Business

Tale as Old as Time

As we head toward 2012, longtime studio owners take a moment to reflect on their success.

Five decades of Paulette Harwood’s students surprised her with an anniversary celebration.

A good sign of a strong studio is one that lasts—consistently bringing in students despite hard times, the changing dance industry and a failing economy. DT talked to studio owners whose businesses have stood the test of time and asked for the secrets to their longevity.

Paulette Harwood

Paulette’s Ballet Studio 

(250–300 students)

Needham, MA

Years open: 52

“I danced on Broadway for 10 years and just loved it, and I wanted my daughters to love dancing like I did. So I started my studio very selfishly to teach my own girls, Pauline, Paula and Paulette, Jr. (I’d married a Paul). They all grew up in the school, learned to teach from me and went on to dance professionally. I’m a lucky mom.

“To celebrate our 50th anniversary, my daughters went behind my back and got in touch with students from all over the country who had been with the studio since my first year. They all came back and performed dances that they’d learned when they were dancing with me! I could hardly see it through the tears in my eyes. And my daughters, who hadn’t performed together since their high school days, danced for me. Seeing the three of them made my heart sing. It was kind of a love fest. I don’t know how else to put it.”

Marcia Fellows

Marcia’s School of Dance

(200 students)

Appleton, WI

Years open: 50

“I started my studio in the basement of  my home in 1961. Since the studio is still attached to my home, I’m available to answer the phone at all times. Customers want to talk with a person, not a machine.

“My faculty, including myself, continue our dance education throughout the year at dance workshops. This keeps us up to date, so we can continue to share our love for dance with every student.”

Tammy Liiro

Nardi Dance Studios & Performing Arts Center

(500 students)

Easton, PA

Years open: 77

“Nardi Dance Studio opened in 1934, and my husband and I acquired it in 1965. We are proud to have four generations of students who have learned to dance at our studio, which means some of our preschoolers who are attending now had great-grandmothers who used to attend.

“A good studio depends on having good relationships with students and their parents. We have always allowed parents to view classes through observation windows as well as TV monitors. After doing that all these years, we found that the parents have grown to love the arts and to appreciate what it really takes to become a great dancer.

“In recent years, students are busier than ever, and I feel a great responsibility to maintain class and rehearsal schedules that help them obtain every opportunity they can, in and out of the studio. After all, that’s what we are training them for.”

Angie Hohl

Jan’s School of Dance

(400 students)

Evansville, IN

Years open: 53

“I started taking dance from the studio’s original owner, Jan Stovall, when I was 3. In 2000 she retired, and I bought the studio from her. I have tried to keep up the qualities that Jan valued. Most importantly, I try to instill positive life lessons that the students will carry with them. I define success as when students leave the studio feeling good about themselves.”

Sandra Fortune-Green

Jones Haywood School of Dance (80 students)

Washington, DC

Years open: 70

“I purchased the school six years ago, and I’m proud of JHSD’s reputation for preserving a strong classical tradition. The keys to a successful studio are highly effective faculty members who have the ability to pique their students’ passion about dancing.

“My advice to new studio owners is to never lower your artistic standards even in the face of adversity—remain focused on your mission, vision and your goals.”

Linda Oltmann Walker

Trudy’s School of Dance

(200 students)

Charleston, SC

Years open: 72

“My mom, Miss Trudy [Trudy Oltmann Hammett] opened the studio in 1939, and she is still alive and kicking—she will be 90 in January. I now run the studio with Tiffany DiPrima, my daughter. We are very proud and blessed to have a faculty who are top-notch in their field and also loving role models. It makes us very proud when a new family comes in and says how warm and friendly the atmosphere is.

“In 1989, Hurricane Hugo hit Charleston, and it was a hard time for our school. Families were struggling to rebuild, and we had no idea if we could open. Our staff came to us and said they would work for free until we all got back on our feet. I knew then that I would always want to be surrounded by my dance family—staff, parents and students.”

Sue Gilson

Georgia’s School of Dance

(100–125 students)

Escondido, CA

Years open: 59

“The studio’s original owner, Georgia Copeland [an original “Goldwyn Girl”], passed away and left the studio to me. Even though I had been with the studio for 25 years at that time, it took a while to prove myself as an owner/director, because I was taking over from a legend. I concentrated on making our offerings more well-rounded—increasing the teaching staff and the styles offered.

“I am proud of my studio’s teamwork, communication, amazing teachers and efficient and friendly front-desk personnel. Communication and understanding are key ingredients.”

Carryl Slobotkin

Jazz Unlimited (1,500 students)

Marlton, NJ

Years open: 41

“This year I had 16 students graduate from high school who had started with me when they were 2 or 3 years old. I’m so proud that we’re able to keep students for all these years, continue challenging them and stay as contemporary as we can with what’s happening in the dance world.

“When I went into this, I loved dance. All of us do, but running a dance studio takes so much more. You have to be very organized and have a professional and well-rounded staff. One of the hardest things is to not let the parents run the studio. You can’t make everyone happy. You have to think of it as a business, and be prepared to put in long days. This is not a 9-to-5 job, that’s for sure.” DT

 

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