Relationships with local businesses can benefit your studio.
West Chester University students get extra performance opportunities with The Dance Center’s Brandywine Ballet.
Your studio touches the daily lives of many families—families who also frequent other local businesses. By joining forces with other organizations in your community, you can increase word-of-mouth advertising and heighten the visibility of your business. Often, a strong collaboration only takes a little creativity and a lot of persistence. Here, four studio owners discuss the benefits of partnering with another business.
Art of Motion Dance Studio (215 students)
Anna Ehmen’s partnership with the Aiken Community Playhouse started two years ago when a student’s parent gave Ehmen’s name to the theater’s director. “He just randomly came into the studio and asked if I’d choreograph Cinderella,” she says. The performance was benefiting a local charity, so Ehmen agreed to do it for free.
After that performance, the director asked Ehmen if she’d become their long-term choreographer, and in exchange, he offered to list Art of Motion’s information in all of the theater’s newspaper ads and give the studio a free ad in every playbill.
Although Ehmen spends about six unpaid hours a week at the theater during rehearsals, she says the process is fun, and beneficial to her business. She offers a class discount to theater members, which has increased enrollment for her adult dance classes. In all, she estimates she’s gained 40 to 50 new students from the arrangement.
Be proactive in looking for a partnership. “Research what’s in the community,” Ehmen says. “You might find theaters or other groups who need help.”
The Dance Center (480 students)
West Chester, PA
About 10 years ago, Donna Muzio realized that if she wanted to elevate her company, Brandywine Ballet, from pre-professional to professional, she had to find a way to keep her best dancers once they graduated from high school.
She created a partnership with nearby West Chester University that lets college students earn a certificate of dance by dancing with Brandywine. Participating students don’t get college credit, but they do get the opportunity to dance in three yearly performances and they can take additional classes at the studio for free.
West Chester University allows Brandywine to rent theater space at a discount, and the university’s music and theater departments often provide musicians and sets for company productions.
Muzio says the partnership took determination. She first broached the idea in a letter to West Chester’s president, and it took a year to iron out the details.
Performing Arts Dance Academy (420 students)
Suzanne Mall learned that a great partnership might literally be right next door. Shortly after she opened her studio in 1994, the space next to hers was leased to photographer Robert Caldwell. Mall asked him to take recital photos, and she loved the professional quality of the shots.
Caldwell has since taken group photos for all 70 classes at the Dance Academy, as well as solo shots of the dancers. Mall receives a discount on group shots for the studio, and she earns 10 percent of what Caldwell makes selling photos to parents.
The photographer benefits, too. “A lot of the clients here spill over into his business,” says Mall, noting that her dance parents now seek out Caldwell to take senior yearbook photos.
Julia Wilkinson Manley
Ballet Nouveau Colorado (300 students)
Many studios partner with a local dance retailer, which is what Ballet Nouveau Colorado has done with Boulder Body Wear.
School director Julia Wilkinson Manley accompanies her newest pointe students to a fitting at Boulder Body Wear each August. And throughout the year, storeowner Amy Kenney visits the studio to evaluate pre-pointe students and give seminars on starting pointe to dancers and parents.
The benefits are mutual. Boulder Body Wear gives Manley’s students 20 percent off, so most studio families shop there exclusively. Manley is glad to send clients somewhere she trusts. “They care about every dancer,” she says. “It makes our business better.” DT
Lauren Heist is a freelance writer based in Evanston, IL.
Photo courtesy of The Dance Center
Your studio’s rent is most likely your biggest monthly expense. But what if your space could actually help you bring in more money? Some studio owners have discovered that renting out their space for dance auditions, weddings and birthday parties, or to outside dance and fitness instructors, is a great way to boost revenue—and bring in new students. We asked four studio directors to share their rental strategies. They each have different approaches, but all stressed the importance of requiring advance payment, written contracts and proof of insurance or a liability waiver.
Gotta Dance Atlanta
A large part of Gotta Dance Atlanta’s identity—and revenue stream consists of renting space to national recording artists and major TV and film organizations for auditions. Founder Kim Thomas says her 9,000-square-foot adult-based studio makes 20 to 25 percent of its annual income from rentals, which she uses for marketing and facility improvements. Space is rented week days during 9 am to 5 pm office hours, when full-time office staff is onsite to manage. Price varies by studio size, and weekend events cost extra. Thomas provides dance equipment, like barres and a sound system, and rents out fabric chairs, metal chairs and the refrigerator. She advertises in the Georgia Film, Video & Digital Entertainment Sourcebook and markets the studio as a venue for weddings, bar mitzvahs and other events.
A $250 deposit and 50 percent payment are required up front, with balance due 10 to 14 days before the contracted date. If there’s no damage, the deposit is returned one to two weeks after the rental. “I get their credit card numbers up front,” she says. Thomas also requires all renters to sign a contract and provide proof of insurance that covers up to $1 million for personal injury or death and up to $2 million for property damage.
Millennium Dance Studio
Like Gotta Dance, the 3,000-square-foot Millennium Dance Studio is a popular place for TV and film dance auditions, especially because renters can choose one of three rooms or take the walls down to create one large space. Each weekend, director Tracie Coleman opens her space to ballet, hip hop, Bollywood and other dance classes, and she says that from February to July, there are as many as four parties in the studio every Friday and Saturday night. “It’s an easy, quick money-making tool,” she says. Her studio made $15,840 in rentals this past season.
Charges are $25 to $45 per hour for dance-based events and $100 to $2,500 for class reunions, holiday parties and bridal showers. Tables, chairs and linens are available. All event-based rentals pay a 25 percent deposit, and weekly renters pay a 50 percent deposit. Coleman has a two-week cancellation policy (one week for weekly rentals). An insurance waiver must be signed if the renters cannot provide proof of their own. Before coming to terms with any renter, Coleman contacts references to verify personal data and asks local police and sheriff’s departments to conduct background checks.
Dance Center Evanston
Bea Rashid regularly rents her 10,000-square-foot studio to two different yoga classes, a Zumba class, an
adult fitness program and a mom-and-tot music and movement class. Renting out her five rooms generates enough money to cover 15–20 percent of her monthly lease. “I like renters who have a regular arrangement with me,” she says.
Hourly rates are based on type of use. Corporate events, like filming industrial videos or choreographing for a commercial, cost $30/hour; group classes are $20/hour; nonprofits pay $14/hour; and private lessons are $15/hour. Rental hours are during the normal workday, when the full-time office staff is in the building. Rashid meets with prospective renters and often takes class from them to make sure they will reflect well on her studio. She provides them with storage space and highlights them in her newsletter. “Their solvency is good for the dance center as well,” she says.
Live Love Dance LLC
Even a smaller studio can benefit from rentals. Live Love Dance does not have an office staff present during the day, so owner Valerie Gunnels must let renters in and out herself. She makes $80 to $250 monthly, renting to local dancers and community groups and hosting kids’ birthday parties on weekends.
Regular rentals are $45/hour for the larger studio and $20 for the smaller one. For birthday parties, Gunnels charges $90 to teach an hour-long
dance lesson for up to 10 kids, where she also gives a special gift to the birthday girl. There is an additional hourly fee of $15 to use the party room for cake and presents. “I would do birthday parties every weekend, it’s so easy,” she says.
Once a year, Gunnels rents out her studio to a beauty pageant. She charges the organization $160 to use both studios, plus the dressing room and lobby. And as with all renters, an official agreement must be signed and they must provide proof of insurance. Gunnels’ main reason for hosting her space: “It brings in a lot of little girls who are looking to take dance lessons,” she says. DT
Lauren Heist is a writer and Jazzercise instructor based in Evanston, IL.
Photo ©iStockphoto.com/Alexander Novikov
Mary Harding was frustrated by the tortoise-like progress of her high school dance students at Perpich Center for Arts Education in Golden Valley, Minnesota. She gave them feedback on their choreography, pointers on what to fix during rehearsals, but sometimes she felt like nothing sank in. Then one day she had an idea: Maybe students would learn better if they were the ones doing the teaching.“I wondered what would happen if it wasn’t just my voice all the time,” she says.
To find out, Harding set up a research study to determine whether students have a deeper learning experience when they give direct feedback to each other. Her study was published in a 2009 issue of the Journal of Dance Education.
Harding divided her class of juniors and seniors into pairs. For six weeks the partners took turns watching and giving feedback. After each assignment, students filled out evaluations stating what fears they had about the process, what was the most valuable feedback they received, what they planned to revise as a result and how the feedback they gave was received.
The results were remarkable—the students became more confident and cohesive as a group, improved their ability to talk about dance and, most importantly, became better dancers.
Why can feedback from peers sometimes be more powerful than feedback from teachers? Harding’s hunch is that when students coach, they learn to watch with a critical eye, and that helps them improve. “As they struggled with the role of teacher, they started to see their own technical and analytical needs more clearly,” Harding says.
Deborah Brockus of the Idyllwild Arts Academy in Idyllwild, California, who also finds peer coaching a valuable teaching tool, starts each semester by pairing up students and having them take turns walking toward the mirror and back while their partners watch. She instructs the observing dancers to look for alignment issues—whether or not a foot circles out with each step, whether knees are in line with the feet. Then each partner tells the other what she sees.
Starting with a simple movement like walking is useful, Brockus says, because it’s something everyone feels comfortable commenting on. The exercise also helps students start to see movement in a technical way. “They learn to think about the small, common movements and to see how deviations there affect the big dance moves,” she says.
Despite the value, peer coaching can be dangerous without strict ground rules. Students must be taught how to give comments that are positive and constructive, not put-downs.
Harding addressed this by focusing on communication skills. She had students make up skits to illustrate a best- and worst-case scenario of receiving feedback, to set the tone for a class in which everyone treated each other with respect.
Valerie Nesby of F.M. Black Middle School in Houston, Texas, instructs her students to point out in each comment one thing their classmate does well and one thing they need to improve on.
To avoid getting generic “good/bad” comments, it helps to explain exactly what students should be looking for. Harding’s students, for example, were asked to consider five elements of every performance: musicality, energy or dynamic range, performance quality, accuracy and spatial clarity.
Nesby’s middle-schoolers fill out a worksheet for each peer evaluation, checking off whether or not their partners fulfilled various elements. The list includes: “Counts the music while dancing,” “Spots on turns” and “Misses cues.” Students also have room to write comments on the form.
Another way to elicit constructive criticism from students is to set up clear goals for each dance assignment. Diana Domoracki-Kisto of William A. Morris IS 61 in Staten Island, New York, gives her middle school students movement “problems,” such as creating a dance that looks like a weather pattern, and then asks the students watching to decide if their peers achieved the goal.
When assigning partners, Harding paired students of different expertise levels, and those with similar amounts of training, and found positives and negatives for both. She also found it useful to assign new partners after three weeks so students could get a new perspective.
Whether students were dancing or observing, Harding found that peer coaching deepened their engagement. As performers, students put in more effort when they knew someone was watching. And as coaches, they watched closely to see if their partner took their corrections.
The value of the process continues far beyond the studio. Michael Anthony Kerr of New Voices School of Academic & Creative Arts in Brooklyn, NY, says that when students learn how to analyze dance, they also become better dance patrons. “It becomes more than just movement, more than just arms and legs,” Kerr says. “You’re teaching students how to look at dance.” DT
Lauren Heist is a former dance critic for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. She is now a freelance writer in Evanston, IL.
Photo of students at the Perpich Center For Arts Education, by Dan Markworth, courtesy of Perpich Center For Arts Education.
Finding out you’re pregnant can be one of the most exciting experiences of your life. But it may also cause your head to spin, as you worry about what type of movements will be safe, how long you’ll be able to continue teaching and if your pregnancy will affect your business. “A lot of stress during my pregnancy was my fear that I was going to have to close my school,” says Elizabeth Fernandez-Flores, who directs the New American Youth Ballet in New York City and had her first child in December. To help ease worries, we gathered advice on what to expect when expecting and how to safely continue teaching.
Listen to your body.
The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists recommends that all healthy pregnant women exercise for at least 30 minutes a day, adding that women who are used to more active lifestyles can continue their training throughout their pregnancy. But there are a few exercise body positions that could prove harmful. Experts advise cutting out back-based exercises, which can elevate your heart rate, and movements that might cause you to strain or injure your abdomen, like jumping. Being aware of normal body changes and how they will affect your teaching can also prevent injury.
When you become pregnant, your body will gradually increase the level of hormones it produces, such as relaxin, elastin, estrogen and progesterone, causing the connective tissues around your joints to soften and become less stable. While this change increases the chance of falling, says Dr. Shelly Holmstrom, a gynecologist at the University of South Florida in Tampa, it is a plus for stretching. “It was like I was on another planet or something,” says Heather Berest, (DT cover, June 2007) co-director of the Berest Dance Center in Port Washington, NY. “I would be demonstrating, not warmed up or anything, but I could développé up to my ear.” You might love your new super-stretching ability, but it’s important to avoid movements that can overstretch your ligaments and put extra stress on your pubic bone, such as deep grand pliés or those in a wide second position.
Deborah Vogel, a dance instructor at Oberlin College, mother of three and co-founder of the Center for Dance Medicine in NYC, has a few suggestions for safe stretching during pregnancy. “As the baby gets bigger, the pull on your lower back is significant,” she said in an issue of her Dancing Smart Newsletter. “So the one stretch you cannot stop doing is some form of iliopsoas stretching.” To make muscles looser around the pelvis, she added, incorporate ball work into exercises that stretch the pubic area. She also recommended doing standing hamstring stretches with one leg placed on a chair, since rolling down the spine will become almost impossible. “Being pregnant is an amazing process that you are engaged with,” Vogel said. “But listening to your body is key.”
Avoid fighting exhaustion.
Sometimes a bigger challenge for expectant dance teachers than risking injury is coping with exhaustion. “Your body is making another person, and that takes a lot of energy,” Holmstrom says. Make sure to get plenty of rest to stay energized and healthy throughout the pregnancy. There’s nothing wrong with taking a break, especially when experiencing leg aches or swollen feet. In fact, Berest says sitting down more and demonstrating less actually improved her teaching. “Before, I was a performer and tried to be inspirational with my body,” she says. “But when I was pregnant, I had to learn how to better communicate. My eye developed so much more, and that’s where my skill really increased.”
Keep a few veteran students or assistant teachers on hand to demonstrate or take over class, to help even more when feeling fatigued. Fernandez-Flores says that having an older student assist with class made all the difference for her younger students. Classes will be easier for you to cue from the front of the room. Try giving them a combination they already know, or just let them improvise while you rest.
Welcome weight gain and eat smart.
Although normal, gaining weight during pregnancy can be another source of anxiety for some dance professionals. Gail Abrams, a dance professor at Scripps College in Claremont, California, has given numerous presentations about teaching while pregnant. She once spoke with a ballet dancer who tried to conceal her pregnancy by eating nothing more than a yogurt and an apple a day, because she was afraid of losing her job. Her baby was born in distress. “I think it’s important for women to recognize that your body is supposed to gain weight,” says Abrams. “It’s important to gain sustenance not only for you, but for your baby.”
Holmstrom says that women with a normal body mass index should gain at least 25 to 35 pounds. She recommends eating an extra 100 calories a day during the first trimester and 300 extra calories a day during the remaining trimesters. Eating foods rich in complex carbohydrates and protein will help increase your blood glucose levels, which tend to be lower during pregnancy, according to the Aerobics and Fitness Association of America. Also, remember to drink plenty of water, as dehydration is a known cause of premature labor, says the AFAA. But experts agree that it’s most important to listen to your doctor’s advice when it comes to your personal diet. For Berest, her obstetrician insisted she fatten up by eating potato chips and mayonnaise. The slender Berest gained a whopping 57 pounds, and she welcomed a very healthy baby boy in 2007.
As for losing the post-pregnancy weight, Abrams says that it should come off fairly easily two months to a year after delivery. And she warns that rapid weight loss can often be more jarring to dance teachers than the slow weight gain during pregnancy. “I suggest that you go back to exercising and teaching very, very gently and very, very slowly,” she says. DT
Lauren Heist is a former dance critic for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel and is now based in Evanston, IL.
Like many dance teachers, Sergey Kozadayev deals with pain from arthritis on a daily basis. Every morning, the 55-year-old wakes up with pain in his knees, a condition he attributes to several bad habits from his days as a professional dancer with the Leningrad State Ballet. Kozadayev recalls landing improperly from jumps—locking his knees instead of using them to absorb the shock and protect his hips and lower back. By dancing with poor technique, he caused irreparable damage to his ligaments and joints. “Now I have two nails in my kneecap, and when the rain is coming, I know,” jokes Kozadayev, who served as the ballet master at the Colorado Ballet in Denver before becoming the artistic director at Chicago’s Salt Creek Ballet.
Nearly 70 million Americans suffer from arthritis—that’s about one out of every four people—and more than 58 percent are women, according to the Centers for Disease Control. A deterioration of the cartilage between joints, which causes pain and decreased range of motion, arthritis normally affects people over the age of 60, but in dancers, it can occur as early as age 20, due to the constant strain on their bodies. If you suspect that you are suffering from arthritis, here are some tips for diagnosing the condition, dealing with the pain and getting through a long day of teaching.
Recognizing the Symptoms
Look out for joints that are red, warm, swollen and achy. “If you have all of those components, then you may have arthritis,” says Dr. Hayes Wilson, a national medical advisor for the Arthritis Foundation and chief of rheumatology at Piedmont Hospital in Atlanta, Georgia. Experts say if you experience any of these symptoms for more than a week, it’s best to consult a doctor.
Unfortunately, dancers have a tendency to push through their pain and put off seeking medical advice. Although you may have developed a high pain threshold, experts say you can’t ignore sore feet and tender muscles, and the longer you leave your arthritis unchecked and don’t change your behavior, the worse it can become. “The fear among dancers is if they have it checked out, [the doctor] will tell them they can’t dance,” says Donna Williams, the Dance Medicine Manager for AthletiCo, a physical therapy firm in Chicago. “But if you let it go, it’s going to become a big problem.”
Lessening the Pain
Once you are diagnosed with arthritis, there are steps you can take to make life easier. Wilson recommends that dance teachers start by taking an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory. If these over-the-counter medicines don’t work, your doctor can prescribe something stronger.
Next, learn when to take a break. “Pacing yourself during class and taking rest breaks is important,” Wilson says. Don’t be reluctant to sit on a stool to watch the class, rather than walking around and examining students.
Williams adds that you should sit down if you start to feel pain in your knees, ankles or feet. “If you’re having problems, sometimes it’s necessary to make modifications to prolong the life of your body,” she says. You should also avoid using the same muscles too often, which can be a common problem for dance teachers who lead the same exercises day after day. And don’t favor one side of your body when demonstrating steps, as that can cause added strain to certain joints. Instead, Williams suggests forcing yourself to demonstrate on both the left and the right sides as a form of muscle-balancing.
After 10 years of working with dancers from the Joffrey Ballet, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago and Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, among others, Williams says she’s seen a lot of similarities in where dancers experience pain. According to her, overworking certain muscles and underusing others will cause unnatural strain on the connecting joints.
“[Dancers’] calves are so strong because they relevé and jump all the time,” she says. This imbalance can lead to arthritis in the ankles, knees and feet. Dancers also tend to have strong quadriceps but weak hamstrings and outer hips, which can cause pain in the hips and lower back. To combat these tendencies, Williams recommends exercising outside of the studio and varying your workouts to strengthen weaker muscles and evenly tone your body. Choose activities that won’t put added stress on your joints, such as yoga, Pilates, swimming or biking. In the gym, stick to low-impact cardio machines such as elliptical trainers and stationary bikes.
Maintaining a healthy, balanced diet is another key to lessening arthritis pain. Obesity is a major contributing cause to arthritis, because excess weight puts extra strain on the joints. Some experts also encourage arthritis sufferers to avoid foods that are acidic, such as caffeine, tomatoes, potatoes, peppers and eggplant, although there is no conclusive scientific evidence to prove these foods make arthritis worse.
Finally, the Arthritis Foundation stresses that you should be kind to your joints by applying an ice pack to those areas that are hot and inflamed, taking a warm or hot bath before going to bed and treating yourself to massages.
Many arthritis sufferers even opt for surgery. Dick Blake, a 62-year-old social dance teacher in Cleveland, Ohio, says he was in denial about the seriousness of his arthritis for eight years before he finally found himself walking with a cane and realized the condition was threatening his way of life. “It was devastating,” Blake says. “You have your business, hundreds of students waiting to take classes from you, and you can’t do it.”
He tried napping often and taking pills for the pain, but eventually he decided to have two hip replacements at the same time. Within six weeks, Blake says he was walking again and back in the studio, and 10 years after surgery he is still pleased with the results. “I can dance as well as I did 25 years ago, and it’s because of good surgery,” he says.
Blake recommends that dance teachers get evaluated for surgery by at least two doctors. “If you’re positive you have to have it done, the longer you wait, the worse it will be,” he adds. “The students will be there when you get back.”
Training for Prevention
“The first and most important thing I would say to dancers is to use proper technique to avoid injury,” says Wilson. To prevent arthritis from developing later on, young dancers should be especially sure to use correct turnout. If dancers aren’t rotating their legs completely from the hips, they will end up rolling forward on their toes, which puts added pressure on the knees and ankles.
To encourage correct turnout from an early age, Williams sends her team of therapists into performing arts high schools to analyze students’ dance technique. “We like to look at their biomechanics,” Williams says. “They may be cheating, turning out their foot and knee because they don’t have natural turnout at the hip.”
Incorrect form isn’t only found in young, inexperienced dancers. Williams says even some dance teachers don’t use proper form, and she notes that it’s even harder to correct their mistakes. “They’ve been doing this for so long that they might need to unlearn things,” she says.
In the end, it’s important to remember that pain from arthritis need not spell the end of your teaching career. With attention and care, you will find that you can continue to choreograph, demonstrate and teach every day. DT
Lauren Heist is a freelance writer in Evanston, IL.