by Teri Mangiaratti
“Welcome, ladies and gentlemen. Please take a moment to turn off all cellphones, and for our dancers’ safety . . .” All of us hear words to that effect at every show we attend, including recitals. For studio owners, that little recital speech is a perfect marketing opportunity. Where else can you address your entire clientele, plus potential new clients, all at once, in an atmosphere of excitement? It’s a time when your students and their families feel most invested in your school—and that means it’s a good time to reinforce those feelings with a positive message about the value of dance training in general and your school in particular.
It’s an opportunity I almost gave up.
For many years, I started our shows by taking the stage and welcoming everyone; I’d end the show with a “Weren’t they wonderful!” followed by staff introductions, special awards, and a fond farewell for the summer. But around year 15, I was ready for a change. I was tired, and those speeches (at seven recitals each season) were stressful. I decided to use a recorded message to kick off the show and bring in the curtain after the final bow. No speeches needed. That sounded great!
Then the voice of reason, from my husband: “Are you crazy? You run a small business with a purpose, and you have a chance to talk to every single customer in one day. You have a unique opportunity that any business owner would kill for. This is one of the things that makes you accessible and continue to feel small-town even as your studio is growing. Suck it up and make it happen.”
I reconsidered. Did that time with the microphone let people see who I am? Was I using it to send a message to my customers that connects to their hearts? And, more important, how could I use that time more effectively?
Now, each year, I think about the message I want to send. A few years ago, our area was abuzz about school testing and the stresses our children face. That year, I spoke very briefly about those stresses and why the arts are so important for our children. I spoke from the heart—no notecards or clipboard. I thanked the audience for believing in the value of the arts and involving their children in something that fuels their souls and not their GPAs. I talked about how dance training would serve their children for the entirety of their lives, and I asked them to promise that if their kids stopped dancing they would find them something to do that made their hearts sing. I reminded everyone that getting high grades on a state exam does not bring joy to a child’s soul.
I say nothing political, nothing religious. Instead, I use this time—when I have the attention of my students and their families, and their friends whose children might one day come to our classes—to show them who I am and tell them why I do what I do. My goal is to have all of those people in the audience who have never met me leave the theater feeling like they know me and what I stand for.
I no longer think about giving up this unique speaking opportunity; in fact, I take it very seriously. Give it a try, if you haven’t. Take that microphone, stand on the stage with all eyes on you, and speak from your heart.
Teri Mangiaratti owns In Sync Center of the Arts in Quincy, Massachusetts, which opened in 1996 and today welcomes more than 1,000 children into its dance, music, and art programs.