Ask the Experts: How Do I Boost Enrollment as In-Person Dance Programs Return?

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The need to be socially distanced has led us to create virtual dance experiences, but it has also reinforced that online learning cannot replicate in-person education at the studio. As we welcome students back, it's a good time to emphasize the social-emotional health benefits of learning to dance, the joy of community and physical activity.

Take care to update your studio website with policies for student drop-off and waiting-room usage, plus health and safety information on facility cleaning and use procedures. While you may have had class-size limits set in the past, parents may now be pleased to see a student-to-teacher ratio found easily on your website. In the past, online registration agreements often focused on payment policies, photo/video release and liability agreements. The experiences of the recent past have shown that supplemental policies related to class cancellations, refunds and learning at home may need to be added.

Being transparent is important. You can help your business stay healthy by devising a flexible strategy to address student absences, makeup classes and illness. In particular, consider maintaining a selection of Zoom or prerecorded class options for those who must learn from home, if someone in their family has been ill or if they need to learn remotely. You may find that you can appeal to some new-to-dance customers by offering a series of digital classes as a free trial, so they can experience some of the fun virtually before they come to the studio. Together we can adapt to change and return to normal with a positive spirit and renewed enthusiasm.

Scott Robbins, Courtesy IABD

The International Association of Blacks in Dance is digitizing recordings of significant, at-risk dance works, master classes, panels and more by Black dancers and choreographers from 1988 to 2010. The project is the result of a $50,000 Recordings at Risk grant from the Council on Library and Information Resources.

"This really is a long time coming," says IABD president and CEO Denise Saunders Thompson of what IABD is calling the Preserving the Legacy and History of Black Dance in America program. "And it's really just the beginning stages of pulling together the many, many contributions of Black dance artists who are a part of the IABD network." Thompson says IABD is already working to secure funding to digitize even more work.

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Studio Owners
The Dance Concept staff in the midst of their costume pickup event. Photo courtesy of Dance Concept

Year-end recitals are an important milestone for dancers to demonstrate what they've learned throughout the year. Not to mention the revenue boost they bring—often 15 to 20 percent of a studio's yearly budget. But how do you hold a spring recital when you're not able to rehearse in person, much less gather en masse at a theater?

"I struggled with the decision for a month, but it hit me that a virtual recital was the one thing that would give our kids a sense of closure and happiness after a few months on Zoom," says Lisa Kaplan Barbash, owner of TDS Dance Company in Stoughton, MA. She's one of countless studio owners who faced the challenges of social distancing while needing to provide some sort of end-of-year performance experience that had already been paid for through tuition and costume fees.

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Teachers Trending
Ryan Smith Visuals, courtesy Whitworth

A New Hampshire resident since 2006, Amanda Whitworth is the director of dance at Plymouth State University and the co-founder of ARTICINE, a nonprofit that uses the performing and creative arts as a means to improve people's health. Whitworth is also the founder of Lead With Arts, a consulting service working in three priority areas: performance and production, arts and health, and creative placemaking. The NH State Council on the Arts recommended her to the governor for a two-year term, February 2020 to February 2022. She is the first dancer in New Hampshire to hold the title of artist laureate. We caught up with her to hear about her new role:

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