Structuring an ideal summer session for you and your students

Students at the Beth Fowler School of Dance perform for their parents at the end of each summer week.

Though we’re still bundled in winter jackets, it’s time to start thinking about your studio’s summer session. After all, parents will soon start to research their options, and as summertime temperatures rise, your enrollment, staff and studio income tend to go down. There’s no question that June, July and August are tough—families are traveling, budgets are tight and advanced dancers flock to big-name summer intensives. But many studios have found that with flexible schedules, innovative programming and the willingness to compromise, summer doesn’t have to be a complete bummer. DT talked to three owners about the programs they created to avoid the seasonal slump.

Mary Dressendofer

Dancers Pointe

(700–800 students)

Roselle Park, NJ

When Mary Dressendofer became co-owner of Dancers Pointe with her childhood dance teacher Cathy Karosick three years ago, the studio had 78 students, one location and no summer program. Now with seven locations and nearly 800 students, the school also hosts summer camps and intensives. “I’m a big-business person—an attorney during the day and a studio owner at night,” says Dressendofer. “I brought my corporate mentality into the small-business world, and I grew the summer program from scratch.”

She focused on keeping hours flexible and prices reasonable. For $25 a day, students ages 4 to 10 can attend summer camp. And she offers before- and after-class care for youngsters with parents who work. She keeps camp fun by scheduling a different theme for each week. “Whether it’s princess week, rock star week or teddy bear week, kids do crafts and watch a movie that fits into that theme,” says Dressendofer. Each week ends with a themed performance for parents.

She’s decided to keep her program running through September. She can boost enrollment when other summer camps and programs close down at the end of August and parents still need an activity for their kids. “A lot of people sign up for just the last two weeks,” she says.

Dressendofer gives her advanced students the time to pursue other activities or intensives for June and July. Her in-house two-week summer intensive in August is mandatory for company members.

Her teachers enjoy having the summer months off, so her staff level drops from 25 to 4. “I pay a lot less, so only certain teachers will take advantage of that,” says Dressendofer. To ease cash flow while she works toward the goal of making summer as lucrative as the school year, she has arranged with her landlord to pay a greater portion of her annual rent when she can afford it, and less during the tougher months.

Beth Fowler

Beth Fowler School of Dance

(400–500 students)

Genoa and St. Charles, IL

When Beth Fowler started her summer program (shortly after founding her studio 29 years ago), the plan was to structure it like any other session at the studio: the same length, price and number of classes per week as during the year. But she quickly saw the error of her ways. “People were having a hard time committing to six to eight weeks,” she says. “I ended up giving them a discount for one week so they could go on vacation or another week so they could travel to softball games. By the end of the summer, everyone’s price had been so watered down. I had to figure out a way to stay consistent.”

Now, students of all ages and levels pay the same amount for a two-week summer session that they would for an eight-week session during the school year—and they take the same number of classes. For example, if an advanced student takes 10 hours a week during an eight-week session, she’ll concentrate 80 hours into a two-week summer camp. Fowler offers six weeks of sessions, two weeks apiece, in July and in August, for which she retains her entire staff and invites additional guest teachers. Students have a choice of hours—10 am to 5 pm at one location, or from 4 to 9:30 pm at her second location, which opened in 2010. “The parents absolutely love the flexibility, and I’ll even allow them to do one week in July and one week in August if that works better with their schedule,” she says. “That way, there’s no excuse. Almost 100 percent of my advanced students do summer dance camp, and most do two sessions.”

Fowler takes advantage of the dancers’ extra time in the studio to schedule a few bonus classes, including nutrition, anatomy, dance history and French terminology. “There’s just so much more time to cover all aspects of dance in the summertime,” she says.

Joanna Markowitz

Orange County School of Dance

(500 students)

Monroe, NY

Over its 20-year history, Joanna Markowitz says her studio has become more of an arts conservatory than a dance school—offering everything from piano to painting to pointe work. She uses summertime to build awareness of the variety of offerings. A full-day dance camp for ages 9 to 18 includes ballet, modern, jazz and repertory classes. And, at the same time, she offers arts camps for 5- to 9-year-old students, which include visual arts and vocal and instrument lessons, in addition to dance. “The summer arts program is a good, inexpensive introduction to children who eventually want to take voice or instrument lessons,” she says. Markowitz estimates that about 20 students who participated in summer programs last year signed up for private lessons in the fall.

Her dance company members—20 students ages 9 to 18—are required to participate in the summer dance camp. Since their first performance is only two weeks after the fall session begins, Markowitz wants all dancers to look their best. Parents sign a contract at the company audition stating that any accepted students must be available for the summer.

For recreational students with other summer commitments, she offers a monthlong Saturday program. Despite the fact that parents like to travel on weekends, she’s seen increased fall enrollment (about 10 new students in 2011) from those who like the low-commitment trial period.

Rates for the summer camps are $195 per week, and Markowitz charges the same per-class rate for summer Saturday classes as during the year. “The economy hasn’t gotten any better, but I’m still doing well, because the kids who normally go away to a really expensive summer camp can’t do that anymore,” she says. “My camp is cheaper than a babysitter.” DT


Photo photo courtesy of Beth Fowler

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