While tuition payments cover regular business expenses, studio owners often need to do extra fundraising to offset recital, competition and scholarship costs. Here, three studio directors share their successful approaches. Our most surprising discovery: Providing students with a memorable experience oftentimes outweighs the importance of making a large profit.
Utah Dance Artists
South Jordan, UT
Utah Dance Artists has held “Starry, Starry Night” each spring for the past five years as a showcase for its competition company. Originally a fundraiser for the company dancers, the event now helps fund The Lisa Wells Memorial Dance Scholarship, in honor of the school’s late costumer. The scholarship is awarded to one or more UDA students in financial need who exhibit the same passion and qualities as Wells—humbleness, dedication and living without regret. Dancers apply by writing an essay. “Everyone involved knows that we are fundraising for a special cause, not to raise money for ourselves, but to use our gifts and talents to raise funds for dancers in need,” says owner Brooke Maxwell.
The showcase has a $2,000 budget, which includes theater rental and tech fees. Acquiring local businesses to sponsor program ads and holding the dress rehearsal at the studio helps reduce production costs. A 15-member parent committee that meets once a month from the start of the school year does all the event planning, and Maxwell acts as the show’s stage manager. (Going forward, all company members’ parents will be required to donate their time.) This year, “So You Think You Can Dance” finalist Gev Manoukian performed and $4,000 was raised for the scholarship fund. With tickets sold for $10 in advance or $12 at the door, the show raised $3,000 and the Wells family donated $500, which Maxwell matched. There were two performances (matinee and evening), and each attracted 200 to 300 people.
Chasta Hamilton Calhoun
Stage Door Dance Productions
To help cover general operating expenses at Stage Door Dance Productions, Chasta Hamilton Calhoun holds several Parents’ Night Out events each year. While their parents have a night out to themselves, children ages 3 and older stay at the studio for four hours, learning fun dances, playing games and making crafts under adult supervision. “The children have a great, safe time and it reinforces our studio as a staple within the community,” says Hamilton Calhoun. “Everybody bonds and creates great friendships.”
For $35, each child gets pizza, juice boxes and a special craft, such as jingle-bell bracelets during Nutcracker season or animal visors for a zoo-focused function. The Halloween-themed “Tutu Boo” activity night cost $50 because the studio partnered and split the profit with a local tutu company to provide materials, so students could create their own tutus. In addition to making tutus, the children watched a Scooby-Doo movie, colored and learned a routine to “Monster Mash,” which they performed for their parents.
Hamilton Calhoun offers a half-price discount for a sibling, as well as an occasional half-off incentive for bringing a non-studio friend. Older students who volunteer to help with the events receive tuition credit. Payment is collected in advance and there is a strict no-refund policy. Each Parents’ Night Out attracts about 15 children and costs $50–$75 to produce. The profit ranges between $275 and $600 per function. “I personally love the events because they give me time to interact and learn about our students in a non-classroom setting,” says Hamilton Calhoun.
Lynch School of Ballet
In March, Lynch Ballet Company, the performance branch of Lynch School of Ballet, presented “An Evening with Julie Kent.” During the three-hour cocktail and hors d’oeuvres party, the American Ballet Theatre principal signed autographs, posed with students for photographs and spent an hour casually answering students’ questions. Tickets were $75 for adults and $35 for children; 105 people attended.
The idea to bring in a well-known professional dancer for a fundraiser came from owner Karen Lynch’s volunteer parent group, Friends of Lynch Ballet. Lynch thought of Kent because one of her instructors also works at ABT and was able to make a connection. The parent organization spent five weeks planning the event, from production to execution. One studio family offered the use of their restaurant at a reduced rate, and another family donated wine. Extra income came from selling posters of Kent and raffling off a pair of tickets (donated by the studio) to see her perform with ABT.
After spending $1,750 on expenses, plus Kent’s guest fee, the company netted $1,700 to help buy new costumes for the spring production of Don Quixote. “Even more than the fact that we made some money, it was very inspiring for the students and memorable for them,” says Lynch. “Many parents were telling me weeks after the event how much it meant to their children.” DT
Hannah Maria Hayes is a freelance writer with an MA in dance education from New York University.
Photo: “Tutu Boo” activity night at Stage Door Dance Productions