorney general’s office received 20 written complaints against Triple Threat. The complaints allege that the owner, Marlaina Rapoza, took money from customers for certain dance competitions but “never informed her customers that their children would not be allowed to participate.”

Barbara Moses, whose child dances at the studio, said Rapoza claimed a competition that they paid for was canceled. “There was another competition that we didn’t get in, she said it was canceled actually,” said Moses. “I called them myself and they said ‘No, it wasn’t canceled, your studio just didn’t pay.’ ”

Other complaints allege that Rapoza’s checks to the consumers for reimbursement for canceled dance competitions and other services were returned due to insufficient funds.

The owner of Elite Dance Challenge, Sandra Walsh, claims that Triple Threat Performing Arts Center performed at one of her competitions in March, but the $6,000 check that Rapoza gave her was returned by the bank. She has filed a complaint with Rhode Island State Police.

WPRI’s Call 12 for Action made several attempts to reach Rapoza, who has 20 days to respond to the lawsuit. The phone at Triple Threat Performing Arts Center has been disconnected, emails went unanswered, and Rapoza’s cell phone no longer accepts messages.

To see the original story, visit



Alabama Studio Sends Video ‘Thanks’ and Thousands of Cookies to US Troops

Linda Dobbins Dance Studio; photo courtesy

Linda Dobbins Dance Studio; photo courtesy

The young women at Linda Dobbins Dance Studio in Mountain Brook, Alabama, are showing their appreciation for the men and women of the U.S. Armed Forces with some sweets, choreographed moves, and well-wishes.

“With it being so close to the Fourth of July,” artistic director and studio owner Dobbins told, “I thought the girls needed to learn about our nation’s birthday and more about our troops.”

So, she said, she planned a patriotic week of classes at the studio. The girls learned military-style drills as part of their everyday conditioning routines, said Dobbins, all while wearing red, white, and blue dance attire and moving along to patriotic tunes.

The dancers also learned a patriotic dance routine choreographed by Anna Marie Dobbins and Lori Maddox and made 342 bags of cookies. A video recording of the routine, titled “For Everything You Do,” plus the nearly 2,000 cookies and a giant, handmade card were sent to U.S. Marines stationed in Spain.

Why Spain? Dobbins’ own nephew is stationed there. “It’s our own special way of saying ‘thank you,’” she said.

To see the original story and see the video, visit





Ask Rhee Gold

Advice for dance teachers

Hello Rhee,

I attended the DanceLife Teacher Conference in Phoenix last summer. I have made the exciting move of opening a studio, and I thank you for giving me knowledge about this process. Now I am creating a philosophy, goals, and a business plan, and I wondered if you could provide me with a few key elements that I should or shouldn’t include. Thank you! —Sophia


Hello Sophia,

I would defer to professionals when it comes to your business plan. But I’ll give you some tips on strategy. As you launch, go for the preschool and once-a-week students market. Focus on their needs—learn everything you can about what they want and develop the best curriculums to make the parents feel that their children are receiving a solid dance education from teachers who care.

Some people open a school in hopes of attracting advanced dancers from other schools; I do not recommend that you go that route. Advanced dancers usually pay discounted tuition, require more of your time, and can be a financial burden on a new school. As you and your school grow, you will build strong dancers—which means when you’re ready to invest the time and effort (and finances) into working with the advanced dancers, they’ll be equally as prepared and committed.

Here are some specific questions to ask yourself, to help you analyze what’s working well right from the beginning. One, which age groups does your school attract? Two, which classes are the most successful? Three, which class days and times do your clients want?

Remember, the goal is to be different. Don’t put yourself into the same mold as the other schools in your area. Experiment with adult programs, and design some fun six- and eight-week programs as samplers or summer sessions. Make sure your preschool programs are top-quality and creative. And don’t forget to appreciate your staff, clients, and your own hard work. Have confidence in yourself and what you want to accomplish. Good luck! —Rhee



Hi Rhee,

I have no idea how to handle this situation. I bought my studio in 2012; one of the former owners moved away, and the other one remained in the area. She and I were on good terms, and I continued to support her work after she left. I haven’t heard from her since I took over the school.

She has begun her own business as a master teacher and choreographer for local studios. She is sending resumes to these studios; however, she hasn’t approached me. The students at my studio who remember her do respect her, and I don’t want to change that. Many of them follow her new business on Facebook and Twitter. They would love to have her teach a class with us.

Her buyout agreement has a four-year non-compete, non-solicitation clause. I contacted the attorney who wrote the agreement, and he agrees that she has broken it. I am not threatened by her current business; in fact, I wouldn’t mind having her teach a class at my studio. But I have read comments on social media that indicate she is planning to offer regular classes. That does concern me.

Also, she has used video footage from my studio (her choreography, but done in my studio and at shows while she was still a co-owner). The agreement included her surrendering all files. I am not comfortable with her posting images of my studio’s clients and facility on her website.

The easiest thing to do is have the attorney send a letter to her asking her to stop, but I don’t know if that’s the right thing to do. I could call her (or write) to see if we can discuss the situation. I do want to approach the situation delicately. There is room in the city for both of us, and I want her to know that. But at the same time I want to protect my business. What do I do? —Nora


Hello Nora,

I too am not sure what to do in this situation. My first instinct is to call her, but you would have to be calm and professional. Don’t say anything about talking to a lawyer or anything else that might make her feel threatened. Let her know that you are aware that she is doing a lot of teaching and wants to expand to more classes. Listen to her and go with your instinct. If it seems as though her goal is to open a school or something like that, don’t say too much more. But if she wants to teach, perhaps you could ask her to come to your school.

If your instinct tells you that this might become a mess, let the lawyer take over.

One thing to think about: no matter what this teacher does, it will only be for a few more years that your current students will remember her. As time goes by, you will be the face of the school, and the students’ loyalty will be to you. Be sure that you go above and beyond for your clientele so that no one would think of leaving.

This is a kick in the butt for you, which could be a good thing in the long run. I wish you the best. —Rhee



Hello Rhee,

Recently, one of my teachers quit because of how I handled a situation in which a parent took issue with her teaching style; her daughter wanted to quit dance because of it. This is not the first instance of this.

Last year we had a child in the studio who has ADHD and is on medication. This teacher would nag her for not paying attention and not remembering what was taught. She should have addressed it differently and approached me or the parent about what was going on. When the parent told me her child didn’t want to dance anymore because of how she felt in class, I met with her and the child.

After the meeting, I told the teacher about the parent’s concerns: her tone with the kids, lack of enthusiasm, and the fact that she greets nobody and never smiles. At first, the teacher tried to make those improvements. But the changes were short-lived.

Then I got a call from a different parent, whose child wants to quit because of the same issues with the same teacher. I contacted the teacher and she explained the difficulties and frustrations she had with the kids. When she complained that the kids weren’t getting the choreography, I suggested that she change it so the kids would shine and not struggle. She was adamantly against this and quite defensive at this point. She said nothing that addressed the well-being of any child or what she could do to remedy the issues. This concerned me.

I suggested that I take over her next class to see if I could formulate a plan to remedy any of the problems or frustrations she was experiencing. She didn’t want me in the class without her present, and told me she felt that excluding her from any discussions regarding her class was disrespecting her.

After she quit, I had a discussion with the class. The impression I got was that several children were seriously intimidated by this teacher. She’d threatened to “rip out” choreography and give them “baby steps” if they didn’t get it right or make them stand onstage with nothing to do if they didn’t practice. All of the kids were afraid, anxious, and fearful in her class. They were relieved when I told them their teacher was gone.

I’ve always prided myself on building confidence. This teacher came to me from another studio in a terribly timid state of mind, ready to give up dance. She had zero confidence and I changed that for her. But when she quit, she said that I was disrespecting her as a teacher.

Do I reach out to her and try to talk about how she was perceived, so she has the opportunity to reflect and work on bettering herself? Or do I let her go, knowing she might make the same mistakes somewhere else? Thanks! —Emily


Hi Emily,

I think you should do yourself a favor and not contact this teacher. You have explained to her several times over what you wanted her to improve, and she chose not to follow your suggestions. Let her move on; you’ve done as much as you can.

I suggest focusing on doing everything you can to make the rest of the year as positive, fun, and rewarding an experience as possible for this teacher’s former students. Good luck. —Rhee











Mindful Marketing | Target Audiences

By Misty Lown

Your biggest competition isn’t the studio down the street; it’s the other activities that vie for our students’ attention. With a vast array of afterschool activities available to most kids, it’s more important than ever to create a sense of urgency and excitement about your dance studio’s registration season. Delivering unique messages to different target audiences can move potential clients from inaction to action when it comes to registration and commitment.

The point of marketing isn’t merely to get your brand noticed or your story “out there.” What you want to do is get your message into the hands and hearts of specific audiences. I divide my audience into four sub-groups and cater my marketing to speak to the interests of each one.

The point of marketing isn’t merely to get your brand noticed. What you want to do is get your message into the hands and hearts of specific audiences.

The first category is “prospects.” There are plenty of 2- to 6-year-olds who have never taken dance lessons. My goal is to get my message to their parents. These parents are “newbies”—new to dance and children’s activities in general. They are looking for entry-level programs that have great reputations. My task is to shape our marketing messages to show the value of dance as an activity. My themes often include joy, grace, fun, and positive classrooms.

The second category is “nibblers.” You might not recognize the label, but you know them well. They try a summer sampler and seem to enjoy it, but don’t register for regular classes. My goal in marketing to this group is to remind parents of the fun their kids had, the joy of learning a new style of dance, and the excitement that awaits them in the full school-year program. Parents of nibblers value the same things prospects do, but they need a better reason than fun to commit to a full season of classes.

The biggest reason that nibblers don’t dive in is that they liked dance, but they didn’t love it. This is a great reminder that our job as teachers is not only to teach kids steps but to help them to fall in love with dance. If they do, the weekly lessons and skill mastery will follow.

The third category is “dabblers.” The child is enrolled in dance but is also signed up for soccer, basketball, hula, and underwater basketweaving—all on Monday nights. This is perhaps the most challenging group to reach. Dabblers tend to tune out traditional marketing messages because they think, “That doesn’t apply to me because I’m already registered for classes.” Enrolled, sure, but I wouldn’t call them engaged or committed. This is the group for whom I shift my message from painting a picture of the fun and excitement of dance to the value of teamwork and being in a community of learners. My objective is to get dabblers to think of the studio as their home team and to want to spend more time honing their craft.

The last category is the “marathoners.” We don’t have any trouble getting these dedicated dancers to re-enroll each fall. Our challenge, however, is keeping them growing and passionate about their classes and team. You’ve heard the phrase, “familiarity breeds contempt”? So can 15 hours of class per week with the same people. We’ve all seen students who have put in 10-plus years of training walk away from classes in favor of school teams and social time. The challenge with this group is to balance the discipline of daily classes with the camaraderie and excitement of opportunities such as master classes, auditions, and study outside the studio.

I have one studio with four different audiences and four different messages. Your audiences might not be the same as mine, but I guarantee that you do have more than one group to market to at any given time. Before you sit down to write your next promotional piece, ask yourself, “Who am I talking to?”




Ballet Scene | Shuffles and Chassés

Thomas Armour Youth Ballet’s Tap Team, led by teacher Natasha Williams (second from left), boasts 23 members who perform at events such as the TEDx Youth@Miami empowerment program. Photo by Jeff Schweiger

Thomas Armour Youth Ballet’s Tap Team, led by teacher Natasha Williams (second from left), boasts 23 members who perform at events such as the TEDx Youth@Miami empowerment program. Photo by Jeff Schweiger

Tap meets ballet at Thomas Armour Youth Ballet, and the results are anything but mixed
By Ryan P. Casey

You wouldn’t expect to find tap among the offerings at Thomas Armour Youth Ballet, a Miami studio rooted in ballet since 1951. But today this classical ballet school, formerly called The Miami Conservatory, encourages students ages 7 and up to study tap and ballet; for the members of its Tap Team, both forms of dance are required. The result? A win-win scenario.

Tap takes root

According to Miami native and TAYB teacher (and alum) Natasha Williams, 27, the birth of the tap team marked the beginning of a stronger tap presence in her home city. “There were lots of opportunities for dancers who studied modern or ballet,” she says, “but no groups or companies doing tap performances. I wanted my students to have something to work for besides the annual recital. And, as they get older, maybe someday I’ll have my own company.”

Ballet helps [students] learn to use their upper body and arms, which is essential for tap. They develop proper alignment and balance, they’re able to turn, and they know more terminology. —Natasha Williams

TAYB’s expansion into tap happened in 2007, when Williams stopped in to take a ballet class at her former studio. Unbeknownst to her, she was walking into a new job opportunity. The studio’s director, Ruth Wiesen, wanted to diversify the curriculum, and she asked Williams, who had studied tap, jazz, and ballet since childhood, to teach tap.


Thomas Armour Youth Ballet’s Tap Team, led by teacher Natasha Williams (second from left), boasts 23 members who perform at events such as the TEDx Youth@Miami empowerment program.
Photo by Jeff Schweiger

Williams chose to focus on tap after graduating from New World School of the Arts and studying business at Florida International University; she subsequently attended the inaugural tap program at The School at Jacob’s Pillow in 2010.

Mutual benefits

Now TAYB’s sole tap instructor, Williams says ballet is a boon to her students. “Ballet helps them learn to use their upper body and arms, which is essential for tap. They develop proper alignment and balance, they’re able to turn, and they know more terminology.” That allows her to “incorporate traditional dance moves and basic jazz steps into choreography, not just tap footwork,” she says. And there are more benefits: the students’ “attention to detail improves,” Williams says. And, she adds, “tap helps them musically in ballet. They can figure out the timing of the steps, or identify whether they’re dancing in waltz or 4/4 time.”

Ballet teacher Rosalyn Deshauters agrees. For ballet students, the benefits of tap include “understanding of rhythms,” she says. “My students really get excited by challenging rhythms and quick movement, so I remind them of the steps they’ve learned in tap.” Plus, Deshauters points out, “Many tap steps can be related to ballet steps—like the shuffle, for instance. The in-and-out movement of the leg bending at the knee is like a frappé, as one of my third-grade students pointed out one day.”

“A lot of young ballet students sit back in their heels; tap forces them to be more forward on their feet,” Wiesen adds. “Tap also gives them instant gratification because they can make sounds, and they move across the floor sooner. And it’s a safer choice for male students who are struggling with sexual identity, or who might have fathers or uncles who don’t approve of dance. If I can hook them with tap, maybe I can get them into ballet.”

Tap Team advances

Since 2010, TAYB has offered tap in three levels. Due to space and time constraints at the main studio, all tap classes are held at the school’s satellite locations.

By 2011, some tappers had progressed to an advanced level—but there were no youth companies or performance opportunities for them in the city. So Williams pitched the idea of the Tap Team, which would give the studio’s most skilled hoofers more training and additional shows, including those for which they could earn community-service hours for their academic schools. With Wiesen’s blessing, an eight-member team was formed and quickly flourished; it now boasts 23 members, most of whom are scholarship students. In 2012, Williams and the ensemble performed at a TEDx event; at the countywide Young Talent Big Dreams competition they nabbed a win in the group dance category. Several professional tappers, including Chloe Arnold, Sarah Reich, and Jason Holley, have taught master classes at TAYB.

Through history’s lens

The studio’s curriculum is designed around a framework that incorporates the history of music, art, and dance. Each year all classes explore influences from a certain time period. Last season’s focus was the 1900s through the 1950s: in ballet class, students read about dancers like Margot Fonteyn and choreographer Michel Fokine and watched films of ballets such as Les Sylphides and The Prodigal Son. Tappers studied jazz of the period, from the ragtime of Scott Joplin to the swing of Duke Ellington, Oscar Peterson, and other legends.

“Studying dance history and music history always resonated more with me than studying dates and wars and emperors,” Wiesen says. “I decided to take that holistic approach with our students, to show them how art has reflected what has happened in the world, and how world events have affected art.”

Students recently finished their study of the period from the 1950s to the present. Deshauters enlightened her dancers on Alvin Ailey and his most famous piece, Revelations, while Williams challenged students to watch footage of famous tap dancers and try to re-create some of their steps. Other classes listened to Motown music and read books on Martin Luther King Jr. and segregation.


Thomas Amour tappers keep the beat at the Betty T. Ferguson Recreation Complex in Miami Gardens, one of four outreach sites. Photo courtesy Thomas Armour Youth Ballet Tap Team

Students have also completed art projects: collages inspired by the study of Matisse, flowered headpieces influenced by Frida Kahlo, and murals in the style of iconic 1980s artist Keith Haring, to name a few.

“They learn about history and the world through dance,” Williams says. “And since all the teachers follow the same curriculum for technique and history, a student who switches classes won’t be confused or study something radically different from what they are used to. It makes the studio more cohesive.”


Ballet and tap work together onstage as well as in the curriculum. For the past two years, TAYB has collaborated in performances with the Greater Miami Youth Symphony, a community-based orchestra program that provides students ages 5 to 18 with professional training and performance experience. In 2012, two ballet dancers and two tap dancers presented a piece to “Summer” from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons.

“Seeing the ballet dancers perform their steps and then the tappers perform their steps to the same music shows the diversity of movement and music interpretation,” Deshauters says. “It’s good for the kids to see that there is more than one way to interpret music, and anyone can do it. You don’t have to label yourself as a tap dancer or ballet dancer. Even though a piece of music sounds a certain way, you can dance to it however you want.”

Last year, a rendition of the Benny Goodman classic “Sing, Sing, Sing” combined ballet, tap, jazz, and modern (offered only to older, advanced students). All of the performers were Tap Team members, whose versatility Williams attributes to their strong cross-training.

“People think tappers can only dance fast and staccato, and ballet can only be allegro or adagio,” Wiesen says. “They’re surprised to learn otherwise. The dancers and the musicians have a real connection. They all work as a team.”

It’s a team effort that keeps TAYB’s award-winning programs running year after year for more than 1,100 students in five locations.

“We do our very best to help kids all around,” Williams says. “Whatever it takes to get kids to class, we’ll do it.”

“I’ve always felt that tap would be a good partner with ballet,” Wiesen says. “They enhance each other. And my students benefit from a more well-rounded dance education.”

Scholarships + Outreach = Success

TAYB’s Tap Team could not exist without the aid of the studio’s scholarship program, which owner Ruth Wiesen, then a relatively new instructor, founded in 1988 as a way to help more students access Miami’s magnet programs in the arts. Funded largely by The Children’s Trust, a property tax–driven funding source that serves the children of Miami-Dade County, the scholarships ensure high-quality dance training for nearly 600 students from low-income families, who are charged only an annual fee of $10. The dancers also receive leotards, tights, and dance shoes.

“Quality classical dance training is not within reach for a majority of children in our community,” Wiesen says. “Classes are expensive, and the schools are located in the most advantaged areas of the community.”

Along with their dance education, TAYB scholarship students receive assistance through The Children’s Trust with issues that affect them and their families and their success beyond the classroom, including tutoring, medical and dental care, lunch money, legal fees, bus fare, and audition coaching for middle and high school arts programs. TAYB also serves as a conduit to agencies that can intervene in situations such as immigration, domestic violence, drug or alcohol abuse, and sexual identity crises. The program once helped seek housing for a family whose home was condemned and demolished following extensive damage from Hurricane Irene.

Initially the scholarships helped only kids who lived close to the studio; with working parents or no family vehicle, many students could not attend until they were old enough to take public transportation. If the kids couldn’t come to the studio, Wiesen reasoned, the studio had to go to them. In 2000, she approached the principal of Morningside Elementary School in the neighborhood of Little Haiti, whom she knew to be an arts enthusiast, and learned that there was an unused classroom. It became the program’s first outreach site, the fourth and most recent of which opened at the Betty T. Ferguson Recreation Complex in Miami Gardens in 2011. TAYB pays no rent for these sites and provides the same teachers and curriculums as at the main studio.

“The long-term goal of the program is to ensure a college education for all students by laying a foundation of a strong work ethic, social skills, discipline, consistency, focus, and the ability to delay gratification,” says Wiesen.

All scholarship students graduate from high school: 98 percent of them attend college, while 2 percent pursue professional dance careers, according to Wiesen. In 2013, one graduating high school senior was admitted to The Juilliard School. Alumni of the scholarship program include Robert Battle, artistic director of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, and several current and former members of Martha Graham Dance Company.


Bright Biz Idea | Time vs Money

How school owners can manage their time to yield the most value
By Karen White

To keep a studio running, an owner must constantly make decisions based on the perceived value of services. Is that master teacher worth her pricey salary? Will a costly renovation be worth the time and effort? How much of a return will a professional marketing campaign yield? But many owners neglect to consider the value of one critical ingredient of business success—their own time.

“Think of time as having value, and manage your time to maximize that value,” says Rhee Gold, publisher of Dance Studio Life. He cites a quote by M. Scott Peck, a psychiatrist and author of The Road Less Traveled: “Until you value yourself, you won’t value your time. Until you value your time, you will not do anything with it.”

Often owners feel they cannot afford to hire experienced, professional help. Others fear that hiring personnel for tasks they commonly handle themselves will lead to a loss of control.

“You want to grow your business, but many owners have no time to work on growth because they’re going day to day, dealing with mainstream things,” Gold says. “Then they stay in the same place and are frustrated because they’re not growing as fast as they could.”

It’s an easy trap to fall into: faced with the expenses of running a studio, owners often make financial decisions based purely on dollars and cents. They’ll get a mom to man the front desk in exchange for lessons, Gold says, or shave $80 off a $1,200 printing bill by folding the recital programs themselves.

Upfront, such deals appear to save money. But often the owners end up spending hours of their own time making sure things get done, and done right—picking up the slack for the inexperienced mom who is fumbling her way through her front-desk tasks, for example. Of course the owners can man the desk and fold programs—but should they? What is the value of their time?

In seminars with school owners, Gold often illustrates his point with a simple scenario. Imagine you are a business consultant charging $100 an hour. If you spend four hours on business-growth–oriented tasks, such as creating a marketing campaign or designing a new curriculum, you’ve created $400 in value. So why would you spend that time doing basic office tasks that you could pay someone else $12 an hour to handle?

“I always say that if you figured out what you’re worth and what you can produce, you would discover that it would be worth investing the money to hire the right person in the first place,” Gold says.

It’s helpful to consider value when hiring as well. For example, an owner might hesitate to replace her ineffective but inexpensive front-desk person with an experienced manager who’s gung ho about selling classes, Gold says. But if the better salesperson signs up three or four new students each month, those sales would more than pay for the additional salary.

Often owners feel they cannot afford to hire experienced, professional help. Others fear that hiring personnel for tasks they commonly handle themselves will lead to a loss of control. Still others, Gold says, suffer from a lack of self-confidence that’s perpetuated by family members or clientele who consider the studio business no more than a “nice hobby.”

Owners who hesitate to spend more on staff or professional services should look around their own school first for hidden value, Gold says. Seek out and put to work parents or teachers’ spouses who are creative, enthusiastic, and have experience in business-related industries such as marketing.

Once the gains made by utilizing these in-house resources become apparent, owners should feel more comfortable about using professional services. “Say you want a really good printed brochure. You pay a graphic artist to lay it out, then you build a relationship with him so that eventually everything you present is branded similarly,” Gold says. “Surrounding yourself with professionals will make your business look better every time.”

One resource often left untapped is a studio’s faculty. Dance teachers are very creative, Gold says, and can take all sorts of projects off your plate, such as creating a fun preschool camp. Talk to your faculty, he says. Discuss projects or goals you would like to pursue, and ask them how they might be able to contribute. Always offer something in exchange, he says, because each teacher’s time has value. Establish an administrative wage for projects and tasks, or agree in advance on a set fee per project.

Making valuable contributions “will make teachers feel like they have a bigger stake in the business,” Gold says. “I tie this into time management because when you lose teachers, a loss of time and income is inevitable. It also causes you to be stressed out, and then you can’t get important things done.”

Once school owners think about their time as having value, managing that time well and wisely becomes a top priority. Perusing Facebook? Worrying about the studio down the street? Giant time-wasters. But thinking of creative ways to use social media or jotting down growth ideas is time well spent.

“Part of good time management is finding something non-dance-related to do every once in a while. Go out with an old friend; have a conversation,” Gold says. Time spent away from the studio can make you feel fresh and rejuvenated.

Teachers, Gold says, should also manage their time for maximum value. Spending time figuring out lesson plans in advance and setting long-term goals for each class will pay dividends. “To really enjoy what you do, you have to put time and effort into those classes,” he says. “If you wing it, you’re not going to feel good, the students won’t feel good, and it’s not going to be fun.”

Remember that good time management is a choice. “I could get up today and say, ‘I am going to get three major things done,’ and bang, bang, bang, they’re done,” Gold says. “Or I could say, ‘What’s on TV?’ ” He points out a well-known quote by Benjamin Franklin: “Time is money.”

A change for the better can start with only one hour of effort a day, Gold says. Put it on your calendar and use it to do something that is directly related to growing your business. “You reap what you sow. You can’t help but grow your business if you’re dedicated to it, just like you can’t not become a better teacher if you take a class from a master teacher three or four times a year.”

To avoid time-sucking distractions, turn off all machines and work in your studio during off hours—an empty studio can be very inspiring, Gold says. Think about customer service or come up with creative new programming. If you find it difficult to focus, set business-growth work hours and give yourself a paycheck. Then give yourself a raise. Have confidence in yourself and in your business, and do what you know needs to be done.

“I believe people can do anything they want to. You want to grow your business—are you willing to give up this to have that? If not, don’t go for it. But if you do go for it, plunge in full force,” Gold says. “It will cost you $100 a week to have your studio cleaned, so you pay someone to do it while you spend those hours making your business better. In the end, what has more value?”







Come Together

How to make staff meetings pay off
By Megan Donahue

A dance studio isn’t like an office. Without a conference room and water cooler, your teaching staff may not even meet one another until recital time. Working alone, they may miss out on the expertise of their peers and feel disconnected from the studio. That’s why it’s important to hold regular staff meetings. Done right, these meetings can be a highlight of working for your studio.

Along with an opportunity to connect on a regular basis and exchange valuable information, meetings can create a unified focus, eliminate confusion, and solve minor problems before they turn into big issues. Staff members get to know one another and exchange ideas, music, and teaching tips.

Getting them there

As useful as meetings are, getting your staff together may be a challenge. They may teach at multiple studios or have day jobs and family commitments. “You need to schedule the meeting at a time that’s good for them,” says Lynda Zugec of The Workforce Consultants, a New York- and Toronto-based human resources consulting firm. She recommends using technology to streamline the scheduling process.

Applications like WhenIsGood or Google’s Doodle allow you to see which dates and times work best for the largest number of people and do so with minimal discussion. The details vary, but each site allows your staff to choose the dates that work for them; at a glance, you can choose the optimal meeting date without having to send and receive dozens of emails.

Staff meetings can create a unified focus, eliminate confusion, and solve minor problems before they turn into big issues.

If a lower-tech solution is more your style, try what works well for studio owner Lauri Gregoire of Bellevue Dance Center in Nashville, Tennessee: she sets all of the meetings for the year before the dance season starts. She pays her staff a flat rate for meeting attendance, and her meetings are mandatory as a condition of employment. The best date for her is the first Friday of the month, when most of her staff teaches classes at the studio. By letting them know about the dates well ahead of time, Gregoire hasn’t had any difficulty with attendance. “No one has missed any meetings, and they have brought us closer as a staff,” she says.

Technology—conference calls and video chatting options like Skype and Google’s Hangouts—also allows staffers who can’t attend a meeting in person to be included. “Using technology does save time and promotes efficiency, especially when you’re not paying people” to attend, says Zugec.

If staff members routinely miss meetings, it may be time for a conversation. Ask about the barriers to their attendance—is the meeting at a bad time? Is the meeting too short and too far away to justify a commute? Do they need additional reminders of the date and time? Work together to find a way for them to participate. Sometimes explaining why you’re calling a meeting and want everyone to attend is enough to make your staff prioritize being there.

Keeping them there

Meetings go smoothly when everyone is prepared. Emailing an agenda beforehand allows everyone “to put their thoughts together and express them more clearly,” Zugec says. Asking for additions to the agenda ahead of time gives people a chance to bring up issues you might not be aware of and prevents the meeting from going off on tangents.

Once you’ve gotten everyone together, use this opportunity to engage with your staff and create an environment of positivity and teamwork. “Everybody wants to have their voice heard,” Zugec says. “If the environment is not collaborative, people are not likely to want to attend.”

She recommends soliciting feedback and solutions from attendees, rather than simply giving them information. “In a collaborative meeting, all are engaged; all are working together,” says Zugec. People pay attention when they learn that their participation makes a difference, so use your staff’s suggestions whenever you can.

ComeTogether1Zugec recommends setting a few ground rules to avoid negativity, such as waiting to speak until the person who’s talking finishes and focusing on the issues and agenda rather than on people.

It’s even more important to bring staff members who aren’t physically present into the conversation. “If you can do video, that’s helpful,” Zugec says; phone calls make it easy for listeners to zone out, especially in a discussion that involves several people. People tend to feel more accountable to people who see them in a video chat. Ask specifically for telecommuting staff members’ thoughts. A quick, “Sara, do you have a thought on this?” can make a video chatter feel more included.

Lindsay Roberts of Southern Dance Connection in Greer, South Carolina, has found that collaborative meetings benefit her as a studio owner by giving her a direct line of communication. “We ask, ‘How can we improve as a studio?’ ” she says. Holding regular meetings has made her staffers “more comfortable and more likely to tell me if there’s a problem.” Soliciting her staff’s feedback and taking it into account creates a greater connection among the staff and the studio. “I want them to feel ownership of the studio,” Roberts says. “I try to make it so it’s not a hierarchy—everyone’s view is valued.”

Gregoire too has found the increased communication to be an asset. Her teachers “feel confident that they can come to me with new ideas; it gives them more of a voice,” she says. “They feel I value them rather than dictate to them.” When she sent out mid-year evaluations asking her staff how the year was going, she says, “Every person said they appreciated the monthly staff meetings.”

A meeting your staff looks forward to

Some school owners pay their staff to attend meetings, while others do not. Roberts includes quarterly meetings as a standard part of a teaching contract, without pay. Gregoire pays a flat fee of $15 per person per meeting.

“If you don’t have the money, there are other ways to reward them,” says Zugec. Small things like holding a meeting outside on a nice day or at a coffee shop can go a long way toward making your staff feel happy—and that their time is valued. “Anything you can do to make it interesting for them is going to help,” Zugec says.

“I like to have some element of fun,” Roberts says. “I try, if at all possible, not to have the meeting at the studio.” She held one meeting at an indoor trampoline facility. Everyone spent the first hour bouncing and the second hour discussing studio issues.

Roberts pays all costs associated with the meetings. Even though Gregoire pays her staff to attend, she occasionally surprises them with lunch. She recommends “making a little extra effort to make it enjoyable.”

Gregoire and her staff are discovering the real reward of better communication—a more relaxed work environment. They’re not as stressed, she says, and “we’re better at time management.”

Before she implemented regular staff meetings, Gregoire gave her staffers information haphazardly, when she saw them; often, she would miss people, who then felt out of the loop or less important. Now everyone gets all of the information at the same time, and deadlines don’t sneak up on anyone. The entire staff starts each month together. “I don’t know how I did it before!” she says.

The benefits of staff meetings can stretch beyond communication—a happy, well-organized staff brings real value to a studio. Your employees “can go a long way in promoting your business,” says Zugec.




In With the New

Misty McGettigan leads an energetic class at Synergy Dance Academy. All photos by Darren Lee Photography

Misty McGettigan leads an energetic class at Synergy Dance Academy. All photos by Darren Lee Photography

How to take over a school without the trauma of transition
By Lea Marshall

Transitions are often difficult. In the case of schools changing ownership, there are worries, often realistic, about staff turnover, student attrition, and resistance from parents about new policies. But when Kari Fisher, a dance teacher with no experience running a school, suddenly became a studio owner, the results were positive. Rather than losing students, within one year, Fisher says, enrollment at the newly christened Synergy Dance Academy in Madison, Wisconsin, had grown by 60 students; another 35 have enrolled since then. She retained her teaching staff and implemented successful new programs and classes.

What’s Fisher’s secret? “I know a large part of it is my personality,” she says, “because I’ve been told that. I’m very welcoming, and I genuinely love kids.”

It was devastating for the kids when the retirement was announced; they thought the teachers were going to scatter. . . . It’s a brand-new studio, but in the same space, with the same teachers. —Kari Fisher

There’s more to it than that, however. Fisher studied dance into her early 20s, then pursued an associate’s degree in commercial art, followed by a BA in elementary education. As a stay-at-home mom, she devoted considerable energy to volunteer work with the Junior League and her own mural-painting business, all the while building skills, experience, and relationships that would serve her well as a studio owner.

The idea

Fisher began teaching at the school her daughters, now 11 and 15, had been dancing at since age 3. “I got to know the owner well,” she says. “I said, ‘I have a background in education and I’d love to work with kids, since my kids are getting older.’ ”

She says she and the other teachers had said that if the school owner ever retired, it would be great if they could stay together. “We all got along well; we had a successful team,” she says. The organizational structure, level of technique, and sense of family at the studio were all in place.

After teaching 5- to 7-year-olds for a few years, Fisher told her husband “Someday I’d like to own a dance studio.” His response, after a long sigh, was, “OK, sure.”

Then the school’s owner announced her plan to retire. It would be a shame if the business folded, Fisher thought, so she took on the task.

Shifting into high gear

Since the owner’s retirement announcement came out of the blue, Fisher had to act fast. “The owner bowed out, and my husband and I were able to renegotiate the lease,” she says. “I had a quick meeting with all the teachers. On July 1, 2012, we took over the school and opened our doors on August 15. We basically had six weeks.” During those weeks they repainted, and installed new barres, lobby furniture, desk furniture, cubbies in the dressing room, and four new sound systems. Fisher built a new website, and began using Jackrabbit’s web-based studio management software. “I did a lot of fast learning,” she says.


Instructor Sarah Jacobson teaches Chance to Dance, a creative movement class for students with developmental differences.

But she felt secure in the studio’s existing community. “It was devastating for the kids when the retirement was announced; they thought the teachers were going to scatter,” Fisher says. “Then I said, ‘We’re going to keep it going, though we’re going to change it.’ It’s a brand-new studio, but in the same space, with the same teachers. I knew the parents were going to stay and the kids wanted to stay with their teachers.”

New classes were a must, says Fisher. “The previous studio didn’t offer contemporary and wasn’t into hip-hop,” so she added three contemporary classes and five hip-hop classes initially, and is now up to six and eight, respectively. “That has boosted everything,” she says. “I can’t tell you how many hip-hop and contemporary classes are just on fire.”

More classes also meant more teachers. Fisher started with nine and now employs 16. “I’ve surrounded myself with wonderful people,” she says. “I have a fantastic office manager, a workaholic, who gets things done before I realize they need to get done.”

Though she inherited the studio’s client base, Fisher didn’t rest there. Beyond expanding the class schedule, she streamlined and improved the nuts-and-bolts of studio management and marketing.

The new website made a difference: Fisher says parents who searched online for dance studios would tell her, “Your website was the one I liked the most.” Using Jackrabbit simplified registration. “You register online, and it’s super easy,” she says. “I wanted it to be very easy to do business with me. I wanted parents to be able, if they wake up at three in the morning thinking, ‘I need to sign my kid up,’ to do it right then. People have said repeatedly how much they like the convenience.”

In addition to the website, the studio has a Facebook page where Fisher posts as often as she can. “I try to post two to three times a week—congratulations to our team, miscellaneous pictures, announcements about upcoming master classes, exercise classes, other community events that we’re participating in,” she says. “My teachers also have access to the page. My older teen teachers are good about posting studio happenings on Instagram.”

Connections and visibility

Synergy gains visibility in two ways: by getting the performing company out into the community and by bringing other groups into the studio. Fisher’s troupe recently performed at a Harlem Globetrotters game and in two parades. Adult exercise classes are held at the studio, and a karate group rents space there.


Many students remained loyal to the studio during and after the transition, and enrollment has steadily increased.

Fisher tries to have as much going on under the Synergy roof as possible. “I have a lot of connections in the community, so that helps,” she says. “My involvement in the Junior League and my connections through painting helped spread the word of the studio opening, as well as what other options were available—renting space, birthday parties, etc.,” she says. “A large number of my friends send their kids here because they know me and they know what kind of studio I run. I’ve lived in Madison my whole life, so I know a lot of people.”

Community clearly means a lot to Fisher, and that shapes both the way she works and the way she structures the studio spaces. She set up what she calls The Chill Zone at the studio for young teens. “There’s a disco ball in there, and bean bag chairs,” she says. “They hang out in there, doing their homework, chilling out. It’s a fun place for them to be.”

On a deeper level, Fisher offers the Chance to Dance program “for kids who have disabilities, taught by a teacher whose son has autism,” she says. “We started Chance to Dance right away when we opened. We have had wonderful donations from various families and from our Booster Club, so for the last year we have not charged any of the participants.” The class runs on a drop-in basis, with anywhere from three to nine students. “This year they are going to perform in our Summer Showcase,” says Fisher. “We are super excited about it!”

With such immediate success, Fisher has a right to be proud. But she has a level head and maintains a healthy perspective on the endeavor, realizing how luck and timing and community have contributed to her own efforts. “My philosophy is that I’m steering the ship; [the teachers] are doing the paddling, but I need to steer it in the right direction. I don’t take anything personally,” she says. “My mom almost died a couple years ago and it was a very traumatic situation. Since then I look at things like, ‘Really? I’m not going to get too upset if someone doesn’t have the right rhinestones.’ ”

“People say to me, ‘I wouldn’t want your job with all that stress,’ and I don’t look at it like that at all. I look forward to giving back.”




So Long Nest Egg, Hello Dance

Starting at the advanced beginner level, students learn simple routines that give them the confidence to perform.  All photos courtesy The Blade.

Starting at the advanced beginner level, students learn simple routines that give them the confidence to perform. All photos courtesy The Blade.

How two dance lovers tapped into their retirement time and money and bought a school
By Lois Burch O’Brian

At Off Broadway Dance Company, owners Pat Balderas and Geri Messer, both 66, are having as much fun as their students. That’s not unheard of. But what’s unusual at this Toledo-based studio, now in its third year, is the fact that these two women, neither of whom had thought about owning a dance school, came out of retirement to do just that.

Balderas, who retired from her job as a court administrator in May 2010, had planned to spend her retirement years traveling, spending time with her granddaughter, and helping her husband, Joe Balderas, at the nonprofit cultural center he directs. Messer, a nurse, found retirement unfulfilling, too lacking in activities and organizational challenges. She was the catalyst Balderas needed to make the transition into a second career.

Not everyone would be comfortable using retirement funds to start a new business, but Messer and Balderas had reason to think they would recoup their investment in a reasonable time.

To launch the school, the two women tapped into their retirement funds. That might sound crazy, but after two and a half years, they are making a profit and have already expanded by renting extra space.

How it began

Balderas started studying tap 20 years ago, at the studio she now co-owns. Ten years ago she started teaching beginner classes and working closely with the owner on the business end. She had observed that the owner could have been more proactive about growing the business and securing its finances. She thought about buying the studio in order to implement those changes, but she wasn’t ready.

Messer arrived in Toledo in 2004, a New Jersey transplant, and signed up for tap classes three years later; Balderas was her teacher. Forty-one years had elapsed since Messer had last danced (semi-professionally, in her teens). Being relatively new to the area, she had a fresh outlook that wasn’t enmeshed in how things had been done previously.

Quickly, the teacher/student relationship became a friendship. One Saturday night, after hearing a rumor that the school’s owner might be interested in selling (she had recently taken on a full-time job), Messer said to Balderas, “Want to buy a studio?” in the same spirit in which Mickey Rooney proposed putting on a show in Babes in Arms. And the answer was yes.

In February 2011, Balderas and Messer offered to buy the school; they signed the contract on October 1. Balderas’ husband said she should have done this a long time ago. He knew how she loved the studio and thought she was putting too much time and energy into someone else’s business.

Messer’s husband, Alan Messer, was equally supportive. He knew that since their move to Toledo, his wife needed more to do. She had worked in her husband’s software business doing bookkeeping, sales, staff management, advertising, and marketing for nine years. As a nurse, she had managed a holistic center for integrative medicine, and later managed the Center for Complementary and Integrative Medicine at what was then Columbia-Presbyterian Hospital. So when Alan Messer heard the studio might be for sale, he said, “Go for it!”

The two women did, setting out immediately to make good on their goal for their students: tap dancing through middle age and beyond, including performing, regardless of previous experience. Ranging in age from early 20s to mid-80s, most of the students are in their 50s and 60s.

Confident planning

The months before the contract was signed were spent planning. Messer’s husband, a SCORE volunteer, suggested that she and Balderas contact the organization, which provides resources that include volunteer mentors who help people start small businesses.


Pat Balderas and Geri Messer (front line, first and second from left) came out of retirement to purchase a Toledo, Ohio, dance studio they renamed Off Broadway Dance Company.

SCORE is a nonprofit with 348 chapters throughout the United States, which also provides services through email, live workshops, online workshops/webinars, and online templates and tools. The Toledo chapter assigned a retired accountant to work with Balderas and Messer. With input from the current owner, they looked at the state of the business; as Balderas expected, there were problems. After assisting with the evaluation, the SCORE mentor advised them what to pay for the business.

The two owners-to-be then hired a lawyer, who suggested they change the studio’s name and logo. To create a website, they hired a young designer whom they met through their membership in the chamber of commerce. Not everyone would be comfortable using retirement funds to start a new business, but Messer and Balderas had reason to think they would recoup their investment in a reasonable time. First, they had committed clients who considered the studio a large part of their lives and identity. Second, they knew how much income the school generated. And third, they felt confident they could provide the kind of experience the students wanted. In addition, “the rent for the space was reasonable,” Messer says. “We were very realistic about who the market is and how to reach them, and we are fiscally conservative.”

Once Off Broadway Dance Company opened, a SCORE volunteer and former businessman told the new owners they were doing everything right in terms of advertising. They supplemented the simplest marketing device—a sign in the front yard—with budget-conscious yet focused marketing tools. With the help of their students, Messer and Balderas put flyers anywhere they were allowed, focusing on senior centers, churches, coffee shops, and libraries. Because of their work with a national veterans’ organization, Honor Flight, they were allowed to post flyers in businesses like Starbucks that normally give permission only to nonprofits. They placed ads in neighborhood papers, and students asked local businesses to buy advertising space in the program for the school’s annual showcase.

Messer and Balderas’ marketing goals matched their growth goal: to grow the studio by 10 percent each year. It sounded realistic to them. “If we had 40 students, we could get four new ones without overreaching,” says Messer.

The market

As the former owner had done, Balderas and Messer targeted the niche market of adult tappers, specifically women. They had good reasons to: they knew and enjoyed the clientele and felt confident in their ability to manage an adult-centered studio. (A population of young students would have been unfamiliar to them.) They focused on empty nesters, women in their 40s and 50s and beyond, marketing tap as a fun way to exercise the mind as well as the body (an alternative to working out at a gym), while offering the chance to perform. They also brought back a very popular teacher, Brenda Michalak, who teaches Broadway Tappers, a class designed, as the website describes it, “for the more mature dancer.”

Balderas and Messer say the studio’s students, most of whom are retired, are committed; they love to perform and are proud of being dancers. The sense of accomplishment and camaraderie they feel as a result of performing—strengthened by socializing after performances—serves as a draw for potential new clients.

The program

Balderas now teaches the basic and intermediate classes, while three other teachers (ages 60, 65, and 70) handle the intermediate/advanced to advanced classes. Three assistant teachers (ages 65, 66, and the “baby” of the bunch, a 30-something) work on a barter system, receiving classes in exchange for their work. Messer, who kept the books for her husband’s business, does the bookkeeping herself.

The studio has open enrollment, so no student is ever turned away. Class placement is determined in a mandatory beginning tap class taught by Balderas. Students are given a list of basic steps that must be mastered before they can move to a more advanced class. Some students remain in this class for a full year; others, who have dance experience, for one lesson.

Starting at the advanced beginner level, students learn simple routines that give them the confidence that they can do a dance, and, hence, perform. The chance to perform is the carrot that brings the students back. All students may perform at the annual showcase in October, and nearly all of them do.

Beyond the classroom

The school’s large community outreach program, the Traveling Taps, has turned into a successful marketing tool. The dancers perform regularly at 15 nursing homes each year, doing springtime shows in May and June and holiday programs in November and December that include simple steps and sentimental music. The shows are put together by assistant teacher Sue Morgenroth and student Karen Knoblauch, and 8 to 10 dancers participate.

SoLong2Studio dancers also welcome veterans home from Honor Flight of Northwest Ohio trips to Washington, DC, where—sponsored by the national organization, Honor Flight Network—veterans visit monuments built to honor their service. The dances for Honor Flights are performed by dancers wearing sparkling vests, to “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” and a medley of military anthems. Any dancer who has mastered the steps may participate; those who are not yet ready to perform (usually a handful) come along to greet the veterans.

This project, which began two years before Balderas and Messer bought the studio, was Knoblauch’s brainchild. She read a newspaper article about Honor Flight and realized that these veterans—part of her father’s generation—deserved recognition.

The studio raises funds for Honor Flight at the annual showcase, which draws 500 to 700 spectators. The dancers perform to the medley of military anthems while flags from all branches of the military are marched in. Veterans who were on the Honor Flights are given free admission, and their relatives pay half price, $5 per ticket. Fifty percent of funds raised at a 50/50 raffle and 10 percent of the admissions fees are donated to Honor Flight; during the show, a check is presented to an Honor Flight representative.

The school also performs at organizations such as the Red Hat Society and Ladies’ Oriental Shrine by request, presenting what Messer calls “showcase pieces.” There is no charge for the performances, but Balderas and Messer suggest an honorarium to be used toward the studio’s needs, such as the new floor they recently put in, the sound system, or the Traveling Taps. No one receives a salary for these performances.

Upcoming events include a mother/daughter church banquet, a performance for the Wounded Warrior Amputee Softball team, and, pending approval of the studio’s application, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City.

For the love of dance

Each August the studio’s students and teachers attend Chicago Human Rhythm Project’s tap festival, Rhythm World, which offers classes suitable for adult novice tappers. In addition, Balderas and Messer bring in master teachers each year, such as dancers in the touring companies of Jersey Boys and Mary Poppins and CHRP’s Lane Alexander.

Unlike studios that include children, Alexander says, at Off Broadway “everyone who is there wants to be there. That changes the energy of the whole enterprise. Pat and Geri exemplify that ethos: we want to dance because we love to dance.”

In December 2012, 18 Off Broadway dancers traveled to Washington, DC, to attend “JUBA! Masters of Tap and Percussive Dance,” a program honoring tap dance as an American art form. The trip included a tour of the city, including the World War II, Korean War, and Vietnam War memorials—important to them because of the school’s involvement with Honor Flight. A bonus was seeing the White House decorated for Christmas.

What do these formerly retired school owners think about their new careers? Balderas says, “Just because you are getting older doesn’t mean you have to stop learning or improving.”

What they’re doing, Messer says, is “a labor of love and resilience.”


Pennsylvania Studio Performance Raises Funds to Help Repair Cemetery Vandalism

“Save the Graves” performer Julia Marasteanu; photo courtesy

“Save the Graves” performer Julia Marasteanu; photo courtesy

Central Pennsylvania Dance Workshop’s “Save the Graves” performance this Sunday at the Boal Mansion Museum benefitted the Boalsburg [PA] Cemetery, the scene of a vandalism spree in May that left more than 50 gravestones toppled over, with some snapped in half. reported on the dance studio’s performance of excerpts from Amelie Hunter’s Civil War ballet, The Vacant Chair. In one vignette, dancers in pale-colored period dresses thrashed in fits of fluid motion as their plantation “burned” to the ground behind them.

In another, dance instructor Karen Stoner’s movements illustrated a letter from Civil War soldier to his wife that described the deep and longing ache created by war’s brutal separations. The breath of wind she may feel on her cheek, he wrote, will be his breath, should he die in battle.

The dance company arranged the performance after learning of May’s vandalism, which caused extensive damage to gravestones dating back to the Civil War. “Save the Graves” was the latest of a series of successful community fundraisers.

“A lot of people were horrified, shocked, and saddened by the vandalism,” Harris Township manager Amy Farkas says. “”What’s great is that people took that anger and turned it into action, bringing the community together.”

To see the full story, visit,1459588/.



The Show Goes On for Students of Baltimore Dance Studio Ravaged by April Floods

Morton Street Dance Center; photo courtesy Facebook

Morton Street Dance Center; photo courtesy Facebook

Floodwaters destroyed Baltimore’s Morton Street Dance Center on April 30, but the big spring concert still went on this weekend—thanks to the determination of founder Donna Jacobs.

Jacobs, a dancer and choreographer, founded Morton Street Dance Center in 1992. In the past two decades, the academy, which enrolls primarily African American youths, has become one of Baltimore’s most respected private arts education institutions.

The damage to the dance studio—floodwaters reached five feet deep in some places—had the potential to break the hearts of 150 children. “I eat, sleep, and breathe dance,” Leilani Hines, 12, told the Baltimore Sun. “Dancing is all I want to do. When Miss Donna showed us the pictures of the studios after the flood, my heart just sank. I felt as though my home had been taken away from me, and I started crying.”

Jacobs said: “These kids are so triumphant, we had to find a way to have the show.”

She immediately sent thousands of costume pieces to a cleaner who specializes in repairing flood-damaged clothing. She began to wade through insurance forms and deal with contractors to get the studio back in usable shape, and posted a plea on Facebook to borrow temporary rehearsal space. Within a day, she had a schedule lined up at Park School, Coppin State University, and Yorkwood Elementary School.

On Saturday—right on schedule—the school presented Neverland: The Story of Peter Pan, at Towson University. To see the original story, visit,0,1582122.story



Canadian Teen Dance Studio Drama, The Next Step, Available for Viewing on Hulu

The Next Step; photo courtesy the Mag

The Next Step; photo courtesy the Mag

The Next Step, a reality-style teen drama from Canada that follows the lives of a group of dancers at The Next Step Dance Studio as they attempt to win the regional dance championships, has premiered on Hulu/Hulu Plus.

Broadway World said all 30 episodes are now on Hulu Plus, and will be rolled out weekly (starting this week) on

Created by Frank van Keeken (Wingin’ It, Kids in the Hall), the scripted reality series follows a tightly-knit team of dancers who train, rehearse, and hang out together within a well-established social order led by star dancer Emily and the E-Girls, a band of dancers who are used to running the studio. When a new girl joins the team, alliances are challenged and the social balance of the studio is set askew as the regional championships quickly approach.

All The Next Step cast members are real dancers, including So You Think You Can Dance Canada contestants Jordan Clark, Bree Wasylenko, and Tamina Pollack-Paris. Others have attended national competitions in the United States, and Brennan Clost has been accepted by The Juilliard School in New York.

All original cast members (with the exception of Alexandra Beaton and Shamier Anderson) were also novice actors, and worked off of written scenarios rather than scripts—thus the show is sometimes referred to as “scripted reality.”

To watch the series, visit To see the full article, visit






Official DanceLife Flooring Provider, Stagestep, Has Special Offers for Studio Owners

Stagestep Flooring Solutions; photo courtesy Facebook

Stagestep Flooring Solutions; photo courtesy Facebook

Stagestep Flooring Solutions has an exclusive offer for Dance Studio Life readers and DanceLife Retreat Center attendees.

Studio owners can use the promo code GOLD2014 to receive a free Floorcare System mop with the purchase of the Proclean System Replacement Pack: six cleaning cartridges preloaded with Proclean concentrate, plus two reusable and washable microfiber mop heads. Price is $50.

Also, DanceLife supporters who sign up for the Stagestep E-Club—which provides Stagestep news, promotions, and special offers—will receive a free flooring installation and maintenance guide. Join at

DanceLife founder Rhee Gold said: “We are proud to have Stagestep as the official provider of flooring to the DanceLife Retreat Center, as well as the DanceLife Teacher Conference. Our friends at Stagestep have always been there when we need a flooring solution, and our attendees truly appreciate the quality of their products.”

Offer is valid through July 31. For more information, call 800.523.0960 or visit



DSL Contributor, Richard Calmes, Releases Third Photo Book of Dancers in Motion

A dancer in a Richard Calmes photograph; photo by Richard Calmes

A dancer in a Richard Calmes photograph; photo by Richard Calmes

Dance photographer Richard Calmes, whose dynamic shots have graced several Dance Studio Life covers, has released his third book.

Lines and LEAPS is filled with images that Calmes made of dancers from Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and other top companies over the last four years since the publication of Dance Magic, his first book. “In this case,” he says, “my dancers visually embrace two words, communicating with their bodies what would take paragraphs to explain scientifically, intellectually, and spiritually.”

The book’s title refers to the beautiful angles and shapes dancers make, both while rooted to the ground and when they throw themselves boldly into the air. “Capturing a magnificent leap at the height of its trajectory is one of the greatest thrills in dance photography,” Calmes says.

The book is organized in two-page spreads, with one page featuring a “line” shot and the other a “leap” shot. For a preview of the book and purchase information, visit




Colorado Partners Open Studio in Response to High Cost of Competitive Dance

Katrina Lairsmith; photo courtesy Facebook

Katrina Lairsmith; photo courtesy Facebook

A Colorado dance teacher and a dance dad are partners in the new Levitate Dance Academy, the pair’s attempt at a high-quality, low-cost competitive studio.

“All these kids want to dance and compete because of shows like So You Think You Can Dance,” Katrina Lairsmith, a 43-year-old Denver native who has taught at more than a half-dozen area academies, told the Denver Post. “But it’s become so outrageous and so unfair to people who don’t have a lot of money. It’s catered to the upper class. People are now starting to realize it’s almost a scam.”

Her partner, Anthony Recce, a 42-year-old self-described “dance father” and owner of Arvada’s Halo Protection Group security company, has invested $80,000 in Levitate. He converted his company warehouse in Arvada into a fully equipped dance studio and opened its doors on May 4 for auditions, attracting 40 students on the first day. Levitate’s second studio, a 4,500-square-foot space in the Larkridge Town Center retail complex in Thornton, is slated to open June 2.

Lairsmith and Recce are angling to give Levitate a national brand identity. “We want to be the first franchised competitive dance studio in the country,” Recce said. “It’s a void that needs to be filled.”

So how can he afford to be in the competitive dance world without “nickel and diming” his students, as he puts it? By taking lower mark-ups, he said, on items such as costumes and shoes. However, owners of area dance companies defended their rates and models, saying Recce and Lairsmith will soon realize the hidden costs of trying to run a national-quality competitive studio.

To read the full story, visit



Ten Children Receive Full Scholarships, Thanks to Misty Lown and Curtain Call

Ronnie Evans; photo by Rory O’Driscoll/La Crosse Tribune

Ronnie Evans; photo by Rory O’Driscoll/La Crosse Tribune

Ronnie Evans, a 13-year-old from La Crosse, Wisconsin, who taught herself how to hip-hop by watching YouTube videos, dreamed of taking classes at a dance studio but never thought she’d have the opportunity—until she learned she was one of 10 local youth ages 6 to 13 selected for a year-long scholarship to attend Misty’s Dance Unlimited in Onalaska this fall.

“I was just ecstatic when we found out,” said her mother, Rhonda Baskerville, told the La Crosse Tribune. “Ronnie’s so talented . . . and she never would have had this opportunity otherwise.”

The scholarships are possible thanks to a donation from Tighe King, owner of Curtain Call Costumes, who met MDU owner Misty Lown at a conference in San Diego last year and was inspired to contribute to her Chance to Dance Foundation to provide opportunities for economically challenged youth. “Our mission at MDU is to provide access to all kids,” Lown said. “We want to remove all barriers.”

All 10 scholarship recipients are members of the Amie L. Mathy and Hamilton Boys & Girls Clubs and were selected based on their character, behavior at the club, and interest in dance, said Tina Wehrs, Boys & Girls Club development and marketing director. MDU will provide the scholarship recipients with dancewear, and the Boys & Girls Clubs will provide transportation to and from the dance studio.

To read the full story, visit





Breast Cancer Survivors Dance to Help Others With Financial Burden of Treatment

Breast cancer survivor Roz Fantich with instructor Donald Westphal; photo courtesy the Fred Astaire Dance Studio

Breast cancer survivor Roz Fantich with instructor Donald Westphal; photo courtesy the Fred Astaire Dance Studio

Breast cancer survivors are invited to audition from noon to 3pm this Saturday (May 17) at the Fred Astaire Dance Studio in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, for an October 2 benefit for The Pink Fund, a nonprofit that financially helps women undergoing treatment for the disease.

Prior dance experience is not necessary. The Detroit Free Press said those who are chosen will get complimentary dance lessons, plus the opportunity to tell their stories in the show.

Studies have shown that dance is a powerful medium for helping survivors feel good about themselves and their bodies, says Molly MacDonald, founder of the Bloomfield Hills–based Pink Fund and a breast cancer survivor. “The simple act of learning a dance move can help one feel attractive and graceful, and it allows survivors to forget about cancer and instead focus on other aspects of their lives,” she said. “Plus, the social nature of dance lessons has the added benefit of providing a much-needed web of support for survivors.”

MacDonald started The Pink Fund in 2006 after she saw firsthand how difficult it is financially to undergo cancer treatment. The fund helps women in need pay living expenses for up to 90 days while they also deal with the loss of income that often accompanies treatment. For more information, visit and

To read the original story, visit



Mother of Autistic Children Combines Love of Dance and Advocacy in New Studio

Tess Walters of DanceAbilities; photo courtesy Autism Daily Newscast

Tess Walters of DanceAbilities; photo courtesy Autism Daily Newscast

DanceAbilities Academy, a North Carolina, nonprofit dance studio that will offer free programs in dance to individuals of all ages with special needs, will launch in early July.

Executive director Tess Walters of Gastonia told Autism Daily Newscast that she is a mother of four children, two of whom are on the autism spectrum. Her goals for the 100 percent donation-funded studio include a sensory quiet room, student transportation, and an in-class student-to-volunteer ratio of 2 to 1.

According to GoFundMe, Walters has been teaching dance and movement to students from kindergarten through high school at Webb Street School in Gastonia, has taught special-needs dance classes and camps at Dance Productions, and is a community advocate for special needs. “I have decided to take my talents as a dance teacher and my knowledge as a parent of two special-needs children and fuse them all together,” she said.

DanceAbilities will accept students with challenges including (but not limited to) cerebral palsy, spina bifida, Angelman syndrome, Down syndrome, developmental delays, and all individuals on the autism spectrum.

The studio’s start date will be announced at a fundraising carnival event planned for June 7, 10am to 4pm at Piedmont Community Charter School’s elementary campus, along with details for a summer camp. The studio will be located at 1385 E. Garrison Boulevard, Gastonia. For more information, visit DanceAbilities

To see the original story, visit



Dance Studio Life Magazine Celebrates 10th Anniversary With Generous Heart Awards


Dance Studio Life magazine has always given attention to individuals and organizations doing important, innovative work in dance education and providing service to the dance community. This July, as DSL celebrates its 10th anniversary, publisher Rhee Gold and the editorial staff will acknowledge the efforts of six of these risk takers and generous hearts through the first annual “Generous Heart” awards.

DSL will run profiles of the six “Generous Heart” recipients in the July 2014 issue. They are:

• Joe Lanteri and the New York City Dance Alliance Foundation: for recognizing the importance of dance education at the college or university level and creating a program that has facilitated more than $8 million in scholarships for more than 150 students since 2010.
• Patricia Reedy and Nancy Ng of Luna Dance Institute in Berkeley, California: for their nationally acclaimed family-based children’s dance programs and for their advocacy of professional learning for dance educators.
• Susan Slotnick of New Paltz, New York: for her dance work with adult male prisoners, using art to address issues of social justice.
• Gina Gibney: for providing low-cost rehearsal space and programs for students and emerging choreographers at Gibney Dance Center in New York City, and for taking a stand against domestic violence.
• Mark “Metal” Wong, Steve “Believe” Lunger, and Aaron Troisi of Hip Hop Fundamentals: for their service to schoolchildren in the Philadelphia public school system in promoting critical awareness and collective action in the context of an academic curriculum.
• Susan McCutcheon Coutts of Dance Innovations in Chatham, New Jersey: for her inclusive attitude toward dance education, demonstrated by her studio’s welcoming attitude toward students with special needs and extensive outreach efforts.



Students Still Dancing After Explosion Destroys Washington State Studio

Point Dance Center after the April 25 explosion; photo by Dave Lindstedt/Living Snoqualmie

Point Dance Center after the April 25 explosion; photo by Dave Lindstedt/Living Snoqualmie

Amy Murphy was up, feeding her baby, shortly after 3:30am on April 25 when she heard the explosion that destroyed her Point Dance Center in North Bend, Washington, reported the SnoValley Star.

“The space is gone, but dance is not,” she said. “Thankfully this happened in the middle of the night, and no dancers or teachers were in the studio at the time of the explosion.”

The force of the explosion pushed the building housing the dance studio and other businesses to a 45-degree angle. The building is considered unsafe and Murphy and the other business owners haven’t been allowed in. For Murphy, that means boxes of paperwork, her stereo system, music, costumes, and accessories are gone.

Her dance school had just moved there five months ago, and the mirrors and special dance floor she had installed—valued at about $10,000—are lost. (She had liability insurance, but not renter’s insurance.)

Classes are continuing at several local venues, including a YMCA, grange hall, and senior center, and dancers from her school won several first, second, and third place finishes at the I Love Dance competition in Portland, Oregon, May 3 and 4.

The cause of the explosion is still under investigation. To read the full story, visit



Ask Rhee Gold

Advice for dance teachers

Hi Rhee,

When I opened my school more than 12 years ago, a school owner a couple of towns away from my location decided that my little school was now her big competitor. As soon as I signed my lease, trouble started. Friends in my community told me that they had heard things like I wasn’t a qualified teacher or that I was a scam artist. Each time people told me something negative they’d heard, it got traced back to the other studio owner. The hard part was that I had no idea who this person was.

In the beginning, it freaked me out. Then I let it go until midyear of my first season, when I got a letter from her that ranted about how awful I was and that I should be ashamed for stealing her business. At that point, only two students had come to me from this school. I had no idea what she was so upset about.

I decided to ignore her antics. She wrote me letters, tried to call me, and said negative stuff about me to anyone who would listen. I just continued working on growing my business.

During my third year in business, a studio mom told me the other school had closed because of IRS and other financial issues. I was shocked because her school was five times the size of mine. Within a month of her closing we enrolled more than 25 of her students, and more trickled in. They came to me because there was nowhere else to go, not because I solicited them.

Immediately this woman started telling everyone in town that I put her out of business. She wrote nasty letters to the Chamber of Commerce about me, called my home and then hung up on me, and sent me hateful letters. She continues to stalk me today. On Facebook, she makes up false names and posts nasty comments on my studio page. She “friends” my students and sends them mean comments about me. She continually posts on her own page that she is reopening her school, but it never happens. She has even sent messages to my teachers offering them jobs at her new school.

Everyone around me knows this is crazy, but this has been a 12-year battle. I am so tired. I am at my wits’ end because she never stops. Should I go to the police, get a lawyer, begin to fight back, or what? Any thoughts? —Stalked


Dear Stalked,

I believe “or what” is your best option. Think about this—the reality is that she has gone out of business because she didn’t know how to manage the finances. And maybe she spent too much time concentrated on hurting you when she should have been watching what was going on in her own studio.

As a result of her actions (not yours), she is obviously one frustrated person who has spent too many years blaming others for her own incompetence. You did nothing wrong. Twelve years of stalking does indicate that this person is obsessed, and my guess is that she wants you to be at your “wits’ end.” Don’t give her that satisfaction.

Ignore all of this, but do use it as motivation to continue to make your school better and to always be the opposite of what she perceives you to be, or what she tells everyone you are. My guess is that after 12 years, most of the people she spews her negativity to know she is full of you-know-what. This is her problem, not yours!

On a personal note: though the details are different, I have been harassed for 40 years by the same type of frustrated stalker you have described. She started on my mom and then moved on to my brother and me after my mom died. My mother made the decision to never respond and told us that we should do the same. It has worked marvelously, and I hope it will work for you too. All the best. —Rhee



Dear Rhee,

I am so happy to have had the chance to teach thousands of kids how to dance. The memories are priceless, and the dance family friends will always be a part of my life. But I’m thinking it’s time to turn my school over to the next generation. I have two teachers who would like to become partners and purchase my business. How do I figure out the value of my business? Any pointers? —Carol


Hi Carol,

My first pointer is to go to an accountant, who can give you the best advice. With that said, I’ll offer you a basic starting point in determining the value of your business: two times the annual gross or five times the annual profit. For example, if I gross $400,000 annually, the starting point is $800,000. Or I could clear $100,000 profit annually, which gives me a starting point of $500,000. With this formula, the business is worth somewhere between $500,000 and $800,000. Good luck and enjoy the journey! —Rhee



Dear Rhee,

I love teaching. I have been teaching all ages of kids at the same studio for two years, and I just lost my job because of pictures I posted on my personal Facebook page. I went to a bar with some friends and my boyfriend took pictures of us having a good time. My boss thinks they are inappropriate because she says I look wasted and because I swore in a couple of the posts. She said she is mad because I am friends with my students and parents, but they go to bars too. I don’t get it. I could see why she’d be upset if the posts were on the studio page, but what right does she have to fire me for what I do on my own time with my friends? —Frustrated


Dear Frustrated,

I am not a legal expert. For appropriate legal advice pertaining to the owner’s right to let you go, I suggest you contact an attorney. Putting the legalities aside, let me answer this question from a school owner/boss’ perspective.

You state that you teach all ages of kids. If you taught for me, I would expect that you would always be aware that you are a mentor, leader, and teacher. That image and responsibility would be expected wherever you come in contact with our clientele. You represent not only yourself but my standards as a school owner.

I’m assuming that you did look wasted in the pictures because you didn’t say otherwise. And you admit that your comments included swearing or profanity. You made the choice to welcome your students or their parents to your Facebook page. Consequently, I believe that everything on your page should be appropriate to the image of a teacher who is making impressions on the young minds in her care.

You need to think about how shocked some of your students and their parents might be at your posts, then think about what being a role model means. My guess is that you will discover that this was a hard lesson to learn and that it is something that you will never allow to happen again. Good luck. —Rhee




Waynesboro Residents Reconnect With Downtown Through Dance Walk Event


Downtown Waynesboro, Virginia, was transformed into a dance studio on Tuesday as people celebrated spring and local businesses by dancing down the street in the first-ever Waynesboro Dance Walk, reported the News Virginian.

The Waynesboro Dance Walk started as a birthday wish and turned into a fun way to bring people downtown. Kim Cash wanted to do something special for her friend, Kathy Johnson, a volunteer for the Chamber of Commerce, and they decided to put together Waynesboro’s first Dance Walk.

“Our goal is to encourage people to eat downtown, to see what’s down there . . . and to get some exercise,” Cash said. “We both really appreciate locally-owned restaurants and businesses.”

Dance Walking became known a couple of years ago when a man in New York City was seen dancing instead of walking to his destinations in a popular YouTube video. This fun and energetic way of traveling has now spread all over the world, with videos posted from Stockholm, Seattle, Los Angeles, and Australia.

Dance Walking has been used to raise awareness about everything from diabetes and child abuse to brain cancer and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). To see the original story, visit



Thinking Out Loud | A Tough Choice

Thinking Out Loud
By Holly Derville-Teer

I owned Chehalem Valley Dance Academy for 11 years. Studio ownership was fulfilling, and I loved my role. Eventually, though, I began to feel like it was time to move on.

What had been rewarding had begun to feel like a merry-go-round of constant work, not like the exciting adventure I had embarked on. I no longer felt challenged or excited, and I didn’t feel like I was continuing to grow as a person. Horrified, I kept my change in attitude to myself, hoping it would pass.

I couldn’t imagine my life without my school, but I also couldn’t deny the discontent that was growing daily. What was wrong with me?

Feeling this way surprised me. Who would I be if I didn’t own a studio? In my mind, the studio and I were inextricably linked. When people asked me what I did for a living, I was proud to say I owned a dance studio. I couldn’t imagine my life without it, but I also couldn’t deny the discontent that was growing daily. What was wrong with me?

That January, one of my employees, Kristen Coats, told me she wanted to buy the school. Her offer came out of the blue; no one except my husband knew how I felt. Tears sprang to my eyes as I realized stepping off the merry-go-round could become a scary reality. I knew it was the right thing to do, but I was grieving.

Before giving Kristen an answer, I asked myself several questions. First, what I would miss about being a studio owner? I realized that the part of my career I still loved was teaching. I could do that without being an owner.

Next, I thought about what I would do if I didn’t own a school. I had just turned 40, and I realized that I had other career goals that I’d be free to pursue.

Last, I asked myself if I could handle separating my identity from the studio. A friend advised me not to hold onto something I’d outgrown. “The studio might feel like you, but it’s not you,” she said. I knew she was right, but accepting that truth was hard. I felt like I was changing shape inside—what would I look like when I popped out of the proverbial cocoon? Leaving the circle of studio owners I had gotten to know over the years would be difficult. And I worried about letting down my staff.

After a month of deliberation, I gave Kristen my answer: yes. I was about to say goodbye to one of the biggest parts of my life.

A business valuator priced the studio. My attorney drew up a contract of sale and an employment contract ensuring my classes, hours, and rate of pay. Having those specifics in place made me feel better about selling.

Once the deal was done, I told each employee about the sale individually. Next, I called a meeting of the performing company families to tell them the news, and I notified the entire student body by email.

At first, being an employee was rocky for me. I found it difficult to be outside of the decision-making process and work under someone else’s rules. At times I felt like my soul was being torn into pieces. However, I didn’t want to give up the classes I’d taught for more than a decade in the studio I loved, so I forced myself to adjust. I knew if I could make it through the first few years, let go of the past, and embrace my role as a teacher, it would get easier.

I decided to pursue a new project immediately, and I chose freelance writing. Replacing my complete dedication to the studio with a commitment to something new made a huge difference in coming to terms with the loss of that aspect of my life.

It took two years to build a strong working relationship with Kristen in our new roles. She found her footing as the new owner, and our relationship grew from there.

It’s been four years since I sold my school. I continue to love teaching, writing, and having more time to devote to my family. For me, selling my studio was the right thing to do.





Bright Biz Idea | A Brain for Business

In the world of studio ownership, being an artist isn’t enough. Here’s how to get the left-brain skills you need.
By Bonner Odell

Dance studios are seldom born in the minds of venture capitalists. Most are the brainchildren of people who want to combine their love for dance with a way to make a living (and, one hopes, a love of teaching). While the shift from dance artist to studio owner may seem natural enough, the leap from the right-brain realm of dance and choreography to the left-brain world of budgets and balance sheets can involve a painful landing. Running a business successfully takes training. Often, the choice to invest in that training means the difference between a studio that thrives and one that merely survives.

People in the arts tend to view business as a necessary evil. But we have to be profitable to make a positive impact in our communities. —Misty Lown

It is impossible to imagine somebody auditioning for a professional dance company with no dance training. Why then should you expect yourself to operate a business with no business training? Fortunately, you don’t need to rely on trial and error to learn the best way to manage your dance studio. Affordable, convenient training resources can help you take your studio to the next level.

People, profit, and positive programs

At the helm of a small-town studio with large-scale appeal as a business model is Misty Lown, the founder of Misty’s Dance Unlimited in Onalaska, Wisconsin. Lown says the school has given away more than $175,000 in charitable cash and scholarships; it has also spawned ventures including A Chance to Dance Foundation and a consulting company, More Than Just Great Dancing™, which offers mentorship and networking for studio owners. Lown attributes her school’s success to a business mind-set built on what she calls “the triple bottom line”: people, profit, and positive programs.

“People in the arts tend to view business as a necessary evil,” Lown says. “But we have to be profitable to make a positive impact in our communities.” She views marketing and community service as interdependent. “An attitude of service creates positive associations in people’s minds,” she says. “By offering to perform at local schools or nursing homes, or to help raise funds for a local cause, you simultaneously teach students the value of civic participation and boost visibility for your business.”

Lown believes building a positive brand begins with excellent programming and a solid dance curriculum, but it extends far beyond those core elements. She steers clients to a range of marketing strategies used by successful businesses across industries. One of the first items on the agenda at her Studio Owner University™ conferences is a survey listing 101 marketing tactics on which participants are asked to grade themselves. It lists ideas as diverse as “we miss you” postcards for lapsed clients to QR codes, text opt-ins, and “one-day-only” sales on retail items like branded dance gear.

“What most people consider marketing are really random acts of advertising,” says Lown. “It takes much more than an ad here and an event there. Marketing is something you need to do all year long, and in many ways.”

One marketing outlet Lown says studio owners tend to grossly underutilize is the internet. “We need to better understand the way people live online now,” she says. “It’s not enough to have a website and a Facebook page anymore.” Her “101 tactics” marketing survey includes RSS feeds, YouTube channels, and social-media sites like Pinterest and Instagram.

An MBA delivers

Jessica Canino took a different approach to gaining business knowledge: she enrolled in an MBA program. Canino is director of Creative Dance Studio in Plantation, Florida, which operates out of St. Gregory the Great Catholic School. When enrollment started to grow, she began making plans to launch the dance school as an independent business with its own location. Seeking expertise to realize the venture’s full potential, she chose an MBA program with a special focus in entrepreneurship at nearby Nova Southeastern University, where the night, weekend, and online course offerings accommodate her dance-teaching schedule.

Now that she has satisfied core requirements like Economic Thinking and Accounting for Decision Makers, Canino is moving on to courses like Entrepreneurship/Venture Creation and Entrepreneurship Law, which she says are helping her apply wider business principles to small-business operation.

One course, Internet Marketing and Social Networking, was particularly relevant to Canino’s task of creating a website. She says one of the most useful tools covered was search-engine optimization, the art of using keywords to maximize a site’s visibility.

Canino took several business workshops when she attended the DanceLife Teacher Conference in 2013, and, she says, “I came away with a notebook full of notes. But I was excited to find I already knew a lot of what was covered, especially about search-engine optimization, and at a deeper level. I realized how much my MBA program has taught me about running a business.”

Legal peace of mind

For Julie Holt Lucia, attending Rhee Gold’s Project Motivate conference in 2005 changed her outlook on managing her studio. Gold advised attendees to seek the advice of a lawyer or accountant to protect their businesses. Lucia did both. Her new accountant helped her navigate the process of establishing her business, Studio Dance Centre in Frisco, Texas, as an S corporation. The IRS grants S corporations limited liability, meaning the owner’s personal assets are protected from any debt or loss incurred by the business. The corporation does not pay any income tax, but its profits or losses “pass through” to the owners, who must report them on their personal tax returns as shareholders.

The process of establishing her school as its own legal entity impressed upon Lucia the value of creating a degree of separation between herself and her business. “I realized it didn’t have to be me doing everything,” she says. “I hired an office manager and established systems that are clear and user-friendly for anyone in the office. It’s a load off my shoulders knowing the information isn’t just in my head, and that if something were to happen to me, or when I’m ready to retire, I can hand the studio over to somebody else to run.”

Lucia also learned that with the benefits of incorporation come legal obligations like electing officers, holding annual board meetings, and keeping careful records for tax purposes. She consulted a lawyer to make sure she fulfilled these responsibilities to IRS standards. “Good legal counsel is so important for studio owners,” she says. “There are serious issues around incorporation, liability, and insurance that, if overlooked, can be detrimental to your business.”

One such easily neglected issue is the importance of understanding your state’s labor laws. Learning the rules governing overtime, leave rights, and what legally constitutes discrimination (to name a few) will protect your staff and your business from a potentially devastating lawsuit.

Financial finesse

Learning basic principles of accounting and budget management can open doors for your business you might not have thought possible. If dreams like expanding to an additional location or traveling internationally with performance teams feel perpetually out of financial reach, the problem may be one of cash-flow management. Says Lown, “You know you are in a cash-flow trap when you continually have to take money from one revenue source, like costume fees, to cover an unrelated expense like payroll. You are going to stay in that cycle unless you educate yourself about finance and budgeting. You need to network, find mentorship, and attend conferences where you can learn from knowledgeable people.”

Canino has received guidance in developing a business plan for Creative Dance Studio through her Entrepreneurship/Venture Creation course. Lucia worked with a consultant at a Small Business Development Center (SBDC) to create and improve her original plan. She also took an online course in Quickbooks accounting software through a community college, which partners with The skills she learned help her work seamlessly alongside her accountant, who handles all accounts receivable while Lucia oversees accounts payable. Lucia creates the quarterly sales tax reports, and though her accountant prepares her annual taxes, she says her business training has “made it clearer what he is talking about.”

Management skills

It’s a dilemma often lamented: passion for the arts doesn’t necessarily translate to people-management ability. Dancing, teaching, and overseeing staff are entirely different skill sets. Human resource management, or HR, includes responsibilities like interviewing potential staff, writing contracts, providing ongoing professional development, conducting performance reviews, managing employee benefits like vacation and sick time, and processing payroll. It’s when studio owners assume that the usually small staff size of a dance studio doesn’t necessitate professional training in these areas that problems can arise. Apprising yourself of best practices in management can make the difference between having a productive, team-oriented staff and one undermined by grumbling, gossip, and high turnover.

Lucia worked as an HR intern at a museum prior to opening her school and draws frequently on her experience there. One of the most valuable things she learned was to ask open-ended questions during interviews. “I always ask prospective employees where they had a conflict or difficult situation with a customer and how they resolved it. The answer is usually very telling.”

Owning your inner businessperson

Next to hitting the library’s business section, conferences and seminars may be the most cost-effective ways to gain business savvy. For more in-depth, ongoing access to resources and expertise, you might want to consider joining a membership network or organization. provides articles and downloadable forms, plus teleseminars, marketing tips, and a member forum for a monthly fee. Lown’s More Than Just Great Dancing grants access to similar resources, plus fully developed administrative systems and curriculums, with the option to meet with other studio owners face-to-face, or, at the top membership level, consult regularly with Lown.

BrightBiz2bWhile dance-specific resources cut to the chase, it is well worth branching out to participate in the business community. The contacts you make outside of the dance world can help you diversify your board, cross-market with other business owners, and scout quality services for your studio. Lucia attended an SBDC mixer and met a banker who ended up approving the loan she needed to start her studio. “I approached a few banks before getting approved,” she says. “It was the personal connection that made the difference.”

As your business skills grow, your business network can too. Lown attended a forum for CEOs hosted by Success Magazine in which leaders in industries from trucking to high tech shared the best innovations across sectors. As the only attendee from the dance field, she says she appreciated the opportunity to represent dance education as a thriving U.S. industry. Your presence in business networks does more than benefit your studio; it gives dance education a place at the table.

Making time for business training may feel like one more thing to add to your to-do list, but it can make your list shorter and more manageable in the long run. All three women interviewed said they ventured into the business world with trepidation (the phrase “I’m not a math person” came up more than once) but were surprised by how much they enjoyed the challenge, how empowered they feel, and how their increased efficiency has freed up time to devote to artistic direction and their families.

As Lown tells her clients, “Investing in business education is a lot like exercise. We procrastinate even though we know it’s good for us. But when we finally start, it’s so rewarding we can’t believe we didn’t do it sooner.”





Everybody Dance!

The 4th Annual Capitol Kickline, held in April 2002, was an attempt by its sponsor, the Greater Harrisburg Arts Council, to set the Guinness World Record for the longest dance kickline. All photos courtesy National Dance Week

The 4th Annual Capitol Kickline, held in April 2002, was an attempt by its sponsor, the Greater Harrisburg Arts Council, to set the Guinness World Record for the longest dance kickline. All photos courtesy National Dance Week

National Dance Week Foundation gives a weeklong celebration a year-round presence
By Claudia Bauer

If you’re looking for a creative way to connect with your community, attract new families to your studio, and maybe even get national exposure (and who isn’t?), take a leap into National Dance Week. Established as a nonprofit in 2011, the National Dance Week Foundation has become a valuable year-round resource that promotes dance and professional development. National Dance Week, a fun event for the entire community, increases the foundation’s visibility.

You feel like you are doing something for a greater good. It is so much fun to get out there and give back, promote dance, and get more people involved. —Cathy Graziano

This year’s celebration takes place April 25 through May 4. From kicklines to studio demonstrations to a coast-to-coast flash mob, NDW offers dozens of ways to celebrate dance and raise your school’s profile—and almost all of them are free. “The goal is to get everybody out there, dancing and feeling good,” says NDW executive director Cathy Graziano. “Our saying is ‘A week to celebrate dance and to promote fun fitness.’ ”

Celebrating dance together

NDW was launched in 1981 as a grassroots effort to bring greater recognition to dance in America, and over the years gained the support of dance-industry leaders such as Alfred Terlizzi of Capezio/Ballet Makers Inc. and Tighe King of Tighe Industries/Curtain Call Costumes. United Dance Merchants of America came on as a supporting partner 10 years later.


Des Plaines (IL) School of Dance’s 2012 flash mob performance was held in Arndt Park

Graziano remembers those early days. During her 25 years of teaching ballet, tap, jazz, and lyrical dance in New Jersey, she and her students were among those who enjoyed National Dance Week events. “You feel like you are doing something for a greater good,” she says about participating. “It is so much fun to get out there and give back, promote dance, and get more people involved.”

Nonetheless, for its first 30 years NDW had a low profile nationwide. Outside of major dance hubs like Chicago, New York, and San Francisco, the question “What are you doing for National Dance Week?” garnered mostly quizzical looks.

NDW knew it had great things to offer the dance community, if it could deliver its message more widely. So in 2011, the New York–based organization reestablished itself as a 501(c)3 nonprofit, re-launching with energetic new marketing and the goal of becoming a go-to resource for dancers, studios, schools, and teachers. Graziano came on board too, and her experience and enthusiasm are shared by NDW’s all-volunteer team of board members and three planning committees. “They all are either studio owners or running large companies related to dance,” Graziano says. “It is important to them that they are giving back.”

This dedicated group dreams up fun activities that will make the following year’s National Dance Week appealing to dancers and non-dancers alike, from ballerinas to beginners, competition stars to the local grocer. “We wanted to be more than just what was happening in the dance studio,” Graziano says of the foundation’s long-term vision. Indeed, since 2011, NDW has sent out new roots from coast to coast and now flourishes from Delaware to Texas to Oregon. “It has been very encouraging and tremendous,” she says with justified pride.

The organization is now active year-round. In fact, one of NDW’s most popular events is the annual Kick It! Challenge, a kickline competition held in October and November. All entrants are invited to submit a video to the NDW site. Divisions include high-school dance teams, preschools, cheerleading squads, age 55-plus, all-male groups, and more. The Rockettes judged 2012’s inaugural event and chose the Downey Dance Line, of Thomas Downey High School in Modesto, California, as their favorite; this year’s Kick It! partners are the Kilgore College Rangerettes, the pride of Kilgore, Texas, in celebration of their 75th anniversary.

Free and easy

Not into kicklines? Don’t worry; NDW has other plans for you. “When I was first talking to people about getting involved in National Dance Week, the biggest question I got was, ‘What should we do?’ ” Graziano says. “They needed something simple.”


A dad and his daughter demonstrate National Dance Week’s theme of fun fitness for all by joining a Chicago kickline in 2012.

One of Graziano’s first initiatives was the NDW flash mob. An instant favorite for its upbeat music and user-friendly choreography, this crowd-pleasing event is fun for all ages and skill levels. It’s even gone international, with people from as far away as England and Korea dancing along. And it’s a great way to get your studio involved for the first time.

NDW provides the choreography via online video, free to all. Emmy-nominated choreographer Gregg Russell (and a Dance Studio Life contributor), who has worked with the likes of Bette Midler and Michael Jackson, created this year’s dance. He follows in the footsteps of hip-hop wizard Geo Hubela (another DSL contributor), who choreographed the 2012 launch, and last year’s Sarah Jo Fazio, whose credits range from major musicals to NBA halftime shows.

Once you have the steps down, the sky’s the limit. Studios have led flash mobs in public parks, high-school gyms, restaurants, and even during a minor-league baseball game. Invite your students to brainstorm possible locations and how to recruit the largest number of friends, family, and neighbors. Make your flash mob look “official” with NDW’s annual T-shirts, which are sold on the website at a low cost that includes customization with your studio name.

You could even orchestrate a week’s worth of dance-related events that raise awareness and strengthen local ties: partner with a physical-therapy office on a wellness talk, host an open rehearsal or a free introductory class, or put on a lunchtime performance at City Hall. For more inspiration, visit to see what dance lovers nationwide have planned.

The foundation also holds an essay contest, with dance-convention scholarships awarded in age categories 12 and under and 13 to 18. Flash mobs and kickline teams are invited to submit videos of their performances for posting on the website.

Beyond NDW

A deep sense of purpose underlies all the fun. “We would like to be the nucleus that brings everyone together,” Graziano says. “We want to get everybody moving and dancing, and talking about dance.” To that end, NDW provides helpful resources year-round on its website.

With many school arts programs in dire straits, the foundation’s K–12 curriculum guides are especially valuable. Organized by grade level, the age-appropriate content is written for teachers who lack dance experience—and the time to do research. Anyone can download the simple, step-by-step instructions in PDF format, and introduce students to ballet, jazz, modern, swing, and foxtrot. There’s even a unit on anatomy.

The foundation has launched a small but growing presence on Facebook and Pinterest and sends out monthly online newsletters and event updates. “We want to encourage people to unite via all our social media, to keep the community in touch with one another,” Graziano says.

As more dancers, teachers, choreographers, and communities take part in National Dance Week and rely on the foundation’s resources, Graziano’s endeavors will gain more and more momentum—which the foundation intends to give right back.

“Our long-term goals are to do more activities, have the essay contest, send kids to summer dance conventions, support other nonprofit programs,” she says. “The more we can do to accomplish that, the better it becomes for the dance industry. I call it the synergy, the whole circle, that keeps dance going.”







DSL Columnist Bill Evans Recognized for Contributions to Dancers’ Health

Bill Evans; photo courtesy IADMS

Bill Evans; photo courtesy IADMS

Dance Studio Life columnist and DanceLife Teacher Conference faculty member Bill Evans has been made an honorary member of the International Association for Dance Medicine and Science.

Evans, who joins IADMS honorary members Darcey Bussell and Christopher Wheeldon, was a pioneer in the integration of somatic education and dance technique, and was invited to present his work at the most recent annual IADMS conference, in Seattle.

Since 1977, thousands of dance educators have attended Evans’ summer workshops, conducted internationally, to investigate his method of teaching dance technique through the concepts of Laban/Bartenieff Movement Studies.

“My long life as a healthy dancer is no coincidence,” Evans said in the IADMS announcement. “I was guided by generous and engaged dance kinesiologists at crucial points in my career over five decades. IADMS has created an international community in which dance scientists interact with dance teachers to share investigations and findings that improve the health, well-being, training, and performance longevity of dancers throughout the world.”

“You are a role model for vast numbers of dancers, choreographers, and teachers,” said IADMS chief executive officer Virginia Wilmerding. “Your honorary status is evidence to all of your commitment to dance and dancers.” For more information, visit



Studio Owner Shows How Small Businesspersons Can Take Advantage of City Resources

Bridget Rowsey with Huntington mayor Steve Williams; photo by Curtis Johnson/Herald-Dispatch

Bridget Rowsey with Huntington mayor Steve Williams; photo by Curtis Johnson/Herald-Dispatch

Dance instructor Bridget Rowsey possesses the entrepreneurial spirit Huntington leaders want, but her experience in opening her own dance studio four years ago in this West Virginia city also carried procedural headaches city officials hope to erase with a small-business initiative unveiled this week.

The Herald-Dispatch said the initiative, branded “Huntington: Be Small. Live Large,” attempts to pull together many existing resources within the city to support existing business, promote new efforts, and inspire entrepreneurship.

Many of those resources existed when Rowsey opened at her first location in 2010, but like many she received a to-do list of requirements from City Hall with little to no guidance. Such was not the case as Rowsey, now 27, moved Bridget’s Dance Academy to 8th Avenue and 10th Street near downtown last year. She worked with the city’s business services advocate, a central cog in the new initiative, to navigate red tape and get plugged into other resources. She calls it a promising change for herself and other entrepreneurs.

“It will make the process easier,” she said. “It’s overwhelming and it’s a risk when you’re first starting out, so to be able to gain knowledge and resources is tremendous.”

The initiative will link City Hall with the Huntington Regional Chamber of Commerce and other groups, such as Unlimited Futures Inc., the Small Business Development Center, Create Huntington, Downtown Huntington Partners, and the Huntington Area Development Council, as it shows prospective business owners how each group can assist in their success.

To see the original story, visit




Dance Mom Pens Children’s Book to Support Flood-Ravaged Dance Studio

The Little Dance Teacher author Alaine Kowal and illustrator Matts Zoumer; photo by Taylor Weaver/High River Times, QMI Agency

The Little Dance Teacher author Alaine Kowal and illustrator Matts Zoumer; photo by Taylor Weaver/High River Times, QMI Agency

“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 To see the original story, visit



New York Studio Owner Celebrates NDW with Coast 2 Coast Master Class Tour

Coast 2 Coast Tour kickoff event; photo courtesy Coast 2 Coast

Coast 2 Coast Tour kickoff event;
photo courtesy Coast 2 Coast

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



Multi-Faceted Arts Program, Hope Stone Studio, Closes to Reevaluate and Rejuvenate

Children in dance/movement class at Hope Stone Studio; photo by Simon Gentry

Children in dance/movement class at Hope Stone Studio; photo by Simon Gentry

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,

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



UDMA Show an Annual Fall Event for Teachers and Studio Owners

A UDMA Dance Resource and Costume Show; photo courtesy UDMA

A UDMA Dance Resource and Costume Show; photo courtesy UDMA

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 For additional information, visit or call 800.304.UDMA (8362).




Tennessee “Dance at Any Cost” Studio Accepts Dancers of All Financial Means

Knoxville Dance Project; photo courtesy Facebook

Knoxville Dance Project; photo courtesy Facebook

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




Rising Rents Forces Manhattan Ballroom Studio to Vacate 20-Year Location

Dance Manhattan; photo courtesy DNAinfo/Ben Fractenberg

Dance Manhattan; photo courtesy DNAinfo/Ben Fractenberg

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



Boston Studio Dancers Spread Message of Joy, Resilience, to “The Boston Song”

A flash mob performs to “The Boston Song”; photo by Anne Steele for the Boston Globe

A flash mob performs to “The Boston Song”; photo by Anne Steele for the Boston Globe

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



Illinois Dance Studio Organizes April Show to Benefit Dance Across America

Willow Street Dance Theatre students; photo courtesy Dance Across America

Willow Street Dance Theatre students; photo courtesy Dance Across America

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.

For more information on The Andréa Rizzo Foundation, call 401.952.2423, e-mail, or visit



Studio with Limited Parking Ordered by Courts to Provide Student Shuttle Service


Ann's_Studio_of_DanceThe Alabama Court of Civil Appeals has upheld a judge’s order requiring Ann’s Studio of Dance in Huntsville to provide busing for students, reported

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



At 73, Bill Evans Still Going Strong as Teacher, Mentor, Company Director

Bill Evans Dance; photo by Emily Watson

Bill Evans Dance; photo by Emily Watson

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

To see the original story, visit



Government Regulations Force South African Ballet Teacher to Close Canadian Studio

Lizette Nel and student; photo courtesy Vancouver Sun

Lizette Nel and student; photo courtesy Vancouver Sun

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.”

To read the full story, visit



Ask Rhee Gold

Advice for dance teachers

Hello Rhee,

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


Dear 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



Dear 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


Dear 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



Dear 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


Dear 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




On My Mind

18 On My Mind
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.





Mindful Marketing | Make It Mobile

36 Mindful Marketing
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 ( on your smartphone and the site automatically switches to a mobile one ( 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 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

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.





Thinking Out Loud | Hats Off to Carolyn

30 Thinking Out LoudBy Nancy Stone

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.


Bright Biz Idea | On a Mission

90 Bright Biz
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.”

Other tools

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.”




Higher-Ed Voice | The Adelphi–Taylor Connection

“Taylor’s work…provides endless opportunities to project who I am through dance,” says Adelphi senior Sasha Smith (front). Photo by Robert Petkus

“Taylor’s work…provides endless opportunities to project who I am through dance,” says Adelphi senior Sasha Smith (front). Photo by Robert Petkus

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.

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Taylor choreographed his signature solo in Aureole in 1962 while riding the train from New York City to teach at Adelphi. Photo by Jack Mitchell

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.

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“Dance Adelphi” showcases work by the masters as well as faculty-produced pieces, such as Jennifer Kreichman’s Impromptu Momentata. Photo by Claudio Papapietro

“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.”

The program

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.

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Adelphi students benefit from a longstanding relationship between the university and modern-dance choreographer Paul Taylor. Photo by Brittany Piazza

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 future

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.



Something New for Summer | Mozart to Mahler

59 Mozart to T
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?

Broad exposure

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.”

59 Mozart to 1As 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.”

Internalizing 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.

59 Mozart to 2The 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.



Something New for Summer | Teaching the Whole Child

53 Teaching The Whole T
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.

53 Teaching The Whole 2For 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.

53 Teaching The Whole 1For 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.

Young psyches

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.

53 Teaching The Whole 5Having 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.

Healthy bodies

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.

53 Teaching The Whole 4Try 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.





Online System Offers Easier Method for Coaches to Communicate with Parents


A new coach-parent communication system,, 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.

The system:
• 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. 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



No Apparent Reason for Vandalism of Montgomery Ballet Studio

Montgomery Ballet; photo courtesy Facebook

Montgomery Ballet; photo courtesy Facebook

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


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