Okay, folks. We’re only days away from our Dance Teacher Summit—it starts on Friday! (Have you seen the official schedule yet?) As a successful studio owner for over 40 years, Carryl Slobotkin has participated three times as a Summit ambassador. DT spoke with her about starting a studio company and the business challenges she faces.
Owner, Jazz Unlimited Studio of Dance Arts
Dance Teacher: What’s your best advice for studio owners to consider when starting their own performing ensemble or company?
Carryl Slobotkin: Be firm with the parents. When their child doesn’t make it into the ensemble, the parents will claim their daughter is just as good as that one. You need to tell them what she needs more of in terms of technique before she’ll be ready for the ensemble.
Other times you get a child who has the desire and works hard but doesn’t have the facility. We’ve seen certain kids develop just because they want it so badly and it’s their passion. If you decide to let a student like this into the ensemble, you need to explain to the parents that once their daughter is in, they aren’t allowed to come to you and get mad if she’s dancing in the back line. You need to be clear that she might not be the star of the ensemble, but if she wants to work at it, you will give her that chance. If you know you’re being fair, you have to stand strong.
DT: How do you make sure all your students feel included at the studio, even when they aren’t part of the ensemble?
CS: We offer a Next Step audition program for kids 7–13 who aren’t in the ensemble but who have a little more interest in dance than those coming just once a week. They come every weekend and learn a big production number of their own to perform in almost all of our seven shows.
We also have an intern program for teens who don’t quite have the talent and the technique to make the ensemble, but they want a little bit more. The interns take almost as many classes as the ensemble: two ballet, two jazz and usually tap. They take those classes together as a group, and they go to one competition instead of the three that the ensemble attends. It makes them feel special. That’s an important thing—giving kids something a little bit more. It keeps them happy, and it keeps them at your studio.
DT: What’s the biggest challenge you face as a business owner?
CS: We’ve had to become a bit stricter when it comes to collecting tuition. We give a lot away. We give out maybe $40,000 worth of classes for kids who can’t afford them. But you have to be careful. Sometimes you get parents driving up in their BMWs and they’re complaining, and you realize that as an expense, you and your studio have been left for last. Teachers find themselves in hard times because they get so involved in the dancing, but if you own the studio, you need to remember the business aspect, as well. You can’t come down to June when kids are performing onstage and find that you’re still out $10,000. —Andrea Marks
Photos courtesy of Carryl Slobotkin