What’s up in the dance community
❱ Jacob’s Pillow Four-Season Studio
❱ Gift Leads to Doctoral Program in Dance Education
❱ It’s Good to Be the Ballerina Boss
❱ Hip-Hop Arrives at NYPL
What’s up in the dance community
Classroom Connection: Picturing Dance
Dance photos can support your curriculum and offer playful springboards for activities with students—from preschoolers to high schoolers.
Reality Check: Tough Moments
Q. I just lost my first student to another studio. I understand we all offer different things and people will choose what matches their needs best. But it still hurts and makes me wonder if I am doing enough. How do you handle these moments?
Preschool dance education—it’s a frequent topic among studio owners and dance teachers. In fact, in my conversations with attendees at the DanceLife Teacher Conference and the International Dance Entrepreneurs Association conference, preschool dance seemed to come up more than any other topic.
Throughout the Rhee Gold Company we’ve taken that message to heart. As we noted in a story last year, DLTC sessions that covered creative movement, ballet, tap, musical theater, hip-hop, and jazz classes for preschoolers “were packed with both note takers and teachers eager to get up and play along.” (See “One for All: the 2015 DanceLife Teacher Conference,” October 2015.) And a significant portion of a Back to Basics Teacher Intensive at the DanceLife Retreat Center this month is devoted to classroom concepts, tips, and strategies for preschool class success.
Since the magazine’s inception, Dance Studio Life has covered preschool dance education, with stories about marketing to parents of preschoolers, tips for making recitals successful and fun for preschool-age children, a guide to teaching aids and props for preschool classes, advice from teachers and studios that specialize in teaching the youngest kids, and more.
This month we take the next step, with our first preschool-themed issue. In these pages you’ll find five features—as well as our “Page Turners” and “Moving Images” book and video recommendations, respectively—that cover preschoolers in the dance world from various angles.
Smart studio owners are always looking for ways to reach an untapped market. Babywearing dance classes—in which the dancers take class with baby on board, via a front-pack or sling—provide parents with the earliest possible introduction to your school as well as a heartwarming experience.
There are two major streams of tap dance from which all other styles have evolved. One is rhythm tap (or jazz tap), which derives from the musical qualities of jazz music and includes core elements of rhythm, call-and-response, and improvisation.
The other is a more theater-derived style that can be called musical theater tap, a full-bodied style of percussive dance that incorporates elements of soft shoe (an early form of stage dancing derived from the jig and clog, performed in slow 4/4 time without tapping), ballet, and ballroom, and often relies on set choreographies for large choruses, with relatively simple step patterns that allow the dancers’ meticulous steps to be seen and heard.
“Welcome, ladies and gentlemen. Please take a moment to turn off all cellphones, and for our dancers’ safety . . .” All of us hear words to that effect at every show we attend, including recitals. For studio owners, that little recital speech is a perfect marketing opportunity. Where else can you address your entire clientele, plus potential new clients, all at once, in an atmosphere of excitement? It’s a time when your students and their families feel most invested in your school—and that means it’s a good time to reinforce those feelings with a positive message about the value of dance training in general and your school in particular.
It’s been one of those days. The energy in the studio is off, and your students look more bored with each brush of the foot in a tendu exercise. You saw an eye roll, maybe two. And in a ballet/tap combo class, the little ones were more interested in playing with each other’s hair than working on their shuffles. You love teaching, but days like these make you feel tired. You’re repeating the fundamentals over—and over, and over—again. If this scenario sounds familiar, you’ve faced one challenge inherent in dance training—repetition.
Competitions can be high-octane extravaganzas or simple, single-day events. Yet no matter the size or scope, at some competition somewhere a dance studio owner is bound to say, “Can you believe what’s going on? Maybe I should start my own competition. After all, how hard can it be?”
Three studio owners know exactly how hard. “We work on the competition year round,” says Teresa Mackereth of the BC Annual Dance Competition, which she founded in British Columbia, Canada, in 1988. Its organizers take only one week to decompress after each May’s weeklong event before beginning work on the following year’s. “It’s an ongoing commitment,” says Mackereth, who is also artistic director of Dance Academy of Prince Rupert. “And we have never had a paid staffer. It’s all volunteers, always.”
“Starting With Why”: I’ve just returned from three jam-packed days at the inaugural International Dance Entrepreneurs Association (I.D.E.A.) conference in Scottsdale, Arizona, where I, alongside several hundred dance studio owners and administrators, listened to speakers representing a range of school types, sizes, longevity, and business approaches. I learned a great deal from these mainstage sessions.
“Farewell to My Arabesque”: Recently I realized something: my arabesque has gone the way of the dodo. Extensions to the front and side? I’ve still got ’em, sort of. To the back? Eighteen inches off the floor—maybe.
Today school owners want to learn to lead with confidence, both in their schools and as mentors, leaders, and teachers in their communities. They want to be part of a unified voice in dance education that stands for everything that is good for their students and the field. By working together, teachers and school owners can preserve the integrity of dance education—and, on a personal level, evolve in this exciting, ever-changing world of dance and dance studios.
I am proud to lead this call to unified action by founding the International Dance Entrepreneurs Association (I.D.E.A.), the first business association for dance school owners who are ready to stand up for a business model based on a code of ethics. In addition, I.D.E.A. focuses on cultivating new knowledge—the members’ website is loaded with management tools, e-learning courses, and webinars, along with such tools as customizable forms, correspondence, policies, coloring pages, and marketing materials. Regional professional development seminars will be held around the United States and, eventually, internationally.
Dance studio owners open additional locations for numerous reasons—to increase profits or to house a growing student population, for example. Or maybe a nearby area needs a dance studio, or an opportunity arises to take over an existing one. Whatever the reasons for branching out, those who have done so find that managing multiple locations has its own set of benefits and challenges. Here are some tips on how to run more than one school location efficiently and effectively.
From a young age, dance students idolize professional dancers—and that’s a good thing. They need someone to look up to and goals to aspire to that go beyond their home studio’s doors. That’s why creating opportunities for students to engage with professional dancers is important—it allows them to see that with enough work and dedication, dance training can have long-term payoffs. Even if they have no interest in or potential for a career in dance, students who enjoy the thrill of sharing a studio or stage with the pros may find that the experience deepens their appreciation of dance, motivates them to push past personal limits, and creates long-lasting memories.
How can studio owners create such opportunities for their students? Some ballet companies open their annual Nutcracker to local dancers, particularly children’s roles; school owners can inform students about upcoming auditions. But some schools do more than that, partnering with dance companies on productions that blend professionals and students and giving the students a performance experience they otherwise wouldn’t get.
It’s September, and all around the United States kids are returning to school and dance studios are beginning their fall sessions. This is also the time of year when competition directors begin hiring adjudicators for the upcoming season. If you aim to book your first gig as a competition judge this year, it’s time to make your move. Put your best foot forward with these tips from three competition directors and three seasoned adjudicators.
Anyone can have a good idea, but it takes determination, guts, and know-how to turn that raw idea into reality. From Rhee Gold’s many good ideas in the past 20-plus years have sprung a successful dance competition, a series of practical and motivational seminars for dance educators, a dance education–focused magazine, and more.
As summer draws to a close, it’s time to drum up new clients. For most studios, that means holding an open house—but after a while, the tried-and-true can feel stale. Read on for some fresh ideas.
When it comes to teacher evaluations, dance studio owners could benefit from adopting some common practices in the business world. Teacher evaluations benefit employees and studios alike, providing a system for reflection, assessment, goal setting, and decisions about compensation.
In the business world, where many people work full time for one employer, typically there is a formal process for evaluations, reviews, and pay increases, usually on a yearly basis. But in dance studios, many owners hire part-time teachers (either as employees or independent contractors) and have no formal system of evaluation or raises. Formal evaluations and systematic pay increases can be difficult to implement in schools where staff turnover is frequent.
In exploring the topic of evaluations and pay increases, we surveyed 100 dance teachers at studios in 22 states. Their feedback is synthesized here to offer suggestions for best practices when hiring and evaluating teachers.
Advice for dance teachers.
“The Teachers in My Village”: It takes a village to raise a child, the proverb says. As I type these words, it’s the last week of school—recitals over, summer stretching ahead—but when they appear in print, it will be August and time to gear up for the fall. At both times in the year, my mind dwells on my village, and especially on the teachers.
“New Season’s Greetings”: This is the time of year when we welcome students back into the dance studio. The new school season is also an apt time to reflect, as Tamsin does above, on the value of teachers—and, I would add, support staff.
To that end, among the stories in this issue designed to help you make the most of the new season, you’ll find one about best practices for teacher evaluation, compensation, and pay increases, and another about studio owners who delegate tasks and programs—social media and marketing, children’s birthday parties, preschool programs, staff recognition, and more—to paid support staff positions.
Not too long ago, marketing at most dance schools meant investing big bucks in printing, postage, and newspaper ads. Many school owners couldn’t pay for that kind of marketing, but nowadays, social media puts all schools on a level playing field. My motto is “Give it the time, and it will give you the return.” Where many school owners make mistakes, however—and squelch their social media success—is in moving beyond dance into hot-topic issues in their posts.
Many school owners, when they think of hiring non-teaching support staff, want someone to run the front desk. However, in the 21st century, operating a dance studio requires not only a website but also a social media presence, marketing skills, and, often, offerings beyond dance classes, such as birthday parties and competition teams. Studio owners who limit their employee roster to teachers and receptionists may be missing out on creative ways to boost revenue. Read on to explore how some studio owners are delegating important roles, freeing themselves to focus on teaching and their school’s overall health.
Attracting boys to dance has never been easy. It doesn’t matter that football players like Hall of Famer Lynn Swann or the New York Jets’ Steve McLendon took ballet and it improved their game, or that Lionel Messi looks like a ballet dancer when he shows how to control the soccer ball. With some exceptions—hip-hop is the most obvious—there are deep-rooted obstacles to getting boys into the studio.
. . . As Nikolai Kabaniaev at City Ballet School in San Francisco notes, “It’s not lucrative to have boys-only [classes] in this country.” He’s fortunate that his directors have made the commitment to “do whatever it takes.”
Along with City Ballet’s introductory dance classes for boys, there are other success stories that offer insight for studio owners who are trying, or hoping, to bring in the boys.
Twinkling lights and scarecrows, candy hearts and pumpkin pies—we love to celebrate the holidays. In many cultures, dancing is part of the celebration, so why not bring the merriment into the studio?
Forget the stereotypes of backstabbing and rudeness among studio owners—competitiveness doesn’t have to be the norm. Nor do studio owners have to feel alone in facing challenges, from fundraising to coping with difficult clients. Those who team up in sister-studio relationships often find unexpected benefits.
Some studio owners share resources such as costumes, teachers, and even students. They collaborate on shows to reduce the burden of production costs as well as expose their students to new ideas and ways of thinking. Perhaps most significant, they lean on each other for moral support and answers to questions that only another studio owner can understand.
My school, Perna Dance Center, does many holiday-related performance events and participates in community and charitable activities throughout the year. For each holiday, a troupe of volunteer dancers is assigned to perform at events. All these occasions are good marketing opportunities for the school, but they require some marketing of their own.
Where can you find a studio that offers hip-hop, ballet, Memphis jookin, tap, jazz, flamenco, African dance, Chinese dance, and modern dance classes—and that prioritizes heavily underserved students to boot? That rare distinction goes to Memphis, Tennessee, home of New Ballet Ensemble & School (NBE).
Dance is a spare art. It can be practiced with few accoutrements—at minimum, only the body. Dance studios can be similarly low-tech affairs: any empty room will do. But when it comes to the virtual realm, careful attention must be paid—not only to what is used, but how. The world is watching, which means presentation is critical. It’s not enough for school owners simply to have an online presence; they need to portray themselves and their schools in a positive, professional way.
Here to tell us how to do that are Teri Mangiaratti, owner and director of In Sync Center of the Arts in Quincy, Massachusetts, and Patty Polanski Neal, founder and CEO of Dance Spectrum in Depew, New York. They share their tips on managing websites and using social media to build community.
Software and online resources for studio and stage
NOMINATED BY: Demetra Chastang, office manager/instructor: “I have worked for Pamela for three years. She has not only been an incredible boss but an amazing mentor, teaching me and guiding me through the art of dance. Throughout the 20 years she’s owned her studio, hundreds of dancers have benefited from her passion and life lessons, and she has shown her dance family how to give back through dance.”
Words from our readers
“Season of Change”: Happy New Year! The flip of the calendar from December to January is one of my favorite times of the year, because it brings a sense of renewal and rejuvenation, the potential for growth, and the anticipation of the unknown. We at Dance Studio Life hope 2016 holds much goodness for you, both personally and professionally. With so much cruelty and so little compassion in the headlines in recent months, it’s our wish that everyone enters this new year with a goal of human kindness. All of us have the power to do good, whether in the form of personal interactions or via the soul-touching qualities of dance.
“Studio Havens”: At our current studio, the teachers are good and the atmosphere is easy. In the lobby, parents talk quietly on the couches and teenagers do homework or flurry past like March winds. Postcards and event notices emphasize that this space functions as a community’s hub; a bookshelf gives my little son and me something to do while my daughter takes class. Through gauzy curtains, I watch my girl skip, leap, and laugh in class. That’s why we’re here—that’s why we come back. As a mom, dancer, and human being, I appreciate being welcomed.
It’s a new year, and I’ll bet you have some sort of self-improvement goals for 2016. If one of them is to become a better teacher, try this: imagine that each time you enter your school you are walking in the stage door, prepared to give the best performance possible.
NOMINATED BY: Dana Farber, a student’s mother: “Brynn has endless energy for her students. She spends weekends working on choreography, rhinestoning costumes, hand-making accessories, and helping her solo students. She wants the best for her students and encourages them with positive and kind words. What I value most as a dance parent is that Brynn takes class, attends conventions, and looks for performing opportunities to further her own dance experience.”
Words from our readers
Patti Rutland was done. After 20 years, the Dothan, Alabama, resident had sold her dance studio and was set to retire. Then a dancer she had mentored and befriended, Vincent Johnson, posed a question: “Is there anything you wanted to do but didn’t?”
Does your heart beat faster when taps start clacking a rapid staccato cadence on 42nd Street? Do you dream of waving a flag as leader of the student protests in the Paris Uprising of 1832? Do you hold your breath for the moment when Macavity the Mystery Cat makes (or doesn’t make) his appearance? If so, you’ve been bitten by the musical theater bug—just like students at Front & Center for Performing Arts. This school in Springfield, New Jersey, has catered to musical theater lovers ages 3 to adult for 14 years.
We all have opinions. And sometimes, when they’re on topics that have the potential to affect large groups of people, our perspective can be controversial. When I know that’s the case, I try to convey mine in a non-judgmental way, hoping to stir up thoughtful debate rather than offend people who disagree with me. Recently I stood strong on an issue, and I made some enemies.
NOMINATED BY: Kiana Foster-Mauro, student: “Miss Maggie’s studio is a place where we can be ourselves, have fun, learn dance technique, and create lifelong friendships and memories. Most important, she is an inspirational role model. From time management, to the importance of community service and teamwork, to the true meaning of friendship and family, Miss Maggie leads by example.”
Dance school owners often start out as jacks-of-all-trades, doing everything from answering the phone to cleaning the mirrors. As the fledgling school grows, however, it becomes impossible for one person to handle all the tasks, especially the administrative ones, and owners who try to do so will limit their businesses’ growth. Adding staff helps to relieve the owner’s workload, of course, but it’s not the whole answer. To maximize efficiency and profit, you’ll need to adopt technology that makes certain tasks easier and takes a smaller bite out of your budget.
I’m noticing a lack of creativity in choreography lately—or maybe it’s people’s inability to think for themselves. At a respected ballet company’s performance, on the competition stage, and on TV, choreographers are creating contemporary work that’s strikingly similar. Yes, the level of technical mastery among dancers is diverse, but there’s a disturbing sameness to the mood, expression, and movement—which typically convey ideas about suffering and tragedy. This dark subject matter combined with moody lighting and zero humor add up to a sad observation: today’s dance productions may be depressing audiences instead of entertaining them.
This year’s DanceLife Teacher Conference began with producer Rhee Gold making a request of the 800 dance teachers and studio owners in attendance: “Make this week about you,” he said. “Take the time to rejuvenate.” He recalled his mother telling him, when he was a child, to go outside and get lost—in a good way, of course. It was time for the attendees to “get lost” themselves; for these few days at The Phoenician in Scottsdale, Arizona, he said, let others handle the school, the house, the kids.
They did, if the smiles, laughter, and conversation witnessed at every turn were any indication. And they did it together. Everywhere, collegiality trumped competition. At breakfast and lunch, teachers welcomed strangers to their tables and swapped stories and ideas.