Best Practices for Studio Management

Although there may not be one perfect way to run a dance studio, smart directors gravitate to certain practices that make life better for the whole community—owners, teachers and students. DT spoke with several savvy owners to get their takes on topics that will streamline your operation and free you up to focus on teaching dance.

 

 

4 Ways to Retain Valued Faculty

Make time for feedback Check in with your teachers periodically about how their classes are going. Give them time and space to discuss everything from behavioral issues to choreography ideas. Create goals together and help them make a plan to work toward achievement.

Free classes Your teachers may be still training, themselves. Consider offering free classes at your studio or education stipends for further study. An investment in their skills is an investment in the quality of their teaching. Many studios offer half-price or free classes for teachers’ children, as well.

Enrollment incentives Consider a bonus structure (on top of base pay) based on enrollment. For example, you can offer $2 more per child over a base minimum enrollment. Your teachers will feel more invested in the studio’s success.

Show your appreciation An end-of-semester or holiday gift, however small, can show that you value their contribution. A note and $25 gift card to a nearby restaurant can be a nice surprise for on-the-go teachers.

Do You Measure Up? It’s common for studio owners to pay airfare/mileage, hotel and a per diem for competition directors and choreographers who travel to Nationals and Regionals.

 

 

What’s in Your Registration Packet?

An overview of the studio

Calendar of events

Tuition rates and discount opportunities

Photo and liability

waivers

Concise handbook with dress code and etiquette 

Costume ordering information for the entire season

Class descriptions

Teacher bios

Weather cancellation policies

Sign-up instructions for Remind texting service for emergency news

Remind is a free app that allows you to send one-way texts to students, parents, faculty and staff. Send competition team schedule changes, weather-related updates about studio closure or photos of what hair and makeup should look like. With Remind, you can attach photos, documents, PDFs, presentations and even recorded voice messages.

TIP: Make sure everything in your packet is also available online.

Avoid TMI New dance parents can be easily overwhelmed with your three-pound package of forms and information. Consider sharing information in small doses, as needed, to let them get used to the dance studio culture on their own time. For example, dress code for class is an immediate need; recital costume ordering can wait.

 

 

Cash Flow IQ

Timing of tuition and fees can make or break your ready-money situation.

Try using a 10-month tuition policy. If your school year consists of 35 weeks, you would spread payments over 10 months, rather than 9. Parents would pay for 3 1/2 weeks of tuition every month, resulting in smaller monthly payments.

Consider collecting tuition for recreational and competition students at different times. For instance, tuition is due for most students on the first of the month and for competition/company students on the 15th, creating a nice mid-month boost of cash.

Collect a deposit Consider collecting first and last month (May) tuition for the year at fall registration. This ensures you’ll get your final month of tuition, should a family relocate from the area before the end of the term or the child decides to quit dancing.

Reward the early birds with discounts 10 percent, for example, for advance payment of the entire year or semester. Caution: Not all discounts are good for business. Run the numbers before offering huge discounts for students taking multiple classes. Unlimited classes for a set fee can result in lots of free classes, especially when coupled with sibling discounts.

Cover your summer Holding fall registration in May can provide cash flow during the lean summer months.

Late fees and other consequences for nonpayment Think of tuition as the ticket to participate in all aspects of studio life, which include the most exciting part for a dancer: performing. Your policy should state that unless tuition is paid in full, costumes cannot be ordered, and competition, convention and recital participation—as well as class attendance—is suspended.

 

 

Place of work

4 Ways Studio-Business Software Will Change Your Life

Review receivables at a glance Your online dashboard will tell you what you need to know to run your business smoothly, day to day.

Should you offer that winter intensive again? Let the data help you make the decision. Track trends and patterns of attendance to make an informed decision before adding a class.

Online tuition collection Let parents manage their own accounts online and keep track of their tuition payments—rather than call you.

Recital organization With all your students entered in your database, you will know if you have double-booked a dancer. You can even directly import the names for your recital program. No more typos!

 

 

Do you pay teachers as freelancers or employees?

The question of classifying teachers correctly as employees or independent contractors is more important than ever. If the IRS disagrees with your findings, back taxes, interest and a fee could be charged. Know the law and get it right! Tip: When in question, it’s better to err on the side of employment.

Your teachers are employees and NOT independent

contractors, if the studio:

*determines the teaching

fee and keeps track of hours worked.

*sets the curriculum

(e.g., what is included in a beginner ballet class).

*sets the class schedule and time.

*is where the majority of the teacher’s activity takes place.

Your teachers may be independent contractors, if they:

*operate a business, often teaching at many locations.

*invoice the studio.

*present a contract to the studio.

*determine the content of the class.

 

 

8 Steps to Better Social Media

Diversify Everyone is on social media these days, but not always on the same platforms. (Younger people love Instagram.) Balance your outreach between Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and there’s no need to post the exact same thing on all three platforms. Be dynamic and change it up.

Engage and inform Do not annoy by posting the same information over and over, or posting items unrelated to dance.

Avoid generic photos of little dancers in pink tutus Your audience recognizes a stock photo when they see one. It’s not about polish, but authenticity. Personalize your posts, and don’t be afraid to celebrate what’s going on within your studio’s walls. Post photos of your actual classes and studio life.

Boost your message Got a new class? You can pay a small fee on Facebook and boost that post to get it seen by a wider group of people.

Target your reach Create targeted Facebook ads by age range of children and income level of parents who live within a certain mile radius of your studio. Facebook has a handy help section to walk you through the process.

Private Pages You can create a private Facebook page for each group in your studio, such as for junior and senior competition teams, parents of small children and so on. This way, updates on rehearsals or costumes go directly to the dancers or parents who need to see them.

Videos We all know that people click on posts with photos, so why not have the dancers in motion, too? Keep your video under three minutes. And they don’t have to be videos of your students—there are wonderful inspirational videos out there that will lift your dancers’ spirits in a minute.

#Hashtags The concept was initiated by the Twitter community but is useful now across platforms. Create a hashtag for your studio while at a competition or an event, for example #StudioXNYCDA, as a way for everyone to keep updated in real time. It’s also a way for those not attending to follow your progress and success.

Tip: Be aware of the negative side of social media. Educate yourself on cyberbullying and regularly take the pulse of what’s happening in your social-media circle of faculty, staff, parents and students. Consider creating a social-media policy for teachers and staff who post anything related to the studio.

Sample policy Students and parents at the Kathy Blake Dance Studios abide by a code of ethics that also informs their social-media policy. “Students and parents are expected to use social media only to reflect the Code of Ethics. Students and parents using social media to disparage any aspect of their team, instructors, their peers or KBDS will be dismissed from the team. No video containing studio choreography should be posted on any social-media site.”

 

 

Resources

Business Support

3rd Level Business Consulting

3rdlevelconsulting.com

Dance Studio Owner

dancestudioowner.com

Financial Groove

financialgroove.com

Insurance

Anthony Insurance Services

dancestudioinsurance.com

K&K Insurance

kandkinsurance.com

Markel Insurance Company

danceinsurance.com

Scott Danahy Naylon, LLC

sdnins.com

Studio-Business Software

ClassJuggler

danceclassjuggler.com

CompuDance

compudance.com

Jackrabbit Dance

jackrabbitdance.com

MINDBODY

mindbodyonline.com

The Studio Director

thestudiodirector.com

Studio Organizer

studioorganizer.com

Studio Pulse

studio-pulse.com

ThinkSmart Software

thinksmartsoftware.com

TripleThreat Software

triplethreatsoftware.com

 

 

Contributors

Jane Carter

Dance Academy USA

Cupertino, CA

Cindy Clough

Just For Kix

Brainerd, MN

Suzanne Blake Gerety

DanceStudioOwner.com

Kim Massay

Kim Massay Dance Productions

Edmond, OK

Jessica Scheitler

FinancialGroove.com

Bonnie Schuetz

Boni’s Dance and Performing Arts

The Woodlands, TX

 

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Don't miss a single issue of Dance Teacher.

Music
Mary Malleney, 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.


"I like to give dancers a phrase of music and choreography and have them reinterpret it," she says, "to be thinkers and creators and not just replicators."

Osato learned this approach—avoiding the natural temptation of the music always being the leader—while earning her MFA in choreography at California Institute of the Arts. "When I was collaborating with a composer for my thesis, he mentioned, 'You always count in eights. Why?'"

This forced Osato out of her creative comfort zone. "The choices I made, my use of music, and its correlation to the movement were put under a microscope," she says. "I learned to not always make the music the driving motive of my work," a habit she attributes to her competition studio training as a young dancer.

While an undergraduate at the University of California, Irvine, Osato first encountered modern dance. That discovery, along with her experience dancing in Boogiezone Inc.'s off-campus hip-hop company, BREED, co-founded by Elm Pizarro, inspired her own, blended style, combining modern and hip hop with jazz. While still in college, she began working with fellow UCI student Will Johnston, and co-founded the Boogiezone Contemporary Class with Pizarro, an affordable series of classes that brought top choreographers from Los Angeles to Orange County.

"We were trying to bring the hip-hop and contemporary communities together and keep creating work for our friends," says Osato, who has taught for West Coast Dance Explosion and choreographed for studios across the country.

In 2009, Osato, Johnston and Pizarro launched Entity Contemporary Dance, which she and Johnston direct. The company, now based in Los Angeles, won the 2017 Capezio A.C.E. Awards, and, in 2019, Osato was chosen for two choreographic residencies (Joffrey Ballet's Winning Works and the USC Kaufman New Movement Residency), and became a full-time associate professor of dance at Santa Monica College.

At SMC, Osato challenges her students—and herself—by incorporating a live percussionist, a luxury that's been on pause during the pandemic. She finds that live music brings a heightened sense of awareness to the room. "I didn't realize what I didn't have until I had it," Osato says. "Live music helps dancers embody weight and heaviness, being grounded into the floor." Instead of the music dictating the movement, they're a part of it.

Osato uses the musician as a collaborator who helps stir her creativity, in real time. "I'll say 'Give me something that's airy and ambient,' and the sounds inspire me," says Osato. She loves playing with tension and release dynamics, fall and recovery, and how those can enhance and digress from the sound.

"I can't wait to get back to the studio and have that again," she says.

Osato made Dance Teacher a Spotify playlist with some of her favorite songs for class—and told us about why she loves some of them.

"Get It Together," by India.Arie

"Her voice and lyrics hit my soul and ground me every time. Dream artist. My go-to recorded music in class is soul R&B. There's simplicity about it that I really connect with."

"Turn Your Lights Down Low," by Bob Marley + The Wailers, Lauryn Hill

"A classic. This song embodies that all-encompassing love and gets the whole room groovin'."

"Diamonds," by Johnnyswim

"This song's uplifting energy and drive is infectious! So much vulnerability, honesty and joy in their voices and instrumentation."

"There Will Be Time," by Mumford & Sons, Baaba Maal

"Mumford & Sons' music has always struck a deep chord within me. Their songs are simultaneously stripped-down and complex and feel transcendent."

"With The Love In My Heart," by Jacob Collier, Metropole Orkest, Jules Buckley

"Other than it being insanely energizing and cinematic, I love how challenging the irregular meter is!"

For Parents

Darrell Grand Moultrie teaches at a past Jacob's Pillow summer intensive. Photo Christopher Duggan, courtesy Jacob's Pillow

In the past 10 months, we've grown accustomed to helping our dancers navigate virtual school, classes and performances. And while brighter, more in-person days may be around the corner—or at least on the horizon—parents may be facing yet another hurdle to help our dancers through: virtual summer-intensive auditions.

In 2020, we learned that there are some unique advantages of virtual summer programs: the lack of travel (and therefore the reduced cost) and the increased access to classes led by top artists and teachers among them. And while summer 2021 may end up looking more familiar with in-person intensives, audition season will likely remain remote and over Zoom.

Of course, summer 2021 may not be back to in-person, and that uncertainty can be a hard pill to swallow. Here, Kate Linsley, a mom and academy principal of Nashville Ballet, as well as "J.R." Glover, The Dan & Carole Burack Director of The School at Jacob's Pillow, share their advice for this complicated process.

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Teachers Trending

From left: Anthony Crickmay, Courtesy Dance Theatre of Harlem Archives; Courtesy Ballethnic

It is the urgency of going in a week or two before opening night that Lydia Abarca Mitchell loves most about coaching. But in her role as Ballethnic Dance Company's rehearsal director, she's not just getting the troupe ready for the stage. Abarca Mitchell—no relation to Arthur Mitchell—was Mitchell's first prima ballerina when he founded Dance Theatre of Harlem with Karel Shook; through her coaching, Abarca Mitchell works to pass her mentor's legacy to the next generation.

"She has the same sensibility" as Arthur Mitchell, says Ballethnic co-artistic director Nena Gilreath. "She's very direct, all about the mission and the excellence, but very caring."

Ballethnic is based in East Point, a suburban city bordering Atlanta. In a metropolitan area with a history of racism and where funding is hard-won, it is crucial for the Black-led ballet company to present polished, professional productions. "Ms. Lydia" provides the "hard last eye" before the curtain opens in front of an audience.

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