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

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