Studio Owners

Are You Making These 5 Mistakes With Your Studio? They Could Be Holding You Back

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Running a studio can be a major juggling act. You have to stay on top of the big things, like paying rent on time and chasing after delinquent payments, and track the details, like replacing that blinking lightbulb and sending out a snowstorm alert. No surprise, then, that a few things slip through the cracks—costing you money or students. Here, some savvy studio owners talk about five common but often unnoticed mistakes, and what to do about them. Pay attention to these, and you'll find yourself with more time, clients and revenue on your hands.


1. Letting e-mail become a time sink

Are you this woman when you check your inbox?

Are you checking it constantly? Feel overwhelmed with responding to queries, often from parents, about subjects you've already gone over or regularly update on your studio's website? Just For Kix executive director Cindy Clough has a solution. For the first half of the day, she only checks her e-mail in the early morning and once again before lunch. "Constantly checking it interrupts my creative plans and takes me off in a different direction," she says. She actively encourages parents to be self-sufficient, reminding them to always check the website first for answers, rather than shooting her an e-mail. With the high school dance team she coaches, Clough asks parents to check with their daughters first to find answers, or with fellow parents. "I ask them to save my time for their more important questions—if their child has an injury or illness, or [is dealing with a] divorce," she says. "What time practice is or the bus leaves, they can find out from each other."

Keep in mind: You don't want your e-mail to build up. Clough challenges herself to "touch things once": When she opens an e-mail that requires a decision—making a donation, deciding on a date—she tackles it immediately. "If you open it but don't respond," she says, "you just have to read it again later, and that's wasting time."

2. Using online registration as a crutch

Sometimes people want more than an online interaction—they want real, live people to direct them.

If you offer registration via your studio website, make sure you aren't losing clients by neglecting in-person registration. One day Kathy Morrow, director of Dance Du Coeur in Sugar Land, Texas, overheard a front desk staffer directing a new client to the studio's website to register, rather than offering to do it over the phone. "I thought, 'You had a fish on the hook—why didn't you walk them through it?'" she says. "I felt we'd lost the personal touch we started with. When you register, there are a lot of boxes to check off. Some people want to pay with a check, some to link to a credit card. We can make it easier by answering any questions directly."

Keep in mind: "Customer service is the most important thing we deliver to people," says Morrow. "I want people's first experience with us to be nice and easy, to start a conversation and get to know them." Emphasize to potential clients that your studio offers several ways to register. At Dance Du Coeur, parents can do it over the phone, via the website or even by coming into the studio and using a computer there, which has been set up for clients to create an account and log in.

3. Allowing credit card fees to eat away at profits

Ever wish you could do this to your studio parents' credit cards?

Three years ago, studio owner Misty Lown started noticing that the competitions she registered her students for had begun adding an extra fee if she paid with a credit card. After confirming that this trend existed in several other local businesses—her nail salon, for instance—Lown began adding a 3.5 percent fee to tuition payments if parents paid with a credit card, to cover the bank fees. Since implementing this fee at her Onalaska, Wisconsin, studio, Misty's Dance Unlimited, Lown has seen very little push-back from parents. A bonus: Payment delinquency has virtually disappeared. Now parents like to pay before the due date with cash or a check to avoid the merchant processing fee that would be added if payment went through on their on-file credit card.

Keep in mind: Check your state laws to see if adding a fee is legal where you're located. Currently, 10 states (including California and New York) don't allow merchants to add one. Also, look for ways to address credit card fees that don't feel like punishment to your clients: If these fees are a significant cost for your business, consider folding them into your tuition prices studiowide. And always give clients options. "People can pay with the card we have on file, or we can deduct the amount directly from their bank account at no extra cost," says Lown. "Or they can come in and pay in advance with cash or a check. [Studio owners] who get push-back on changes are the ones who lay it down like law. We come at it with a service approach."

4. Letting leftover recital programs gather dust

Don't be this kid. (And don't let your recital program be this thick, either.)

Do you have boxes of leftover recital programs sitting in your office or basement? Put them to good use. At Create Dance Center in Massapequa, New York, Elizabeth Swansen includes leftover recital books in her studio's recital packets the following year. "That way, people can see what business and personal ads look like," she says. "We keep a few up in the lobby, too, since the kids like to look through them." Last year, Swansen hung old framed recital program covers on a studio wall as a fun, through-the-years display. Studio owner Doreen Rafferty gives her leftover Academy of Dance Arts books to dancewear stores in her Brookfield, Connecticut, area. Shoppers love to thumb through the books while they wait. "It's free advertising," says Rafferty.

Keep in mind: Avoid the issue altogether by ordering an accurate number of program books at recital time. Compare your numbers from previous years. "Knowing an approximate ticket sales number before printing programs," says Rafferty, "can make estimating easier."

5. Not delegating

Have you heard yourself say, once too often, "If I want it done right, I have to do it myself"? Overextending yourself because of perfectionism or a misguided need to control can be counterproductive. By creating choreography, teaching, bookkeeping, cleaning, making phone calls, typesetting, doing payroll, mailings and ordering, you could be leaving no time for the very things that will create your best business. Lown decided to delegate all the teaching at her studio. "Giving up teaching was super-hard," she says, "but it's the best decision I ever made. Whenever I was teaching, it meant I never saw the other five classrooms that were operating during that time. Now I can rotate my time checking on classrooms and interacting with students."

Keep in mind: Take the time to honestly assess what you're best at and what you struggle with. Lown knew she was a good teacher and a competent choreographer, but she really shined when it came to business strategy, coaching teachers and creating programs. "If I don't delegate most of the teaching and choreography," she says, "I won't have any time for the things I am uniquely gifted to do."

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As a dance teacher, chances are you strive daily to be a great role model for your students—cheerful, enthusiastic and motivating, offering plenty of positive reinforcement as well as a sense of clear control over your classroom. But what happens when your personal life gets in the way of those good intentions?

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Name calling, physical intimidation and cyberbullying are all-too-common experiences among male dancers. Photo by Goh Rhy Yan/Unsplash

Growing up in a family-owned dance studio in Missouri had its perks for tap dancer Anthony Russo. But it also earned him constant taunting, especially in high school.

"There was a junior in my sophomore year health class who was absolutely relentless," he says. "I'd get tripped on my way to the front of the classroom and he'd say, 'Watch out, twinkle toes.' If I raised my hand and answered a question incorrectly, I'd hear a patronizing 'Nice one, Bojangles.' "

A different classmate, who often called Russo "Dancing Queen," would lurk near the cafeteria doors each day at lunchtime, hoping for an opportunity to corner him. "I'd find ways to exit the cafeteria at the same time as a teacher, or go as far as walking out through the kitchen and reentering the building somewhere else," Russo admits.

Anthony Russo was called names like Bojangles, Twinkle Toes and Dancing Queen while growing up. Photo by Christopher Erk, courtesy Russo.


His experience is sadly similar to what many male dancers endure throughout their training and careers: name calling, physical intimidation, cyberbullying, sometimes even death threats.

Although girls, too, can be bullying victims, it's far less common, as our culture views dance as a more acceptable activity for them to pursue. Boys who dance are frequently stereotyped as gay and mocked for participating in what many consider to be a feminine art.

As conversations about bullying heat up throughout the country, with the role of social media and the effects on adolescent mental health emerging as related concerns, there's no better time to consider what the dance world can do to help male students of all ages feel safe and accepted.

Teachers Can Make a Difference

Many male dancers agree that positive adult role models are essential for bullying prevention. Dancer and choreographer Chris Bell, who remembers being incessantly called a "faggot" throughout middle and high school in San Antonio, Texas, says he channeled his anger into his school work, focusing on excelling academically.

Now a performer with Eryc Taylor Dance and dendy/donovan projects, he realizes how necessary it is for teachers—both in academic schools and dance studios—to speak up.

Chris Bell says teachers need to stop bullying in its tracks. Photo by Craig Macleod, courtesy Bell.


"The second that you hear anything demeaning or demoralizing, stop it and talk about it," he says. "You have to acknowledge that it's wrong, explain why it's wrong and then move on."

The message is especially effective if teachers work in schools that support dance as part of the curriculum. "The dance world should get into public schools, especially younger grades, to show what both men and women do in the dance world—any kind of dance," says Andy Jacobs, a modern/contemporary dancer and choreographer in New York City. "It's all going to open up their eyes and show them there's no boundaries to what you can like."

Dance Should Be Introduced More Like a Sport

Tap dancer Leo Lamontagne, assistant director at North Andover School of Dance and former company member with Chicago's Jump Rhythm Jazz Project, asks what would happen if dance were treated more like sports in school. "What if dance were introduced at the same age that basketball was? What if dance were used to teach gross motor skills?" he asks. "Bullies are intimidated by what they don't understand, so it's up to us to educate not just dancers but also non-dancers on what dance can be."

"So You Think You Can Dance" finalist Peter Sabasino suggests creating more performing arts schools altogether. "Then more kids would look at dance as a cool thing to do," he says.

Peter Sabasino suggests more performing arts schools could help dance look "cooler" among kids. Photo by Matthew Carby, courtesy Sabasino.


We Need More Role Models

More male ambassadors in popular culture could also help. "We could certainly use another Gene Kelly or Fred Astaire to show how cool dance is, not just showing hip-hop dancers as cool or men as strippers, like in Magic Mike," says Todd Shanks, an artist in residence at Dean College. "Honestly, though, dance doesn't have to be masculine to be cool. Talent doesn't have a sexual preference."

Todd Shanks feels another Fred Astaire or Gene Kelly could show that men dance, too. Photo courtesy Dean College/Paladino School of Dance.


But maybe we don't have to wait for a dance celebrity: Young men can also be role models for each other. "We need to expose boys to other male dancers, not just the professionals," Lamontagne says. "We need to come together to support our boys to support one another."

He suggests that competitions and conventions offer classes exclusively to boys, as all-male classes can sometimes be impossible in many small communities, where few male students are in attendance.

That is exactly the idea behind the Male Dancer Conference, launched last year by the founders of online dancewear store Boys Dance Too. The event gives boys a chance to be surrounded by their peers in classes led by role models like Sascha Radetsky and Alex Wong.


Similarly, Earl Mosley's Hearts of Men intensive offers two weeks of training and networking for male dancers. The National Dance Education Organization also held a symposium last year for teachers of male students to address how dance can attract more boys.

Power in numbers, after all, may be a valuable tactic. Bell points out that all dancers who are bullied have something in common—a shared experience that has made them stronger. "These experiences help you to become a better, more enriched person," he says. "A lot of the kids who bully want some kind of essential quality that you have. They want the freedom that you already have to do what you love."

Showstopper's National Finals Opening Number Performance

Showstopper has been making its impact on the dance world since 1978. Before then, dancers didn't have a stage to perform on, the opportunity to learn from peers, or a competitive outlet like most sports. Debbie Roberts recognized this missing piece in the dance community and that is how America's first and longest running dance competition, Showstopper, was born. Debbie taught dance for over 26 years and owned and operated her own dance studio for 20 years. She is now the owner and National Director of Showstopper, along side her husband, Dave Roberts. Dancer, teacher, business owner, author, and mother, Debbie has made dance her life's career.

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As teachers and studio owners, your lives are full of stressors—everything from harried recital weeks to curriculum overhauls to building-maintenance issues, not to mention addressing the needs and concerns of all your students and parents. How you view and cope with a stressful situation can have a direct influence on how you experience it.

You already know it's important to eat right, exercise and get good sleep to keep yourself from feeling run into the ground. You may even use deep breathing to calm or center yourself in tense moments. (If not, check out our breathing-exercise sidebar.) But Joel Minden, a cognitive behavioral therapist who works with dancers in California, says while physical coping strategies can be helpful, they alone aren't enough. It's even more important to prepare yourself mentally and emotionally. If you begin practicing psychological stress management as part of your routine, along with relaxation techniques like yoga or meditation, you will be better prepared for the crisis moments.

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Marueen Straub, left, co-owns the studio with her mother Diane, right.

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