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
Getty Images

Securing the correct music licensing for your studio is an important step in creating a financially sound business. "Music licensing is something studio owners seem to either embrace or ignore completely," says Clint Salter, CEO and founder of the Dance Studio Owners Association. While it may seem like it's a situation in which it's easier to ask for forgiveness rather than permission—that is, to wait until you're approached by a music-rights organization before purchasing a license—Salter disagrees, citing Peloton, the exercise company that produces streaming at-home workouts. In February, Peloton settled a music-licensing suit with the National Music Publishers' Association out-of-court for an undisclosed amount. Originally, NMPA had sought $300 million in damages from Peloton. "It can get extremely expensive," says Salter. "It's not worth it for a studio to get caught up in that."

As you continue to explore a hybrid online/in-person version of your class schedule, it's crucial that your music licenses include coverage for livestreamed instruction—which comes with its own particular requirements. Here are some answers to frequently asked questions about music licensing—in both normal times and COVID times—as well as some safe music bets that won't pose any issues.

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A 2019 Dancewave training. Photo by Effy Grey, courtesy Dancewave

By now, most dance educators hopefully understand that they have a responsibility to address racism in the studio. But knowing that you need to be actively cultivating racial equity isn't the same thing as knowing how to do so.

Of course, there's no easy answer, and no perfect approach. As social justice advocate David King emphasized at a recent interactive webinar, "Cultivating Racial Equity in the Classroom," this work is never-ending. The event, hosted by Dancewave (which just launched a new racial-equity curriculum) was a good starting point, though, and offered some helpful takeaways for dance educators committed to racial justice.

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The author, Robyn Watson. Photo courtesy Watson

Recently, I posted a thread of tweets elucidating the lack of respect for tap dance in college dance programs, and arguing that it should be a requirement for dance majors.

According to onstageblog.com, out of the 30 top-ranked college dance programs in the U.S., tap dance is offered at 19 of them, but only one school requires majors to take more than a beginner course—Oklahoma City University. Many prestigious dance programs, like the ones at NYU Tisch School of the Arts and SUNY Purchase, don't offer a single course in tap dance.

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