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.

Teachers Trending
Annika Abel Photography, courtesy Griffith

When the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis last May catalyzed nationwide protests against systemic racism, the tap community resumed longstanding conversations about teaching a Black art form in the era of Black Lives Matter. As these dialogues unfolded on social media, veteran Dorrance Dance member Karida Griffith commented infrequently, finding it difficult to participate in a meaningful way.

"I had a hard time watching people have these conversations without historical context and knowledge," says Griffith, who now resides in her hometown of Portland, Oregon, after many years in New York City. "It was clear that there was so much information missing."

For example, she observed people discussing tap while demonstrating ignorance about Black culture. Or, posts that tried to impose upon tap the history or aesthetics of European dance forms.

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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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