Studio Owners

Best Practices for Studio Management: How Does It Work When You Work with Your Spouse?

When husband and wife team Heidi Halt and Sergio Neglia founded Neglia Conservatory of Ballet in Buffalo, New York, they started small and slowly enough to give themselves time to figure out their individual roles. Halt, an accomplished ballet teacher, gravitated toward the business end of the studio in addition to teaching, while Neglia (who still performs for the studio company, Neglia Ballet Artists) taught, rehearsed the pre-professional company and handled much of the care of their two children. After 20 years, the couple now has additional instructors and two full-time staff members to help deal with day-to-day jobs, yet they retain the original division of duties.

Dance studios are often family operations, which can be equal parts convenient and tricky. DT asked three couples to talk about their partnerships—how exactly can a dance studio owner keep her head when her business and marriage are intertwined?

Sergio Neglia and Heidi Halt, Neglia Conservatory of Ballet

“Mutual respect for each other’s capabilities is essential,” says Halt. “We sometimes have different teaching styles, and that’s good. Dancers need many different approaches, and we really complement each other.” The couple enjoys changing it up and switching out classes from time to time as a way to stay on top of what the other is doing in class. “Seeing results in our students is so rewarding,” adds Halt.

The two try to make their lives at home not about ballet 24/7, although it’s hard if they’ve had a particularly busy studio day. “Just as we tell our students, ‘Don’t bring your issues into the studio,’ we try not to as well. And we never ever yell at each other in front of parents or students,” says Halt. She does notice that the dancers seem to work harder for Neglia. “As soon as he walks in the room, everyone pulls up, especially in the boys’ class.”

Barry Carroll and Joanne Chapman have been running Joanne Chapman School of Dance in Brampton, Ontario, together for 28 of its 42 years. Carroll, a plumber by trade, took over administrative duties after the bottom had fallen out of the construction market. Today, he is the studio’s ace front man and completely involved in the business aspects of the studio. Their two daughters are also full-time teachers, so it’s a full family affair.

“It works so well because we are not doing the same job,” says Chapman, who admits there’s been a learning curve. She says it helps to have someone at the front desk who is not a teacher, hence not judgmental in any way. “He deals directly with the parents and sometimes brings that perspective to me.”

“Barry is not a typical dance-world type. He’s more of a guy’s guy, which means dads love hanging out at the studio,” she says. “He loves ice hockey and golf. In fact, he organizes a popular yearly golf trip for the dads.” And because dance can be an all-consuming life, they work at keeping varied personal schedules. “It helps that we both have friends and interests outside of the dance world,” she says. “It keeps us grounded.”

Rebecca and Charlie Reese, Blair Dance Academy

When Charlie and Rebecca Reese married four years ago, Rebecca was already running Blair Dance Academy in Altoona, Pennsylvania. New husband Charlie looked around to find ways he could bring his skills as a financial analyst to the business. Today, although employed full-time outside the studio, he keeps the books in order, deals with the accountants, the studio budget and bank accounts, while Rebecca handles the artistic end and day-to-day operations. It’s a winning system. “We joke that she just married me for my money skills,” says Charlie.

When they were ready to take the next step to grow the studio, Charlie managed purchasing a new building. He is also a self-taught graphic artist and web designer, helping out with everything from recital posters to ticket design. “It’s been neat to learn new skills,” he says.

And some things are learned the hard way. “Once I tried to offer some advice on the artistic side—as in a song idea—and I learned quickly where our boundaries stand,” Charlie says, with a smile. “Really, she does listen to me, but it works best when we keep to our strengths.” It helps that he understood completely what he was getting into. “We are a successful couple because I knew right up front that I needed to buy into the dance world,” he says. “Her dreams are my dreams.” DT

Based in Houston, Nancy Wozny is a frequent contributor to Dance Teacher.

Thinkstock; courtesy of Neglia Conservatory; Ray Kauffman Photography, courtesy of Blair Dance Academy

Don't miss a single issue of Dance Teacher.

Dance Teachers Trending
Roshe (center) teaching at Steps on Broadway in New York City. Photo by Jacob Hiss, courtesy of Roshe

Although Debbie Roshe's class doesn't demand perfect technique or mastering complicated tricks, her intricate musicality is what really challenges students. "Holding weird counts to obscure music is harder," she says of her Fosse-influenced jazz style, "but it's more interesting."

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Alternative Balance
Courtesy Alternative Balance

As a dance teacher, you know more than anyone that things can go wrong—students blank on choreography onstage, costumes don't fit and dancers quit the competition team unexpectedly. Why not apply that same mindset to your status as an independent contractor at a studio or as a studio owner?

Insurance is there to give you peace of mind, even when the unexpected happens. (Especially since attorney fees can be expensive, even when you've done nothing wrong as a teacher.) Taking a preemptive approach to your career—insuring yourself—can save you money, time and stress in the long run.

We talked to expert Miriam Ball of Alternative Balance Professional Group about five scenarios in which having insurance would be key.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
Photo by Brian Guilliaux, courtesy of Coudron

Eric Coudron understands firsthand the hurdles competition dancers face when falling in love with ballet. Now the director of ballet at Prodigy Dance and Performing Arts Centre in Frisco, Texas, Coudron trained as a competition dancer when he was growing up. "It's such a structured form of dance that when they come back to it after all of the other styles they are training in, they don't feel at home at the barre," he says.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
Kendra Portier. Photo by Scott Shaw, courtesy of Gibney Dance

As an artist in residence at the University of Maryland in College Park, Kendra Portier is in a unique position. After almost a decade of performing with David Dorfman Dance and three years earning her MFA from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, she's using her two-year gig at UMD (through spring 2020) to "see how teaching in academia really feels," she says. It's also given her the rare opportunity to feel grounded. "I'm going to be here for two years," she says, which offers her the chance to figure out the answers to some hard questions. "What does it mean to not dance for somebody else?" she asks. "What does it mean to take my work more seriously? To realize I really like making work, and figuring out how that can happen in an academic place."

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Turn It Up Dance Challenge
Courtesy Turn It Up

With back-to-back classes, early-morning stage calls and remembering to pack countless costume accessories, competition and convention weekends can feel like a whirlwind for even the most seasoned of studios. Take the advice of Turn It Up Dance Challenge master teachers Alex Wong and Maud Arnold and president Melissa Burns on how to make the experience feel meaningful and successful for your dancers:

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer Health
Deanna Paolantonio leads a workshop. Photo courtesy of Paolantonio

Deanna Paolantonio had been interested in body positivity long before diabetes ever crossed her mind. As a Zumba and Pilates instructor who had just earned her master's degree in dance studies, she focused her research on the relationship between fitness and body image for women and young girls. Then, at age 25, just as she was accepted into the PhD program at York University in Toronto, she was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes (T1D).

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by The Studio Director

As a studio owner, you're probably pretty used to juggling. Running a business is demanding, with new questions and challenges pulling your attention in a million different directions each day.

But there's a solution that could be saving you time and money (and sanity!). Studio management systems are easy-to-use software programs designed for the particular needs of studio owners, offering tools like billing, enrollment, inventory and emails, all in one place. The right studio management system can help you handle the day-to-day tasks that bog you down as a business owner, leaving you more time for the most important work—like connecting with students and planning creative curriculums for them. Plus, these systems can keep you from spending extra money on hiring multiple specialists or using multiple platforms to meet your administrative needs.

So how do you make sure you're choosing a studio management system that offers the same quality that your studio does? We talked to The Studio Director—whose studio management system provides a whole host of streamlined features—about the must-haves for any system, and the bonuses that make an excellent product stand out:

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Robin Nasatir (center) with Peter Brown and Vicki Gunter. Photo by Christian Peacock

On a sunny Thursday morning in Berkeley, California, Robin Nasatir leads her modern class through a classic seated floor warm-up full of luscious curves and tilts to the soothing grooves of Bobby McFerrin. Though her modern style is rooted in traditional José Limón and Erick Hawkins techniques, the makeup of her class is far from conventional. Her students range in age from 30 all the way to early 80s.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Getty Images

Q: I need advice on proper classroom management for dancers in K–12—I can't get them to focus.

A: Classroom management in a K–12 setting is no different than in a studio. No matter where you teach, I recommend using a positive-reinforcement approach first. As a general rule, what you pay attention to is what you get. When a student acts out, it's generally done in order to gain attention. Rather than giving attention to them for inappropriate behavior, call out other students who are exhibiting the positive behaviors you desire. Name the good actions, and all of your students will quickly learn what it takes to be noticed.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips

For an aspiring professional dancer, an unexpected injury can feel like a death sentence to a career that hasn't even started. The recovery process following an injury can be one of the most grueling and heartbreaking experiences a performer will ever face. In times like these, dance teachers have the power to boost or weaken a dancer's morale.

With that in mind, we've compiled a list of do's and don'ts for talking to a seriously injured dancer.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Getty Images

Q: Last season I had three dancers on my junior team who struggled all year. They've trained with me for years, yet they keep sliding farther behind their classmates. What should I do?

Keep reading... Show less

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox