Two to Tango
Studio directors handle the delicate dance of co-ownership.
Are two heads really better than one? Many studio owners agree that having a partner to help take on the often overwhelming to-do list can be an invaluable asset. “You’re both putting in the same blood, sweat and tears, and it makes it that much more rewarding to share your success with someone,” says Lindsay Brown, co-owner of Eden Prairie, MN–based Dance Esteem. But dual directorship also comes with its challenges. Brown and others tell how they make the most of combining their efforts.
Lindsay Brown and Carrie Quast
Eden Prairie, MN
Shared vision and constant communication are the keys to Dance Esteem’s success, according to co-owners Lindsay Brown and Carrie Quast. In the 10 months before the studio first opened in 2009, the two met weekly at Caribou Coffee to discuss their vision and get on the same page. “We went over our ideas on how to run every single class,” says Brown. “It really helped us to lay everything on the table and be open and honest about our opinions.”
Brown and Quast first met as dancers growing up together, and each brings unique expertise to the table. Quast formerly owned a studio in West Palm Beach for 10 years, while Brown is firmly ensconced in the local Minnesota dance community. “Lindsay brings a huge connection to dance families,” says Quast. “She had a big pool she could draw from to get our business going.”
The two rarely disagree, though costuming is an area where they’ll often have to find a compromise. “We just keep looking until we find something we can both agree on,” Quast says.
Now that the studio has been running for three years, Brown and Quast continue to meet daily to discuss business. “And every year, we look back and evaluate what worked and what didn’t,” says Brown. “We try to address things before they turn into an issue.”
“We split everything 50/50,” Quast adds. “That way, we both know every aspect of the business inside and out.”
Katie and Lisa Lewis
Dance & Company Performing Arts Studio
San Diego, CA
Life at Dance & Company Performing Arts Studio is truly a family affair. Not only are co-owners Lisa and Katie Lewis mother and daughter, they strive to make their students feel as though the studio is their second home.
Their strengths complement each other well professionally. Katie, a self-described “people person,” takes on the artistic and teaching aspects, while Lisa focuses on the business plan and money matters.
But the biggest learning curve was transitioning from the mother-daughter dynamic to a more professional partnership. Lisa had to overcome the idea that she’d automatically have authority, while Katie focused on communication. “We had to set aside the tone that we might normally use with each other,” says Katie. “In order to create our schedule and budgets and make other important decisions, we had to set aside our mother-daughter relationship and talk to each other like business partners.”
After three years, the two have found their groove. Lisa comes to the studio from 4:30 to 7:30, while Katie spends her time teaching at the studio. They often rely on e-mail to discuss studio matters, which Katie says helps her communicate more professionally with her mom.
Vicky Gonzalez and Alicia Norwood
Donna Lee Studio of Dance
Donna Lee left quite a legacy when she handpicked Vicky Gonzalez and Alicia Norwood to take over her studio after 27 years in business. Both were dancers who had spent many years training and transitioned into teaching at the studio. “This sort of fell into our laps,” says Gonzalez. “Donna had given us a lot of responsibilities as far as teaching classes and choreography, so we had already been working together for several years when she retired.”
Gonzalez and Norwood gladly took the reins, and for the last six years, the two have been running the studio in tandem. “Everything just fell into place,” says Gonzalez, who handles computer-related duties, scheduling for their nonprofit dance company and hiring guest choreographers. Norwood handles financials (such as payroll and bank reconciliations) and oversees studio maintenance. And both directors also teach.
Gonzalez and Norwood pride themselves on being a support system for each other. Says Norwood, “The perk of co-ownership is having someone to fall back on and be able to bounce ideas and thoughts off. If it wasn’t for our partnership, neither of us would be able to have a day off every week.”
Norwood is grateful that the partnership has proven fortuitous. “Vicky and I didn’t have a choice—the opportunity was offered as a unit. We even had people tell us that partnerships are so fatal,” she says. “The reason it has worked well for us is that we share the same principles, the same policies. It has to be someone you trust, can be honest with and not only get along with, but have a genuine friendship.” DT
Jen Jones Donatelli is based in Los Angeles.
Photo courtesy of Dance Esteem