Publisher Rhee Gold looks back at Dance Studio Life’s history—and turns his attention to what’s next
by Ryan P. Casey
Rhee Gold chuckles as he begins telling me a story. “This is the best one,” he says. He said the same thing before launching into a different anecdote 15 minutes ago, but I’m all ears.
He recounts a phone call from Art Stone, founder of the namesake costume company, who wanted to advertise in Gold’s publication, Goldrush. After Gold wrote down the details, Stone said, “I’d like to place a second order.” When that one had been taken, he added, “I’d like to place a third order.” And, finally, “I’d like to place a fourth order.”
“He was 100 percent supportive of what I was trying to do and the message I was trying to send,” Gold says of Stone. “That still means the world to me.”
It’s fitting that Gold, who launched Goldrush (later titled Dance Studio Life) with the purpose of telling stories “from the soul’s perspective,” has so many of his own to share. As he looks back on the magazine’s history, he considers the ways it has challenged, encouraged, and inspired him—as well as how it has helped effect change throughout the dance education industry.
“My instinct said that people wanted to learn something about their business, not how to win a dance competition. And now I think those other publications have changed a bit, in part because of us.” —Rhee Gold
It all began as a four-page advertisement promoting the American Dance Awards, initially known as American Dance Spectrum, a competition Gold directed with the help of his older brother Tony. To give it the feeling of a newsletter, he included short articles about competing, teaching, and motivating students, and came up with a catchy, play-on-words title: Goldrush. Over time he added more articles, and the publication doubled in length.
“People started to request Goldrush even if they didn’t go to ADA,” he said. “It worked out well: the reader was getting something really cool out of it, but I was also promoting my events and projects.”
After almost a quarter century at the helm of ADA, Gold sold the business in 2003, intending to discontinue the Goldrush newsletter. But when costume company owner Larry Cicci offered to buy a full page ad, Gold says he knew he had a viable business model on his hands and launched a glossy, full-sized magazine version of Goldrush in 2004.
The first four years were tough. Gold considered giving up many times, yet eventually the magazine started earning a profit and attracting more writers, advertisers, and readers. The name changed to Dance Studio Life in 2007.
“We launched at the right time,” he says. “Advertisers were considering online marketing, but were still paying for print ads. We concentrated on the classroom and the studio, whereas the other dance publications focused on competition strategies. My instinct said that people wanted to learn something about their business, not how to win a dance competition. And now I think those other publications have changed a bit, in part because of us. That’s something I’m proud of.”
Gold says he’s also proud of many of the stories the magazine has done over the years, especially the ones that covered what he calls “inspirational dance.” He mentions a feature about Dréa’s Dream, which funds dance therapy programs in memory of a young aspiring dance educator, and how the article kick-started the foundation’s success and encouraged him to get involved as a board member.
It wasn’t until the 10th anniversary, though, that he says he really felt he had triumphed. Many colleagues in the field had told him he was pursuing content that educators wouldn’t be interested in, but he had 10 years of publications to prove them wrong.
“We were on a roll,” he says. “It was at that point that I said to myself, ‘I pulled it off.’ ”
A large part of that success, of course, was behind the scenes. Behind every good publisher is a good editor in chief, and for Dance Studio Life from 2007 until 2016, that person was Cheryl A. Ossola.
The magazine wasn’t Gold and Ossola’s first pas de deux. She had originally been his editor when he wrote for Dance Magazine in the early 2000s, and he remembers with a laugh how she would kindly and patiently send back revisions on drafts that he knew weren’t very good.
“Cheryl’s editing taught me how to write and gave me the confidence to publish the magazine,” he says.
She also edited Gold’s book, The Complete Guide to Teaching Dance. When he realized that the original Goldrush editor in chief wasn’t working out, Gold confided in Ossola. The conversation ended with him offering Ossola the position. She accepted.
“As much as my passion is behind the magazine, Cheryl’s experience and drive is a big part of the reason for its success,” he says. “She was more on top of it than I was. When people would ask me something about the magazine, I’d say, ‘All you have to do is call Cheryl.’ ”
“I have to move forward with what works now. I’m not afraid of what’s coming next, because I have no choice but to step into that arena and upscale what I do.” —Rhee Gold
Not long after Ossola stepped down, however, Gold became aware that the magazine’s future was in peril.
“I heard advertisers saying things like, ‘We’re not investing in print; we have other opportunities online,’ ” he says.
After looking at what other publications were doing online and speaking with a consultant, he realized that transitioning DSL to a digital format would essentially mean starting another business—an undertaking he was in no position to assume. By this time his company had grown to include workshops and seminars held at the DanceLife Retreat Center, the biannual DanceLife Teacher Conference, and the dance studio membership organization International Dance Entrepreneurs Association (I.D.E.A.).
“The growth of my businesses was already taking everything I had,” he admits. “I gave it my all because that’s what I felt like I was really good at, and they all seemed like good ideas, but when I put them together, my life became those things.”
In recent years, Gold admits, it’s been hard to watch many of the costume companies, competitions, and studios that have graced the pages of DSL change hands or go out of business. Creations by Cicci, which ran an advertisement on the back page of every issue of Goldrush/Dance Studio Life until this August’s issue, folded earlier this year. Now, he is equally sad the magazine itself must fold. But rather than lament the rapid evolution of the field or the side effects of an increasingly technological world, he’s embracing the opportunity to strengthen his brand.
“I have to move forward with what works now,” he says. “I can’t look back and say, ‘I wish it was that way’ or ‘I wish those people were still here.’ I’m not afraid of what’s coming next, because I have no choice but to step into that arena and upscale what I do.”
Gold sees the dance education industry moving forward too, in positive ways. He cites Youth Protection Advocates in Dance as a prime example of important cultural shifts.
“I see people advocating for things that the industry would have kept its mouth shut about in the past,” he says. “People are creating curriculum for kids with learning differences and kids who have physical disabilities.”
He also sees progress in his own readers, noting that curriculum offered at dance studios is getting stronger, teachers are getting smarter, and more certifications are being offered.
“Teachers are much more business savvy running their schools,” he says. “The competition industry is a much more dominant part of dance education at this point than it used to be, but once a studio owner decides to focus only on the business, the business ends up being very successful. More and more people are getting to that place.”
Gold is focusing on his own businesses in a new way. He admits that DSL has been the backbone of his company’s finances, so he’s working on reconfiguring and expanding the company’s other arms to fulfill that role. He recently relaunched Project Motivate, a three-day business retreat he originally created in 1998.
Although DSL won’t become an online publication, Gold will maintain its Facebook page, and continue posting video content and articles, and facilitating conversations with teachers. He hopes to make the DanceLife Teacher Conference an annual event and make more use of the Retreat Center.
“I’d like to turn it into a year-round facility, not necessarily by attracting educators from all over the place, but by having workshops for New England teachers,” he says. “I want to have more of a studio, but for the teacher or business owner.”
And he won’t just be self-employed: Gold has signed a contract to be a motivational speaker with NEX•US (formerly The Pulse) convention tour.
“I have come to realize that what will make me even better at what I do in the future is having time that’s my time,” he says. “Peace time, relationship time, museum time, really ‘living my life’ time—this is going to be my focus and strategy. Sometimes I might have to think differently financially. Then I’ll go out there and teach everyone how to do it!”
Ryan P. Casey, an alum of YoungArts, The School at Jacob’s Pillow, Legacy Dance Company, and NYU, is a Boston-based teacher, performer, choreographer, and freelance journalist who directs a tap ensemble, Off Beat.