Mary Six Rupert (center) is spokeswoman for the American Association of Physical Activity and Recreation's "Get a Kick Out of Life" knee-health campaign. Photo courtesy of Rupert
Mary Six Rupert remembers the exact day when demonstrating pullbacks in her tap class didn't quite feel right. The former Rockette then noticed that walking up the subway stairs caused sharp pain in her knees. In the beginning the pain only occurred during activity, but it soon became so constant that she needed a demonstrator for class. “Six shows a day seven days a week with high heels and high kicking will take a toll on anyone's knees," says Rupert, referring to her 13-year stint in the famous Radio City kick line. In her 50s, she was diagnosed with osteoarthritis in both knees—an arthritic condition common among dancers where the protective cartilage at the ends of bones gradually deteriorates and the knee loses shock absorption. In extreme cases, bones can rub against each other.
One can never be too prepared. When things break, rip and get left on the bus, that doesn't need to ruin the show. From first-aid to back-up music, here's a handy checklist of what not to forget.
On any given afternoon, you might find the downstairs studio at Houston's Evelyn Rubenstein Jewish Community Center (the J) filled to the brim with tapping adults or tiny tots taking their first dance class.
During the height of Hurricane Harvey, it was filled with toxic water.
Seeing tiny tots covered in bling while gyrating to a suggestive song is a hot-button issue for judges, teachers and parents alike. Particularly when that's the number that wins top honors at competition. Just how much of a factor is age-appropriate choreography, costuming and music in scoring? Or to put it bluntly, why do the judges continue to reward behavior that makes nearly everyone cringe?
Four incredible educators: Joanne Chapman, Claudio Muñoz, Pamela VanGilder and Kathleen Isaac foster their students' love of dance, whether instilling artistry, offering rigorous training or giving special needs students an outlet through movement.
Although there may not be one perfect way to run a dance studio, smart directors gravitate to certain practices that make life better for the whole community—owners, teachers and students. DT spoke with several savvy owners to get their takes on topics that will streamline your operation and free you up to focus on teaching dance.
4 Ways to Retain Valued Faculty
Make time for feedback Check in with your teachers periodically about how their classes are going. Give them time and space to discuss everything from behavioral issues to choreography ideas. Create goals together and help them make a plan to work toward achievement.
Free classes Your teachers may be still training, themselves. Consider offering free classes at your studio or education stipends for further study. An investment in their skills is an investment in the quality of their teaching. Many studios offer half-price or free classes for teachers’ children, as well.
Enrollment incentives Consider a bonus structure (on top of base pay) based on enrollment. For example, you can offer $2 more per child over a base minimum enrollment. Your teachers will feel more invested in the studio’s success.
Show your appreciation An end-of-semester or holiday gift, however small, can show that you value their contribution. A note and $25 gift card to a nearby restaurant can be a nice surprise for on-the-go teachers.
Do You Measure Up? It’s common for studio owners to pay airfare/mileage, hotel and a per diem for competition directors and choreographers who travel to Nationals and Regionals.
What’s in Your Registration Packet?
• An overview of the studio
• Calendar of events
• Tuition rates and discount opportunities
• Photo and liability
• Concise handbook with dress code and etiquette
• Costume ordering information for the entire season
• Class descriptions
• Teacher bios
• Weather cancellation policies
• Sign-up instructions for Remind texting service for emergency news
Remind is a free app that allows you to send one-way texts to students, parents, faculty and staff. Send competition team schedule changes, weather-related updates about studio closure or photos of what hair and makeup should look like. With Remind, you can attach photos, documents, PDFs, presentations and even recorded voice messages.
TIP: Make sure everything in your packet is also available online.
Avoid TMI New dance parents can be easily overwhelmed with your three-pound package of forms and information. Consider sharing information in small doses, as needed, to let them get used to the dance studio culture on their own time. For example, dress code for class is an immediate need; recital costume ordering can wait.
Cash Flow IQ
Timing of tuition and fees can make or break your ready-money situation.
Try using a 10-month tuition policy. If your school year consists of 35 weeks, you would spread payments over 10 months, rather than 9. Parents would pay for 3 1/2 weeks of tuition every month, resulting in smaller monthly payments.
Consider collecting tuition for recreational and competition students at different times. For instance, tuition is due for most students on the first of the month and for competition/company students on the 15th, creating a nice mid-month boost of cash.
Collect a deposit Consider collecting first and last month (May) tuition for the year at fall registration. This ensures you’ll get your final month of tuition, should a family relocate from the area before the end of the term or the child decides to quit dancing.
Reward the early birds with discounts 10 percent, for example, for advance payment of the entire year or semester. Caution: Not all discounts are good for business. Run the numbers before offering huge discounts for students taking multiple classes. Unlimited classes for a set fee can result in lots of free classes, especially when coupled with sibling discounts.
Cover your summer Holding fall registration in May can provide cash flow during the lean summer months.
Late fees and other consequences for nonpayment Think of tuition as the ticket to participate in all aspects of studio life, which include the most exciting part for a dancer: performing. Your policy should state that unless tuition is paid in full, costumes cannot be ordered, and competition, convention and recital participation—as well as class attendance—is suspended.
Place of work
4 Ways Studio-Business Software Will Change Your Life
Review receivables at a glance Your online dashboard will tell you what you need to know to run your business smoothly, day to day.
Should you offer that winter intensive again? Let the data help you make the decision. Track trends and patterns of attendance to make an informed decision before adding a class.
Online tuition collection Let parents manage their own accounts online and keep track of their tuition payments—rather than call you.
Recital organization With all your students entered in your database, you will know if you have double-booked a dancer. You can even directly import the names for your recital program. No more typos!
Do you pay teachers as freelancers or employees?
The question of classifying teachers correctly as employees or independent contractors is more important than ever. If the IRS disagrees with your findings, back taxes, interest and a fee could be charged. Know the law and get it right! Tip: When in question, it’s better to err on the side of employment.
Your teachers are employees and NOT independent
contractors, if the studio:
*determines the teaching
fee and keeps track of hours worked.
*sets the curriculum
(e.g., what is included in a beginner ballet class).
*sets the class schedule and time.
*is where the majority of the teacher’s activity takes place.
Your teachers may be independent contractors, if they:
*operate a business, often teaching at many locations.
*invoice the studio.
*present a contract to the studio.
*determine the content of the class.
8 Steps to Better Social Media
Diversify Everyone is on social media these days, but not always on the same platforms. (Younger people love Instagram.) Balance your outreach between Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and there’s no need to post the exact same thing on all three platforms. Be dynamic and change it up.
Engage and inform Do not annoy by posting the same information over and over, or posting items unrelated to dance.
Avoid generic photos of little dancers in pink tutus Your audience recognizes a stock photo when they see one. It’s not about polish, but authenticity. Personalize your posts, and don’t be afraid to celebrate what’s going on within your studio’s walls. Post photos of your actual classes and studio life.
Boost your message Got a new class? You can pay a small fee on Facebook and boost that post to get it seen by a wider group of people.
Target your reach Create targeted Facebook ads by age range of children and income level of parents who live within a certain mile radius of your studio. Facebook has a handy help section to walk you through the process.
Private Pages You can create a private Facebook page for each group in your studio, such as for junior and senior competition teams, parents of small children and so on. This way, updates on rehearsals or costumes go directly to the dancers or parents who need to see them.
Videos We all know that people click on posts with photos, so why not have the dancers in motion, too? Keep your video under three minutes. And they don’t have to be videos of your students—there are wonderful inspirational videos out there that will lift your dancers’ spirits in a minute.
#Hashtags The concept was initiated by the Twitter community but is useful now across platforms. Create a hashtag for your studio while at a competition or an event, for example #StudioXNYCDA, as a way for everyone to keep updated in real time. It’s also a way for those not attending to follow your progress and success.
Tip: Be aware of the negative side of social media. Educate yourself on cyberbullying and regularly take the pulse of what’s happening in your social-media circle of faculty, staff, parents and students. Consider creating a social-media policy for teachers and staff who post anything related to the studio.
Sample policy Students and parents at the Kathy Blake Dance Studios abide by a code of ethics that also informs their social-media policy. “Students and parents are expected to use social media only to reflect the Code of Ethics. Students and parents using social media to disparage any aspect of their team, instructors, their peers or KBDS will be dismissed from the team. No video containing studio choreography should be posted on any social-media site.”
3rd Level Business Consulting
Dance Studio Owner
Anthony Insurance Services
Markel Insurance Company
Scott Danahy Naylon, LLC
The Studio Director
Dance Academy USA
Just For Kix
Suzanne Blake Gerety
Kim Massay Dance Productions
Boni’s Dance and Performing Arts
The Woodlands, TX
When husband and wife team Heidi Halt and Sergio Neglia founded Neglia Conservatory of Ballet in Buffalo, New York, they started small and slowly enough to give themselves time to figure out their individual roles. Halt, an accomplished ballet teacher, gravitated toward the business end of the studio in addition to teaching, while Neglia (who still performs for the studio company, Neglia Ballet Artists) taught, rehearsed the pre-professional company and handled much of the care of their two children. After 20 years, the couple now has additional instructors and two full-time staff members to help deal with day-to-day jobs, yet they retain the original division of duties.
Dance studios are often family operations, which can be equal parts convenient and tricky. DT asked three couples to talk about their partnerships—how exactly can a dance studio owner keep her head when her business and marriage are intertwined?
Sergio Neglia and Heidi Halt, Neglia Conservatory of Ballet
“Mutual respect for each other’s capabilities is essential,” says Halt. “We sometimes have different teaching styles, and that’s good. Dancers need many different approaches, and we really complement each other.” The couple enjoys changing it up and switching out classes from time to time as a way to stay on top of what the other is doing in class. “Seeing results in our students is so rewarding,” adds Halt.
The two try to make their lives at home not about ballet 24/7, although it’s hard if they’ve had a particularly busy studio day. “Just as we tell our students, ‘Don’t bring your issues into the studio,’ we try not to as well. And we never ever yell at each other in front of parents or students,” says Halt. She does notice that the dancers seem to work harder for Neglia. “As soon as he walks in the room, everyone pulls up, especially in the boys’ class.”
Barry Carroll and Joanne Chapman have been running Joanne Chapman School of Dance in Brampton, Ontario, together for 28 of its 42 years. Carroll, a plumber by trade, took over administrative duties after the bottom had fallen out of the construction market. Today, he is the studio’s ace front man and completely involved in the business aspects of the studio. Their two daughters are also full-time teachers, so it’s a full family affair.
“It works so well because we are not doing the same job,” says Chapman, who admits there’s been a learning curve. She says it helps to have someone at the front desk who is not a teacher, hence not judgmental in any way. “He deals directly with the parents and sometimes brings that perspective to me.”
“Barry is not a typical dance-world type. He’s more of a guy’s guy, which means dads love hanging out at the studio,” she says. “He loves ice hockey and golf. In fact, he organizes a popular yearly golf trip for the dads.” And because dance can be an all-consuming life, they work at keeping varied personal schedules. “It helps that we both have friends and interests outside of the dance world,” she says. “It keeps us grounded.”
Rebecca and Charlie Reese, Blair Dance Academy
When Charlie and Rebecca Reese married four years ago, Rebecca was already running Blair Dance Academy in Altoona, Pennsylvania. New husband Charlie looked around to find ways he could bring his skills as a financial analyst to the business. Today, although employed full-time outside the studio, he keeps the books in order, deals with the accountants, the studio budget and bank accounts, while Rebecca handles the artistic end and day-to-day operations. It’s a winning system. “We joke that she just married me for my money skills,” says Charlie.
When they were ready to take the next step to grow the studio, Charlie managed purchasing a new building. He is also a self-taught graphic artist and web designer, helping out with everything from recital posters to ticket design. “It’s been neat to learn new skills,” he says.
And some things are learned the hard way. “Once I tried to offer some advice on the artistic side—as in a song idea—and I learned quickly where our boundaries stand,” Charlie says, with a smile. “Really, she does listen to me, but it works best when we keep to our strengths.” It helps that he understood completely what he was getting into. “We are a successful couple because I knew right up front that I needed to buy into the dance world,” he says. “Her dreams are my dreams.” DT
Based in Houston, Nancy Wozny is a frequent contributor to Dance Teacher.
Thinkstock; courtesy of Neglia Conservatory; Ray Kauffman Photography, courtesy of Blair Dance Academy