Ask the Experts: How Do I Reduce Attrition at My Studio?

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Q: We always seem to lose the most students after our recitals. How do I prevent post-show fallout?

A: Spring recitals are the culmination of our dance season, and even when we receive rave reviews from our students and parents, some do not re-enroll. We have seen attrition rates of 20 percent to 40 percent of recreational dancers who don't return from one season to the next. This can be a perplexing number, especially when parents and dancers report a positive experience, but the fact is supported by industry-wide data: An average number of students from any given year will not re-enroll regardless of their level of satisfaction from participation. The reality is that students' interests change, they try other activities or lose interest, or parents have financial barriers to participation.

Given the many diverse factors that influence enrollment that may fall outside our control, it is important to gain regular feedback from students by sending an in-season survey to see if and where any customer issues can be resolved as they pertain to class placement or teacher experience. Essentially, focus on what you can control and effect early, and be ready.

One strategy to consider during early spring registration is to offer incentives to secure a spot in the next season with preferred class-time requests, one-time or early-pay discounts or other perks such as studio-logo wear. Even if a parent can't select the exact date and time for class in the fall, this allows the studio to prepare a new schedule that best meets the needs of their student base. We also are seeing a trend toward a year-round schedule, with a shorter summer break, and many studios are introducing an auto-enroll feature for dancers until they opt out.

Today's parent also seeks ongoing feedback on the progress of their student. We find at our studio that extending a personalized invitation from the student's teacher to the next class or level makes a difference for retention. If you make your recital a celebration that culminates as a segue into the next season ahead versus an ending, it can be an event that recognizes the dancers for their hard work and also gives them a future to look forward to at the studio. There are always students who have a lesser commitment to dance or have fulfilled their investigation and participation in dance as an activity. Use the rate of attrition as a motivation to always be inviting and generating new enrollment while also showing your current students what's next for them when they stay with their dance training.

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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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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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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, 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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