Add a new revenue stream to your studio by teaching homeschooled students.
Rayleigh Vendt, 16, thoroughly appreciates the extra attention she receives during a special program at the Ballet Academy of Texas. The Professional Preparatory Program, held during daytime hours, is designed exclusively for homeschooled students.
“It’s additional technique classes you get to take, and it’s a little more exclusive, with more individual attention,” says Vendt, who has been taught at home since third grade. “I always look forward to the pas de deux classes because you don’t get to practice that on a normal schedule. That’s something you usually only get during a summer intensive.”
The Ballet Academy of Texas started its homeschool program last fall with classes based on American Ballet Theatre’s National Training Curriculum. Fifteen students (including five males), ages 12 to 18, travel from all over the Dallas area to participate three times a week for three hours in ballet technique, pas de deux, conditioning, pointe and men’s classes. Director Lisa Slagle says she’s filled a niche: “There wasn’t anyone else in the area offering this type of program for homeschooled students.”
Dance programs fulfill a need in the homeschool community because students must complete credits toward physical education requirements mandated by the state. Increasingly, dance studio owners have begun to offer pre-professional or recreational programs to this population as a way to maximize otherwise unused space during mornings and early afternoons. Although the additional daytime offerings can increase an already full teaching load for studio faculty, the additional revenue stream can make the venture worth considering.
A Growing Movement
The homeschool movement has been steadily gaining momentum over the past 30 years, especially during the last decade. The National Home Education Research Institute reports that 2.04 million U.S. students were homeschooled during 2010, compared to 850,000 in 1999. The biggest reasons cited are religious preferences and parents who believe they can give their children a better education at home.
Amber EuDaly-Eames considered the conservative values of this demographic when she developed the Homeschool Dance Program at the Heart of America Dance Centre in Lee’s Summit, Missouri. “Our students really appreciate that we know what they are comfortable with, so we keep costuming modest and use appropriate music,” she says. She co-directs the program with her sister Rachael EuDaly-Gravitt. The two have a particular expertise and insight into this population, because they themselves were homeschooled during the ’80s and ’90s.
EuDaly-Eames was in high school when she started the program in 1996. She taught out of her home until the business outgrew the space. In 2001 the sisters moved their ballet and modern classes to Heart of America, where 100 students ages 4 to 18 now participate. Every other year, the sisters mount a full-length original ballet production. Older students help with props and costumes, activities that also count toward fulfillment of art credits.
Each state has specific criteria for homeschooling: what coursework and core subjects are required per grade, how many hours must be completed each year and how documentation must be reported. Check with your state’s Department of Education to see how you can assist your students in tracking their physical education hours. However, it is the parents’ responsibility to report details to the state, and they are usually well-versed in what is needed. “Some keep a logbook and report all of their studies, including the dance classes they take, and some just need a letter signed by us,” says EuDaly-Eames.
A common misconception is that homeschoolers tend to have limited social skills. But Katie Carpenter King of Studio 180 in Annapolis, Maryland, has found her daytime students to be smart, articulate and alert. “They’re just kids,” she says. “The big thing I’ve noticed is that their commitment level is a lot more consistent than my other students, especially the teenagers.” The only time her homeschool students miss a class is if they are sick or the family goes on vacation.
EuDaly-Eames says some of her younger students haven’t yet learned how to raise their hands or to stand in line. “They are eager and excited, but they haven’t necessarily learned classroom etiquette yet,” she says.
Slagle, who works with older students, says the homeschooled dancers form a certain camaraderie. “There’s a special bond among the students in the daytime program,” she says. “The interaction in the pas de deux class is a good social thing, and I can see the parents bonding while they are waiting and homeschool things.”
Homeschooled students with a serious interest in dance often supplement their daytime lessons with evening classes. In fact, Slagle makes it very clear the homeschool program is not meant as a replacement for evening dance classes. “That’s where students get modern and jazz and input from other teachers, so it’s very important that they keep up with their regular classes in the evening.” Slagle and EuDaly-Eames both report that after some initial shyness, homeschoolers integrate well with their evening students. DT
When Katie Carpenter King first opened Studio 180 four years ago, her market research showed the Annapolis, MD, area had a large homeschool population. It seemed a good way to build clientele. “It’s surprising how many homeschoolers are out there,” she says. “With the idea of attracting anyone and everyone into your studio, I don’t understand why someone wouldn’t choose to start a homeschool dance program.” Experienced program directors offer advice:
1. Study the market. Ask homeschool students and their parents for ideas and suggestions. “Customize your program to fit their needs,” says Clarence McDorman, who teaches at Ballet Academy of Texas. “Make sure you have a core pool of students who are very interested before you launch, and make sure that you have the time to devote to it.”
2. Connect with the population. The best way to get your foot in the door with the homeschool population is to connect with a handful of families, Amber EuDaly-Eames of Heart of America recommends. “Word-of-mouth is very powerful in the homeschool community,” she says. “Homeschoolers are close-knit, so if they fall in love with you, they will talk to their friends.”
3. Tuition. Many families in this population tend to have one income and multiple children. Studio 180 responds to concerns about cost by discounting tuition for daytime students. Heart of America also gives additional discounts for multiple siblings. Ballet Academy of Texas gives discounted tuition to students who already take evening classes.
4. Parental relationships. Parents want to make sure that regular schoolwork is a priority—especially if their child also takes evening classes. EuDaly-Eames finds that her students prefer to do their schoolwork in the morning, so she holds her classes from 12:30 to 4:30, Monday through Thursday. “Parents like to be involved, so we have an open-door policy and allow parents to come in and watch any class they choose,” she says. “They appreciate it, and it helps build a relationship with the families.”
5. Pre-professional students. If you opt to create a pre-professional program, Lisa Slagle of Ballet Academy of Texas recommends holding an audition to handpick talented students, and to cap the program at a manageable number. “This is an opportunity to teach the kids who have the potential to do something with it.” She also points out that a daytime program allows you to introduce classes that you don’t have time for during the regular hours.
6. Scheduling. Keep in mind your personal schedule, to avoid burnout from long days at the studio. King had 10 homeschool students last year (her studio has 200 students in total) who requested once-a-week hip-hop and aerial dance classes from 3 to 4 pm—the time slot before her evening classes start. “Plan it so there isn’t a four-hour time span between classes or so you don’t have to get there at 9 am—especially if you teach until 9 pm.”
Hannah Maria Hayes is a NYC writer and editor with an MA in dance education from New York University. Photo of Lisa Slagle corrects student Rayleigh Vendt at Ballet Academy of Texas.
Photo by Cathy Vanover, courtesy of Ballet Academy of Texas.