A New York City neighborhood dance studio is bringing young football players into their studio for a six-week ballet workshop that’s designed for athletes.
FOOTBALLet at Cora Dance, located on Richards Street in Brooklyn’s Red Hook neighborhood, focuses on footwork, balance, and strength-building exercises by using movements from ballet and the field.
A parent approached dance instructor Courtney Cooke with an idea for the workshop. “I immediately saw things that were practiced in football drills . . . that could be translated to ballet,” said Cooke, 28, who first taught the class last year.
Cooke, who will lead the workshop for 9- to 13-year-olds beginning December 7, starts each class with ballet fundamentals and then teaches exercises like petit allegro jumps and graceful adagio movements, she said.
But since her young students are more interested in becoming better football players, not ballerinas, she created challenges that combine ballet skills with sports drills. In one exercise, each student, football in hand, must chasse across the room, end with a grand jeté over a three-foot barrier, then quickly turn and throw the football to the next student.
To see the original story, visit http://www.dnainfo.com/new-york/20131204/red-hook/football-inspired-ballet-classes-combine-dance-with-drills-red-hook.
The director of the Deirdre O’Mara School of Irish Dance in Yonkers, New York, used an in-studio camera and social media to find a thief who broke into her studio in November.
According to The Irish Voice, O’Mara had installed a camera in order to keep an eye on her students when she was teaching, but in the early morning hours of November 12, caught eight minutes of footage showing a male ransacking the studio.
Once a picture of the suspect was released by the police, O’Mara turned to social media to spread the image in hopes of an arrest, sharing the photo on Facebook pages of community groups such as the McLean Avenue Merchants Association and the McLean Avenue St. Patrick’s Day Parade.
The community response was enormous, she said, with the wanted poster being shared on Facebook pages hundreds of times. The very evening the posters were shared, a 30-year-old resident of the Bronx turned himself in. He was placed under arrest and charged with third degree burglary. (Among the stolen items were a laptop, an iPod player, and petty cash.)
O’Mara expressed her gratitude to the community and the Yonkers Police Department, and hopes the enormous community response will prevent something like this from happening again.
“I hope it makes people think twice about breaking and entering in this area,” she said. “It’s community watch at its best.” To read the full story, visit http://www.irishcentral.com/IrishVoice/Yonkers-Irish-dance-teacher-uses-social-media-to-catch-a-thief-233664281.html.
In the moments between classes, half a dozen young ladies gathered around a knee-high fence at the edge of their dance floor, watching and petting six puppies as Michelle Holmes-Bello responded to their inquiries and observations.
To Holmes-Bello, co-founder and artistic director at USA Ballet, the moment was proof that starting an animal rescue group, My Loveable Angels, earlier this year in the USA Ballet’s Bloomington, Illinois, facilities was the right thing to do. The animals have an opportunity for socialization while young dancers learn about animals’ needs.
She told The Pantagraph that the organization was created in memory of her recently deceased sister, Leslie Holmes, and has saved more than 80 creatures, mostly dogs on “death row,” by placing them with loving foster families until they find them homes.
“The [dancers] look so forward to meeting a new one and hearing its story,” she said, explaining the rescued animals are contained, and students must have their parents’ permission before interacting with them. “Just reaching them when they’re younger to help educate; that’s going to affect them as adults to help the cycle of what we’re trying to prevent.”
While last week’s canine visitors were a 3-month-old litter of dogs from Kentucky, Holmes-Bello said My Loveable Angels draws animals, mostly dogs, of all ages and in all health conditions from all over the Midwest.
Seventy-three dancers from Nancy Chippendale’s Dance Studios, North Andover, Massachusetts, will soon travel to Riesa, Germany, to represent the United States at the World Tap Championships, according to Wicked Local/North Andover.
The International Dance Organization’s World Tap Championships will run from November 30 to December 8 and host dancers ages 10 to 31 from 31 countries.
During their trip overseas, the United States team is scheduled to travel to Dresden, Meissen, Leipzig, Berlin, and Prague. “I am extremely proud of all of their hard work and can’t wait to see them perform on stage,” said studio founder Nancy Chippendale. “Go USA!”
To read the original story, visit http://www.wickedlocal.com/northandover/newsnow/x348810670/Dance-studio-to-compete-internationally.
Antioch, Illinois, resident Robin Parfitt has opened a dance studio in loving memory of her daughter, Nicole, a member of her school’s dance team who was killed last year in a plane crash.
“I opened the studio in her memory. She was fun and beautiful and had a passion for dancing,” Parfitt told the Lake County News-Sun.
On November 18, 2012, Nicole, 14, a freshman at Antioch High School, was taking a joy flight with her father, Todd, in a plane he had flown for many years, when the Grumman two-seater nose-dived shortly after taking off and crashed, killing both. Todd, 50, married to Robin for 20 years, was a dispatcher for United Airlines who had served in the U.S. Air Force and loved to fly.
The 4,500-square-foot studio at 942 Tiffany Road was named the Shine Bright Dance Studio because, in Parfitt’s memory, her daughter “shines like a diamond.” A grand opening was held Friday night.
Calling herself “a mom on a mission,” Parfitt said she is leasing the space for the facility, formerly part of a Ford dealership. It has been extensively remodeled based on Parfitt’s own design, and painted purple, Nicole’s favorite color. On the wall is a huge picture of her daughter from her first solo at age 11. So far, four instructors from Chicago have been hired, and 30 students have enrolled.
With no former business experience, Parfitt said, “I’m learning, moving forward one day at a time.” To see the full story, visit http://newssun.suntimes.com/business/23780179-420/mom-opens-dance-studio-in-antioch-in-memory-of-her-daughter.html.
Eight studios in the Denver and Colorado Springs area will be joining together in “Hope for Conner,” on December 8 at 1pm at Wasson High School, Colorado Springs, a performance to help support Make-A-Wish Colorado and grant one little boy’s wish.
At the show, more than 225 dancers and 50 Palmer High School student council members will present 35 routines for an anticipated audience of 1100.
Lyndzi Barnes, director of Danceworks of Colorado Springs and her husband, Doug Barnes decided to host this show, the studio’s first annual Project Benefit Show. “Young dancers deal with so much pressure and hard times in the competitive world and professional dance community that sometimes it is nice to just see dancers do what they love and know it is making a difference,” Lyndzi said. “They get to feel good about their art and love for dance and it makes them realize that they can help people by sharing that passion with other people for a good cause.”
Advice for dance teachers
I have worked as an instructor at the same studio for seven years. A year ago I was promoted to manage our recreational department; it has suffered over the past few years. I raised the numbers a bit, but our studio’s company has always made up the bulk of our enrollment.
Now we have experienced a mass exodus. Since the company is small, when a few decided to leave, the rest wondered who they’d be grouped with for their numbers and they all went to a larger studio. I will be assuming the company director’s responsibilities if we have a new team at some point.
How do I rebuild? How do I cope with the loss of my beloved students? I also should mention that the studio is not a traditional one; we are part of a large facility that provides gymnastics and cheer on recreational and competitive levels. Many parents who bring their kids to our facility for gymnastics go elsewhere for dance. Our owners are frustrated with the loss of these accounts. I need their support to advertise and rebuild, and we are in a very oversaturated market, with three of the city’s most popular studios on our street. Thanks for any advice. —Defeated and Heartbroken
I am sorry you’re dealing with a mass exodus. Students and their parents don’t always realize that most dance teachers consider their students their “kids.” When they lose one student, let alone many, all kinds of emotions go along with it.
With that said, it is time to concentrate on building flourishing preschool and recreational programs. It’s a fact that when school owners focus the majority of their energy and time on the company or competitive dancers, inevitably they have a hard time maintaining the “bread and butter” enrollment, which consists of the once-a-week students who dance simply for the joy of it. Those students pay full tuition, unlike the company dancers at most schools, whose classes are discounted. In many cases, schools cannot sustain themselves when their most advanced students move on, which is exactly what you have described.
You need to rethink whether you want to rebuild what you had. If your market is oversaturated, it’s probably time to determine what you can offer the community that the other schools can’t.
Also, and this is important, let the students who left know that your door is always open if they want to return. Wishing them the best in whatever they do maintains a feeling of mutual respect. I wish you all the best. —Rhee
My 10-year-old daughter has been dancing at an amazing school and has been a company dancer for five years. She has always had solid spots in routines, but this year she was moved to the back in everything. Granted, she is the tallest in the class, but there is a definite difference in her placement. She was also removed from her small group and was not given anything in place of it. Every girl in the small group was given a special role (duo, trio, etc.) except her. Also, this year there was a switch in teachers.
My daughter has trouble lifting her leg and holding it and stretching, but all in all she’s a really good dancer. Every year there is solid improvement. She does not have that “kill or be killed attitude,” and I think she feels she let herself down. She became withdrawn from her class, as did I. I felt very hurt for her and removed myself from the studio, whereas before I was their biggest cheerleader.
With all the time, money, and energy my family puts into dance, I want to make sure everyone is happy. The teacher had promised me this would be a better year for my daughter. How can I approach her to ask about my daughter’s future in the class? —Rosanne
Class placement is one of the hardest tasks for dance teachers. The placement itself isn’t the problem; expertise guides those decisions. What’s difficult is dealing with the parents’ reactions, especially when a child doesn’t progress as much as her classmates.
If I were teaching a child who I believed would lose her joy for dance if the material was beyond her capabilities (at that time), I would keep her where she was. The goal would be to allow the child to keep up and still enjoy dance. Often, if we push children to do what they aren’t ready for or what is too difficult, they quit dancing altogether. Children gain confidence when they are on top of the class rather than struggling. However, if parents don’t accept a teacher’s decision, the children are caught in the middle. Who should they believe when their teacher and parents argue about what’s best for them?
You say you think your daughter feels she let herself down and became withdrawn, as you did. But is that what your daughter truly feels? Is it possible that she knows where she belongs? Could it be she knows she would have a hard time keeping up with the group if the choreography included “lifting her leg” or stretching? Kids know more than we give them credit for.
My advice is to have an honest talk with your daughter about where she believes she belongs, based on her capabilities. I hope this helps. —Rhee
I worked for a studio for seven years. I loved where I was and felt like an integral part of the studio, but things changed when the director gave more responsibilities to her daughter. Enrollment dropped drastically and morale was low, and the competition director resented me because I was often requested for private lessons. The studio became a haven for gossip instead of dance, divided between teachers who were structured and teachers who taught haphazardly.
When I quit (which I did in plenty of time for the owner to find new teachers), I got a few nasty emails and phone calls from her. I quit only after years of being called anorexic (because I don’t eat animal products), being harassed for my political beliefs, enduring sexual harassment by the owner’s husband, and being accused of favoring my students from another studio because they were “spoiled rich” like me.
That was a year ago. I love the studios I am currently with; they couldn’t be more different from teaching for my old boss. They’re professional, fair, and dedicated to the art of dance and the artistic growth of students and teachers alike. However, my former employer is still saying untrue things about me. She speaks negatively about almost everyone; if you are anything besides white, Christian, straight, and middle class, rest assured you’ve been trashed.
Because of that, I wasn’t taking her badmouthing personally, but now I’m moving. I feel dishonest not listing my employment at her studio on my resume, but I’m afraid of what she might say about me. Months back I asked her to stop saying untrue things about me and apologized for anything I could have handled better. I heard nothing except more gossip about myself and my husband.
I don’t understand this. I’m here to share my knowledge about dance and the wonderful values attached to it, as well as give kids a place to express themselves and accomplish artistic goals. I thought that’s what the studio was for. I never signed up for this type of nonsense. Please advise. —Glenda
It sounds like you have a level head on your shoulders. If this woman has time to waste on untruths and gossip regarding her former employees, then you have less to worry about than you think. Her unethical behavior will catch up with her.
You need to move on and ignore her negativity. She probably knows that what she is doing breaks your heart, and you can’t give her that satisfaction. Use her negativity as your motivation to be the best dance teacher you can be. In other words, turn her negativity into your reason for always being a positive dance teacher and person.
As far as your resume goes, list only the schools you’ve taught at since you left your former employer. If someone asks about your prior employment, speak positively about the students and how much you loved teaching there and say you had professional differences with the owner. It’s likely that potential employers will be more interested in your most recent experience. Good luck! —Rhee
Words from our readers
I just received the issue of Dance Studio Life that includes the “Teacher in the Spotlight” feature with Dede Miles Burger [August 2013]. The feature is just wonderful and I was proud to nominate Dede! Thank you so much for honoring her; she truly is a mentor and inspiration to our kids—especially mine!
Winter Park, FL
Congratulations on the ninth anniversary of Dance Studio Life. You and your staff are to be highly commended! The magazine is in my studio for all to see.
Beaumont Ballet Theatre
How to tap into the college student pool
By Maureen Janson
Every fall in and around college and university towns, thousands of new students arrive, many of them planning to dance. Those who are not studying dance on campus and dance majors who want to supplement their college classes might not know where to go for classes. If your studio is near a college campus, making your presence known among the college set can bring new students to your door.
Adapt some of your marketing efforts to target college students. As you assemble print and electronic materials, emphasize what makes your school unique. For example, if hip-hop is not offered on campus, and your school offers it, make sure that fact is prominent. Highlight attractions such as freedom from worry about grades, easy public transportation (or a location within walking distance), or classes that are more affordable than a college course. Offer a free class or discounts and package deals that appeal to budget-minded college students.
Start your classes a week or two later than the college semester and build a student-friendly weekly schedule by planning your offerings around campus courses.
Also, look for connections. Is anyone on your staff an alumnus of or affiliated with the university or college? If so, mention this connection in your advertising and marketing, and ask those people to help you get the word out. Word of mouth is always tremendously valuable.
Creative scheduling can give you extra marketing time and make your offerings more appealing. Start your classes a week or two later than the college semester and build a student-friendly weekly schedule by planning your offerings around campus courses. Often, evening and weekend dance classes won’t conflict with on-campus dance classes.
Prospective dance students may turn to the dance department, if there is one, for guidance and information, so make connections there by sending an introductory email to the department administrators, faculty, and teaching staff. Typically, you can obtain contact information for any dance programs, clubs, or departments and staff on a college or university website.
If the dance department has a marketing contact person, connect with him or her, or speak with an office administrator for a brainstorming session about strategies they use for marketing dance on campus. Making a personal connection by phone might encourage the department to direct any inquiries your way, particularly regarding classes you offer that the college or university doesn’t. Ask the administrator for ideas, or to direct you to campus resources you might not have found on your own. Be sure to consult the college’s course schedule so you can arrange yours accordingly.
Theater majors often look for dance opportunities, so introduce yourself to the theater department. Other valuable contacts include recreational sports, health, and athletic departments, and campus social or cultural dance clubs.
Keep your website up to date and give your web and email addresses to the departments you visit. If they send an electronic newsletter to students, you can ask to be included as an off-campus option for dance. Also inquire about listing your performances, classes, and contact information on electronic calendars of events for campus and off-campus activities.
Join university social media sites. If dance, theater, and athletic departments and clubs have Facebook pages, “like” them. This may allow you to reach their audiences by posting information on their pages. Posting regularly on your own social-media sites helps students get up-to-date information about your studio.
Students are inundated with electronic information, so paper materials will reinforce your presence. Arm yourself (or some student volunteers) with posters, brochures, and business cards when visiting the dance, theater, or PE departments. Ask permission to leave or post materials where students are likely to see them, such as dorms, student centers, campus welcome centers, libraries, and social centers, as well as off-campus sites like nearby cafes and dancewear stores.
Look into placing ads in the student newspaper or dance and theater production programs. If the opportunity arises, have your students perform as part of a welcome week or new student orientation event, and have brochures and contact information available to distribute.
Fall is an important time to announce your presence to the campus, but keep the marketing going all year long. Many students will be around town for several years, so if they don’t learn about you right away, it doesn’t mean they won’t find your studio in the future.
United Dance blends students from three schools at competitions
By Jennifer Kaplan
If two heads are better than one, can three studios competing as a unified team also be better than one? Ask Mary Plein, proprietor of Fusion Dance in Red Wing, Minnesota, and she’ll say yes. Sometimes collaborating rather than competing with other schools, she says, reaps greater rewards for dance students, their teachers, and their studios.
For the past two years Plein has joined with Victoria McNamara of Victoria Dance Productions in Edina and Kris Stein of Dance by Kris in Cottage Grove, about 25 minutes from Minneapolis, to create United Dance, a successful competition team using advanced dancers from all three studios. In 2012 the team earned a platinum at a regional competition.
While the three school owners aren’t exactly neighbors, they have forged a neighborly relationship. “We’d see each other backstage all the time,” says Plein, a dance mom who founded her 150-student studio 11 years ago. “We sometimes get together for coffee and visit other people’s studios. We call each other when we need somebody to lean on or cheer and celebrate with us.”
Victoria, Mary, and I get along so well at competition . . . that I thought it would be so much fun to work with them. I was scared to ask because I thought they would laugh. —Kris Stein
For several years, when Plein, McNamara, and Stein saw each other at BravO! Competitions, they shared successes and commiserated on failures. Then they started to brainstorm about fielding a competitive dance team together. “Victoria, Mary, and I get along so well at competition—going out for lunch, sharing news—that I thought it would be so much fun to work with them,” Stein says. “I was scared to ask because I thought they would laugh.”
When she finally broached the idea, Plein and McNamara agreed that it would be beneficial to create a combined team of experienced students. And so United Dance, a team comprised of about two dozen dancers from the three suburban Twin Cities studios, was born. Teachers enjoyed being able to work together, with new partners, by collaborating on a fresh dance.
Bringing three studios together to compete was simpler than any of the owners thought it would be. Each season they selected dancers they knew could pick up steps well; they then devised a piece that showcased those dancers’ talents and each studio’s individual strengths. The studios were far enough away from one another that none of the directors worried about losing students to one of the others, yet they were close enough to make rehearsing together possible.
Testing the waters
Many competitions have rules that prevent studios from competing against themselves or allowing dancers to compete on opposing studio teams; for that reason, Stein called BravO! director Brendan Buchanan to clear the idea with him. (United Dance competes only at BravO! because it’s close to home. As individual teams, the schools attend other competitions.)
Buchanan responded with enthusiasm. “It shows excellent sportsmanship to come together as one troupe from three different studios, and I think it sends a great message to these young performers,” he says. “It shows a positive perspective on the competition world—that ultimately what matters most is the performance and the experience of being onstage.”
Pulling it together
Launching United Dance became a matter of logistics, planning, and execution, not unlike what’s involved with any competition dance team. However, this effort came with the added challenge of finding time to get the dancers and their teachers—all with busy schedules in disparate cities—in the same room at the same time.
Stein took the lead in the project, allowing opportunities for everyone to contribute. She did the bulk of the choreography, structuring it so that sections were left unchoreographed so that the other studios could add to it. Each studio had its own section or phrase; specialty moves and phrases went to the best turners or leapers, regardless of studio affiliation.
“I broke down the music and gave each studio its own little section to do,” Stein says. “I said we’re doing a turn section here, we need another section here, and we’ll finish all together here. When we got together, we chose a few of our dancers to fill in each of those sections and worked together. I by no means did it all myself. Each choreographer [from the participating studios] contributed their section. It made for some really interesting dances because our styles were so different.”
In United Dance’s first year of competing, the dancers performed to The Beatles’ “Come Together,” covered by Michael Jackson, which felt like an appropriate choice. Earlier this year it was “Work Me Down” by Laura Hunter.
The result of the studios’ efforts was a winning team; however, the larger outcome was a feeling of unity among the students and staffs—and even those from other studios. “The first year United Dance competed with us, the audience gave them a standing ovation,” Buchanan says. “It was so great to see such a positive gesture.”
Friends and benefits
For Plein, the biggest bonus of United Dance is being able to expand the scope and reach of her students’ experience.
McNamara sees the team’s joint nature as another way to instill respect in her students, by providing opportunities to work with studios that might also be their competition. “We try to provide dance education and life education, especially for these kids who do competition teams and are together so much,” she says. “They’re at competitions for 20 hours a weekend; if you don’t have camaraderie, it affects competition results and they don’t work so well together.”
Stein, who says she started her studio at 19 “by accident” and has about 120 students on her roster, wanted to build a partnership with other studios because a few of her students were having a hard time with kids from nearby studios, who picked on them at school about beating the Dance by Kris team at competition.
“When I was going to competitions, I always admired the students we would see from different studios,” she says. “I’d think, ‘I want to turn like that someday.’ I felt like that was missing for my students,” because the nature of the competition had gotten more intense.
United Dance’s first meeting in 2012 was electric. Even the carpooling parents were excited, Stein says. “The first thing we did was get all the kids in a big circle and have them introduce themselves,” she says. “To strengthen the fact that we were coming together as one, they weren’t wearing their respective studio uniforms. Dancers are dancers no matter which studio they come from. From that moment, kids started talking, and once they started working on the dance, it wasn’t ‘the kids from my studio,’ ‘the kids from Victoria’s studio.’ ” In an instant, Stein says, they came together as a team.
Sharing more than the stage
In the past year United Dance met twice at Victoria Dance Productions and twice at Dance By Kris; Red Wing is a little farther away, and due to time and logistics, the three owners couldn’t swing a rehearsal there. But that doesn’t mean they won’t try next year.
On competition day in Minneapolis, the three studios become each other’s biggest cheering section. And at the award ceremony, Fusion Dance, Dance By Kris, and Victoria Dance Productions come together onstage and sit in a huge circle. The dancers cheer when United Dance teammates receive prizes for their respective studios, and when United Dance isn’t on the competition roster, the team kids continue their outsized cheers for their friends from other studios.
All three owners note that while audiences are encouraged to be supportive during competitions, the outpouring of enthusiasm among these three studios has been unique. “It has been a wonderful experience,” Stein says. “The electricity coming from the auditorium when United Dance was dancing was phenomenal.”
Because Plein, McNamara, and Stein decided the team is important to their individual missions, they do not charge the dancers who participate. Their motto is “Three studios, two rehearsals, one dance.” (The first year, they had time for only two rehearsals.) They proudly wear the slogan on T-shirts and continue to hold it in their hearts.
“What we did in coming together,” Plein says, “brings [competition] back to the love of dance. Yes, we do compete against others. But what you’re actually doing is sharing a passion that you have a deep commitment to: the love of the art of dance.”
How to avoid or fix dance-team troubles
By Debra Danese
If you’re one of the thousands of dance school owners who take their students to competitions, you understand the benefits of having a competition team, or several. But headaches come with the territory, and dealing with them can drain a studio owner’s time and energy.
Previously well-behaved dancers become mean and catty; formerly supportive parents accuse you of favoritism; you’re assaulted with complaints about the time commitment and costs—sound familiar? Maybe you’re beginning to regret your decision to send your students to competition and wonder why you ever thought it would be a good idea. What was supposed to be a positive aspect of your school is threatening to become a constant strain.
Previously well-behaved dancers become mean and catty; formerly supportive parents accuse you of favoritism; you’re assaulted with complaints about the time commitment and costs—sound familiar?
You’re not alone, and it’s not too late to get things back on track. Here’s how a handful of school owners—including myself—turned difficult situations around to make the dance teams an important part of their students’ education and a viable aspect of their business.
Create a handbook
It’s important for students and their parents to know upfront the expectations and level of commitment required to be on the competition team. Before auditions, hold an information meeting for interested dancers and parents. Clearly state how many competitions you’ll be attending and the cost and time commitment necessary to participate. Be as detailed as possible about the expected expenses, including registration fees, travel expenditures, and costumes.
One director, Neala Dunn, artistic director of Dance Alive! Dance Studio in Manteno, Illinois, says that some of her students’ parents checked the registration fees for the competitions and were upset at the discrepancies between the amount listed online and what the studio would charge. Dunn explained that the school’s fee included having instructors travel with the team. She now includes this information in her handbook and the issue hasn’t come up again.
It’s also important to state the attendance requirements for rehearsals. Outline your policy clearly and include what’s needed in the event of an absence, such as a note from a parent.
Tabitha Andrews-Colmary of KMC Dance in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, says the progression from recreational dance student to committed team member can be “a tricky transition for students and parents alike. We do have a stricter attendance policy for [competition team] dancers. To be fair, we have to stick with the same rules for all. We don’t allow parents to talk us into making an exception for their child. Of course, situations may occur where a reasonable compromise is the answer.”
Provide a copy of your handbook at the information meeting. Have the dancers arrive at the audition with a signed agreement stating that they and a parent have read, understood, and agreed to the rules and policies. This kind of agreement often allows you to handle problems before they escalate. Andrews-Colmary says she has resolved several issues by referring the parent or student to the handbook. She says, “Sometimes a friendly reminder was all it took.”
When competing for roles or solos, dancers sometimes succumb to negativity and criticism. Self-doubt and envy can lead to negative behavior that affects the entire team. Rather than allowing the positive and professional atmosphere in your studio to give way to the insidious creep of rivalry and resentment, instructors and studio owners can take steps to promote a supportive environment.
Dunn says she keeps unhealthy competitiveness at bay by putting the focus on training rather than competition. Dancers who are placed front and center or given prominent roles are there as a reward for hard work. She takes into consideration their attendance and work ethic in their technique classes in addition to team participation. She openly communicates this with parents and students who accuse her of favoritism. In her program, dedication is as important as talent.
When I directed the dance team at Villa Maria Academy in Malvern, Pennsylvania, I incorporated bonding activities and motivational tools into rehearsals. Team members were required to keep journals and reflect on their goals. This policy helped to remind my students of why they loved to dance and de-emphasized the competitive aspect.
Kimberlee Jo Kups-Benson, director of Dance Konnection in Marshalltown, Iowa, also relies on bonding activities to redirect the focus of her teams. After repeatedly seeing her dancers come offstage crying and screaming at each other, she realized something needed to change.
She held a meeting and talked about how the dancers were only as good as the group. She then started a Big Brother/Sister program among the school’s teams, in which “younger students have support from the older dancers and older dancers take on a role-model position. They assist in skill building and often work together during open studio time,” Kups-Benson says.
Kups-Benson or her office assistant choose the pairings and announce them at the first practice of the competition year. “They get really excited, even the older dancers,” Kups-Benson says. “It’s a big deal if they’re lucky and get ‘twins’ ” (two younger dancers matched with one older one due to uneven numbers). The students fill out a questionnaire about their family, birth date, favorite dance class, food, TV show, and color, and give it to their “sibling.”
The students carry this role into the studio and beyond. They watch their “sibling’s” dance classes and rehearsals, and have even showed up at soccer games and school plays. Some become babysitters for the younger dancers’ families. Parents of the older dancers help out the parents who are first-timers to competition.
Kups-Benson says she doesn’t have a formal process in which the “siblings” work together; however, if young dancers struggle with choreography, she will ask their older “sibling” to work with them during open studio time. During big production rehearsals, she groups them by “families” to work on various sections. The younger students love the encouragement from the older ones and the older students enjoy being looked up to.
Another way Kups-Benson builds camaraderie is to start or end rehearsals with a fun relay or game. She says, “All of our relays are silly and everyone ends up laughing. Nothing is competitive in them. The students try their hardest to win, but the stuff we do is goofy. One example is leapfrog. Nothing will get a whole class laughing more than seeing a five-foot-nine-inch dancer try to leapfrog a four-foot 8-year-old.”
It’s also important to teach your dancers proper competition etiquette (see “If C Is for Competition, E Is for Etiquette”). Instill in them the importance of being courteous to everyone involved in the event. This includes applauding for other schools, remaining in the auditorium during performances (to show support and minimize disruption from frequent comings and goings), and being gracious. Have students say “thank you” when receiving an award and “congratulations” when someone else does.
Enforce common courtesies at the studio so that they become habits. This kind of behavior reflects well on your studio and team and imparts standards of behavior for everyday life.
Handling dance moms
In some cases, it’s the parents who stir up unnecessary drama. You may receive unsolicited input on why a child should be moved up a level or another child should be moved down. Darlene Giordano Cummings, owner/director of American Dance Academy in Hockessin, Delaware, says she never lets a parent discuss any child’s placement. “It is in our handbook and it’s a policy I adhere to. I am happy, though, to discuss the placement of a parent’s own child.”
When parents ask her what their child can do to move up, she says to have the child write a letter to their teacher(s) about how they can improve in a particular class. If children want something badly enough, Cummings believes, they should take the initiative to act. “In today’s society, children need to learn how to work hard and to develop skills on their own,” she says.
Melanie Boniszewski, owner/director of Tonawanda Dance Arts in Tonawanda, New York, remembers when her team won an honorable mention. Happy with their ribbon, the children asked what it was, and a mom said, “It means thanks for coming, but you lost.” The kids were devastated. Boniszewski addressed this by telling the parents that her goal was to teach students how to be part of a team and to continue to improve. She said, “If it’s about the trophy, I’ll purchase plastic trophies to give out. There are more lessons to be learned from defeat than from success.” Attitudes changed, and those families are still with her today.
Another suggestion for minimizing unwanted parental input is to not allow parents to observe rehearsals. Many studios have a closed-door policy for classes, and the same rule can benefit a dance team.
Keeping the team motivated
At today’s competitions it’s common for all entrants to leave with an award. Some studio owners say this practice has made it difficult to motivate dancers to work hard. To offset this, try sharing the judges’ score sheets with your team. Critiques and, in some cases, audio recordings of judges’ comments help dancers improve technique and routines.
I use the feedback as a learning tool and motivator to set new goals. Before reading the judges’ comments, I ask the students to explain the difference between a critique and criticism. The students give examples of both, which illustrates that the judges’ comments are opinions and suggestions that we can take or leave as we see fit for the benefit of our team.
My dancers bring their dance journals to rehearsal after a competition. In reflecting on their performance individually and as a group, they are instructed to include three aspects they felt they did well with or improved on and three that need more improvement, along with how they can improve. This promotes self-awareness in themselves and the team. They share what they wrote and compare their self-evaluations to the judges’ comments. We finish by setting goals for the next competition.
Tara Falcone Pizer, owner/director of 8 Count Dance in Green, Ohio, invites soloists and their parents to meet with her to discuss the judges’ comments and scores. “Many times the judges see things we do not,” she says, “or they will give a correction to the dancers that we have been giving. When they hear it from someone else, they actually apply it.”
Falcone Pizer also uses online video comments when available. She sends them to the dancers, who are required to watch them three times, taking fresh notes each time. They then bring their notes to the next rehearsal, where they discuss improvements to the piece.
It’s important to present the comments for what they are: a point of view, says Jennifer Oldfield, a freelance choreographer and the former owner of Steppin’ Out Academy in Kimberton, Pennsylvania. She says she often struggled with team morale after competitions. “My dancers felt discouraged if they didn’t receive high scores after working hard on a routine. They compared themselves to other teams who they felt were better dancers.” This resulted in a “why bother?” attitude.
To avoid such low morale, emphasize that the critiques are the opinions of a single set of judges for a single performance on a particular day, and that changing any of those factors might have resulted in a different outcome. These realizations can be teachable moments that will help dancers prepare for the reality of auditions, college admissions interviews, or job opportunities.
Leading by example
Boniszewski says she has become friends with many neighboring studio owners who also attend competitions. “We take classes together and are very friendly at competitions. It’s shown my students that even though you’re competing, you can be friends, enjoy each other’s talents, and cheer each other on,” she says.
If she or her students encounter negative behavior at a competition, they walk away. “I tell my students and their parents that we will not promote negative behavior and will remove ourselves from any situation that we are uncomfortable in.” She says the school owners she is friendly with do the same.
One time, though, Boniszewski’s team was not able to avoid a negative situation; parents sitting behind them were making negative comments about a dancer’s size and costume. “One of our guests told these people she was sure they could find something more positive to say about the beautiful dancer onstage,” Boniszewski says. “While I do not promote confronting someone, I was not disappointed that this person spoke up.”
In order to make a dance team worth the effort, focus on the educational benefits. Define your principles and goals for your team; outline and stick with your handbook policies and procedures; and keep true to what you believe in. Parents and students will come to rely on your consistency. Talking with colleagues about their dance team experiences can often provide a fresh perspective when facing challenges. Obstacles can be overcome, making the benefits of a competitive team worthwhile. In most cases, a strong camaraderie will develop between team dancers, their parents, and you.
What teachers and parents do and say to help students get the most out of competing
Ask dance studio owners, teachers, or parents what their role is in prepping students for competition, and they’ll tell you it’s up to them to set the right tone. For the people quoted here, establishing priorities, emphasizing learning opportunities, and having fun top the list of essential ingredients for a positive competition experience.
The teachers’ view
Shannon Thomas, choreographer/instructor
DanceBrought2u and Amanda’s Dance Center
South Daytona and Ormond Beach, Florida
I always prepare an outline of my expectations. I hand out a copy and then go over it verbally with the kids. I constantly remind them that excellence—not where we place on a scoring sheet—is the goal. I emphasize that working toward their personal best and learning how to correct their own technique as they are training create good habits, which can lead to high scores. It’s about the journey, the path one takes to achieve one’s personal best, and about seeing growth from year to year.
Michelle Knell, director of dance
Competition should be a healthy and positive experience that prepares students for the future, no matter what it might hold. I tell kids and parents that students can and should learn the following lessons from dance competitions: to work hard and persevere; to win graciously and lose cheerfully; to appreciate talent in others; to recognize strengths and weaknesses and adjust accordingly; to take corrections without offense; to recognize that they are part of a bigger world outside of the studio; to appreciate other choreographic styles; to be patient; to be a team player; to celebrate the smallest of victories and never make too much of the mistakes; to laugh at themselves; to expect the unexpected; and finally, to be kind to themselves as long as they’ve done their best.
Surprises—costume malfunctions, slips and falls, missed cues—teach you that life goes on and that the trophy isn’t the most important thing. It’s the working, the smiling, the trying, the never giving up.
We congratulate our students on their hard work and talk about how we can improve. Winning doesn’t mean we are too good to work.
Tammy Kostersky, director
Yorkton, Saskatchewan, Canada
I make my expectations clear and set a good example. I talk to each class about the most important part: attitude, the fact that they can have passion for their art, passion to do their best and win, without walking on others. And that even in a competition setting it is OK to appreciate and acknowledge someone else’s work.
We talk about how the moment those butts hit the car seat for the two-hour drive, there should be nothing but positive thoughts and words. It is so easy to get caught up in the negative; we need to offer our students tools and suggestions for positive thinking.
We love to win, but all dance teachers need to remember that we are not only creating dancers, we are creating citizens in our community. Who do you want as your neighbor? Who do you want in city council?
Debby Dillehay, owner
Debby Dillehay Dance Studio
I explain to parents and students that competitions are learning experiences. I expect each student to work 100 percent to be the best they can be and to appreciate and learn from the fine dancers they see. We discuss how important it is to support their fellow team members.
I explain that I don’t do well with “pushy dance moms.” A child’s worth should not be based on a trophy; the experience of competing is what’s valuable, and winning a high placement is icing on the cake.
After the competition, I never lie to the dancers. I say, “Do you think that was your best?” or “It was a good performance, but I know you have done X better, so let’s look at the scores.” This gives us a way to identify what to work on.
I am a hugger. Whether the students come offstage smiling from ear to ear or have a frown to the ground, they need to know I love them.
Cindi Fields, director/choreographer
Fields Performance Company, Fields Dance Studio
Newport News, Virginia
This is our 77th season as a studio, but we have been seriously competing for only two years. I remind my students that we go to competitions to get feedback and critiques to make them better dancers and me a better choreographer. Sometimes it helps to hear corrections from someone else. When a judge says something—even if I’ve been saying it for a long time—the students suddenly get it. I don’t mind, as long as they make the corrections.
I always thank my dancers and their parents for doing their part and encourage them to talk. Communication is key, and gratitude keeps people motivated.
Robin Taylor, teacher
Gallery of Dance
Freehold, New Jersey
I teach mostly 12-and-under beginner to intermediate dancers. In addition to talking about what judges look for, I ask them to watch the other dancers and tell me which numbers they liked, and why. They are told to wish everyone luck and tell other teams that they did a great job.
Before they go onstage I say, “Smile and have fun.” When they come offstage I tell them they were great (regardless of how they did). When someone makes a mistake, I say, “That’s how we learn.” I try to make the students feel proud and enjoy dancing no matter what the results are.
Colleen Gunn, president
Miss Colleen’s Elite Dancentre
Rockville Centre, New York
My school enrolls about 1,000 students; 65 are on the competition team this year. We do not hold auditions; instead, we place the children in levels according to their ability. I don’t believe pitting dancers against one another makes them work harder. Our girls work hard because they want to and because of the pure joy of dancing.
I hire teachers who can help children evolve as dancers. We choreograph to make each dancer shine at her level of technical ability—all without yelling, punishing, or making any child feel bad.
The kids often compete very successfully, and we do it without being negative, screaming, or pitting our school against other schools. It’s possible to educate dancers without such negativity. It is our responsibility as adults to nurture these children, their art, and their little hearts.
My entire staff speaks to the students with kindness, balancing every negative with a positive. We always tell our students they did a good job. If they messed up, we talk to them constructively. If they forgot their routine, we remind them that they’re human. If they ask how they can do better, we are honest yet positive.
Hovi Straus, director
Grand Forks, North Dakota
We attend only competitions that have conventions attached. I make a big deal about the classes the students will take from cool new teachers. I also ask them to learn the name of at least one new person and to compliment people when they see something they admire. Right now the other dancers might be their competition, but someday they might be classmates, colleagues, or even roommates.
Whitney VanHees, teacher
Rio Grande Valley Arts Studio
All students are welcome to join our competition team. Students and parents submit music choices and I choose which ones to use. I allow my advanced students to choreograph their own solos. We have a rhinestone party where moms and dancers decorate their costumes. Also, we take an end-of-the-year trip to celebrate our achievements.
Every trophy is displayed with the same enthusiasm, whether it was for first or seventh place. The range of awards helps dancers remember that there is always room to improve and reminds parents that we should be proud of the dancers’ hard work.
Wendy Lee Schwartz, teacher/choreographer
Hammocks Middle School
The most important thing is to make the experience positive. My number-one rule is to never tell the dancers they must win, place, or beat a competitor. I also never say I know they are going to win. Statements like these set the dancers up for something that might damage them.
I tell my dancers not to focus on other teams: not to worry about what they say, what they are wearing, or how they prepare. I tell them to focus on our team and on what we have achieved.
I always have a trick up my sleeve to prepare them right before competition: my special wand, magical dust, wings, or glitter spray, each of which comes with an elaborate story. This helps them forget their nervousness and feel psyched about their new special powers. Sometimes I give each dancer a cute eraser that they can use to erase all their mistakes and start fresh, ready to be at their best.
Parents wear shirts custom-printed with positive sayings; they don’t let the dancers see them until just before the competition.
Sherry Summerville, owner/creative director
Spotlight Performing Arts
I always tell my dancers that our goal is to be better today than we were yesterday. Even if it’s just a little bit better, if only in one area, they have experienced success. If you won first at your last competition, your goal should be to increase your score, or add more difficulty, or perform with more passion. If you didn’t place where you wanted to, your goal should be to strive for a better outcome—a higher score, harder technique, more consistency. It’s all about improvement.
Erica Corrao, co-owner
A&E Dance Studio
Mahopac, New York
Each year we try different ways to unify the team. One of our students came up with the idea of “Psych Buddies.” Each team member chooses a name out of a hat and makes a card or drawing of encouragement for that person. They give the card (and often, candy or a small stuffed animal) to their Psych Buddy at the competition. The ritual creates a sense of unity, helping dancers bond while taking away the stress of competition.
During rehearsals I ask dancers to sit in a circle and choose one person to compliment. This helps them pay more attention to each other as a whole and offers much-appreciated encouragement. This exercise has brought laughs, smiles, and happy tears, and more important, a more unified, solid, and respectful team.
Amber Martin, director/choreographer/instructor
Chad Martin, president/business manager
The Dance Avenue
Des Moines, Iowa
We stress the importance of sportsmanship and team unity. We don’t allow any talk about competing against one another. We are all on the same team and root for each other.
Before competition we listen to critiques from past competitions to learn what we can improve. We also talk about what’s expected of the team.
During competition we focus on team unity and support for those performing. We have team stretches and focus our minds on the day ahead. We ask that as many members of our team and families as possible be in the audience to support one another.
After a competition, we celebrate our accomplishments and discuss our shortfalls. There is always a lesson to be learned and something to improve; we figure it out as a team.
Katie Miller, co-owner/performance ensemble director
The Plano Dance Theatre
Because we’re a performing-arts school, dancers get many types of performance opportunities; not focusing heavily on competition numbers helps students and parents understand there is much more to dance than competition. Class time is not used for rehearsals; we rehearse competitive dances on Saturdays only, leaving weekdays for technique. We don’t begin choreography for competition until January and are performance-ready by March.
We make sure our performers know that dancing is not all leaps, turns, and kicks. Instead we stress the artistry of dance.
Our company members take an improv class to encourage creativity, team bonding, and self-expression. This helps the dancers trust one another and remember that they are there to support each other, and it teaches them to appreciate all dancers and the different ways they express themselves through dance.
We let parents know they will be dismissed if they speak negatively about any other family, especially any other child. We prefer to lose their business in order to maintain a positive learning environment.
The parents’ view
Stephanie Bedard, Omak, Washington
My 7-year-old daughter Elisabeth is working on her first recital solo. Her teacher wants her to take it to competition. Elisabeth was against it; she said she was afraid the dancers would judge her. She said dancing for parents at recitals is easy, but dancers know when you mess up. I reminded her that she had struggled with part of her solo but worked hard and nailed it when she showed it to her teacher. I told her to look at competition the same way—not as competing, but rather as a new challenge to overcome. Her face lit up.
We also talked about how all dancers worry that others will watch for their mistakes, so she knows she isn’t alone in that fear. She is now excited to take her solo to competition. Now competing is a goal and challenge, something she always enjoys.
Mark Nolan, Arlington, Texas
My daughter is 7. She dances at a studio where proper technique is taught but learning is fun. The girls encourage each other, and they are not mean to other teams.
My wife and I make sure she knows that hard work gets results, that judges are all different, that dance is art, and that having fun, building confidence, and growing as a person are what’s important to Mom and Dad. Getting onstage is fun for my daughter, and the more she dances, the more confidence she gains in all facets of life.
Cathrin Roberts, Niangua, Missouri
My daughter Mackenzie has been dancing competitively for seven years and it has definitely been a learning process. Each year she pushed harder and did better. However, after four years I realized that my pep talks and last-minute critiques stressed her out. I decided to be more supportive and encouraging, to let her know how proud I am of her regardless of the place she gets or what judges say.
I sit down with her about an hour before her stage call and ask if I can do anything to help. If not, I tell her how proud I am of her. I say, “Remember to shoot for the moon, because even if you miss, you will land among the stars.”
After the competition, we have a family discussion. Her dad is always complimentary; her brother adds his silly point of view; Kenzie talks about what she needs to work on, and I smile and tell her she landed with the stars.
My daughter supports and celebrates with her friends, even if they beat her. Dancing is her passion, but her dance sisters are her life!
Lisa Bicking, West Deptford, New Jersey
Before my daughter Samantha goes onstage I tell her that we are proud of her and that no matter what award she wins, it’s all about personal best. As long as you do better than the last time you performed, you’re platinum. The only way you can fail is not to try. After she performs I tell her she did a fantastic job.
Beverley Smith, North Delta, BC, Canada
Making competition positive for your child has to do with your own outlook and how competitive you are as a parent. I tell my children the gift is dance and the prize is performing. To have touched someone in the audience is the biggest prize of all.
We always talk through disappointments when they come. I believe that we grow more as people from bad situations than from good ones.
My daughter, who has competed as a soloist for many years, is friendly with her fellow competitors. They laugh and joke backstage before they go on; it helps take the competitive edge off. She’s happy when she sees her friends place ahead of her. It’s important for the kids to get to know their fellow dancers; it makes competition an opportunity to see their friends again.
As long as they are having fun, that’s the important thing.
Charlene St. Pierre, Macomb, Michigan
Dance competitions teach kids the value of planning ahead, working hard, staying organized, and remaining calm—tools that will help them be more successful in life. Is there anything more positive than that?
I let my girls see how organization helps them feel more prepared. They watch while I organize their costumes and supplies, and they see how much smoother things run when everyone gets the job done before it’s time to go.
It isn’t about winning. It’s about getting better each time, learning from their mistakes, applying what they’ve learned, and not dwelling on what went wrong. Do they want to win? Of course! But I never criticize them for not winning. I might remind them of what happens when they fail to prepare thoroughly. They know when they’ve messed up; I have no need to beat them over the head with it.
Our mantra: three judges, on any given day, in any given place, will judge you differently. Dance to improve and express, not necessarily to win. I’m glad we have the “stage” of dance competitions on which to teach those life lessons.
Bill Cusanelli, Queens, New York
We tell our daughter before, during, and after competition: dance full-out at all times; set realistic goals while always trying to exceed them; be friendly to and respectful of the other dancers; be prepared, so there are no surprises; try to learn something new; and above all, have fun! If we take these few simple steps, competitions are positive.
Roberta Whalen, Wallingford, Connecticut
I believe competition teaches discipline, inner strength, determination, and the ability to accept constructive criticism—in life as well as dance. I tell my child to do her best and enjoy it. If her best that day isn’t good enough, we try harder next time and work to improve.
Amy Brant, Danville, Illinois
At Jodi’s Dance Unlimited in Danville, the owner and staff foster positivity and don’t get wrapped up in drama and competitiveness. Jodi encourages each student to do their best and cheer for and compliment one another. She does not allow parents to say negative things about any child or other parents.
I have adopted Jodi’s values. I remind my girls that as long as they do their best, they can be proud. If they score high, they are not to brag; they can be proud, but not boastful. If they do not score high, they are to be proud of performing and learn from their mistakes. They are encouraged to congratulate other dancers, especially their teammates. If a teammate doesn’t score well, my daughters have been taught to comfort and encourage them.
This year Jodi allowed her dance team to take solos and duets to only one of the two competitions they attend. When dancers focused on the team, it was amazing how much better they danced. Their team spirit was obvious—JDU was awarded the Spirit of Encore award, given to the best role model.
Brenda L. Michienzi, Methuen, Massachusetts
I tell my daughter to have fun and do her best; it doesn’t matter what she gets for a medal as long as she does her best, works as a team, and makes new friends. I tell her that she knows how well she did and that’s all that matters, and that there will always be someone who can do something better than she can and something she can do better than others.
Donna Barker, Kitchener, ON, Canada
We parents teach our kids that competitions are a place to show the judges and others how hard they work. The studio does not allow a number to be in the year-end show unless it takes an overall at competition. The studio owner tells the kids that the staff puts in 110 percent and expects the same from the kids. If they do not want to work that hard, they can compete as part of the rec team rather than the elite team.
I gave my kids the option of going to a studio that’s not so tough. They will not leave. Both of them want to be professional dancers and consider the competition experience much like a job interview. They appreciate the no-nonsense attitude at this studio, but they still have fun and love their classmates and teachers. They don’t stress at events because they are well prepared. They don’t freak out over scores; if they don’t do well, they chalk it up to experience.
Our students are expected to bow or curtsy and say thank you when receiving awards, and to clap for everyone, regardless of standing.
No one lies to the kids. If they did not do well, we say, “You did your best; next time will be better.” There is no judgment; everyone has a bad day. They go over corrections afterward no matter how they scored.
At each competition, every dancer is given a decorative pin to give to another dancer—someone they thought was exceptional, someone they “caught” doing something nice. This encourages a positive attitude in other studios too, and all the kids love it.
An inside look at the studios that sweep competitions
By Steve Sucato
If you own a studio that competes, chances are you have come across a select few teams that always win. Year after year, these “dynasty” studios rank at the top in the competition world.
I talked with the owner/directors of six such studios who have garnered the praise of their peers and competition industry insiders. Their dancers, choreographers, and competition teams have won everything from regional, national, and world titles to choreography and “studio of the year” awards.
Competition pushes kids to be better; it teaches them about sportsmanship, how to handle rejection, and to be humble about and appreciative of their successes. —Michele Larkin-Wagner, Larkin Dance Studio
The late Steve Jobs, founder of Apple, Inc., characterized his company’s approach to creating great products as coming from a place “at the crossroad of technology and liberal arts,” where engineering and design meet. It can be said that creating a great competition team lies at the crossroad of technique and artistry. You need to do both extremely well.
One key to understanding a dynasty studio’s success in competition is assessing its approach. For the owners I talked to, winning is a major motivation; even more, they consider dance competition experiences to be life lessons.
Edith Montoya, owner of Dance Precisions in Anaheim, California, employs 22 teachers to mentor the members of the studio’s two competition companies (ages 5 to 19). “A lot in life is about competition, whether for a job or the college of your choice,” she says. “Competing builds confidence. I have seen kids who are not very social come out of their shells when competing.”
Michele Larkin-Wagner of Larkin Dance Studio in Maplewood, Minnesota, concurs. “Competition pushes kids to be better; it teaches them about sportsmanship, how to handle rejection, and to be humble about and appreciative of their successes.”
Larkin-Wagner and her sister, Molly Larkin-Symanietz, co-direct the studio, founded in 1950 by their mother, Shirley Larkin. Of the studio’s approximately 800 students, 225 compete on teams for students ages 5 and up.
For these studios, competing is about attaining personal rewards, not trophies.
“We approach winning as the cherry on top,” says Ashley Daychak, owner of Canada’s Performing Dance Arts (PDA) in Vaughan, Ontario. “If the kids do their best and make themselves and their teachers proud, that is the most important part.”
PDA has embraced that philosophy since it began participating in competitions in 1973. Of the studio’s approximately 500 students, 70 compete via either the part-time (local competitions only) or full-time program (all competitions, including those in the U.S.).
Built to succeed
Many factors contribute to building a winning competition team; however, these six studio owners/directors identify a few specifics as the building blocks.
First is a strong training foundation, achieved by hiring excellent teachers and offering a wide variety of dance styles, including acro, ballet, jazz, hip-hop, lyrical, and tap. Some studios augment their offerings with classes in jumps and turns, stretching and strengthening, and contemporary dance.
Consistency in the level and structure of the training is another. Tailoring a technique curriculum to each age group and skill level and sticking with it is vital, as is not mixing class time with rehearsal time.
If your dancers don’t love what they do, dynasty studio owner/directors say, your school might as well not compete. “Our students are more known for their passionate dancing than for technical skills,” says Stephanie Campbell, co-owner/director of DC Dance Factory in Franklin, Tennessee. The school began competing in 1996 and now fields seven competitive dance companies, including an all-boys one. “Judges tell us they can see the love our students have for dance; it’s like they’re at home on the stage.” That enthusiasm and commitment translates into wins.
The teaching staff must instill in the students their passion for what they do, which in turn creates winning performances. Nancy Giles, owner/director of The Southern Strutt in Irmo, South Carolina, whose studio has been competing since 1982, says improvisational exercises help to bring out students’ passion for dance. Tuning in to their emotions in the studio carries over to performances, she says. “It’s important to create an environment in the studio where the kids feel safe to express their feelings without fear of ridicule.”
And while technique training and rehearsal time are important, so too is connecting with students as human beings. Many of the studios use team-building exercises, hold spirit rallies, and have monthly social functions to foster camaraderie. One example is Dance Precisions’ “kidnap breakfast,” in which the younger team members take the older ones to breakfast in their pajamas. Social functions like this create a sense of community and allow the dancers to interact in ways other than training and performing.
Educating team parents is also important. Tell them up front what it will take to have their child compete, both financially and in terms of time commitment, and be honest about expectations for each child and the team. These studio owner/directors generally meet with team students and their parents before the season to go over expectations. Some produce handbooks or guides that outline everything from commitments to rules of conduct and tips on health and nutrition.
Dance pieces are a school’s calling card. Consistency in the quality of choreography can make or break a studio at competitions.
Most of these owners use in-house choreographers for the bulk of their routines and create a set repertory for competition season. Opinions vary on the use of outside choreographers. While few say they bring in outside choreographers for the sole purpose of winning, most admit that doing so bolsters their chances. Many say they bring in choreographers as a treat for their students and to give them a taste of the professional dance world.
Giles, however, regularly brings in industry professionals whose strengths in specific areas help her mold dancers who are well rounded in all styles of dance. “Thinking that I or my studio can give the dancers everything they need would be unrealistic,” she says. Recently, contemporary choreographer Sonya Tayeh set a group work on one of Giles’ nine teams.
As for music, choices should be made carefully, says Montoya. “People tend to use music they have heard and don’t think about how it will work for a routine,” she says. “There has to be more to it than putting steps to a random piece of music.”
Choose music that evokes an emotional response and fits the dance’s concept. And make it something your dancers can count. “Be novel,” Larkin-Wagner says. “Try to find something the judges haven’t heard a hundred times on the radio.”
While there is no formula to creating winning routines, some elements can help. A mix of choreographic creativity and technical and artistic performance elements that showcase your students’ strengths and skills is a must. Concept dances that judges will not have seen before also rank high, as does a well-rehearsed, polished look.
What does little to impress is packing routines with tricks and turns, especially if the dancers can’t do them well. Keep in mind, too, that at the top levels every school’s dancers can do them. Balancing choreographic, performance, conceptual, and technical considerations offers your best chance of winning.
“There is no trick that will definitely win first place overall,” says Dana McGuire, co-owner of Priscilla and Dana’s School of Dance in Kansas City, Missouri. Founded in 1968, the school began competing in 1987; last season it created 229 dances for its 170-member competition team. “It might present a ‘wow’ factor, but it won’t guarantee a win.”
The school owners are split on the importance of costumes and props. Some say they make a big difference, while others disagree. Montoya says, “When the kids aren’t technically very good, costumes and props can enhance the way they are perceived. Once they are technically strong, however, props can distract from the dancing.” Everyone interviewed has used props and set pieces at times, especially for large group numbers.
Room for improvement
Dynasty studios, especially the larger ones, field hundreds of dance routines each season. Not all of them are winners; this means there is always room for improvement, which is achieved by tweaking the routines throughout the season as well as examining the judges’ scores and feedback.
For many, improving means raising the intensity of their technique training by offering additional classes or more focused classes. Larkin-Wagner, whose studio competes about 100 solos and as many group numbers each year, puts the burden of failure on herself rather than her students. “I will clean a routine to the point judges can’t take any points off,” she says.
Competitions and judging
These studios typically attend four to six competitions and conventions each year, mostly within their regions, and one or two national/world competitions. Because of the expense of competing for team members’ parents—a large studio’s entry fees can reach $30,000 or more per event—many of these studios travel to national events only every other year.
All train and rehearse their students 15 to 20 hours a week. The season begins with training and learning choreography from September through December for competitions attended January through June.
For all of them, the choice of events comes down to a few factors; the most important is the level of competition. Dynasty teams earn that status by competing against the best talent out there. The only way to get better and inspire students to aim higher is to show them what is possible.
Other factors include how efficiently the competitions are run, how much personal interest the competition owners show in their customers (such as knowing names and soliciting advice on improving the event), the overall experience, and whether video critiques by the judges are offered.
During competition days these studios maintain similar routines: their dancers warm up together, stay stretched throughout the day, run through their routines before going onstage, and receive motivational pep talks.
When it comes to judging, these studio owners acknowledge that the opinions of the judges are subjective but agree that they want the scoring systems to be accurate, fair, and free of manipulation. “We tell our students to think about what felt good and to look at what they need to improve,” says McGuire. “Sometimes they deserve an award they didn’t get, and sometimes they get an award they didn’t deserve. It balances out.”
These owners don’t like the trend to make everyone who competes feel like a winner—and thereby keep studios coming back to those events. They say it has hurt the industry and made their jobs harder. It’s tough to motivate students to improve when every routine gets a top honor.
“I try to make a competition a real experience for my kids and still have them feel like they need to work to earn something and get excited about winning,” says Larkin-Wagner. “It’s hard to do that when everybody wins something.”
What’s clear after talking to these studio owners is that there is no secret to their success. There is nothing they do that any school owner could not implement on some level. To get started, check out their tips in “Upping Your Game.”
Upping Your Game
Tips and advice from the dynasty studio owners
• Instill in your students and staff a strong work ethic with a focus on constantly improving technique. “Our motto is you get out of it exactly what you put into it,” says Daychak. Dynasty studios use auditions not only to choose members of their teams but to determine whether the dancers are ready to give their maximum effort.
• Learn to coach “up the ladder,” says Montoya. Set realistic goals, along with a few more ambitious ones, and gear the training to reflect those goals. “Some people think they are going to win the first time they compete; when they don’t, they don’t know how to coach their kids in increments that lead to winning,” she says.
• Challenge yourself and your students. Don’t be afraid of competition and don’t instill a fear in your students. Attend competitions that draw top-flight competitors, and learn from those experiences. “Inspiration is priceless,” says Campbell. “Dancers grow by competing against other top dancers, and they love it.”
Montoya suggests attending a couple of smaller regional competitions that allow less-experienced students to shine, as well as a few where students will “get their butts kicked” as a learning process.
• Travel outside your area. Montoya believes there are three types of competition studios: those known locally, those known regionally, and those known nationally. To be a dynasty studio you have to compete on a national level.
• Stay focused on training and goals, says Giles. One method that helps is to choose a theme for the year like “reaching for higher ground.” Giles says she uses that theme as a connecting thread in her studio’s approach to training and competing that year. She paints the theme on the studio wall, has the students write it in their dance journals, and uses it in the studio’s correspondence.
• Know when to give up on a dance. “If you start a routine and struggle with it, don’t like the music, or have a few bad rehearsals, don’t be afraid to scrap it,” says Daychak.
• Don’t plagiarize. Imitation might be the highest form of flattery, but outright stealing is wrong on all levels. Just because another team won doesn’t mean your students will be able to perform that routine with the same passion and precision. Furthermore, the studio you pilfered it from and the judges will likely know what’s going on.
• Seek variety. Montoya suggests attending different competitions and varying guest teachers/choreographers to create an air of excitement at the studio.
Last month Martin Luna, the founder of Simply Destinee Dance Studio was in despair. The mentor for a growing group of at-risk Aurora, Illinois, teens had just picked up a 16-year-old high school dancer who underwent surgery to repair a shattered nose and eye socket from an ugly assault, reported The Beacon-News.
Despite much sacrifice that included giving up his own apartment and sleeping in his van, Luna was also losing the studio—named in memory of his 16-year-old niece who committed suicide—because he could no longer keep up with rent.
“My biggest fear is not being here for these kids,” the 30-year-old photographer for JC Penney said. “I need to find a way to keep going.”
Last week, the despair was replaced with excitement. Simply Destinee had found a new home, on the second floor of Fox Island Place at the corner of Stolp Avenue and Galena Boulevard, right in the heart of downtown Aurora.
This office space, once the tea room of the historically significant Leland Hotel built in the 1920s, not only will give the studio the square footage it needs to accommodate the kids he’s drawing, Luna is hoping downtown’s growing arts community will help inspire and support his still-evolving program.
One by one, teens just getting out of school pour into the building, exchanging backpacks for paintbrushes as they continue the slow process of renovating the studio. “If they put the work into it,” said Luna, “they will take more pride in it.”
“It’s a place where we can be ourselves,” Bryant Cleghorn, 15, said, pausing with his paintbrush. “This place lets me express who I really am instead of hiding it.”
For the past few weeks, Ballet West has made a home in a new studio space in Trolley Square, a downtown Salt Lake City mall of shops, services, and eateries, located in converted trolley carbarns and adjoining buildings.
Chris Matthews, Trolley Square owner, told Salt Lake Magazine, “We have renovated former movie theaters into first-class studios for Ballet West performers. Our investment to rebuild this space will encourage a sense of community that we have always strived for.”
Ballet West dancers will be using Trolley Square’s studio as a temporary rehearsal space until construction on the Jessie Eccles Quinney Ballet Centre—a new permanent home for the ballet—is completed sometime this month. Ballet West Academy will stick around, as the school plans to utilize studios at Trolley Square permanently.
“Not only does Ballet West bring 200 students a day to Trolley Square, but it brings those students’ moms and dads,” Matthews says. “This helps Trolley Square gain more support for its local stores.”
The mall will also soon feature a seasonal ballet store, and soon there will be Nutcracker-themed decorations to promote Ballet West’s upcoming performance. Matthews also hopes to have some of the dancers perform this holiday season at Trolley Square.
To see the original story, visit http://saltlakemagazine.com/blog/2013/10/21/an-artful-addition-to-trolley-square/. For more information on Ballet West’s new home, visit http://www.balletwest.org/NewHome.
Geri Messer and Pat Balderas of Toledo, Ohio, didn’t plan to spend their retirement managing a business. But an opportunity fell into their laps—or, more accurately, at their feet—when the owner of the dance studio where they took lessons said she wanted to sell it.
The Chicago Tribune reports that Messer and Balderas, both 66, were united by their love of tap dancing and their desire to save a place that had become a big part of their lives. After receiving counseling from Score (http://www.score.org), a nonprofit organization that provides volunteer mentors for aspiring business owners, they used money from their retirement savings to purchase Off Broadway Dance Company in October 2011.
Messer had a business background, having helped her husband, Alan, run a software company. Balderas, retired from her job as a court administrator, has taught tap at the studio for eight years.
Clients range in age from 23 to 86, and most customers are women in their 50s and 60s. “We feel that’s our market,” says Messer, a former nurse. “We want women to take care of themselves and have fun.”
One of the first things the partners did was ramp up their marketing by taking out ads in local newspapers and redesigning the studio’s website. Word of mouth has also helped attract students, as have performance appearances by studio dancers.
Their efforts have paid off. Business has grown so much that the partners have had to rent extra space to accommodate some of their classes, and they recently added jazz dance to their lineup. They expect to earn back their initial investment and turn a modest profit this year, which will be used to improve the studio.
Messer can’t imagine a time when they’d give up the studio. “When you love to do something,” she says, “you don’t care how old you are.”
To see the original story, visit http://www.chicagotribune.com/business/sns-201310101800–tms–kplngmpctnkm-a20131022-20131022,0,4231674.story.
Dancing with the Stars’ Maksim Chmerkovskiy recently ended his Broadway stint in Forever Tango and has been busy heading up six dance studios in the New York area. And, CBSNews.com reported, the 33-year-old dancer just partnered with the USO to help support this year’s Dance for the Troops campaign.
The grassroots fundraising program is designed for clubs, schools, and communities to better the lives of the troops and their families with a dance fundraiser. All the money goes directly to support troops and their families, and it can all be coordinated at the USO’s Dance for the Troops website (http://www.teamuso.org/faf/home/default.asp?ievent=1075330).
“The website collects everything, so you don’t have to do anything but want to help,” said Chmerkovskiy, who added that the cause is even more important now amid the government shutdown. “Everything is done for you.”
Dances run throughout the year, but Kelli Seely of the USO told CBSNews there’s a special focus now because of the upcoming holiday season. “Our troops have told us that the most meaningful thing is knowing that people at home are thinking of them. So the opportunity to get pictures of people hosting their dance parties and being able to show those to the troops means the world to them.”
Chmerkovskiy said he became familiar with the USO after joining DWTS. “Celebrities on the show introduced me to the USO tours. And my brother and I were always interested in doing something like that,” he said.
To see the CBS story, visit http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-207_162-57606911/maksim-chmerkovskiy-on-dancing-with-the-stars-and-dance-for-the-troops/.
Misty’s Dance Unlimited, owned by Dance Studio Life contributor and DanceLife Teacher Conference speaker Misty Lown, has received one of 15 “The Most Amazing Company” designations by the motivational/business development company Evoloshen, and a feature in the new business book Engage! by Karin and Sergio Volo.
Other companies to receive the designation include TOMS Shoes, Zappos!, Whole Foods, Ben & Jerry’s, Southwest Airlines, Puma, Virgin, and others.
Lown said the nominee vetting process included a review of the studio’s work and interviews and surveys of its leadership team, teachers, clients, and community partners. “Most Amazing Companies” are described as ones that are dedicated to a higher purpose, have employees who are passionate and productive, and are not only profitable but have a positive impact on employees, customers, and the community.
Lown, her family, and her studio administrative director plan to travel to Stockholm, Sweden, next fall to attend the honorees gala. More information on the book Engage! Your Step By Step Guide to Creating a Workplace that You, Your Co-Workers, and Your Customers Will Love! can be found at http://theengagebook.com/.
Melanja School of Dance in Maghull, England, teamed up with Dabs Tattoo studio in Southport for a tattoo fundraising day to help raise funds for a new roof for the dance studio, according to Champion newspapers.
Nearly 80 people turned up to get inked with various dance-themed tattoos. Dabs Tattoo owners Lisa and Tony Booth, who have two daughters who dance at Melanja, reached out a helping hand after hearing the bad news earlier this summer.
The dance school needed a total of £4000 to repair the deteriorating roof so classes can continue throughout the winter. A subsequent Facebook post put the final fundraising total for the day at £2263.
Dance teacher Melanie French said if the repairs aren’t made by winter “there is a chance the school won’t be able to continue. We are in the process of applying for charitable status since we teach children with learning difficulties in an underprivileged area. It’s important for places like this to continue to provide services where children can exercise, learn social skills, and teamwork in a safe and secure environment.”
Five tattoo artists gave up their day to do the tattoos, which were sold at a discounted rate. To see the original story, visit http://www.champnews.com/newsstory.aspx?story=3043622.
Writer/director Tina Satter uses the setting of a small-town tap dance studio to frame the desires of individuals looking for larger meaning in tap dance and, indirectly, each other in a new production, House of Dance, being presented off-Broadway at the Abrons Arts Center October 23 to November 9.
Satter, who has written and directed five plays, has been described as a “rising experimental star” by The New York Times and named a 2011 Off-Off Broadway Innovator to Watch by Time Out New York.
Broadway World described the show: “At a tap dance studio in a small town, four characters prepare for a competition. Tensions flare and dead dreams fly back to life as the instructor teaches a new routine to his student. Staged within the four walls of a dance studio, House of Dance creates a hyper-realistic environment that serves as a launching pad where dance practice turns virtuosic, piano accompaniment blossoms into evocative songs, and the roles of student and teacher begin to shift as the characters’ fears are exposed.”
House of Dance is the third production in New York City Players’ American Playwrights Division, a program curated by Richard Maxwell and devoted to producing full productions by emerging writers who direct their own work. Abrons Arts Center is located at 466 Grand Street, on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Tickets are available at www.abronsartscenter.org.
Advice for dance teachers
I recently learned that my landlord has leased the space next to my school to a tattoo parlor. I’m devastated. I recently expanded my school, but I’m sure future business for me will be grim because people will see what’s next door and drive down the street to the next dance school. Any advice would be greatly appreciated. —Donna
I’m not sure that the tattoo parlor will deter students from coming to your school. However, if you panic over the situation and tell everyone how upset you are, then you might find yourself living the grim future you fear. If I were you, I would ignore the fact that there will be a tattoo parlor next door to the school; instead, spread the word about how excited you are that you expanded your business and can offer more for your students.
Many years ago, a liquor store opened next door to my mother’s school, and my mom feared it would hurt her business. She assumed the store would attract shady characters; instead, the store became a convenient place for her clientele to pick up a gallon of milk, and the dance students often went there to buy candy. More than 20 years later, the liquor store has closed, and everyone misses the convenience.
My advice is to keep your concerns to yourself. Chances are everything will work out fine. I wish you all the best. —Rhee
I’m wondering where I could find more information concerning dance schools and going nonprofit. We are signing a new lease with our landlord and expanding into the space next to us. The landlord is a lawyer and has asked us if we would consider becoming a nonprofit in order to gain community support for the school.
I am a registered teacher with the Royal Academy of Dance, which is a nonprofit organization. I know some schools are nonprofit and some aren’t, or they have a company that is nonprofit and the school is not. I would appreciate any suggestions or guidance. —Rachel
Your question is timely, because our July 2013 issue has two stories that will give you plenty of information about nonprofits and a related topic, grantwriting (“Nonprofit Nuts and Bolts” and “The Fine Art of Finding Money.”)
A nonprofit organization associated with your school provides opportunities to do some wonderful things for your students and business. You would be able to help families who are unable to afford lessons by giving them full or partial tuition scholarships. One business-related benefit is that nonprofit schools often receive discounted rates on auditorium rentals, printing, and so on.
However, nonprofit status requires you to take on new responsibilities. You’ll need to establish a board of directors that meets at least annually. (I believe the minutes of those meetings must be recorded with your state.) You would have less control than you have with a for-profit business because decisions would be made by the multiple people involved in the organization. The IRS might scrutinize your tax returns more carefully than they would those of a for-profit business. If you establish scholarships, you may be required to offer those opportunities to children who dance at other schools.
I do think it is worth discussing the details with an attorney and an accountant to determine whether a nonprofit is the right move for you. Good luck! —Rhee
I have a teacher who works for me and at another school, which participates in competitions. My school doesn’t compete. This teacher announced on Facebook how proud she is that her sons are a part of this school because she believes in competition. (Her daughter is 3 and takes class with me.) I never respond to anything on Facebook, but I feel like saying in a separate comment, “I usually love Facebook, but I worry for our children because even I, a confident adult, can get hurt on Facebook.” What is your opinion? —Kelly
If we analyze posts on Facebook, we all could find ourselves hurt by someone’s comments. This teacher is entitled to her preferences and beliefs and probably had no idea that her post would bother you. I say ignore her comments and move on. Being a confident adult who has made the decision not to participate in dance competitions should give you the self-assurance that you have made the right decision for you and your students. I hope this helps. —Rhee
Recently my daughter was in her first recital. Cutest thing ever—except one of the dances done by the young teens was set to the song “Save a Horse (Ride a Cowboy).” I’m not a prude by any stretch; however, had my 12-year-old daughter been dancing to that song, I would have flipped my lid. Should I let it go, or should I bring up my concern with the dance studio owner?
If you think it’s appropriate to bring it up, how can I do it without causing problems? I don’t want my daughter labeled as the kid with the uptight parents. I loved 99 percent of the recital; I’d never been to one and was impressed with everything they did and how efficiently it was run. I figured you’d have some insight about how to handle this respectfully. —Dancing Dad
Dear Dancing Dad,
Good for you for noticing. The issue of inappropriate music comes up lot in our field. It’s one of my peeves, because I believe kids should be kids for as long as we can keep them that way. With literally millions of choices for music, I often wonder why some teachers make the choices they do.
You might want to drop a note to the school praising them for what you liked about the show and then mention that you felt uncomfortable with the “Save a Horse (Ride a Cowboy)” piece. If they appreciate your comments and say they will consider your opinion when determining appropriate music, then you have helped them out. If they become defensive or critical of your opinion, you might learn that the school is not the right place for your daughter. Good luck! —Rhee
Word from the publisher
I have always believed that attitude has everything to do with success. School owners who have a bad attitude—even when they have a huge marketing budget, the best faculty, and a school that offers excellent training—will not achieve the same level of success as do those whose love for dance shows in everything they do.
Dance Studio Life recently sent a survey to school owners that gave them the option to leave a comment. Hundreds did, and many of them, even those who are not doing as well financially as they would like to, expressed joy in teaching dance.
One very unhappy school owner’s response reminded me of a comment I had received the year before; it turns out that the same person wrote both of them. I understand that the dance-education business is not always easy, and that dance schools must compete with the many activities available to children. But why not compete with those activities with a constructive mind-set?
That teacher wrote: “Our baby classes are no longer viable; their retention is two or three years at best. Their moms pull them as soon as they start doing musical-theater shows or sports in their local schools. Entire classes are crammed onto the stage because it has become a free after-school babysitter service/homework hall, a boon to stressed working parents. However, they’re not allowed a single absence, so the kids can’t come to my studio once a week for an $11 dance class. The parents consider swaying on a stage, in three shows per year, dance training.
“My dance recitals and Nutcracker are no longer a draw,” she continued, “thanks to these ‘Broadway’ shows, which the local schools have discovered are big moneymakers. The program books are overflowing with parents’ ads.”
She ended on a note of despair: “I have tried everything to stay solvent, but my costs go up while my enrollment goes down. I may have to close my school; my dream dance career has turned into a nightmare. I would appreciate your addressing this in future issues.”
The same survey brought a very different response from another teacher: “I am living a dream every day! I wake up thinking I have the best job and business ever. The babies’ smiles and innocence make my heart melt. The older ones are not as easy, but they teach me how to be a better teacher; I learn new ways to break through with them. The music makes me happy too. My studio is growing and I know it’s because we are so positive.”
If you were looking for a dance school for your child and read these comments, I’ll bet I know which school you would choose.
Some people spend their lives wallowing in the negative, which often deters others from wanting to be a part of their world. No matter how hard the struggle may be, those who have the right attitude and who grow and learn from their circumstances are often the most successful. We all have choices in life. Enjoy the journey.
Words from our readers
It’s an honor to be in Dance Studio Life magazine [“A Different Lens,” by Rita Felciano, May/June 2013]! Thank you for sharing my story!
Antoine Hunter, faculty
Shawl-Anderson Dance Center
As an avid reader and admirer of Dance Studio Life, I firmly believe that Rhee Gold and all the contributors to the magazine have made many significant positive changes in the realm of studio ownership. Upon reading any issue I am not just informed about my business but also encouraged in regard to whatever challenge I might face.
The Arts Academy Charter School
Salisbury Township, Pennsylvania
I would like to say thanks so much for all you do and for your commitment to the teachers of dance! In offering business ideas, motivation, and inspiration to us busy teachers, you have filled a void for so many of us who need inspiration to keep going!
Rebecca Bryan, RADTC
Sarasota Dance Academy
By Misty Lown
What is better than getting 50 potential students to stop by your studio for an open house? Having 50 families engage with your programs and staff for an entire afternoon! That’s what can happen when you market an interactive open house—what I call “Festival of Friends”—in such a way that children and parents alike won’t want to miss it.
I got this idea from my friend Janet Johnson of Allegro School of Dance and Music in Rochester, Minnesota. I did a version of the event to celebrate National Dance Week this year. At least 50 children and their parents came to our studios, participated in activities, and left with goody bags full of branded giveaway items—and, of course, registration materials.
While the traditional open house is relatively passive—visitors walk through, take a look around (and, if you’re lucky, stay long enough to ask some questions), and leave—the Festival of Friends is designed to give visitors a chance to interact with every facet of your business.
I added a mini-recital component—the children took class for 20 minutes and then the parents were invited in for the last 10 minutes for a “show.” Judging by the reaction of the parents and the number of photos they took, you would have thought the kids had won Oscars!
Here’s how it works. First, pick a date that coincides with a time that you can take registrations. I chose National Dance Week (NDW) not only because my school was taking summer and fall registrations during that time, but also because I thought that including NDW in our promotions gave Festival of Friends added importance and credibility. Late summer or early fall would also be good times to host the event.
Next, create two types of promotional materials. Target your existing clients by sending them postcards and emails encouraging them to participate and to invite their friends and neighbors. Then inform the public via posters, social media outlets, and calendar listings in local newspapers and parenting magazines.
Plan activities carefully; the day’s offerings should include something for everyone. Consider offering sample ballet or hip-hop classes; photo sessions in which kids dress up in costumes; letting kids put on tap shoes to learn a step, decked out with a top hat and cane; a coloring pages station; a tutu- or tiara-making station; “fishing” for prizes over a curtain; short performances by current students; a healthy snack station; and a visit to the front office to receive a coupon for a free registration.
A great way to get visitors to engage with your program is by offering a stamp card. At Allegro, Janet designed a bingo-style card that students could fill with stamps as they visited various areas of the studio and did the activities. If they filled the card, they got a prize.
In my sample classes, I added a mini-recital component—the children took class for 20 minutes and then the parents were invited in for the last 10 minutes for a “show.” Judging by the reaction of the parents and the number of photos they took, you would have thought the kids had won Oscars! Watching their young children twirl around to the strains of classical music seemed to strike an emotional chord with most parents.
Janet and I each spent about $500 on print materials, supplies, and staff time. That might sound like a lot for a two-hour event, but if you compare it to the cost of placing a single newspaper ad and consider the high number of potential new students who attended, it was an excellent value.
School owners, faculty members, and independent contractors offer perspectives on teacher compensation
By Debra Danese
A dance teacher and studio owner meet for an employment interview. Most likely they discuss education and experience, teaching philosophies, class schedules, and expectations. If they decide to move forward, they will agree on a salary or (if the instructor will work as an independent contractor) an hourly teaching rate, in which case issues such as health insurance, retirement plans, or other employee benefits might not arise.
But what about compensation for non-teaching hours spent attending meetings, traveling to competitions and conventions, and participating in dress and tech rehearsals? Should studio owners pay teachers for work done outside of class that benefits the students or school? This question raises a debate in which opinions and practices differ enormously.
Should studio owners pay teachers for work done outside of class that benefits the students or school? This question raises a debate.
Rules and regulations regarding employment are set by the Department of Labor, but most of these govern the relationship between employee and employer. For independent contractors, most states have few set wage and hour laws regarding overtime, minimum wage, or meal periods and rest breaks. Furthermore, anti-discrimination and retaliation laws protect employees, but not independent contractors.
To explore the varying perspectives on this topic, I contacted colleagues I have worked with throughout my career, professionals who have been in the business for a minimum of 10 years. I asked them to address the question of compensation for non-teaching, work-related hours, making sure they understood that there are no right or wrong answers.
What follows are their perspectives.
I spoke with 11 studio owners, each of whom has been in business for more than 15 years. (Some requested anonymity.) The number of teachers on their staffs ranges from 4 to 17. Employment practices among them vary significantly. Neither the size of the studio nor the number of faculty on staff seemed to be a factor in determining compensation policies.
Six out of the 11 owners require teachers to sign a contract or agreement upon hiring. Those who do not use one reason that contracts can be broken. However, only three of those who do use contracts include language that addresses their payment policy for work outside of class hours.
One owner says she doesn’t have her instructors sign an agreement but tells them what they will be paid outside of class as each situation arises. Another says, “I pay my teachers for everything they do for me. When they walk through my door, they are on my time. They get their hourly teaching rate for all studio-related tasks. If a circumstance comes up where I need to pay less, I tell them beforehand how much that will be.”
Janice Brougher-Roos, owner and director of Studio ‘91 in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, agrees. “If teachers are giving me their time, I believe they deserve to be compensated for it,” she says. “I treat my studio as what it is—a business. When making decisions regarding my faculty and staff I ask myself, ‘How would they do it in a corporation?’ ”
An area of particular note is the work involved in recitals. Most school owners believe the teachers’ presence and work at recitals falls under the umbrella of their overall responsibilities and that the payment they receive for class time covers recital duties.
One owner takes a different approach. “I don’t pay for recital hours,” she says, “but I do give an end-of-year bonus to all my instructors after the final performance.” Another owner says she pays a flat fee to cover all recital-related hours. One other owner shows her appreciation by hosting a party for the faculty and staff after the last performance of the season. She says, “This is my way of saying thank you.”
Payment for attending meetings is another topic that yielded a range of answers. Most school owners who pay teachers as independent contractors believe meetings do not require compensation. However, one says, “I pay instructors half of their hourly teaching rate for attendance at meetings. They are self-employed and this is time they could be making money at another studio.”
Another owner pays half the hourly teaching rate for meetings but began doing so only after a new hire asked to be paid. The owner says, “It wasn’t my policy to pay my teachers to come in for a meeting, but this individual made a good case. She pointed out that in addition to the meeting time, she had to travel 30 minutes each way in the middle of a Saturday afternoon that she would normally have free. I thought that was a fair point and changed my policy across the board.”
I asked the other owners if they would consider making a policy change if a teacher approached them with a convincing argument to do so. Most said no, stating that they thought the agreement already in place was reasonable.
In general, the studio owners believe they have established a fair work relationship with their faculty. Aside from a few adjustments made to accommodate the growth of their schools, they continue to implement the same policies they set when opening their business.
Sounding a somewhat different note is founder and president of the National Registry of Dance Educators, Elsa Posey. One of the criteria for Registered Dance Educators (RDE) is the demonstration of high standards in both teaching and business, and Posey believes pay rates that reflect a teacher’s education and experience help to maintain these standards. Posey, who owns Posey School of Dance in Northport, New York, and who is known as a strong advocate of dance professionals, thinks many studio owners do not fairly compensate the individuals they employ. “If [school owners] are making a profit,” she says, “employees should be paid for their work.”
Another studio owner added, “We all know the realities of budgets, salaries, and funding in the arts. We can, however, make it better for ourselves and our employees by giving and asking for what is reasonable.”
I spoke with six teachers who have years of experience in the profession. Each teaches at one or more studios where they say they feel respected for their work. Four of the six report that it took working at a few studios with compensation policies they regarded as unfair before they found employers with fair-minded employment practices. All have encountered studio owners who believed that teachers should show loyalty to the school by working outside of class without compensation. This philosophy extends beyond the times when they need to work together for the greater good of the studio.
Along with actual pay, on-the-job duties are topics of complaint among some teachers. “I have been asked to do everything from sew recital costumes to clean the studios,” says one. “This was considered part of my job and covered under my hourly teaching rate. I was not told upon hiring that these tasks fell under my responsibility.”
Another instructor recalled a time she was asked to call more than 50 students in the event of snow closings. She asked for administrative pay and was refused because, she was told, she would make the calls from home. In addition to the time she was asked to put in, she would suffer a financial loss on the snow days since the school does not pay teachers in the event of weather-related class cancellations. When the teacher refused to make the calls, her employer told her not to return to the studio because she wasn’t a “team player.”
Although frustrated at the time, the teacher came to believe the parting was for the best. “If teachers agree to low standards,” she says, “they diminish the very profession they are trying to succeed in. If we do not show respect for the work we do, others will not either.”
Carolyn Mitchell, a self-employed dance instructor, says she had a few bad experiences before she found a studio whose policies and protocol were a good fit. She now visits studio websites to get a sense of how potential employers operate. Mitchell says, “I always look at a school’s current faculty before submitting a resume. I check to see what their levels of education and experience are. Some studios also state the number of years their instructors have been on staff. It is a red flag to me if a dance studio has frequent turnover of instructors.”
Regarding salary, the teachers expressed some flexibility in their expectations, agreeing that there are times when they’re willing to forego compensation. One says, “I don’t mind the occasional meeting without pay. I do know some schools that hold them monthly, and in that case I might feel differently.”
Some, however, were straightforward in condemning the lack of compensation for work hours outside of the classroom. Three of the six teachers work as full-time instructors with no other source of income. For them, working without pay is not financially feasible. “This is not my hobby. This is my profession,” says one teacher.
Devon Porter, another self-employed instructor, works at three studios to accumulate enough hours to make a living. “As an independent contractor,” Porter says, “I am my own business. It’s not smart business nor economically viable to provide my services without being compensated.”
How can balance be found in a field in which compensation varies so much? Dance teachers and studio owners—no matter which position they might take on compensation issues—share a desire to feel respected and appreciated for what they contribute to the work relationship. And they agree that sometimes negotiation and compromise are needed.
The possible solutions must come from an established groundwork of open communication and professionalism. Networking at conferences and utilizing forums offered by national and local dance organizations are a few places to start.
Dance educators are engaged in ongoing discussions about these important issues. Fiona Brown, who holds a Cecchetti Associate Diploma, would like to discuss determining the equivalency of specific qualifications such as hers to a university degree. She says, “While it would be difficult to set a standard remuneration package nationally, it would be good to discuss such equivalencies as a basis for deciding a salary or hourly rate at a market-related value.”
Another instructor says he would like to hear what others consider reasonable duties that might be expected of them as teachers. Others express interest in exploring topics such as standard employment contracts and differentiating employee vs. independent contractor status.
Even the largest dance-education organization in the United States, the National Dance Education Organization (NDEO) offers no regulations regarding compensation. It is affiliated with federal and state agencies working to support dance education at local, state, and national levels. Nevertheless, we can advance our profession by being upfront in work relationships. Helene Scheff, RDE, says, “There’s such variety of expectations from the studio owner to the teacher. Although not easy, I find that talking about what is expected at the beginning of a working relationship is the key. There’s always a personal investment. However, knowing what is mandatory or expected beforehand leaves room for doing extra for the general good.”
We can assist the process by continuing to educate ourselves. Attend workshops, read publications, join a discussion, or start one yourself. Know what others in the industry are doing and at what rate of pay. Walk into a job interview ready to be fair and open. Talk candidly about the terms of the job, including what is and isn’t paid. Whether or not you leave having reached an agreement, you will have shown courtesy and respect to another dance professional.
Survival tactics from a studio owner’s spouse
By Rod Mohler
I scan the circle of sympathetic faces reflecting back uniformly blank stares. Hesitantly I begin. “Hi, my name is Rod, and my wife is a dance studio owner.”
“Hi, Rod,” the faces in the circle drone.
I begin talking. “Yesterday she came home in one of those moods. You know the one, where she’s obviously annoyed about something at the studio but decides the problem is that I’m watching TV when she walks in the door.” The gentleman to my left grunts in acknowledgement. “Then I made the mistake of asking what was wrong with watching the Bears game at 10:30 at night.” A collective cringe falls over the faces in the group. “Needless to say, that didn’t go well.”
The life of a studio owner is a grueling job with pay that, if you broke it down to an hourly rate, would be commensurate with that of workers in sweatshops in third-world countries.
The woman to my right pats me on the back, “It’s all right. You’ll do better next time.”
That’s how the imaginary sessions go in my head at the Abandoned Spouses and Significant Others Losing to Studios support group (ASSOLS for short). I’ve even devised our own 12 steps:
1. We admit we are powerless to talk any sense into our spouses regarding dance, the business of dance, or how it affects their lives.
2. We’ve come to believe that it will take a power far greater than ourselves to restore our spouses’ sanity.
3. We made a decision to turn our will over to the same higher power that we’re hoping will restore our spouses’ sanity.
I won’t bore you with the full list. You get the idea.
The life of a studio owner is a grueling, endless, and largely thankless job with pay that, if you broke it down to an hourly rate, would be commensurate with that of workers in sweatshops in third-world countries. From the hours, to the staff problems, to the customer issues, the challenges add up daily. My wife, Tressa, faces all of these issues on top of the demands of her never-ending pursuit of the next big idea for the studio. When balanced with the need to provide the highest-quality dance education for a competitive price, all too often it is the financial piece that suffers, making the effort seem in vain.
Recently, Tressa tried to make a go of an adult fitness program that had been suggested to her when she surveyed our customers. This was her third attempt at creating an adult curriculum. It was an eight-week program, and by week four she had lost a teacher that she’d hired specifically to teach one of the classes, and attendance had dwindled to the point where she was paying a faculty member to be there in case someone happened to show up. For every idea that takes off, there are too many that go the way of the adult fitness program.
The fact is I couldn’t do what Tressa does. I don’t have the patience, the perseverance, or the passion. I see her deal skillfully with an irate parent who’s upset because she claims she didn’t get the four separate emails about a rehearsal, and then walk into a room full of 3-year-olds with a beaming smile and start class full of enthusiasm. How she does that is beyond my scope of comprehension.
I fully understand when she comes home frustrated and irritable after one of “those” days. If I were in her shoes, I’d be impossible to live with. So where does that leave concerned spouses, who want to support their mates in their dreams but also have jobs, household responsibilities, children to help raise, and a need to connect with that person they love?
I’m not a psychologist or a self-help guru. I don’t claim to have the answers. I just felt compelled, after 17 years of marriage and 8 years of studio ownership, to expand the support group I created in my head to an audience of real people who undoubtedly share similar challenges. The following suggestions may or may not be applicable to your circumstances, but they’ve been the most useful in helping me maintain a healthy relationship with my studio owner.
I’m a guy who’s full of advice, especially for others. I want to analyze and solve the problem whether I’m asked to or not. Over the years I found that my wife had stopped discussing studio problems and challenges with me. Slowly, I began to understand that many times she wasn’t looking for my advice but rather a sympathetic ear to acknowledge and support her. She would eventually work out the situation on her own. Or, if she wanted my involvement, she’d ask, knowing I’d never be short of suggestions.
I suspect that many spouses, like me, enjoy playing armchair quarterback. It’s excruciating to simply be there to listen, without trying to force our opinion or swing into action. Yet I’ve found that simply being that sounding board can be what’s most appreciated.
Take an interest
The more you know about the dance business, the better equipped you’ll be to support your significant other as she takes on the day-to-day challenges, and when invited, to help make critical decisions about the direction of the studio. Until I met my wife, I knew nothing about dance. Even after we’d been together for many years, during which time she was either teaching or performing, I was still ignorant about the most basic concepts.
When we opened the studio I decided that if I was going to be any help at all I needed to have at least a minimal understanding of the discipline and the business. What is the difference between ballet and lyrical? What are the basic tap steps? What are the key components to staging a show?
Tressa has a fairly extensive library of dance-education materials, so I started by pulling out a book on beginner ballet. That led to more books, research online, and lots of questions for anyone I considered an authority. I still don’t claim to be any sort of expert, but I now feel comfortable conversing with Tressa and her peers about the business.
This one can be a little tricky. As I mentioned, your studio owner might not always be looking for your input or action. You need to judge this one carefully.
I’ve found that if you focus on things that you are good at, or passionate about, your studio owner will be supportive and appreciative of your involvement. If you are a carpenter by trade, volunteer to build sets. If you’re a web designer, take some time to maximize the studio’s online presence. If you are good with people, come into the studio once a month and introduce yourself to new parents. You’d be surprised at the difference you can make by creating that positive impression.
For me, it’s show production—I’m a process manager, so I like making order out of chaos. I’m always trying to think of the next recital theme and all the components of the show, from lighting to scenery to props to effects. Also, I like finding new and interesting music. Generally, I find it, buy it, and put it in a “studio suggestion” folder in iTunes. Tressa ignores it for a year and then “discovers” it, at which time I throw a fit, claiming all rights to its brilliance.
Get your owner out of the grind
Sometimes it takes an outsider to recognize when a studio owner is in danger of burnout. The owner is too close and too involved to see the impending doom when a situation approaches critical mass. It can take a serious toll on families, friendships, and the business.
You must be the one to take control in these instances. The best option is to get your owner out of the studio and into an environment where she can disconnect from the pressure that comes with the job. It can be as simple as taking her to dinner and a movie. If you want to take the “rescue” to the next step, go out of town together for the weekend, maybe take in a play.
This might require coordinating with the studio staff to get classes covered or making whatever other arrangements are needed to convince your owner that everything will be in one piece when she returns. Make sure to take away her smartphone on these mini-interventions. (She will probably freak out at first.)
In 2011 Tressa and I went to the DanceLife Teacher Conference in Phoenix. This was a great opportunity for me to “take an interest” and “get involved,” and for her to get some distance from the studio and remember why she loves what she does. I extended the trip by a couple of days so that we had some time to ourselves to simply decompress. Both of us returned feeling more productive, with our relationship improved and our batteries recharged.
I know what you spouses and significant others are thinking: “That sounds great for my studio owner, but what’s in it for me? How can all of this keep me from having to create my own imaginary support group? Is it going to get me more TV time?” Probably not. However, when the alternative is to constantly compete with the studio, a scenario in which there are no winners, the choice is clear (for me anyway).
One thing I’ve found as a side benefit—if your studio owner sees you taking an active role in listening, educating yourself, and getting involved, she will likely be grateful for the effort and more apt to show that appreciation in ways that have both relational and health benefits. I think most of us would agree that we can always use more (ahem) “health” in our relationships.
A time-lapse video created by MIT professor David Gifford and Adrian Dalca entitled “A Day of Grace with Boston Ballet” condenses one day of class and rehearsal into 2 minutes and 45 seconds of art.
Shot in the Boston Ballet’s Studio 7 rehearsal room, the video switches from a bird’s eye to a front-and-center view and back again, showing the systematic setting up and dismantling of barres, and patterns created and broken down as bodies move in and out of center. Several stunning slow motion shots show ballerinas’ legs kicking in perfect synchronization.
On Vimeo, Gifford explains the video was shot with six HERO3 Black Edition cameras, three each in two locations. The cameras ran at speeds from one frame every 5 seconds to 120 frames per second. Accompanying the visual is the instrumental piece “Breath and Life” by Audiomachine.
To view the video, visit http://vimeo.com/74688261.
Salinas [CA] School of Dance, one of the oldest, continually operating businesses in the city, is celebrating its 75th year, according to KION 46 News.
Lisa Eisemann, wife of Salinas mayor Joe Gunter, now owns and operates the school. Ramon Renov opened the Salinas School of Dance on East Gabilan Street in 1938, she said. Renov had performed throughout Europe and the United States as a professional dancer with the Ballet Russes de Monte Carlo and also on the vaudeville circuit. From his school’s beginnings until 1980 he taught ballet, tap, and ballroom dancing. Eisemann, who trained under Renov, took over the studio at that time, and today continues to honor her first teacher and his Russian classical program through a Vaganova-based curriculum.
The studio is now home to two companies that perform throughout Monterey, San Benito, and Santa Cruz counties: Salinas Valley Civic Ballet Company and the Spirit of Salinas Irish Dancers. To see the original story, visit http://www.kionrightnow.com/story/23491335/salinas-business-dances-its-way-into-75-years.
The façade of Dance Track Studio on Main Street in Wakefield, Massachusetts, no longer bears the scars from the car that crashed into it in August.
“For me, along with feeling terrible for the people injured, the lowest point was being boarded up,” said Kelly Kerr, owner of Dance Track Studio, told the Wakefield Observer. “Driving by and seeing it back to normal makes me feel good.”
On August 1, a Honda crashed through the mostly glass front of the studio. Three teenagers and two adults were injured, although none of the injuries turned out to be life threatening. The car crashed into the front lobby and knocked down the wall to one of the two studio spaces. Kerr estimates about half the facility was damaged in the crash.
Using insurance money, Kerr was able to put in a new dance floor and a new wall, along with repairs to the front of the building. She also had metal barriers installed in front of the studio to give her parents and students peace of mind.
Dance Track Studio had only recently moved to its new location in December 2012.
“I am at such a quiet location that I never thought in a million years this would happen, especially coming from a busy area where we used to be,” Kerr said. “For me, I was so sad when it happened, but my phone blew up with people reaching out. It gave us strength, made us feel, ‘Let’s get this place reopened.’ ”
To read the original story, visit http://www.wickedlocal.com/wakefield/news/x574269001/Back-on-Dance-Track-After-car-crash-in-August-dance-studio-set-to-reopen.
Gwinnett Ballet Theatre of Lawrenceville, Georgia, will be able to expand one of its outreach initiatives—the Dance Project, which provides dance education for children in Title 1 schools in Gwinnett County—thanks to a $10,000 matching grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.
The Gwinnett Daily Post reported that the Hudgens Family Foundation and the Target Foundation were initially supporting the project. With the NEA grant in collaboration with the two foundations, 108 young students from Title 1 schools in Gwinnett will participate in a total of 16 weeks of ballet classes over the school year.
The project includes classes, outfits, shoes, instructional handouts, and tickets to GBT’s The Nutcracker and spring concert. Children with a desire to continue their dance education are eligible to enter the GBT Scholarship Program.
The Dance Project started in 2005 as outreach to Shiloh Elementary School. When the studio moved to Lawrenceville in 2012, The Dance Project also moved its outreach. The program has expanded under the leadership of Whitney Sue Jones, a teacher at Magill Elementary School, who is also an instructor and alumna of GBT.
To see the original story, visit http://www.gwinnettdailypost.com/news/2013/sep/12/gwinnett-ballet-theatre-receives-10k-grant/?living.
The Orlando Ballet will not be able to return to its mold-infested headquarters anytime soon, a ballet official told the Orlando Sentinel. The mold problem is casting a shadow over the ballet’s 40th-anniversary season, invading restrooms, staining the lobby, and soiling dozens of costumes.
A spokesman for Orlando Utilities Commission, which owns the building, said air-quality tests indicate the structure should stay closed until the mold is removed, but he could not say how long that might take.
A strong odor forced the Orlando Ballet to evacuate the 112-year-old Dr. Phillips Center for Performing Arts building August 22. Originally an OUC power plant, the structure has had a history of taking on water since it was converted to an arts center in 1992.
Officials say season-ticket sales are running well ahead of previous years, reflecting a stronger ballet that has paid off years of debt and is operating in the black. But the latest mold developments pose a potential financial threat.
Though the ballet pays its own utility bills, its rent is only $1 per year, and a traditional rental space will undoubtedly cost much more. Another concern: the ballet earns more than half its income from ballet-school tuition. Some of the school’s 250 students have been moved to the school’s satellite campuses, but last week, more than half of the classes were canceled.
Local businesses have offered support. Walt Disney World’s ESPN Wide World of Sports has provided a temporary rehearsal space for the professional dancers, and Disney also cleaned the mold from costumes.
To see the original story, visit http://www.orlandosentinel.com/entertainment/arts-and-theater/os-mold-orlando-ballet-20130909,0,2052286.story.
New York Theater Ballet, a small company and school in New York City, is desperately seeking a new home, Diana Byer, the founder and artistic director, told The New York Times.
(New York Theater Ballet has been featured twice in Dance Studio Life. An October 2011 story described its hour-long performance adaptations of classics for children, while a story in the May/June 2013 issue talked about LIFT, a community service project that provides tutoring and other programs for homeless and at-risk children.)
The company has until September 30 to vacate its studio and office space in Murray Hill because the building has been sold and, because of numerous structural deficits, will be demolished. Since 1980 the company has been at 30 East 31st Street, on the fifth floor of the parish house of the Madison Avenue Baptist Church.
“We’re in a crisis,” Byer said, adding that market-rate rents in the neighborhood are not affordable. “I don’t know if we’re in danger of closing. I’m just reaching out to everybody to see what will come about.”
With a budget under $1 million and roots in Murray Hill, a move would be disruptive, Byer said. The company has 12 dancers on full salary, Byer said, and its pre-professional training school serves 130 children as young as age 4.
To see the original story, visit http://artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/09/05/new-york-theater-ballet-is-seeking-new-home-after-building-is-sold/?smid=pl-share&_r=1&.
Practice, precision, and preparation: three things a group of young ladies from a Hammonton, New Jersey dance studio need as they prepare to dance in next month’s Miss America pageant parade in Atlantic City.
“We’ve been practicing over the past few weeks . . . all of our steps with the music and just getting ready practicing hard,” Dance Magic owner/director Dawn Baldwin told NBC40/New Jersey.
The dancers, ages 10 to 18, welcome the opportunity to perform in front of thousands of spectators. “I thought it was cool that little Hammonton got to go in this huge Miss America parade,” says dancer Amanda Christon.
Baldwin jumped at the opportunity to sign them up when she heard officials were looking for dance acts. “I immediately contacted the Miss America organization, and asked them . . . what it would take to be a part of this big event,” she said. “I think people are really excited for [the parade] to be back on the boardwalk in the home of Miss America.”
To see an NBC video news report, visit http://www.nbc40.net/story/23283982/hammonton-dance-company-prepares-for-miss-america-pageant-parade.
I am having a difficult time. I run a small studio with only one room and one teacher, with around 150 kids. About five years ago we were kicked out of a mall because the businesses didn’t like the noise; about a year later my studio burned down. It turned out that our insurance covered losses only if we were the cause of the fire, and since the furnace blew and it was ruled that no one was at fault, we were out of luck and money. Then, about a year ago, my mother (and business manager) passed away from breast cancer.
Now I feel pushed to the edge because some of my former dancers opened a studio in the town next to us. They come to my performances and recitals and take notes. I have tried not to say anything; however, now this studio harasses my dancers by saying they will beat them at competitions. At a recent competition they did receive higher awards, but the studio entered the students in a lower category. I knew they were being dishonest about the number of hours per week they dance because they copy my class schedule.
I read on Facebook about the competition and their recital, which also uses my ideas, and it’s very hard for me. I love my job, but I don’t know how to keep going. Any advice? —Rhonda
If you were to make up this story, no one would believe it. I know it’s hard to accept, but these obstacles will make you stronger. And remember, things will get better.
The last thing you should do is worry about the other school. No, they should not come to your shows to take notes; no, they shouldn’t cheat at dance competitions—but they will deal with the results of that unethical behavior themselves. Their students’ parents know how long their children are in class, and they will realize that a school that cheats is not a positive influence for their children.
Think of the positives: since you have a one-room school with about 150 students, you have much less overhead than the new school does. And all of your students and their parents know you and feel your passion for teaching. And you must put on a good show, because your competitors want to learn from you. You’ll probably scour your leases and insurance papers to be sure you never get yourself into those messes again.
The past is behind you; now focus on yourself and what you want to accomplish, and how to be the best mentor, leader, and teacher possible. Apply all the tough lessons you’ve learned to your teaching. Your experience makes you smarter and stronger than the competition. That’s all you have to think about.
I wish you the best. —Rhee
I implemented a “no compete” contract with my teachers, and since then three teachers have quit. They said I was keeping them from making money elsewhere since they didn’t work full time for me. Two of them were my studio managers, and they and another studio manager have joined forces to open a performing arts center in town, offering not only dance but music, voice, tumbling, pageant preparations, and musical theater, as well as the fringe things I offer, like ballroom and Zumba. They’ve even created a Mom ’n’ Me class for ages 1-plus. (Mine starts at age 2 and a half.)
Now the unethical things: they are contacting my students via email and Facebook, asking them to try their workshops. They tell my students’ parents how wonderful it would be for the dancers to “try something new” and that they offer so much more than I do. Several of my company dancers have unfriended them on Facebook. But what about new clients? I am in a military town and always lose a quarter to a third of my students yearly to military moves.
Also, the new school’s prices are extremely low—$40 for the first three classes, $5 discounts on more than three. These are 1990 prices! It’s taken me eight years to raise prices to $54 a month for one-hour classes, and I’ve been told I’m undervalued at these prices.
Do I lower my prices—not to match them, but to be competitive? Do I offer a discount to get current families to stay with me? (I have about 400 students.) Do I use group coupons to bring in new people? I know you say the next year’s attendance is only as good as the previous year’s recital, and this one is going to be fantastic!
I haven’t badmouthed these people, but it’s so hard to take the high road. Another local dance studio owner says to rely on my 40 years in the community to carry me through. My husband wants to lower our prices. My gut tells me not to, but instead to add value to my class offerings, combining tap and ballet classes into combo classes for our youngest students, to keep the bread-and-butter. Or limit costumes to save parents money. Any suggestions? —Lynn
Please stop worrying! Yes, you are dealing with a new school in your area, but you have a 40-year reputation in your community, and it will take years for your competitors to catch up. My guess is that you have a lot of community loyalty and will continue to attract students because so many people know you. Many parents who took lessons from you themselves probably would never think of taking their children to anyone else. It takes a long time to build what you have.
Please do not lower your tuition rates; doing so would jeopardize your financial security, and that might be what your competitors are hoping for. I suspect they will soon realize that they cannot afford to undercut your tuition costs. It has taken you years to raise your tuition to where it is today, and it will take your competitors a long time to gain the kind of financial stability you have. People get what they pay for, and they will certainly get less experience from the new school in town.
The fact that your students are unfriending these people on Facebook proves how loyal your clients are. Yes, your competitors might attract some of your students, but not in the numbers you fear; they will need time and money to build their credibility. More people in your community know about the controversy than you realize, and many will side with you.
Your concept of putting on a great show and adding value to your classes is the way to go. Giving your clientele more than they expect is the best approach, and you should have no problem doing that.
We all get a kick in the butt every once in a while; it’s how we handle the kicks that matters. Hold your head high, show the world how confident you are, and always be one step ahead of the competition. I do suggest that you continue to refrain from discussing this issue with your clients. Pretend that none of this matters, and good luck! —Rhee
I recently let a student go because of an abusive parent who was described as a toxic presence by other parents. My question is this: she prepaid some tuition and paid entry fees for a competition her child didn’t go to because she was taken off the team. The woman wants her money back. If I don’t refund it, she will sue me.
This woman verbally abused me and physically put her hands on me, so people tell me I should fight the lawsuit. I say write her a check and enjoy the peace we have because she’s gone, but my studio policies state that tuition and entry fees are nonrefundable. Would that open the door for future problems with my policies? —Wendy
Sorry to hear that you had to deal with this abusive parent. I am sure the people who tell you not to refund the money have good intentions, but I would advise you to do it. It doesn’t violate your policy of no refunds because in this case you asked her to leave the school; she didn’t choose not to return.
Be thankful that you have rid yourself of the negativity this woman brought to your school. Look at the refund as a small price to pay for your sanity. I wish you all the best. —Rhee
Words from the publisher
This month we’re celebrating Dance Studio Life’s ninth anniversary. In a time when we constantly hear about the imminent death of print magazines, we are proudly bucking the trend with our largest July issue ever. We are always focused on creating content that will enhance the lives and careers of our loyal readers, and our subscription base is growing every day.
When we launched Dance Studio Life in 2004, some of my well-intentioned advisers told me not to try a print magazine and instead focus on publishing online only. Although we do have a large internet presence, which continues to grow, I wanted a publication that our readers could hold in their hands, one that could be saved as a reference. I said all of this knowing that my advisors might be right. But I needed to trust my instincts, and in this case it worked out marvelously.
As I have said many times, I believe the dance education field is one of the greatest professions. I look at it as a form of communication in which we pass on one of the oldest art forms known to humankind. Teachers are the conservators who preserve the history of dance and take the art form to new heights, passing it on—along with their devotion to it—to each succeeding generation. With that philosophy in mind, my goal is always this: that Dance Studio Life educates our readers and inspires them to be the best possible teachers and defenders of the art of dance.
As a publisher, I have learned that it takes a dedicated team to pull off the success we’ve experienced over the last nine years. It is with humble gratitude that I thank our editor in chief, Cheryl Ossola, whom I consider one of the finest editors in our field. Through her efforts we have assembled an impressive team—editorial manager Arisa White and associate editors Karen White and Lisa Okuhn. Art director Mim Atkins and production manager Scott Oxhorn produce a beautiful and innovative publication with every issue.
Thanks, too, to office manager Jackie Kitsis and senior consultant Diane Despopoulos, who manage the office and the financial side of the magazine. And special thanks to Rob Adams and Paul Lally, who handle advertising sales and provide the backbone for our continued growth. As any publisher knows, you can’t have a magazine without advertisers.
I love the fact that many advertisers who jumped on board with the first edition in July 2004 are still with us today. Many of them tell me that they are proud to advertise with Dance Studio Life because they believe in the message we send to our readers.
I am honored to serve as the publisher of Dance Studio Life, and I thank you, our readers, for your constant support. We will continue to strive to bring you the best publication possible.
By Megan Donahue
School owners, like anyone who owns a business that involves “face time,” understand the importance of good communication, and most of them put it at the top of their priority list. But if you’re like most school owners, you probably don’t have a chance to talk with every person who walks into the studio, and you might not have time to have a long conversation with each new parent. You certainly don’t get to chat with every person who clicks through your website. But there’s a work-around: blogging gives you the opportunity to have these conversations virtually.
If you’d like your blog to attract new customers and help retain current ones, it must be relevant, fun to read, and show the personality and life of your studio.
A blog can be a warm, informative, personal way to converse with everyone who clicks on your website. If you’d like the blog to attract new customers and help retain current ones, it must be relevant, fun to read, and show the personality and life of your studio. Here are some tips to make your blog shine.
Heather Fortier started her studio blog in January 2013, for her new studio, La Petite School of Dance, in Louisville, Kentucky. “It’s a great way to add a personal connection to our site,” she says. The majority of students at La Petite are very young, and Fortier uses the blog to educate their parents about the educational goals behind the fun activities the kids do in class. Even before they meet her, potential clients can read Fortier’s posts about the creative theme of the month and observe that she’s very child-focused. Fortier emphasizes her enjoyment of children on her website, Facebook page, and blog, and seems to have succeeded in conveying her studio’s mission across these platforms. “I have had people come in saying, ‘Your studio seems student-friendly,’ ” she says.
Update, update, update
Posting regularly can be a challenge, but doing so is important. Remember, you don’t have to write an essay each time. You can post pictures, videos, students’ questions with your answers, and quick recaps of the studio’s happenings. Frequent updates freshen your website, which may make it more prominent in internet searches. A blog that’s updated regularly will draw more traffic to your website.
Make it relevant to customers
A blog can be a convenient way to deliver news. “I try to use as many modes of information as I can,” says Shereen Daly of In Motion School of Dance in Watertown, New York. She uses a general studio blog to keep everyone up to date on what’s going on at the studio and has separate blogs for her Nutcracker production, recital costumes, and competition information. Instead of wading through numerous emails, parents can check the relevant blog. “When I don’t update something on the blog,” and parents call to ask for the information, Daly says, “that’s when I’m reminded that they do check it.”
Get students and parents involved
Sometimes what someone else has to say about your business is more interesting than what you say.
Tricia Bayer of Richard’s School of Dance in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, might not be able to provide each new parent with a “dance mom” mentor, but she’s given them one via her studio blog. At the beginning of the 2012–2013 season, she invited the mother of a longtime student to write a “Veteran Dance Mom 101” post, providing a parent’s perspective and a testimonial.
Showcasing your students is another way to draw their attention to your blog, and make them feel special. Collect funny quotes from your baby ballerinas, ask older students to write about their best dance experiences, or ask how adult students feel about coming back to class after all these years. Student posts can give potential clients an idea of what your studio’s community is like.
Social media works together
Make sure to advertise your blog via the rest of your social media. Every time you update your blog, link to it on your studio Facebook page and send out a tweet. You can use Facebook and Twitter to solicit topics for your blog, asking friends and followers for input about their experiences as school owners, dancers, students, or teachers.
By Lori Weil
I used to hear these words from my husband each evening when I returned from the studio: “Shut it down.”
In 2004, my mom retired from 20 years of studio ownership and I inherited the studio. I was working a great part-time job 20 hours a week as a computer programmer and we were raising an 8-year-old son and 2-year-old twins, but taking over the studio seemed easy enough. I already taught five-plus hours per week, ran the competition teams, and produced the newsletters, notices, calendars, and reminders.
For a year I was exhausted, burned out, overworked, underpaid, stressed, and never saw my kids. I taught all 12 classes myself, ran the three competition groups, and did all the administration. The school was small, with 68 students, and it never made a profit. So although I began making small changes, each evening I came home to “Shut it down!”
My husband was laid off again. If we had closed the school eight years ago, what would we do now? How would we survive financially and as a family?
For the next several years our family was faced with adversities: Hurricane Katrina, two layoffs, and our son being hit by a car when he was 14, on top of a failing economy. We had to transform the studio from a burden to a lifeline.
After Hurricane Katrina, the school reopened with 35 students and 12 empty classes. My husband and I knew we were nuts, but I couldn’t walk away from the dancers and their families who longed for something “normal” in their life.
The following year I moved the studio to a new facility, which allowed an expansion to two dance rooms—but with triple the rent, so we needed to fill those classes. We got to work immediately. I did research online and attended several conferences that summer, including Rhee Gold’s Project Motivate. Before the conference, I read Rhee’s book and started making changes to everything: the logo, schedule, staff, website, print ads, mission.
I hired teachers and set my focus on the business side. I pulled together systems and documentation on how to do everything and we implemented syllabuses for our new staff to follow. We opened that year with 135 students.
In 2007 I took the plunge and quit my day job. My husband was supportive of the “new” studio since it was slightly profitable. I was also home more because of the additional staff. But when my husband was laid off the following year, the studio became our sole means of support. I increased my workload at the studio so I could pay myself as an employee rather than paying someone else. The whole time I was thinking, “What if we had shut it down?”
I developed new programs and found ways to cut costs and add revenue. My husband took up photography and became the studio’s photographer, thus adding a new revenue stream to the business. The school expanded to include music lessons to fill the empty studio during the day. My husband and I negotiated lower rent, combined small classes, and raised tuition.
My husband found a new job and things were returning to normal when a car hit my son. It was the worst day of my life. But with all the systems, staff, and training in place, I was able to give my time and attention to my son while he recovered. I was away from the studio for three weeks and things ran without me. I looked back at 2004 and wondered how an event like this would have affected us then. No doubt we would have canceled classes and lost students due to my one-man-show operation.
So here we are in 2012, and my husband was laid off again. If we had closed the school eight years ago, what would we do now? How would we survive financially and as a family? The studio has continued to grow, with 222 students taking the 41 dance and 50 music classes offered each week. We have a great staff, happy dancers, and supportive families.
The studio’s new direction has allowed me to employ others and pay myself, produce quality dancers, spend time with my family, and provide value to the community. No doubt there will be rough times ahead, but the studio is our glue.
The boys of Manatee School for the Arts
By Joseph Carman
The Manatee School for the Arts in Palmetto, Florida, is housed in a renovated bowling alley. The public charter school’s first dance studio used to be an arcade room with neon lights circling the ceiling and gray carpeting on the walls. Manatee is now four times the size of that former bowling alley, with build-outs that include a three-story sixth-grade wing; a music building; an office, administration, and security addition; an art gallery; and a new academic wing. Last September, a seventh dance studio was added. Such a physical transformation might serve as a metaphor for the way teachers can turn their students’ dreams into reality.
Since Manatee’s inception in 1998, instructor and current program co-chair Cheryl Carty has developed a successful dance program serving grades 6 through 12. And in an area that’s not exactly known as a cultural capital, nearly a quarter of the Manatee dance students are boys. Of the school’s 1,450 students, 226 boys and nearly 1,000 girls currently take dance classes.
I think what I’m good at is making ballet friendly to parents and boys. I try to give it that curb appeal, whether in performance or class. —Cheryl Carty
How did Carty attract the boys in working-class Palmetto and its environs and develop a program suitable for middle and high school students, especially boys?
Before she became a founding board member of Manatee, Carty owned a school, Carty Academy of Theater Dance in Bradenton, Florida, and raised two sons. “I guess boys were always a priority for me because I’m so comfortable with them,” Carty says. “When I had my dance studio, my high school son would bring his pals over to do pas de deux with the girls. We had a wonderful time.”
In working with Manatee, Carty discovered she had a knack for showing guys how exciting dance could be. “I introduced them to the thrill of performing and the physical challenge that allowed them to be athletic because they understood technique,” she says. “Or even just the thrill of being in a class full of girls in leotards.”
Casting the net
Manatee hosts a sizable ballroom program, but the school stresses the diversity of dance training. Among the boys, 77 middle- and high-schoolers are enrolled in ballroom classes, 32 study ballet, 36 take modern dance, and 42 high school boys are training in hip-hop. Other male students take jazz, tap, and world dance. Students usually study more than one discipline.
Carty credits the fine teaching staff—seven full-time dance faculty members and one part-time teacher for Irish dance—for attracting boys to the program and keeping them there. One who has proven to be a particularly strong role model is ballroom instructor Jonah Wright, a former Manatee student who returned to the school after college to teach. “Our boys’ program really grew when Jonah came back to teach at Manatee,” says Carty.
When the school did ballroom-based outreach performances, Wright would often gab with the boys in the shows and talk candidly about dance. “Most of the kids were starry-eyed about what they wanted to do [in dance] down the road,” says Wright, now 24. “But they all wanted to pursue dance. I told them ballet is the core of all dance; tap dancing, contemporary, and jazz are instrumental in musical theater; and hip-hop is part of pop culture. Plus there are all different styles of ballroom.” He told them that to get hired, they needed to be versatile, with a strong ballet base. The school “had a pretty significant increase in boys signing up for ballet the next year,” Wright says.
All sixth-grade boys at Manatee, no matter which area of arts studies they eventually choose, are required to take an introductory course that covers the basics of ballet, tap, ballroom, and jazz. “That’s where we really break the ice,” says Carty. “Parents think it’s a safe school with lots of things available here.” A combination of strong academics, committed teachers, and a rich arts curriculum are a strong draw for parents and students. In addition, Carty says, “the boys see that dance is cool. They have to be athletic and have to stretch. They like to jump, and they might learn that they like balance. They’re so eager to connect.”
Because Manatee isn’t a magnet school, there are no auditions for entry. When middle-school students are about to enter ninth grade, the faculty interviews them to make sure they’re interested in the arts. “If not, it’s not the right high school track for them,” explains Carty.
Expanding accommodations, boosting appeal
As a public charter school, Manatee has created an arts program unique to the area that complies with Florida’s Sunshine State Standards. Areas of study include dance, music, theater, visual arts, and computer graphics.
The idea for the school arose out of a parent’s awareness of the need for arts education. Bill Jones, Manatee’s founder and principal, had enrolled his daughter and two sons at Carty’s Bradenton school in the mid-1990s, and he acknowledged the need for a public charter school in Palmetto that offered more choices to parents, teachers, and students. He also saw a need for a school that featured a strong arts curriculum—hard to find in public schools, where funds for the arts have been slashed. Jones asked Carty to be a founding member and dance teacher of Manatee.
“This is our 15th year,” says Carty. “We started with two dance studios and two dance teachers. Now we have seven dance studios and seven teachers. We’ve gone from 375 students to 1,450.” Around 1,650 students are expected for the 2013–14 academic year.
Carty says she doesn’t know of any other public charter school with such a strong dance program for boys. It’s also one of the few that combines middle and high school and that offers dual enrollment, whereby students can take college courses that can be applied toward high school and college degrees.
Other factors, such as performance opportunities, the variety of dance forms offered, peer support, and healthy competition among the boys, have resulted in increased numbers of young male dancers at Manatee. Every January, Carty produces Alice’s Wonderland Ballet, with two alternating casts of 150 performers each—dancing cards, flamingos, and roses, all costumed by students trained in the visual arts program.
Carty choreographed the show to feature numerous athletic male roles, showcasing the boys’ talent through ballet, break-dancing, and hip-hop. “But the cast members have to be in a ballet class to be in the show,” says Carty. “It also educates the audience, people who thought ballet was boring or are just used to seeing The Nutcracker.”
Carty allows the boys to shape their own dance curriculum according to their individual tastes. They can begin training in whatever dance form inspires them. “Modern might feel organic to them, or they choose tap because they want to make noise with their feet,” says Carty, who teaches upper- and lower-level ballet classes, tap, jazz, and choreography.
During tap class, Carty throws in some ballet barre exercises to help the boys feel the difference between turnout and parallel positions. “Boys who take modern don’t necessarily take ballet, but if I get my hands on them, I always say they need ballet,” she says. “I think what I’m good at is making ballet friendly to parents and boys. I try to give it that curb appeal, whether in performance or class.”
Devan McDuffie, a 17-year-old senior at Manatee, says he didn’t have any interest in dance initially. “But when I came here and saw the dancing, I really liked it,” he says. “I probably wouldn’t have studied dance if it hadn’t been for the Manatee School.” He plans to study dance at the University of Central Florida and hopes to make a career in the field.
Calvin Farias, a 19-year-old former Manatee student, was hired this season as an apprentice with Sarasota Ballet. He believes the diversity of dance forms offered at Manatee was vital for him. “I took ballet, contemporary, and hip-hop,” says Farias. “The variety of styles helped me grow as a dancer. A lot of places just have classical ballet. For me, having learned all those things helped me decide on ballet.”
Farias also says he appreciated the healthy competition at the school and the intense schedule of dancing five hours a day. “Manatee prepared me for a professional company in the sense that we had dance during the day and we also had academics,” he says. “It’s not like you’re just taking a ballet class in the evening.”
Carty is herself a graduate of the performing arts high school formerly known as North Carolina School of the Arts, from which many dance luminaries have graduated. A full scholarship to NCSA helped her to study dance seriously when her struggling single mother couldn’t afford the tuition. Before that, her teachers Sandy Young and Myrna McGowan at Academy of Dance Arts in Clearwater/Largo, Florida, had provided her with a scholarship to obtain her basic dance education. So Carty has always understood the need for free or reduced-rate dance education for those in need. One of her former scholarship students, Ashley Laracey, was recently promoted to soloist at New York City Ballet.
Before opening Carty Academy of Theater Dance, Carty spent 13 years performing in New York City, including 10 years as a Radio City Rockette and touring internationally with American Chamber Ballet Company. She also choreographed an off-Broadway revival of Seesaw, taught for American Dance Machine, and choreographed TV promos starring Tina Turner.
Early in her career, Carty taught for Allegra Kent at the legendary ballerina’s former studio in Scarsdale, New York. “Allegra Kent inspired me to continue to experiment with ways to develop a dancer’s strength and technique on land and in water,” says Carty, referring to Kent’s book on ballet exercises that use the buoyancy and resistance of water.
At Manatee Carty incorporates elements of RAD, Cecchetti, and Vaganova techniques into the ballet syllabus. The modern techniques offered are Graham, Limón, and Laban-based. In ballroom classes, Wright teaches 12 styles throughout the year, ranging from waltzes and tangos to salsa and swing dance to the cha-cha and samba.
The hip-hop teachers have assembled a dance team called HEAT, which made its first trip to the National Dance Alliance’s Nationals Championship in 2012 and went to the finals in March 2013. The team features 39 school dancers, 13 of which are boys.
“The boys wanted to compete, so those teachers would say, ‘Then make sure you have a strong modern and jazz background besides the ballet, so that we can give you these tricks you want to do,’ ” says Carty. “That caught on. They wanted to do pirouettes, à la seconde turns, gymnastic things. They bit the bullet and got themselves into classes.”
Other performing opportunities include programs like “Revealing Relationships,” a compilation of short dances performed last January as part of Manatee’s first Excellence in Arts Dance Series, which featured choreography by the entire dance faculty. Last April, Wright directed and choreographed a production of the dance-rich hit musical Swing! with 11 boys in its 22-member cast.
Does this indicate that the stigma against male dancers has lifted somewhat in the U.S., even outside urban settings? “I think so,” says Carty. “I think it’s because of TV programs like So You Think You Can Dance and Dancing With the Stars. And once parents see fame and glamour, everything is OK. That’s why dance studios go after competitions.”
Wright, who describes himself as a “blue collar kind of guy,” has no doubts that if it hadn’t been for Manatee, he would have become a plumber or electrician. “I don’t think most kids come here for art,” says Wright. “I think they learn to love art and to pursue the different things that we offer here.
“Sixty percent of students here are on free or reduced lunches,” Wright continues. “Even if they had been exposed to dance, chances that they’d be able to afford dance lessons at a studio are slim to none. Here they learn that dance is universal, and the opportunities they’re given are really telling.”
Part 1: Practical solutions to everyday problems
By Lisa Okuhn
If you’re a studio owner, you’re probably always looking for ways to improve your business. There are plenty of free or low-cost resources to help you get organized and technologically up to speed, connect to your students and their families, reach out to potential customers, and operate efficiently. To make things easy for you, we gathered recommendations from readers and staff and put together a list of practical, business-oriented resources. In the August issue, we’ll tackle your studio’s creative needs.
Free website builders
It’s 2013. Having a website for your business is crucial. No business that relies on communication with current or potential customers can flourish without one. Why not? First, you need to let the world know your studio exists, where it can be found, and what it offers. An effective website also includes items like faculty bios, up-to-date class schedules, performance dates, ticket sales options, and photo galleries.
Obviously, it would be great to hire a professional web designer to create a gorgeous website with all the bells and whistles. But your site doesn’t have to be fancy or expensive. Here’s a sampling of free website-building programs available online.
Wix (wix.com) lets you create your own website with a simple drag-and-drop interface. It offers preconfigured templates to build on by adding content and customizing appearance. Wix’s video tutorials steer even a fumbling neophyte through the process with ease.
An effective website includes items like faculty bios, up-to-date class schedules, performance dates, ticket sales options, and photo galleries.
To set up a website for a dance school you could start by clicking through the list of template options until you find the Ballet School template. (Yes, it really does exist.) This template includes five pages: Home, Classes, Performances, About Us, and More. You can rename these pages, delete them, or add others. Each prefabricated page allows you to add or change content.
You can also add links to a schedule page, enrollment form, or tuition and level information. You can even add an online store. Other apps can be added to allow you to manage customer testimonials or chat with website visitors. You can also add video or audio, Google maps, direct email, or any number of other functions.
To add a photo gallery to your Wix website, simply create a new page, name it, and choose a gallery from the Wix Apps store. Wix allows photos to be displayed in a variety of modes, including slideshow, horizontal display, animated gallery, and others. You can also embed Vimeo or YouTube videos. (More on that below.)
Wix is free if you don’t mind ads on the site. If you want your website to be ad-free, it’ll cost you $8.25 per month (paid yearly) or $10.95 (paid monthly).
Weebly (weebly.com) is another easy way to create your own website. The setup is slightly different, but it’s simple, and like Wix, requires no real technical skills.
First, choose a design from dozens of templates. Then create pages, name them, and arrange their order. You might include Home, Classes, Performances, Contact Us, etc. Weebly allows users to add subpages to any page. You can even set up a blog.
Add elements to those pages—paragraphs, paragraphs with pictures, pictures, titles, and so on. You can customize settings, such as making certain pages password protected or deciding whether to display the mobile-optimized version when someone logs on from a mobile device.
To embed other media, click the Multimedia button on the upper-left side of the screen. Options include Google maps, documents, YouTube videos, photo galleries, and slideshows. No doubt you’ll want to upload your own photos, but Weebly also offers stock photos, some of them free.
Like Wix, Weebly is free with ads, including a Weebly logo in your website’s footer. Two paid tiers—Starter, at $3.29/month, and Pro, at $6.63—allow you to do things like remove the Weebly logo, access premium support, and add features like audio and video players and header slideshows.
Online volunteer signup sites
Recruiting volunteers for recitals, photo shoots, competitions, or other activities can be a logistical, time-devouring nightmare. Fortunately, it’s possible to streamline the process with a free online volunteer management system like YourVolunteers, VolunteerSpot, and SignUpGenius.
SignUpGenius (signupgenius.com), recommended by Mia Alicea of West Coast Movement Project, lets you (or better yet, a studio volunteer) build an online signup sheet that parents or others can access with a few keyboard clicks.
The process is simple: choose from a template of themes, categories, and activities, types of event (one-time, recurring, etc.), dates and times, number of time slots, and number of volunteers needed for each slot.
Users can specify whether they want email notification when a volunteer signs up, when reminders should be sent to group members, and whether to allow volunteers to swap slots with someone else. Security can be added by requiring users to create an account, use an access code, or answer custom questions.
Add group members to the event invitation, customize the email text, and press send. Email recipients simply click on the link and sign up for the desired slot. They can delete their signup later and view a calendar to see when they’ve signed up.
The free basic SignUpGenius level includes ads on the page. Paid plans include No-Ads Genius, which scrubs ads from the page, and SignUpGenius Pro, which offers additional features like the ability to use custom images, multiple administrators, or hidden fields that only administrators can see.
Online task manager
Don’t you wish you could keep your countless to-do lists in one well organized, easy-to-access place? And share them with your teachers, staff, and volunteers? You can!
Wunderlist (wunderlist.com), a free online task manager, allows you to create lists of things to do, buy, listen to—pretty much anything. These lists can be shared with list collaborators, who can add comments, tasks, or sublists, or check off a task when it’s completed. Desktop or email reminders offer nudges to the forgetful.
Come competition time you might create a “Competition Reminder” list, with a sublist for props that need to be lugged to competition venues, another for costumes that need repair, yet another for perennially tardy dancers who need wakeup calls. Another useful list to share might be teachers’ schedules, so everyone can keep track of colleagues’ availability or upcoming absences.
The application is simple to set up and work with. And it goes wherever you do; Wunderlist makes lists available on smartphones, mobile devices, and computers.
Coming up with the next great idea—whether it’s a recital concept or ways to improve enrollment—can be a challenge. But it just got easier.
Mind mapping is an increasingly popular method of creating a visual diagram of information or ideas. The radial structure of the mind map encourages a free-flowing generation of ideas by association and visual cueing. An old-school mind map usually involves a whiteboard and colored markers, lots of colorful circles and lines, scrawled words and phrases within those circles—and often, a wealth of ideas and inspiration.
MindMeister (mindmeister.com), a free mind map application, brings all this to a computer or mobile device screen. It also brings coworkers and colleagues together for virtual brainstorming sessions.
There are several reasons to use a tool like MindMeister to help you generate and structure ideas, solve problems, and make decisions. First, many people are visual thinkers, so the mind-mapping model can be very helpful. And, let’s face it, as a studio owner, you probably don’t have the luxury of setting aside time to sit around and cogitate. Your thinking might have to be done on the fly, and collaboration with employees or colleagues might need to happen virtually, rather than while sitting in an office together.
You and your fellow mind mappers can brainstorm on MindMeister’s screen from the comfort of your own living room or a coffee shop—or while you’re in line at the DMV. Individual contributions can be coded by color. Making a mistake or changing your mind isn’t a problem; it’s easy to undo steps.
Mind maps can be shared with anyone who has an account, either privately or publically. Private sharing allows selected users to collaborate. Publically shared maps can be edited only by invited users but can be viewed by any MindMeister account holder. Viewing others’ maps online can spark ideas or help generate a new way of organizing those ideas.
A free MindMeister account offers access by computer, Android, or iPhone, and includes up to three mind maps, but doesn’t allow offline access. Paid plans start at $4.99 a month and include more storage, more file export options, and offline access. The iPad app, available from Apple for $7.95, also lets users work offline.
Ever wish you knew just how many dancers are interested in starting a competition team? Whether customers would like to see an ethnic dance workshop included in your summer dance camp? What customers think you’re doing well and where they think improvements might be made? Accurately gathering and analyzing customer response is never easy; it certainly can’t be adequately assessed on the basis of hurried conversations between classes.
SurveyMonkey (surveymonkey.com) offers all sorts of survey options. You can set up telephone surveys, design an online survey, or buy a survey audience based on criteria that might include gender, age, household income, exercise habits, or student status.
If, for example, you were considering expanding your studio to include ballroom classes, you might use a telephone survey to query an audience made up of, say, cellphone users who exercise moderately. The survey might provide you with information about which styles seem most popular, how much people would pay per lesson, what level of instruction is most in demand, which time slots work best, and which age groups to target.
The most likely scenario, however, would involve querying your own survey audience of students, their families, and any prospective customers who have made email or phone contact.
The basic SurveyMonkey plan is free. It lets you ask 10 questions per survey and allows 100 responses (people responding) per survey. Surveys can be conducted via email or Facebook, by creating a web link (which can be posted on a page or printed on a newsletter), by embedding a survey on your website, or by buying a survey audience from SurveyMonkey. Real-time results are available so you can track responses as they come in. Paid Select, Gold, and Platinum plans offer more features such as enhanced security, custom URLs, and custom charts.
Creating a basic survey is easy. Simple instructions guide you through the process, which includes designing visual elements, choosing questions, and choosing answer type (multiple choice, one answer; multiple choice, multiple answers; ranked choice, etc.).
Once the survey is created, you can preview it and then send it out using the delivery method of your choice. As responses come in, analyze them on a page that reports numbers and percentages of both respondents and responses.
Coming next month: Part 2
These resources should be useful in getting your studio’s organizational ducks in a row. The August issue features tools to help you enhance your creative output—from photo editing programs to a video-coaching application.
Group-run schools take a different approach to running a business
By Julie Holt Lucia
From the outside looking in, Phoenix Dance Cooperative and Cypress Dance Project appear to be like any other dance studio. Well equipped and well staffed, each school has a thriving recreational program and a solid competition team, and their artistic visions include community involvement as well as high-quality dance training.
Look beyond the surface, though, and you’ll see that administratively, these two studios are anything but typical. You might not guess it by watching classes or performances, but each school was founded by a group of parents. Neither school has a single owner; each is a nonprofit cooperative, established and maintained by a board of directors.
“Our studio is a product of families and dance instructors,” says Mike Farmer, one of the founding board members of Phoenix Dance Cooperative in Phoenix, Arizona. “We have a very close bond and work together to make our studio very special.”
Each school was founded by a group of parents. Neither school has a single owner; each is a nonprofit cooperative, established and maintained by a board of directors.
Farmer was one of a group of six dance dads who came up with the idea to open a school themselves. During the summer of 2011, they found out that their daughters’ dance studio was closing, and although there were other options in the area, none of the schools was quite the right fit for the tight-knit group of girls who wanted to continue dancing together. Not only that, but the girls had become very close to their instructors, especially choreographers Antoine Olds and Ambur Towns.
Rather than continuing to search for the right school for their daughters, the dads concluded that starting a school was the best answer. After all, they wouldn’t be helping only their children; they would be offering a new option to other dancers in the area too.
Since they had no dance experience themselves, the dads asked Olds and Towns to educate them on the inner workings of a dance school. “The board intuitively knew that the artistic and creative vision should come from our artists and not our businessmen,” says Farmer.
The two choreographers obliged. While the dads focused on the business side, Olds and Towns helped shape the group’s artistic vision by contributing to the mission statement and helping design the class schedule and content.
With the support of the instructors and other dance families from the now-defunct school, the dads—who come from various professional backgrounds—quickly formed the legal entity and found retail space to rent. Phoenix Dance Cooperative opened in fall 2011 with 80 students; it has grown to an enrollment of 125.
Olds admits he was skeptical about the idea of a cooperative at first, but because he had known some of the parents for years and thought their ideas for the new school had merit, he believed it had potential. A big reason why he supported the school was that he had built relationships with many of the dancers and wanted to continue teaching them.
“We [the dancers and instructors] wanted to stay together even though the previous school was closing,” Olds says. “And since no one person wanted to open a studio on their own, this was the best way—through a cooperative.”
Parent April Coghill, founding member and program director of Cypress Dance Project in Cypress, Texas, was looking for a similar type of solution. After experiencing disappointments at a few local dance studios—in particular, a lack of consistent policies and poor communication at one school—Coghill gathered some of her dance parent friends to discuss their options for helping their children obtain a more effective and harmonious dance experience. Coghill, a social worker with a dance background, knew there had to be a way for the group of parents to marshal their collective power.
“We agreed that we wanted to create a place where the culture was about positivity, support, and kindness,” says Coghill. “We knew we wanted to make Cypress a better place through dance.”
Exactly how remained a question, but Coghill found her answer soon after that initial parent meeting. While doing research on parent-run or parent-sponsored dance programs on the internet, she found a story about Phoenix Dance Cooperative. She contacted the Arizona school, and although the cooperative had just opened its doors, the Phoenix board members and artistic directors were more than happy to share information about their business model with Coghill.
Thanks to the long-distance mentorship, Cypress Dance Project was off and running soon after that first contact. After legally establishing the organization, Coghill and the other founding families began looking for retail space in early 2012, and planned to open by the summer. Although it began with only eight students (the children of the five founding families), the school grew quickly, with more than 100 dancers enrolled in fewer than nine months. Coghill’s long-term enrollment goal is to exceed 150 students, the break-even point.
While Phoenix Dance Cooperative and Cypress Dance Project have enjoyed rapid growth since their openings, both have overcome their fair share of obstacles.
Phoenix Dance Cooperative faced a series of immediate hurdles: there were numerous tasks to complete to open the studio by fall, and the founding members couldn’t do them alone. In true collective fashion, dozens of other families—those who had attended the school that had closed and who planned to join Phoenix Dance Cooperative—turned out in full force.
Farmer says that the six founding members spent much of the first month working on leasing space, incorporating the business, obtaining insurance, and acquiring permits. During that time they held “town hall meetings” with interested parents from the previous studio. As a result, about 80 families committed to join the new studio, and most were willing and able to volunteer.
Many hours of sweat equity were needed, from painting walls and cleaning, to designing the school’s website and managing the budget. Parents pitched in wherever they could offer expertise. Parent volunteers continue to be a huge part of the group’s administration, with volunteer committees committed to maintaining the space, planning the recital, coordinating trips to competitions, and much more.
Because of its reliance on these committees, one of Phoenix Dance Cooperative’s ongoing challenges is enlisting and retaining parent volunteers. In the startup phase, a list of approximately eight volunteer committees was circulated among the initial cooperative members; the board members appointed people tasks based on their interest. Committees change personnel from season to season, as parents come or go.
Another ongoing challenge is communications between the parents and the artistic staff. With so many people invested in the school and involved in the day-to-day operations, there are sometimes a lot of opinions going in a lot of directions.
Olds says the biggest communication challenge in the beginning was that the board members didn’t know much about what the previous school’s owner did and made assumptions based on their views as parents. He and Towns explained what the owner’s role had been, along with their own.
Throughout this “learn as you go” experience, communication has evolved and improved, Farmer says.
Olds, now one of Phoenix Dance Cooperative’s artistic directors, says establishing clearer boundaries between the administrative and artistic sides of the school has benefited communication. “There has to be respect from all sides and value in each other’s opinions,” Olds says. “Everyone has to focus on what they do best, whether it’s business or dance.”
Coghill, at Cypress Dance Project, also faces a communications issue of sorts: educating her fellow founding families about dance. Because their children are young, these parents are still relatively new to the dance world and are not as familiar with the amount of work the dancers need to put in to be on a pre-professional track or competition circuit. As the only member with extensive dance experience, Coghill has to explain how much time and effort are required.
“The guts of the [issue] have to do with the necessary training regimen for the competitive dancers,” Coghill says. “Some parents, not being dancers themselves, believe the hours [of training] are too many.” Some parents have also been under the impression that joining the cooperative would offer leeway for their children to be allowed to miss rehearsals or leave early.
“We are all keeping open minds in order to come to a reasonable solution,” Coghill says, noting that as the Cypress Dance Project mission states, board members will continue to work together and make decisions based on what is best for the students.
Emotions, heated at first due in part to parental inexperience, are beginning to ease—the parents are seeing the rewards of long hours in the studio: improved technique and skill, better time management, and perhaps most important of all, excellent grades in school. They now appreciate how the dedication, focus, discipline, and attention to detail needed for dance can translate into the dancers’ personal lives and schoolwork.
Organizing and maintaining a cooperative dance school is clearly hard work, and yet for these families, there’s no work they’d rather do than support children in dance.
To the members, the advantages of the cooperative business model are worth any challenges met along the way. Both schools employ excellent instructors and their competitive teams have experienced success. But beyond that, the dancers are experiencing a real-world example of collaboration, communicating ideas, and working hard.
“It’s rewarding every day to have our dancers happy,” Farmer says. “To walk into the studio and see parents enjoying watching their kids dance; to see instructors sharing their trade—these things are the result of those founding families who wanted to build something for our kids and instructors.”
Holly Spencer, whose teenage daughters dance at the studio and who helps run Phoenix Dance Cooperative’s marketing committee, agrees. The group’s success, she says, starts with a common focus. “Our cooperative was founded on a mission: we wanted to maintain the culture and connectedness that our dancers were accustomed to [at the previous school],” says Spencer. “This mission keeps the volunteers motivated to continue on that same path—to keep Phoenix Dance Cooperative a strong, close-knit family.”
The dancers have developed a sense of pride and ownership in their school. They sometimes find themselves acting as a public relations team, educating their peers about what a cooperative is and promoting the studio. Like their parents, the dancers contribute volunteer hours and participate in free-to-the-public community events such as open houses, barbecues, and game nights.
Cypress Dance Project dancers have taken pride in their community role as well. Last December, they performed “Christmas-grams” at a local retirement home, knocking on doors and performing for the residents. Board members hope to continue offering similar programs throughout the year as the school grows.
And as with Phoenix Dance Cooperative, dancers at Cypress Dance Project are experiencing firsthand what it is like to work with others and how a cooperative spirit can turn motivation into reality.
“We have set this example [of the cooperative business model], and expect its influence on the kids to grow beyond the world of dance,” says Coghill. “We want the dancers to say, ‘Look what we can do with some hard work and inspiration.’ ”
What it takes to change your school’s financial status
By Karen White
Thinking of changing your studio’s status to nonprofit, or creating a nonprofit entity to provide financial and organizational help for your team or company? Other studio owners who have done it have one initial piece of advice—don’t think it’s going to be easy.
“When I started, I thought this would be a great idea, but I had no idea how to do it,” says Carolyn Nelson-Kavajecz, founder and owner of Sterling Silver Studio, LLC, of Superior, Wisconsin. “It sounds like an easy process, but it was really time consuming.” But, she adds, “I learned that I’m not too proud to admit when I don’t know how to do something. If you ask enough questions, somebody will be willing to help you out with a good cause.”
The Sterling Silver Booster Club Inc. was established as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit in 2004 to provide financial assistance to low-income or struggling students, and since 2008 has raised and distributed $45,000.
While this nonprofit is a separate entity that serves as a complement to the studio, other owners have chosen to place their entire business under a nonprofit designation. In either case, nonprofit status opens the door to receiving grants, helps to avoid some taxes, and proclaims to the public that fulfilling the organization’s mission takes precedence over making money.
Nonprofit status opens the door to receiving grants, helps to avoid some taxes, and proclaims to the public that fulfilling the organization’s mission takes precedence over making money.
Not to say that nonprofits don’t make money—they do. “When I started,” Larisa Hall says of her business, Tap Fever Studios in La Jolla, California, “I wanted it to be nonprofit, but somebody said, ‘If you are charging money for classes, you can’t be nonprofit,’ which wasn’t correct.”
A nonprofit business like a dance studio can charge for services, set its own pricing, pay employees (including the artistic director), and function—financially—in most ways like a for-profit. The difference is that any profit collected by a for-profit business will go to an owner or be distributed amongst shareholders, while a nonprofit serves a more altruistic master. For example, Sterling Silver Booster Club’s entire reason for being is to raise money that is handed out to dancers in need.
The organizational structure of a nonprofit also differs. While for-profits are run by an owner who makes all decisions, accepts all responsibility, and answers to no one, nonprofits are led by a board of directors who are—depending on how the nonprofit’s bylaws are structured—either somewhat or very involved with the operation, finances, and future of the organization.
Ask yourself: why?
When Hall had a hard time finding adult tap classes after moving to San Diego in 2003, she started thinking about opening a studio—and in her vision, it was always a nonprofit. “I didn’t want to have to say no to anybody. Anybody who wants to dance should be able to, even people with disabilities or who can’t afford it,” she says.
She knew that, as a nonprofit, her studio could apply for grants to help her fulfill that mission. (See “The Fine Art of Finding Money,” this issue.) Although her first few grant-writing efforts have fallen short, she plans to make a big push this year. “It’s really hard to get grants until you’ve been established for a few years, but I feel we are finally getting to the point where we have all our ducks in a row,” Hall says. “It’s important to me. People feel happy when they’re dancing, and I’d like to be able to provide that.”
Gail Harts had a similar idea in mind when she turned her studio from for-profit to nonprofit in 1999, 11 years after she first opened in Portsmouth, Virginia, with three students. “My studio was filled with kids who had the ability, talent, and desire, but didn’t always have the money” to pay for classes or competition travel expenses, she says. A core group of parents often pitched in with fundraising, but most of the costs were coming out of her own pocket.
“I don’t think the nonprofit is why I do what I do,” says Harts, whose school, Gail Harts Performing Arts Group Inc., is now located in Virginia Beach. “It’s just an avenue for me to be able to do more. It assists you with your vision, with your passion.”
After much thought, Nelson-Kavajecz decided against turning her entire studio nonprofit and chose to establish the Booster Club instead. She knew how much work and devotion it had taken her to build her studio and wondered if there would always be enough people willing to volunteer their time to continue to grow the studio if it transformed from an owner-operated business to a nonprofit led by a board of directors.
But she had a second reason as well. Since its inception in 1991, Sterling Silver had benefited from strong community support, Nelson-Kavajecz says. Her vision of a booster club was one that not only supported Sterling Silver students, but students of the arts throughout the community. Creating a separate nonprofit would ensure that the club could stay alive even if the studio was sold someday.
Determine a mission
Nelson-Kavajecz’s vision was simple—to help kids experience the arts. While she could often absorb a needy kid or two into classes without charging tuition, she couldn’t pay for all the shoes, dance clothes, costumes, and team travel expenses that were stymieing parents in her working-class community. Equally important to Nelson-Kavajecz was that any young artist—from dance students to high school music students to Junior Miss contestants—could apply for a Sterling Silver Booster Club scholarship.
In her first years of business, Harts had partnered with nonprofits such as the YMCA and the Girls’ Club of Portsmouth (now Girls’ Inc.) by, for example, agreeing to teach a baton twirling class in exchange for dance program space. She also taught dance in afterschool programs funded by grants received by other arts-based groups. Through it all, she “learned what being a nonprofit can do for you,” in terms of extending the reach of her school’s deeply rooted aims; Harts wanted her nonprofit to partner even more closely with other community nonprofits and work together to bring the arts to underserved children.
Boiling that vision down into an official mission statement—a sentence or two that tells the world who the nonprofit is and what it does—can be tricky. Harts’ mission statement is this: “To elevate, educate, and empower our youth through encouraging them to enhance their community by establishing productive lives through their own efforts.”
Each nonprofit functions according to an established set of bylaws. These bylaws determine how often the board must meet, what constitutes a quorum, rules of membership (how to add or dismiss a member), the system for annual nomination and election of officers, and other operational details. The bylaws also can spell out the responsibilities, salary, and other details of the artistic/executive director position or other paid positions within the nonprofit. Hall’s bylaws state that she is the executive director indefinitely and can be removed only because of gross mismanagement.
While bylaws can cover a lot or a little and are unique to each nonprofit, they must meet certain legal and legislative requirements. Nelson-Kavajecz says she had to tweak her drafts of the Booster Club’s bylaws several times to make them comply with Wisconsin state laws.
File the application
Nonprofit status is granted to organizations that file the necessary paperwork with both the federal (visit irs.gov/Filing/Charities-&-Non-Profits) and state government. (For details on each state’s requirements, visit usa.gov/Business/Nonprofit-State.shtml). Generally, this also includes filing Articles of Incorporation, applying for a federal employer identification number, and filing for state and local exemptions from various taxes such as sales tax. Along with the IRS application fee (which can range from $300 to $750), each state has its own set of application fees.
Filing can be tedious, time consuming, and frustrating. “It’s a long, bumpy process to learn it all,” says Hall, who is now glad she changed her mind about opening her studio in 2008 as a nonprofit, and instead concentrated solely for the first two years on getting her business up and running. (The school has been a nonprofit since 2010.) “There’s so much that goes into a nonprofit. We took our time and considered the application thoroughly to make sure we had everything correct.”
It’s also not something that should be—or could be—tackled alone. Although many companies and organizations hire a lawyer and/or accountant to see them through the process, these three studio owners reached out to friends, acquaintances, and even parents for help and advice.
One of Hall’s adult tap students who had just finished law school and needed to gain experience working with nonprofits lent a hand. Nelson-Kavajecz reached out to students’ parents or community members with legal or nonprofit experience, and her own accountant “offered a ton of advice,” while Harts’ questions were answered by the IRS agent handling her application, as well as by a friend who had gone through the process for her daycare center.
Establish a board
Unlike private businesses, nonprofits are overseen by a board of directors. (Minimum size requirements vary from state to state.) Board members are not employees; instead, they should be individuals from the community who “know your purpose,” Harts says. While not involved in day-to-day operations, they should have some useful skills in areas such as fundraising, marketing, or finance that could help the nonprofit pursue its goals.
Boards must have meetings on a regular basis and keep minutes, and compile an annual financial report for the IRS. Most important, Harts says, boards have the power to remove or “vote out” the studio’s artistic director—even if the director is also the founder, like herself.
Putting together a board involves far more than just calling up a few friends, Hall says. “It was really hard. Basically you are asking people to volunteer their time, and they have to be interested in dance and want to help you with your vision,” she says.
Hall’s board currently seats 11 people, a recent increase from nine, and includes several of her adult tap students. Two members are involved with writing grants, while others help with facility repairs or marketing. Her studio moved recently, and board members with real estate experience helped with lease negotiations, she says.
The Sterling Silver Booster Club’s board has four officers elected annually plus additional members—mostly parents, parents of former students, or adult alumni. Board meetings are open and are always well attended by other parents and supporters, who are encouraged to participate in all discussions. While she attends meetings to offer advice or answer questions, Nelson-Kavajecz says she leaves all decisions about fundraisers, as well as the distribution of scholarships, to the board. That autonomy, she believes, protects her from any claims of favoritism, and it also ensures an active, engaged board.
Harts’ board is made up of her husband as vice president, her studio accountant as treasurer, and an administrator with extensive experience in nonprofits as her secretary. She considers them an invaluable support system that generates ideas for fund-raising, represents the studio in the greater community, and “pushes me to grow” the nonprofit according to its mission statement.
Worth the effort
Harts received her nonprofit status in 1999, only to discontinue it in 2004 when she closed her studio due to an injury. The school reopened in 2007 in a larger facility, and Harts wanted to expand its offerings to include music, art, and theater. So she applied for reinstatement, which is pending. “Working in your community and giving back to your community is the most rewarding part of being a 501(c)(3),” she says.
Nelson-Kavajecz believes the Booster Club’s mission as a community-wide nonprofit is vital to its success. Some of the volunteer mothers and fathers from her dance studio who work the hardest to raise funds never ask for a dime, and former scholarship recipients have returned as young adults to express their thanks.
“It’s very positive and very group-based,” Nelson-Kavajecz says. “Everybody who is part of this nonprofit is looking out for the entire group, and the financial stability of the entire group, and not just with an interest in their own child.”
Hall never realized how involved the approval process was going to be, but she says she’s glad she took the time and made the effort. “People like the fact that you care about the community and want to help people,” she says. “I’ve had a few people come to the studio specifically because, they said, ‘I saw you were a nonprofit and I really like that.’ ”
By Julie Kanter
Nobody in their right mind would pass up free money, especially if they work in the arts. In an ideal world, there would be enough income from tuitions, rentals, and other fees to cover all the maintenance, rental, marketing, and other expenses that are part and parcel of running a dance studio. Fantasy is not reality, though, and income from grants can provide studio owners with the leeway to manage their finances more easily.
The organizations that are successful in securing grants from foundations, government agencies, and corporations invest time and energy in researching prospective funders, crafting a compelling and comprehensive grant proposal, and developing the systems needed to be accountable to the funders that support them.
Who gives grants?
The world of institutional fundraising is populated by private foundations, many of which bear the name of an individual; community foundations, whose names often reflect the region they serve; government agencies, such as the National Endowment for the Arts or local arts councils; and corporations with charitable giving programs. All of these entities have a stated mission and purpose that includes giving away money.
The grants they award come in the form of project support (for something above and beyond normal operations such as a new piece, collaboration, or workshop), program support (for operating or developing an existing program), general operating support (everyone’s favorite), and support for special initiatives, such as those aimed at improving operational efficiency, building organizational infrastructure for program expansion, or developing a long-range plan.
Who gets grants?
Most institutional funders make grants exclusively to organizations that are incorporated as nonprofits, although there are a few exceptions. Some foundations will make grants to a fiscal sponsor on behalf of a non-tax-exempt entity; other funders, usually governmental arts agencies, award grants to individual artists. A dance studio that is not tax-exempt can apply for certain grants through a fiscal sponsor.
Fiscal sponsors are often service organizations or community arts centers. They have a process in place by which they can receive grants, disburse funds, oversee reporting at the end of the grant period, and ensure compliance with the terms of the grant award as stated in the award letter. (These might include the express purpose for which funding is awarded, requirements for listing the funder on all promotional materials, and so on.) The sponsoring organization and the sponsored project sign a fiscal sponsorship agreement that details both parties’ contractual obligations and the fee to be paid for the service. Ten percent of the total charitable donation is a common rate, but it can vary based on the size of the grant, the extent of the oversight needed, or even the relationship between the two parties involved.
Along with having systems in place internally, you will need to conduct research to identify potential funders for your project, program, or general operations.
Incorporating as a nonprofit eliminates the need for a fiscal sponsor and provides access to more funders. Because the process for incorporating as a 501(c)(3) (another name for a nonprofit) involves the IRS and other federal and state government agencies, it is no surprise that it is time-consuming and laden with paperwork.
Before applying for federal and state tax exemptions, articles of incorporation must be filed, which involves filling out yet more forms. Along the way, bylaws (or operating rules) for the nonprofit corporation need to be created, a board of directors set up, and the first board meeting convened. From start to finish, the process can take six months to a year. In addition, there are costs involved, such as filing fees and attorney fees, if you choose to hire one. (See “Nonprofit Nuts and Bolts,” this issue.)
Are you ready to apply for a grant?
If your dance studio is incorporated as a nonprofit, you are eligible to apply for grants. Being eligible, however, is different than being ready to apply for grants. Along with having systems in place internally, you will need to conduct research to identify potential funders for your project, program, or general operations.
Start by researching which funders are supporting organizations in your own arts community. Websites and programs for public performances often list the names of funders and, sometimes, the size of their contribution.
The next step is to make sure you meet the eligibility criteria, which can include geographic location, size of operating budget, etc. Once you have determined you are eligible to apply, it is important to understand the mission and goals of each funder, as well as the criteria used to evaluate your grant proposal.
For example, Funder X may focus mainly on artistic quality, while Funder Y may be more interested in artistic projects that have a community-engagement component. Funder Z might fund only projects that meet specific audience-development objectives. Reviewing lists of past grantees and their projects on the funder’s website can help you tailor the proposal narrative to the funder’s priorities.
Doing a thorough review of all of your programs and activities will give you a clear sense of each one’s purpose, target population, and distinctive or noteworthy features. For instance, maybe your studio is the only one in the area that offers classes in African diaspora styles of dance. You might be able to find a funder that is interested in supporting these classes, especially if you use some of the funding for tuition assistance for low-income students and you have a well-thought-out plan for attracting these students.
The proposal narrative
The proposal narrative is the centerpiece of the grant application; it serves to convince the funder that the project (or program, etc.) for which you are requesting support is worthy. That means it is aligned with the mission of the funder, fulfills an important need in the community, has a sound design, and is being carried out by an organization with sufficient resources and expertise.
Funders will usually specify what they want covered in the narrative, which can run 1 to 10 pages (sometimes more) in length. Some funders require you to answer multiple questions, each of which might have a maximum character or word count to which you must adhere. Be sure to do the obvious: answer the questions posed by the funder. Organizing the paragraphs of your project description around each of the questions will help ensure that you address each one.
The narrative should also address the funder’s review criteria. Many funders prominently list the specific review criteria that they use to evaluate grant proposals. Government agencies almost always do so—they evaluate grant applications through a panel review process, and the panelists need clear guidelines for scoring the application. Examples of review criteria include: evidence of payment to artists, impact on community, and alignment with the mission of the organization. In cases where review criteria are not clearly listed, comb the guidelines, the funder’s mission statement, and the funding priorities of the grant programs to get clues to what drives this funder’s giving.
Although the proposal narrative focuses on describing a particular project, time-specific program, or operations, it must also provide a larger context for the request. This helps the funder understand why the organization is undertaking these activities at this time and why it will be of value to the community.
For example, if you request support to establish a performance series at your studio, explain what you have done over the past three years to lay the groundwork, such as expanding the curriculum to include more advanced classes, offering choreography workshops that feature out-of-town guest artists, and doubling the enrollment.
Better yet, include information on how this new activity relates to the long-range goals of the organization and how it is distinctive from anything else being done in the area. This kind of information automatically makes a proposal more compelling, gives it greater credibility, and increases its chances of success.
At some point, a funder will ask you to provide information that you would rather not reveal. Maybe you incurred a deficit in the last fiscal year and now must show the extent of the shortfall. A proactive approach is the best way to assuage the funder’s concerns: explain why or how this happened, what you are doing to avoid this in the future, and what lessons you have learned from the experience. You can also provide some context for the situation, such as information about the prior five years of operations when you operated in the black.
In addition to the proposal narrative, funders require documents that help them assess whether the organization has the infrastructure, systems, and personnel in place to oversee the grant project. These documents might include an application form, project budget, operating budget for the current year, profit and loss statement from the last completed fiscal year, a board of directors list, and biographical information on key personnel for the project and organization.
The final step
Grant applications are often submitted online, with these additional documents uploaded to the online application. Funders strictly enforce deadlines and will rarely review late or incomplete grant submissions.
Achieving success in the world of institutional fundraising will not happen overnight, but the efforts you make will yield other benefits in the meantime. These include a clearer understanding of your purpose, defining characteristics, and most important goals. Without a doubt, this will help you make future decisions that will keep your studio operating more efficiently and effectively over the long term.
Dance With Me USA, whose owners include Dancing with the Stars pros Maksim and Valentin Chmerkovskiy, will soon open a new studio in Glen Rock, New Jersey, and is negotiating a lease for another location in Fort Lee, according to NJ.com.
The studio is also converting its original Ridgefield location, which recently celebrated its eighth anniversary, into a studio for children. By doing so Maksim and his father Sasha Chmerkovskiy, who along with Jhanna Volynets founded Dance With Me, are consolidating Dance With Me (which offers intensive training for adults) with the competitive children’s school they founded 25 years ago: Rising Stars Dance Academy in Saddle Brook.
Dance With Me is focusing more on kids’ classes as ballroom dancing becomes more popular with children, especially after 16-year-old Disney Channel star Zendaya Coleman competed on season 13 of Dancing with the Stars. Her partner was Valentin.
Valentin said the ability to dance and perform onstage could help any kid, no matter what they want to do. “It really develops kids in an incredible way, in a way that will complement them whether they go on to be doctors, lawyers, engineers,” he said.
To see the original story, visit http://www.nj.com/bergen/index.ssf/2013/08/studio_co-owned_by_dancing_with_the_stars_professionals_to_expand.html.
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La Crosse, Wisconsin, is flush with musical groups, theater troupes, and visual arts collectives. But a semi-professional city ballet? That’s something new to the area, Kennet Oberly, artistic director and choreographer for Ballet La Crosse, told the La Crosse Tribune.
“We wanted to bring classical dance to the community,” he said. “We want people to come to the ballet not just because they have a child or family member performing. We want them to go for the experience.”
About 70 area dancers, ages 8 to 20, began rehearsing this week at Misty’s Dance Unlimited in Onalaska in preparation for the ballet’s debut performance of an original ballet, Marushka and the Four Seasons, set for November 30 and December 1.
Studio owner and Dance Studio Life contributor Misty Lown developed the performance company as a venue to expose area youth to the classical arts and to enrich the growing arts community in La Crosse.
Based on a Russian fairytale, Marushka is essentially a Slavic Cinderella—mistreated by her stepmother and burdened with the impossible task of delivering a special flower to the kingdom’s spoiled princess in the dead of winter. A professional dancer and choreographer who now teaches at MDU, Oberly developed the score for the ballet by piecing together orchestral works by Russian composer Alexander Glazunov.
Oberly is already planning another production to debut in spring 2014 that will pair classical ballet with live folk music. “This is something that La Crosse has been missing,” Oberly said. “We’re excited to show the community what we can do.”
After several years as a guest director for Rochester ballet productions, Allen Fields, former director of the Minnesota Ballet, is opening his own ballet academy, according to the Post Bulletin.
“The time is now,” Fields said in announcing the establishment of Allen Fields Classical Ballet & Training. “Rochester [Minnesota] is really ready for this. It’s a great dance community. There’s a lot going on. But what it doesn’t have is a true professional ballet company.”
Ultimately, Fields said, he’d like to present professional-level, full-length productions with a Rochester-based ballet company. “But doing that starts with education,” Fields said. “Am I hoping these kids have the potential as professionals to step in? Absolutely.”
Fields will offer one-on-one instruction and group classes for advanced students, ages 11 and older beginning August 22.
Fields, artistic director emeritus of the Minnesota Ballet, has directed several productions for Rochester’s Children’s Dance Theatre, including Alice in Wonderland, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Coppélia, and The Adventure of Pinocchio.
As for the other dance programs in the city, Fields said, “My principle is not to go in there and harm anybody. I’m going to provide something that’s not there. I’m not trying to insult any of the others.”
An old warehouse building near downtown Phoenix has been transformed into Ballet Arizona’s new home, as its 54,000 square feet of space now contains seven studios, administrative offices, and a production area. The organization has already moved into part of the space, near 29th and Washington Streets, and will completely finish on August 1, according to AZCentral.com.
A bond election in 2006 provided the Ballet Arizona and the Arizona Opera with $6.4 million to create a facility together, said Dwight Walth, project manager for cultural facility development at the Phoenix Office of Arts and Culture. However, the organizations could not find a building to accommodate both, so they split the money and searched for separate spaces.
Ballet Arizona had been functioning in 11,000 square feet in two locations, with only three studios at its previous location in the Gaslight Square shopping area at 36th Street and Indian School Road. “We’ve seen an increase in interest in the school and now can accommodate more students,” Michael Panvini, Ballet Arizona’s director of production, said.
Through a capital campaign, Ballet Arizona matched nearly all of the bonds funds. The final cost of the project, including moving, is just under $10 million, Panvini said. A public grand opening is scheduled for October 11.
Having become a hip-hop dancer at age 21, Elijah Morton refers to himself as a “late bloomer.”
But after starting Morton’s Dance Center on Harrisburg Pike, Lancaster, Pennsylvania, this year at age 27—and leading his competitive dance team to become number one in the country at the Turn It Up Dance Challenge—Morton certainly has earned a master status, according to LancasterOnline.
“This is our first time competing ever,” Morton said of his team, CONstruct, which received a perfect score of 300 and placed first in the regional competition of Turn It Up in May, then earned a score of 298 out of 300 and won the national title on July 12.
Having been raised in many different foster homes until the age of 22, Morton moved around so much that he didn’t have the proper environment to practice dance, he said. “Competing is great for us—it’s turning into this infectious thing,” Morton said. “But my number one goal is to give these kids the opportunity that I did not have.”
To see the full story, visit http://lancasteronline.com/article/local/873645_Local-dance-leader-and-squad-make-splash-on-national-stage.html.
Hello studio owners and teachers! The editors at Dance Studio Life magazine have a question for you: say your program is growing and you’d love to either fit more kids in your classes or expand your schedule to include more offerings, but leasing/buying a bigger space is out of the question. How do you do it? Does anyone know of any low-cost ways to increase your physical studio space? For example, has anyone ever partnered/shared space with another business? Renovated to make better use of an existing space? Or used another creative approach? If you’d like to share your suggestions with our readers, please email me at Karen@rheegold.com. And thanks!
Barrington, Illinois dance teacher, choreographer, and studio director Ellen Werksman recently returned from Cozumel, Mexico, where she was invited to teach a dance master class for the students at the “Jazz” Studio of Dance, reported the Barrington Courier-Review.
“Dance is a connected language no matter where it is performed,” she said. “There is always a natural understanding of expectation and communication in the dance class. The students were eager, hard-working, and very passionate about their time with me in the classroom. It was an amazing experience, and I am thrilled that I was able to teach these lovely dancers and to be asked to return again next year.
“It was interesting to note the differences in protocol and decorum in the classroom, such as dress code; however, students still asked similar questions, struggled with challenging new material, and laughed at the same appropriate moments. All-in-all, the classroom environment was full of the same excited energy as back here in the United States.”
While on location, the students were preparing for their upcoming recital and Werksman was able to stay and observe some of the choreography for that performance.
“Their recital dances are really not that different than many recital studios up here in our area,” Werksman, director of Dancewerks, said. “They embrace the same similar costuming and design of concept and choreography, which I guess demonstrates that dance really is a celebrated passion for kids all over and that movement and music can connect us all.”