Setting Tuition, Choosing Competitions and Video Cameras
Kathy Blake, Suzanne Blake Gerety, Joanne Chapman and Barry Blumenfeld answer your questions
Q: I learned that studios in my area are charging more than double my tuition. I want to keep my prices reasonable for families and competitive with other businesses, but I don’t want to shortchange myself. How do you set tuition?
A: While lower prices can be seen as a competitive advantage, we suggest setting tuition fees to reflect the value of your dance program: People often equate quality with price. Furthermore, if your price reflects the going rate, you can extend the incentives you offer, like multiple-class or sibling discounts.
Research the hourly and monthly rates of various businesses in your region—not only other dance studios, but also music, gymnastics, art, ice-skating, karate and yoga programs. Though dance education is unique, the data on average will show what’s reasonable in your area and will help you set a rate. It may take a few years to achieve your target tuition: We recommend small increases year to year—you do not want to frustrate or confuse your families by raising fees drastically. Often, a 10 percent increase is reasonable. If you increase a $50 class per month to $55, for instance, you will gain $60 per student per year. However, the students only face a $5 tuition hike each month. Keep in mind the monthly operating costs to maintain a sustainable business, including rent, insurance, utilities and teacher pay. These costs can serve as a guide when setting tuition. We recommend seeking financial advice from an accountant to help determine the revenue necessary to cover expenses and take a fair salary.
Kathy Blake is the owner of Kathy Blake Dance Studios in Amherst, New Hampshire. She and Suzanne Blake Gerety are the co-founders of DanceStudioOwner.com
Q: I’m starting to plan next year’s schedule for my new competition team. I’m not sure how many events—or what size events—we should attend. I want my students to see the caliber of other dancers out there, but I fear they’ll be discouraged if we don’t place highly. What should I do?
A: Choosing competitions that fit your schedule and students’ ability is a challenging task. A good rule of thumb is to choose three competitions that vary in size and level, and leave two weeks between events. This will let your students absorb the judges’ critiques and allow enough time to tweak their routines accordingly.
I suggest starting your season with a “feel good” competition—one where your students will perform well and leave with a boost of confidence. Hit stronger competitions for the second and third events. One way to raise the bar of competition is to attend Nationals. (You can qualify for a national event by attending that company’s regional competition earlier in the season.) Not only are Nationals great experiences for your dancers, they can help measure your studio’s growth from year to year, and you can see what studios outside your geographic area are doing. But above all, always take time to investigate the level of competition that’s expected at each event. You want it to be a positive experience for your dancers.
Attending convention/competition events is a great way to expose your dancers to other teachers and styles, as well as motivate them. These events usually limit the number of competition entries per studio because so much of the weekend is devoted to classes, but the time spent in classes getting feedback from master teachers is just as valuable. I believe the more environments you can expose your dancers to, the more they will grow.
Joanne Chapman is the owner of the award-winning studio, Joanne Chapman School of Dance in Brampton, Ontario.
Q: I’m in the market for a new video camera. Is there one that will be better for me if I plan to use it in class?
A: There are so many options these days—from a simple point-and-shoot with video capabilities to an HD digital camcorder. Of course, you can always use your phone or tablet, but if you prefer a separate gadget, I recommend Flip video cameras. Although their maker, Cisco, has stopped producing them, they are still widely available online. The HD models are extremely user-friendly, and you can purchase wide-angle lenses that will give you the best shots in small studios. (A wide-angle lens helps capture more in the frame while being fairly close to the subjects.)
While a camera is a great tool for archiving your students’ work and sharing it with the community, you don’t have to be the only one using it. Hand it over to your students and talk about framing the shot. Ask them to think critically about what a dance looks like to the audience at different angles, and make them aware of their own preferences. Take it a step further and ask them to create dances for the camera, which is a different beast from choreographing for the stage. For example, students can have performers exit the shot by moving forward into the camera, or magically appear or disappear. And if you have a particularly shy or uninvolved student, behind the camera is a safe place where they can participate.
Barry Blumenfeld teaches at the Friends Seminary School in New York City. He is an adjunct professor at New York University and on the faculty of the Dance Education Laboratory of the 92nd Street Y.