Business

Saving Grace

Tighten your belt without choking your business.

Los Gatos Ballet director Marcie Ryken cuts recital expenses to fund outreach programs.

When Christopher Lynn, managing director of Ballet Conservatory of Asheville in Asheville, NC, opened the studio with his wife Angie three years ago, he learned fast that the costs involved with running a studio and doing a full-length ballet production pile up quickly.

“Between the backstage help, the sets, costumes and crew…it was more than we thought,” he says.

Like Lynn, other studio owners have found ways to make the most of their budgets—from modifying production spending to changing advertising strategies to be more effective. Here, Lynn and two other directors share how they’ve cut expenses and increased their bottom lines.

Christopher Lynn

Ballet Conservatory of Asheville

(400 students)

Asheville, NC

When the Ballet Conservatory of Asheville first opened its doors, owners Christopher and Angie Lynn wore many hats. In addition to running and scheduling dance classes, the two did the bookkeeping, cleaning and all the odds and ends necessary to keep up the studio.

“We tried to do everything ourselves, but it grew too quickly, and we didn’t have the energy to do it all and still take our children out for dinner,” Christopher Lynn says. “We needed to find a way to get the work done that didn’t hurt our bottom line.”

Their solution? Bartering.

“We ended up having a parent with a cleaning service take on that responsibility in exchange for classes,” he says. “We have another parent who is a painter, one who does renovations.”

Thanks to the trades, the studio has been painted inside and out, the roof has been fixed and the Lynns have had more time to concentrate on the artistic aspects of running a studio.

“In some ways, bartering has us all more involved and committed to each other,” Lynn says. “We get to know the parents well and that’s important to us.”

Sometimes the parents will seek the deals out, while other times the Lynns will learn of a skill and offer the deal themselves. “Through our student connections we have a videographer, a couple of professional photographers, even a parent who works for a local CD-pressing company,” Lynn says. “Last year a very good photographer shot each of our three productions, attending at least one rehearsal and several performances. He also photographed dancers for advertising shots, showcases and our annual recitals—all in trade for free classes for his 7-year-old daughter, which would have cost him $700.”

When bartering, the Ballet Conservatory estimates the value of the services they’ll receive to keep the per-hour equivalent for the trade fair for both parties involved. They are currently creating a list of projects so that parents can trade in times of need.

“For some services, we just agree to pay them like a vendor and let them pay for their classes. This allows us to easily write off the services as business expenses for tax purposes,” Lynn says. “We usually barter for tuition only, and ask families to still pay for tickets and other fees. I believe people value the service more when they pay at least something for it.”

Susan L. Smith

New England School of Dance

(100 students)

Manchester, NH

Having been in business since 1986, New England School of Dance owner Susan L. Smith knows the value of advertising. After all, a good ad can bring in students or attract a full house to an upcoming recital.

“The biggest thing that I have changed over the years is the money spent on advertising, but I didn’t stop. I just alternatively advertised through social media and by using Facebook ads,” Smith says.

Over the past two years, Smith has spent $1,200 on Facebook ads, and although she’s not exactly sure of the return, she does know that it brings a great deal of people to her website. “It creates awareness, which is just as important,” she says.

Smith also saves money by taking over work she had once contracted out. She estimates she saves nearly $10,000 a year by taking on certain cleaning and administrative duties herself. “When you own a studio, you really have to do a lot of the cleaning and office work yourself,” she says. “My time is very much taken up by my business, and as I get older I find I am doing less teaching and more administrative work.” She uses QuickBooks for accounting, and she enlists a little help from her daughter to ensure things run smoothly.

She has also saved by cutting down on the number of backdrops she rents for the end-of-year productions, dropping from four to two. The shows might not be as elaborate, she says, but it allows the money to be used for other expenses, including the rental cost of the theater.

Marcie Ryken

Los Gatos Ballet

(159 students)

Los Gatos, CA

“This is our 10th year in business, and we have managed to save by collaborating with other organizations for some of our bigger productions,” says Marcie Ryken, owner of Los Gatos Ballet in Los Gatos, CA. “It’s definitely helped us.”

Each year, Ryken’s studio joins forces with the nonprofit San Jose Dance Theatre for The Nutcracker, which she says has helped the studio grow while keeping costs down. Ryken directs, chooses a cast from open auditions and provides the artistic staff and some costumes, while SJDT provides the theater and takes care of production costs.

Ryken has also kept a sharp eye out for other arts programs in the area interested in trading or unloading old sets.

“Schools are a great resource because their theater departments often have great sets and props that they sometimes just get rid of,” she says. For instance, Los Gatos Ballet was going to have to spend a lot of money to build a carriage for a recent production of Cinderella, but Ryken learned of a nearby school that had one and was open to sharing.

“We probably would have spent about $500–$600 in materials, with an estimated 60–80 hours in labor,” she says. “We still spent about $100 in materials to paint and add lighting, but in the long run, it helped a great deal.”

Ryken allocates extra money like this toward the programs she feels need to expand, including her artist-in-residence programs, outreach and performance and educational opportunities for her students. DT

 

Keith Loria is a business writer based in Virginia.  Photo by George Sakkestad

Neuromuscular expert Deborah Vogel with Jordan Lazan, right. Photo by Jim Lafferty

By strengthening the intrinsic muscles of the foot and ankle, a dancer can help prevent or correct existing pronation. Having strong intrinsic foot muscles keeps the arches aligned, preventing them from dropping inward.

Here, Vogel shares three strengthening exercises to help correct and prevent pronation. She advises dancers to include these in their cross-training regimen.

Mobilize your ankles. (Step 1)

For this ankle mobilization exercise, having a TheraBand wrapped around your ankles puts pressure on your feet to pronate. By resisting that action and keeping your feet centered through the relevé, you're essentially training the ankle where center is.

  • Sitting up straight in a chair, with your feet planted on the floor a few inches apart, tie a TheraBand in a loop around your ankles. You can place a yoga block vertically in between your knees to maintain space between your legs.

Next Page
Photo courtesy of New York Live Arts

Ellen Robbins' modern dance classes for kids and teens are legendary in New York City. Robbins, who has been teaching kids how to dance since the 1970s (and whose pupils included the actresses Claire Danes and Julia Stiles), takes the standard recital model and turns it on its head. Her students—ranging in age from 8 to 18—are the choreographers for the annual concert she produces at esteemed NYC venue New York Live Arts.

If that approach sounds borderline insane to you (we know you're all deep in the throes of recital season right now), consider Robbins' unique teaching philosophy: Improvisation is present in every aspect of class, for every age group. Here are four ways she shapes her youngest dancers into choreographers—almost without their realizing it!

Keep reading... Show less
Teachers & Role Models
Former students of Kelley gather around a cardboard cutout made in his honor at the recent tribute. Photo courtesy of Merritt

Every dancer has a teacher who makes an impression. The kind of impression that makes you want to become a dancer or a teacher in the first place. For Mara Merritt, owner of Merritt Dance Center in Schenectady, NY, and countless others, that teacher was Charles Kelley.

Known as "Chuck" to most, Kelley was born December 4, 1936. He was a master teacher in tap, jazz and acrobatics, who wrote syllabuses for national dance conventions like Dance Masters of America. Growing up in upstate New York, Merritt's parents, both dance teachers, took her into Manhattan every Friday to study with Kelley. First at the old Ed Sullivan Theater and the New York Center of Dance in Times Square, then years later at Broadway Dance Center.

Keep reading... Show less
Photo courtesy of DM archives

"It's hard not to get too hurt in this profession."

Ann Reinking got real earlier this month at New York City Dance Alliance Foundation's Bright Lights Shining Stars gala. She was being honored as a 2017 NYCDA Foundation Ambassador for the Arts, and her speech was so moving that we had to share the entire thing with you.

Keep reading... Show less
popular
Photo by Grant Halverson, courtesy of ADF

As a soloist with William Forsythe's Ballet Frankfurt and later as his assistant, Elizabeth Corbett got to experience firsthand the groundbreaking choreographer's influence on contemporary ballet. "I find it fascinating and never-ending," she says of his work. "It was a repertory that was constantly changing over time and still is." Now on faculty with the American Dance Festival, Corbett brings Forsythe's repertory and processes to the dancers in class every summer.

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer Health
During seated stretches, I encourage my students to sit straight on their sits bones and then fold forward at the hips—even if they don't go forward very far. One student tells me that if she sits as I instruct, she can't reach forward at all. Why?
Keep reading... Show less
Teachers & Role Models

In 2011, New York City–based choreographer Pedro Ruiz returned to Cuba after 21 years of dancing with Ballet Hispanico and more than 30 years being away. The experience was so moving that he created The Windows Project as a continuous cultural collaboration between American artists and Cuban dancers.

"I was so overwhelmed seeing all the dancers do Afro-Cuban dance with live music. It was the moment my soul reconnected to Cuba and to my roots," says Ruiz of his first trip back. "I started weeping." He saw that, while Cuban companies and schools have amazing knowledge and passion for dance, they needed access to train with teachers in a variety of techniques, and choreographers outside of Cuba. "Cuba is still struggling economically, so the dancers also don't have good ballet shoes or costumes, and The Windows Project was my way to begin to help," he says.

Keep reading... Show less

Sponsored

Videos

Sponsored

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox

Win It!

Sponsored