Ask the Experts: Studio Business, Competitions and Technology in the Classroom

Q: How do you handle students who have financial hardship? Do you offer reduced tuition or scholarships?

A: When we have a student with great passion and talent whose family cannot afford to pay for dance education, we try to find that dancer some financial help. Because most parents don't want anyone else to know their financial business, we award scholarships discreetly, asking that the arrangement only be between the family and ourselves. Some studios hold auditions for financial-based scholarships, but I'm hesitant—I feel it should be handled on an individual basis and not public knowledge.

I give the option to some families to subsidize their dance fees by helping out around the studio, running the snack bar, editing music, painting and cleaning in the summer. But don't forget that you're running a business. There have been times when I've been taken advantage of. I once gave a family in need a break on their fees only to find out that they all went away on a fabulous summer vacation for two weeks! When things like that happen, it's easy to feel used. My father used to say, “People who get something for nothing feel it's worth nothing." So I keep that in the back of my mind and always protect myself.

Studio Owners
Courtesy Tonawanda Dance Arts

If you're considering starting a summer program this year, you're likely not alone. Summer camp and class options are a tried-and-true method for paying your overhead costs past June—and, done well, could be a vehicle for making up for lost 2020 profits.

Plus, they might take on extra appeal for your studio families this year. Those struggling financially due to the pandemic will be in search of an affordable local programming option rather than an expensive, out-of-town intensive. And with summer travel still likely in question this spring as July and August plans are being made, your studio's local summer training option remains a safe bet.

The keys to profitable summer programming? Figuring out what type of structure will appeal most to your studio clientele, keeping start-up costs low—and, ideally, converting new summer students into new year-round students.

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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."

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Mary Mallaney/USC Glorya Kaufman School of Dance, 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.

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