Studio Owners

These 3 Studio Owners Are Shaping Utah's Dance Scene

Kim DelGrosso, Jana Monson and Sheryl Dowling (Photo by Kim Raff)

Maybe it's the mountain air, the golden sunshine or the alpine elevation. There's just something about Utah that makes it an astonishing source of outstanding dancers, from ballroom and TV stars like Derek and Julianne Hough to ballerina Whitney Jensen.

To uncover the secrets of Utah's success, Dance Teacher turned to three of Utah's most influential studio owners in the Salt Lake City area: Jana Monson of Creative Arts Academy to the north in Bountiful, and, in southerly Orem, Kim DelGrosso of Center Stage Studio and Sheryl Dowling of The Dance Club.

These women have carved out unique niches in the region's incredibly crowded market. ("There is, honestly, I kid you not, a dance studio on every corner of where my studio is," DelGrosso says.) They consistently turn out some of the state's top talent while always focusing on helping kids develop self-esteem and maturity, as well as artistry. Here they share business perspectives, their personal philosophies—and some insight into Utah's dance magic.



Kim Delgrosso

Kim DelGrosso

Photo by Kim Raff

Center Stage Studio

- Enrollment: 700, ages 2–18

- Faculty: 31

- Weekly Classes: 200+ in jazz, ballet, tap, hip hop, acro, ballroom, musical theater and vocal

- Teams: 13 jazz companies, 5 vocal companies, 4 hip-hop companies

- Competition: 4 conventions, 1 National annually

- Performance Opportunities: 2 annual student showcases, musical theater productions

- Guest Teachers: Talia Favia, Teddy Forance, Randi Kemper and Hefa Tuita

Teacher, entrepreneur, producer, casting go-to: Kim DelGrosso qualifies as an impresario.

The Center Stage artistic director has trained a who's who of "Dancing With the Stars" and "So You Think You Can Dance" artists in their youth: Derek and Julianne Hough, her own daughter Ashly Costa, Lindsay Arnold and Witney Carson, and Tony Award–winning choreographer Mandy Moore, who studied at her previous studio in Colorado.

But through her side company, DelGrosso Productions, she also creates entertainment for industrial events and helps cast dancers in TV and film. "Because I am connected to so many professional dancers," she says, "I am able to book them." It's a nice bit of synergy: "The school supports it, and the talent supports it, and the studio supports the rehearsals."

DelGrosso and co-owners Alex and Robin Murillo have shepherded CS's transformation from the tiny studio it was in 1989 into a state-of-the-art facility encompassing nine studios, offices, a black-box theater, a lounge, a snack bar and a dancewear shop, plus separate ballroom and acro studios. Private rentals keep the studios full and help cover costs.

Alex runs the business side, freeing DelGrosso to teach. "I love being in the trenches," DelGrosso says. She develops new programs in response to dancers' needs and trends—musical theater, acting and voice divisions, for example, are all booming. Ballroom has become so big at CS that the studio co-produces an NDCA-sanctioned Utah DanceSport Challenge competition.

The success and accolades are nice, but "my core philosophy is that dance is the right of every person on this planet," DelGrosso says. And to that end CS has a nonprofit foundation that provides need-based tuition scholarships.

"To bring people to a place where they find satisfaction
in storytelling through movement, or singing or acting, I feel like it's absolutely critical in today's world."


Music
Getty Images

Securing the correct music licensing for your studio is an important step in creating a financially sound business. "Music licensing is something studio owners seem to either embrace or ignore completely," says Clint Salter, CEO and founder of the Dance Studio Owners Association. While it may seem like it's a situation in which it's easier to ask for forgiveness rather than permission—that is, to wait until you're approached by a music-rights organization before purchasing a license—Salter disagrees, citing Peloton, the exercise company that produces streaming at-home workouts. In February, Peloton settled a music-licensing suit with the National Music Publishers' Association out-of-court for an undisclosed amount. Originally, NMPA had sought $300 million in damages from Peloton. "It can get extremely expensive," says Salter. "It's not worth it for a studio to get caught up in that."

As you continue to explore a hybrid online/in-person version of your class schedule, it's crucial that your music licenses include coverage for livestreamed instruction—which comes with its own particular requirements. Here are some answers to frequently asked questions about music licensing—in both normal times and COVID times—as well as some safe music bets that won't pose any issues.

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Teaching Tips
A 2019 Dancewave training. Photo by Effy Grey, courtesy Dancewave

By now, most dance educators hopefully understand that they have a responsibility to address racism in the studio. But knowing that you need to be actively cultivating racial equity isn't the same thing as knowing how to do so.

Of course, there's no easy answer, and no perfect approach. As social justice advocate David King emphasized at a recent interactive webinar, "Cultivating Racial Equity in the Classroom," this work is never-ending. The event, hosted by Dancewave (which just launched a new racial-equity curriculum) was a good starting point, though, and offered some helpful takeaways for dance educators committed to racial justice.

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Higher Ed
The author, Robyn Watson. Photo courtesy Watson

Recently, I posted a thread of tweets elucidating the lack of respect for tap dance in college dance programs, and arguing that it should be a requirement for dance majors.

According to onstageblog.com, out of the 30 top-ranked college dance programs in the U.S., tap dance is offered at 19 of them, but only one school requires majors to take more than a beginner course—Oklahoma City University. Many prestigious dance programs, like the ones at NYU Tisch School of the Arts and SUNY Purchase, don't offer a single course in tap dance.

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