A New Look for a New Year

Refresh your brand identity to attract new business and keep current customers energized.

No matter how long you’ve been in business, refreshing your studio’s image from time to time is crucial to keep current customers on board and appeal to new ones. Your studio may offer the best training in town, but the promise of that customer experience will never even have a chance to be tested if your website is outdated, social media unattended or logo uninspiring.

Dori Matkowski opened Dance Dynamics Performing Arts Center in Detroit suburb Walled Lake, MI, 30 years ago, well before the technological boom. She has had a website for over five years, but in 2011 her son begged her to shed the studio’s old-school image. “It took us longer to switch from cassettes to CDs than it did for us to get on the internet,” Matkowski jokes. Today, not only is Dance Dynamics’ website up-to-date and outfitted with Facebook and Twitter feeds, the entire studio got a boost by switching to iPads for everything, from music playing to accepting credit cards.

Dance Dynamics’ technology overhaul was part of a larger branding strategy to reflect the studio’s modernity and commitment to providing cutting-edge dance education. “We’re 30, but that doesn’t mean we’re old,” Matkowski told her staff after the studio’s pearl anniversary. “Every year is new. Our community changes drastically each year, and as our community changes, we change. We stay aware of what the kids want and what the kids need.”

Define Your Business

Branding is much more than your name, logo and color palette. At its heart, it’s all about what customers can expect to experience every time they walk into your studio. As communications guru Robert Sprague has said, “A brand tells people what’s true about you and not true about everyone else.”

The first step in creating a successful branding plan is to outline your business, explains Frank Sahlein, a business consultant and owner of a children’s activity center in Boise, ID. Start with the name and logo of the company and what is offered, and then pinpoint four to six elements that differentiate your business from those of your competitors. “Identify those four bullet points and market them everywhere,” he says. That way, you influence the word of mouth surrounding your business and gain control over your studio’s reputation. For instance, visitors to Dance Dynamics’ website can see that it has professional alumni, classes for both recreational and performance team students, specific training for boys and a large class offering for young dancers, ages 3–6. “Those are the things we want people to know about us,” she says. “And it’s a consistent message in all our marketing materials.”

Update Your Design

Evaluate the design of your name and logo every few years. “Start by asking yourself if you feel energized when you view your logo and business name,” Sahlein says. “Does it truly represent what you do now? Is it modern?” Get feedback from a handful of trusted customers, as well as your staff.

“When you see the same thing over and over, you tend not to see it anymore,” says Matkowski, who has changed Dance Dynamics’ look roughly six times, most recently about two years ago. Don’t worry too much about customer confusion or lack of brand recognition. “Having been around this long, our studio is known,” she says, though she recommends new businesses wait at least five years before changing their brand identity. Keep in mind that a logo will need to be updated everywhere, so when choosing a new design, make sure that it works in any format and that you’ve allocated enough budget for the redo. “A successful logo should look great on a brochure, sign, business card or billboard, whether it’s blown up, shrunk, in color or in black and white,” says Sahlein.

Chasta Hamilton Calhoun of Stage Door Dance Productions in Raleigh, NC, had barely been in business for two years when she decided to refine her logo in 2011. She hired a graphic designer to tweak the original that her husband had created. “The designer told me a little shading would help make it pop. Now the logo is more dynamic,” she says. (See right.) The designer created two variations (that deepen or eliminate the shading) so that the logo looks defined whether printed on a light-colored T-shirt or a dark sign.

Updating your company graphics is not a DIY project. “Studio owners get overwhelmed when they try to handle everything,” says Hamilton Calhoun. “Hire out or delegate to make sure everything looks professional and cohesive. It’s the representation of your business and identity.”

 

Though Chasta Hamilton Calhoun felt that her original logo represented her studio well, it fell flat on marketing materials. Tweaks made by a graphic designer helped to more clearly define it.

 

 Revamp Your Web Presence   In the digital age, your website is often a potential customer’s first encounter with your studio. “Remember that you are leading new customers into your business via your image every day, so be sure that your website represents where your business is today, as well as where it is going,” says Sahlein. “As quickly as your business goes through changes, you need them reflected on your site.”

Luckily, studio owners now can turn to services like WordPress and Squarespace, whose professional templates allow nonprofessionals to produce sophisticated sites fairly easily. Hamilton Calhoun worked with a web designer who created hers using WordPress, which lets her update information as often as necessary. Websites should have recent videos, flattering images of current students or alumni, testimonials from parents and calls to action: a “Register for classes here” link, for instance. And don’t forget those four to six bullet points from your business plan—broadcast them clearly on your home page.

Leverage Your Brand on Social Media

Use Facebook to communicate with your customers about master classes, snow closings and alumni news. Both studio owners post videos on their Facebook pages and suggest creating a schedule for updating social media. While Matkowski posts daily and Hamilton Calhoun posts two to three times weekly, both agree that regularity is key. They also link their Twitter feeds to their Facebook posts: It saves time (you only post once and it appears on both platforms).

Stay abreast of new ways to connect with customers. Pinterest is a new social platform popular with the dance-studio demographic, for instance. Consider making your website mobile-browser friendly. Hamilton Calhoun is speaking with marketing companies about a mobile app for the studio—launching later this year—that will allow her to relay event updates and share photos.

“I listen to those who are younger,” says Matkowski. “And I’m aware of what’s going on all over the country—in all of entertainment, not just dance. It really keeps us up with the times.” DT

Hilary Daninhirsch is a freelance writer based in Pittsburgh.

Photos:©iStockphoto.com; courtesy of Stage Door Dance Productions

Dancer Diary
Claire, McAdams, courtesy Houston Ballet

Former Houston Ballet dancer Chun Wai Chan has always been destined for New York City Ballet.

While competing at Prix de Lausanne in 2010, he was offered summer program scholarships at both the School of American Ballet and Houston Ballet. However, because two of the competition's winners that year were Houston Ballet's Aaron Sharratt and Liao Xiang, dancers Chan idolized, he turned down SAB. He joined Houston Ballet II in 2010, the main company's corps de ballet in 2012, and was promoted to principal in 2017. Oozing confidence and technical prowess, Chan was a Houston favorite, and even landed himself a spot on Dance Magazine's "25 to Watch."


In 2019, NYCB came calling: Resident choreographer Justin Peck visited Houston Ballet to set a new work titled Reflections. Peck immediately took to Chan and passed his praises on to NYCB artistic director Jonathan Stafford. Chan was invited to take class with NYCB for three days in January 2020, and shortly thereafter was offered a soloist contract.

The plan was to announce his hiring in the spring for the fall season that typically begins in September, but, of course, coronavirus postponed the opportunity to next year. Chan is currently riding out the pandemic in Huizhou, Guangdong, China, where he was born and trained at the Guangzhou Art School.

We talked to Chan about his training journey—and the teachers, corrections and experiences that got him to NYCB.

On the most helpful correction he's ever gotten:

"Work smart, then work hard to keep your body healthy. Most of us get injuries when we're tired. When I first joined Houston Ballet, I was pushing myself 100 percent every day, at every show, rehearsal and class. That's when I got injured [a torn thumb ligament, tendinitis and a sprained ankle.] At that time, my director taught me that we all have to work hard, memorize the steps and take corrections, but it's better to think first because your energy is limited."

How it's benefited his career since:

"It's the secret to me getting promoted to principal very quickly. When other dancers were injured or couldn't perform, I was healthy and could step up to fill a higher role than my position. I still get small injuries, but I know how to take care of them now, and when it's OK to gamble a little."

Chan, wearing grey pants and a grey one-sleeved top, partners Jessica Collado, as she arches her back and leans to the side. Other dancers behind them are dressed as an army of some sort

Chun Wai Chan with Jessica Collado. Photo by Amitava Sarkar, courtesy Houston Ballet

On his most influential teacher:

"Claudio Muñoz, from Houston Ballet Academy. The first summer intensive there I couldn't even lift the lightest girls. A month later, my pas de deux skills improved so much. I never imagined I could lift a girl so many times. A year later I could do all the tricky pas tricks. That's all because of Claudio. He also taught me how to dance in contemporary, and act all kinds of characters."

How he gained strength for partnering:

"I did a lot of push-ups. Claudio recommended dancers go to the gym. We don't have those kinds of traditions in China, but after Houston Ballet, going to the gym has become a habit."

On his YouTube channel:

"I started a YouTube channel, where I could give ballet tutorials. Many male students only have female teachers, and they are missing out on the guy's perspective on jumps and partnering. I give those tips online because they are what I would have wanted. My goal is to help students have strong technique so they are able to enjoy the stage as much as they can."

Music
Mary Malleney, courtesy Osato

In most classes, dancers are encouraged to count the music, and dance with it—emphasizing accents and letting the rhythm of a song guide them.

But Marissa Osato likes to give her students an unexpected challenge: to resist hitting the beats.

In her contemporary class at EDGE Performing Arts Center in Los Angeles (which is now closed, until they find a new space), she would often play heavy trap music. She'd encourage her students to find the contrast by moving in slow, fluid, circular patterns, daring them to explore the unobvious interpretation of the steady rhythms.


"I like to give dancers a phrase of music and choreography and have them reinterpret it," she says, "to be thinkers and creators and not just replicators."

Osato learned this approach—avoiding the natural temptation of the music always being the leader—while earning her MFA in choreography at California Institute of the Arts. "When I was collaborating with a composer for my thesis, he mentioned, 'You always count in eights. Why?'"

This forced Osato out of her creative comfort zone. "The choices I made, my use of music, and its correlation to the movement were put under a microscope," she says. "I learned to not always make the music the driving motive of my work," a habit she attributes to her competition studio training as a young dancer.

While an undergraduate at the University of California, Irvine, Osato first encountered modern dance. That discovery, along with her experience dancing in Boogiezone Inc.'s off-campus hip-hop company, BREED, co-founded by Elm Pizarro, inspired her own, blended style, combining modern and hip hop with jazz. While still in college, she began working with fellow UCI student Will Johnston, and co-founded the Boogiezone Contemporary Class with Pizarro, an affordable series of classes that brought top choreographers from Los Angeles to Orange County.

"We were trying to bring the hip-hop and contemporary communities together and keep creating work for our friends," says Osato, who has taught for West Coast Dance Explosion and choreographed for studios across the country.

In 2009, Osato, Johnston and Pizarro launched Entity Contemporary Dance, which she and Johnston direct. The company, now based in Los Angeles, won the 2017 Capezio A.C.E. Awards, and, in 2019, Osato was chosen for two choreographic residencies (Joffrey Ballet's Winning Works and the USC Kaufman New Movement Residency), and became a full-time associate professor of dance at Santa Monica College.

At SMC, Osato challenges her students—and herself—by incorporating a live percussionist, a luxury that's been on pause during the pandemic. She finds that live music brings a heightened sense of awareness to the room. "I didn't realize what I didn't have until I had it," Osato says. "Live music helps dancers embody weight and heaviness, being grounded into the floor." Instead of the music dictating the movement, they're a part of it.

Osato uses the musician as a collaborator who helps stir her creativity, in real time. "I'll say 'Give me something that's airy and ambient,' and the sounds inspire me," says Osato. She loves playing with tension and release dynamics, fall and recovery, and how those can enhance and digress from the sound.

"I can't wait to get back to the studio and have that again," she says.

Osato made Dance Teacher a Spotify playlist with some of her favorite songs for class—and told us about why she loves some of them.

"Get It Together," by India.Arie

"Her voice and lyrics hit my soul and ground me every time. Dream artist. My go-to recorded music in class is soul R&B. There's simplicity about it that I really connect with."

"Turn Your Lights Down Low," by Bob Marley + The Wailers, Lauryn Hill

"A classic. This song embodies that all-encompassing love and gets the whole room groovin'."

"Diamonds," by Johnnyswim

"This song's uplifting energy and drive is infectious! So much vulnerability, honesty and joy in their voices and instrumentation."

"There Will Be Time," by Mumford & Sons, Baaba Maal

"Mumford & Sons' music has always struck a deep chord within me. Their songs are simultaneously stripped-down and complex and feel transcendent."

"With The Love In My Heart," by Jacob Collier, Metropole Orkest, Jules Buckley

"Other than it being insanely energizing and cinematic, I love how challenging the irregular meter is!"

For Parents

Darrell Grand Moultrie teaches at a past Jacob's Pillow summer intensive. Photo Christopher Duggan, courtesy Jacob's Pillow

In the past 10 months, we've grown accustomed to helping our dancers navigate virtual school, classes and performances. And while brighter, more in-person days may be around the corner—or at least on the horizon—parents may be facing yet another hurdle to help our dancers through: virtual summer-intensive auditions.

In 2020, we learned that there are some unique advantages of virtual summer programs: the lack of travel (and therefore the reduced cost) and the increased access to classes led by top artists and teachers among them. And while summer 2021 may end up looking more familiar with in-person intensives, audition season will likely remain remote and over Zoom.

Of course, summer 2021 may not be back to in-person, and that uncertainty can be a hard pill to swallow. Here, Kate Linsley, a mom and academy principal of Nashville Ballet, as well as "J.R." Glover, The Dan & Carole Burack Director of The School at Jacob's Pillow, share their advice for this complicated process.

Keep reading... Show less

Get Dance Business Weekly in your inbox

Sign Up Used in accordance with our Privacy Policy.