Boost Your Bottom Line

Operating a dance studio requires a lot of work, and studio owners are always looking for effective ways to make extra money without adding too many demands to their already packed schedules. Here are just a few virtually hassle-free ways to increase your bottom line.

1. Adjust prices and class lengths.

“I raise prices just a little bit each September,” says Diane VanDerhei, owner of INTUIT Dance Studio in Oak Park, Illinois. As VanDerhei has discovered, increasing class rates on a regular basis is a good idea, and not just because it’s smart to keep up with the pace of inflation.
For example, if every other studio in town is more expensive it might be time to up your prices. Research their pricing structure and make sure yours is comparable. The back-to-school season, when customers often expect price increases, is a good time to make adjustments.
To justify increasing costs, consider making classes a little longer. For example, more advanced classes can run for an hour and a half instead of just an hour, and intermediate ones an hour and 15 minutes. Students and their parents might not mind paying more if they see added value.

2. Create promotional days.

“Bring a friend day” (or “week”) is a great way to get the word out about your studio and pick up some additional students. “Word of mouth is a powerful tool in building enrollment, and we’ve found that these initiatives allow us to grow our student body in an organic way that builds upon the relationships we’ve already made with our students,” says Cassandra Oliveras, director of marketing for Ballet Hispanico School of Dance in New York City. Oliveras points out that even if students’ friends don’t enroll, they often tell other people about their experience, thus increasing the studio’s visibility.

Get creative and try out some new ideas to expand your student pool. Why not do a “boys dance for free” day to bring in more male students, or experiment with a “parent day” to see if you can snag new students for your adult classes? Reaching beyond your usual demographic could pay off.

3. Offer discounts and coupons.

Classes at a discounted rate can be an effective way to draw in a larger crowd. Run a coupon in the local paper for a free class or hold 10-minute “sampler” sessions a few times a year. A standing “one free class” option for new students will also keep them flowing in through your studio doors.
VanDerhei holds an annual “Dime A Dance” promotion, based on the concept of dance marathons, to publicize her studio while giving the local community a chance to try out different types of dance. Visitors pay for classes as they wish—anything from literally 10 cents to five dollars. “A lot of people from the neighborhood come, and they sign up for classes because of it,” she says. “I probably get at least 25 new students.”

4. Rent out your studio.

Renting your studio to outside teachers is a great way to earn extra revenue without having to teach more classes. Consider filling extra studio time with yoga, Pilates, martial arts or even other dance classes, as long as they don’t compete with what you already offer. Sheryl Sulek, owner of Sheryl’s School of Dance in Novi, Michigan, rents her studio out by the hour to several other dance instructors who teach different styles. “I have a flamenco teacher who comes in during the day and teaches adults, and I also rent space to a Highland dance teacher and a ballroom instructor,” she says.

If you’re hesitant to commit long-term, offer space for one-time or weekend events. Decide in advance whether you want to charge a flat fee, or discuss an arrangement based on getting a percentage of the profits from the workshops. Sulek has found that renting out the studio for birthday parties is especially profitable. “It’s a good way to utilize the space during off-times, and it has worked out really well as an extra source of cash,” she says, adding that she’s trained her senior students to run the parties. Families can choose a simple room rental, or select a “theme” party with a mini-dance lesson included in the cost. Popular themes have included “princess,” “1950s,” “American Idol” and “hip hop.”

5. Hold mini-recitals.

Instead of having just one end-of-year recital, why not hold regular “mini-recitals” that are open to the public for a nominal charge? Offering to donate a portion of the revenue to a local nonprofit can get you more community visibility and even a mention in the local paper.
VanDerhei began staging mini-recitals in her studio as a way to keep performances low-pressure for her students, but has since discovered that charging a $5 admission fee makes them financially beneficial as well. “This year I did five mini-recitals over three days,” she says, “and parents loved it!”

Bringing in more dollars doesn’t always have to take a lot of effort. Whether you hold special fundraisers or capitalize on rental potential, you can add to your income with just a little creativity. DT

Catherine L. Tully is the Outside Europe Representative for the National Dance Teachers Association in the U.K.

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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