Studio Owners

Try These Revenue-Building Tips to Build Your Summer Biz

Summer campers at Center Stage in North Carolina. Photo by Kristi Hedberg, courtesy of Center Stage

Does your studio slow down when the weather warms up? If you don't offer a summer session, June through August can be a cash-flow challenge. One popular—and easy—strategy is to offer weeklong camps instead. We spoke to three professionals to learn how they make summer camp work.


Fair Haven and Rumson, NJ

Vanessa Berry, owner


•Weeklong morning camps that run from 9 am to 12 pm; each week covers a different genre or theme—ballet, princess camp, tap and pointe intensives—to satisfy various age groups and interests.

•One-day (three-hour) workshops arranged by age group or skill level.

•Three-week session of advanced technique clinics in the morning, grouped by level.

•Three evenings a week, the studio remains open for other classes.

Why it works The three-hour, weeklong camps are compatible with families' summer schedules. “I find most swimming or basketball camps run one week, too, so families are comfortable with these schedules," says Berry. “We're in a seaside community—a mom told me she loved that time frame. She could do grocery shopping and then pick up her daughters and go to the beach." The week-at-a-time schedule also allows families to fit classes around their vacation trips.

Flexibility is what makes the summer work: It extends to the mix of classes and rules for enrollment. Each of Berry's two locations has multiple rooms, so any given morning, multiple camps for different age groups can go full-swing. Registration runs from February 1 until the day before camp. “The most intense time for signing up is April," says Berry. “But if we have room, we'll accept students the morning of the first class."

Staffing Since teachers' employment remains constant yet flexible, with summer hours, they are happy and loyal. “All of our staff remains busy, with 50 to 60 kids at the studio each day," says Berry. As enrollment grows, she brings in teaching assistants and junior students.

Benefit for students “We had our biggest summer ever this year because we targeted programming to what parents want," says Berry, who opened up the 9 am to 12 pm schedule to the senior dancers in the form of advanced technique clinics. “Everyone kept up their skills," she says. “In fact, they gained. If I have them for three solid hours for five days, that's 15 weeks of a regular class. They learn so much when they have that concentrated time."

Business boost The morning schedule brought new students to the studio, including kids visiting relatives. “We now have people who return each summer just for the class," says Berry.

Rhythm Dance Center in Georgia offers "TWIRL Dance and Play Parties." Photo courtesy of Rhythm Dance Center


Marietta, GA

Becca Moore and Dani Rosenberg, owners


•Weekly themed play parties for youngsters

•Open classes geared toward intermediate and advanced dancers. Genres—ballet, tap, conditioning, Pilates, musical theater—change from week to week. “We may post some social media and send a mass e-mail to current students," says Rosenberg. “Some classes have eight students and some have 48. We do this twice a week and avoid holiday weeks." Students can pay by class ($12.50) or buy a class card and get a discount: five classes for $50, 10 for $90.

•Diehard Dancer Incentive: Any student who takes 20 open classes over the summer receives a T-shirt, a shout-out on social media and a free class with a guest teacher of their choice during the year. “They're getting better as dancers," says Rosenberg.

Why it works The weekly change of genres for open classes means many students end up taking more than one class. Play-party themes—usually based on children's characters, like Disney princesses—also change each week, encouraging more repeat business. “The key is changing it up every week so kids get to try new things," says Rosenberg. “We publish themes ahead of time and don't require preregistration for parties—they can show up and pay the day of. It's a great time to try different styles before they commit to a class for the season."

Staffing “I try to offer teachers two classes so they aren't driving to the studio for just one class," says Rosenberg. Teachers who work a special event, like a party, get a flat fee. High school–age assistants receive credit toward their tuition or competition team account.

Benefit for students The studio offers half-off summer class registration for new and returning students if they sign up by a certain date. Because requirements for themed parties are minimal—little ones can wear sneakers or socks, no dance shoes required—registration is high.

Business boost “We know our party themes and schedule in February," says Rosenberg. “The kids see it and immediately want to preregister, which gives a kick-start to summer cash flow. When they see how fun it is, they often end up registering for fall classes."


Asheville, NC

Michele Lee, owner


•One-week summer camp themes on popular books, movies and children's shows that will appeal to age groups 6 and under and 7 and up. Daily activities include crafts, dress-up, structured play and basic dance class. Each camp has plenty of variety to keep little ones engaged, including a photo shoot on Wednesday, water day on Thursday and an informal show for friends and family on Friday.

•Technique classes for elementary, middle and high school students to maintain and improve their skills over the summer. These classes vary in length depending on age: For ages 12 and up, they run for six weeks and include ballet, pointe, tap, jazz, acro and contemporary. Students ages 9 to 12 are offered five weeks of class in all the same genres. And 5- to 8-year-olds participate in a four-week program.

Why it works “Camps help market the studio to potential clients who may have little or no dance experience," says Lee. A flexible payment system entices students who may not otherwise be able to commit to technique classes. “We offer a full pass for all classes, or students may pay a drop-in fee. The full pass offers a significant discount."

Staffing Faculty earn their regular hourly rate for technique classes. Theme camp instructors get a weekly rate.

Benefits for students Campers receive a keepsake T-shirt and photo at Center Stage, along with daily take-home crafts. “We have several little ones who attend multiple theme camps over the summer," says Lee.

Business boost Reducing office hours during the summer months cuts down the operating budget—savings that pay for the studio to remain open and keep faculty working.

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Alwin Courcy, courtesy Ballet des Amériques

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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.

Find a formula that works for your studio

For Melanie Boniszewski, owner of Tonawanda Dance Arts in upstate New York, the answer to profitable summer programming lies in drop-in classes.

"We're in a cold-weather climate, so summer is actually really hard to attract people—everyone wants to be outside, and no one wants to commit to a full season," she says.

Tonawanda Dance Arts offers a children's program in which every class is à la carte: 30-minute, $15 drop-in classes are offered approximately two times a week in the evenings, over six weeks, for different age groups. And two years ago, she created her Stay Strong All Summer Long program for older students, which offers 12 classes throughout the summer and a four-day summer camp. Students don't know what type of class they're attending until they show up. "If you say you're going to do a hip-hop class, you could get 30 kids, but if you do ballet, it could be only 10," she says. "We tell them to bring all of their shoes and be ready for anything."

Start-up costs are minimal—just payroll and advertising (which she starts in April). For older age groups, Boniszewski focuses on bringing in her studio clientele, rather than marketing externally. In the 1- to 6-year-old age group, though, around 50 percent of summer students tend to be new ones—98 percent of whom she's been able to convert to year-round classes.

A group of elementary school aged- girls stands in around a dance studio. A teacher, a young black man, stands in front of the studio, talking to them

An East County Performing Arts Center summer class from several years ago. Photo courtesy ECPAC

East County Performing Arts Center owner Nina Koch knows that themed, weeklong camps are the way to go for younger dancers, as her Brentwood, California students are on a modified year-round academic school calendar, and parents are usually looking for short-term daycare solutions to fill their abbreviated summer break.

Koch keeps her weekly camps light on dance: "When we do our advertising for Frozen Friends camp, for example, it's: 'Come dance, tumble, play games, craft and have fun!'"

Though Koch treats her campers as studio-year enrollment leads, she acknowledges that these weeklong camps naturally function as a way for families who aren't ready for a long-term commitment to still participate in dance. "Those who aren't enrolled for the full season will be put into a sales nurture campaign," she says. "We do see a lot of campers come to subsequent camps, including our one-day camps that we hold once a month throughout our regular season."

Serve your serious dancers

One dilemma studio owners may face: what to do about your most serious dancers, who may be juggling outside intensives with any summer programming that you offer.

Consider making their participation flexible. For Boniszweski's summer program, competitive dancers must take six of the 12 classes offered over a six-week period, as well as the four-day summer camp, which takes place in mid-August. "This past summer, because of COVID, they paid for six but were able to take all 12 if they wanted," she says. "Lots of people took advantage of that."

For Koch, it didn't make sense to require her intensive dancers to participate in summer programming, partly because she earned more revenue catering to younger students and partly because her older students often made outside summer-training plans. "That's how you build a well-rounded dancer—you want them to go off and get experience from teachers you might not be able to bring in," she says.

Another option: Offering private lessons. Your more serious dancers can take advantage of flexible one-on-one training, and you can charge higher fees for individualized instruction. Consider including a financial incentive to get this kind of programming up and running. "Five years ago, we saw that some kids were asking for private lessons, so we created packages: If you bought five lessons, you'd get one for free—to get people in the door," says Boniszewksi. "After two years, once that program took off, we got rid of the discount. People will sign up for as many as 12 private lessons."

A large group of students stretch in a convention-style space with large windows. They follow a teacher at the front of the room in leaning over their right leg for a hamstring stretch

Koch's summer convention experience several years ago. Photo courtesy East County Performing Arts Center

Bring the (big) opportunities to your students

If you do decide to target older, more serious dancers for your summer programming, you may need to inject some dance glamour to compete with fancier outside intensives.

Bring dancers opportunities they wouldn't have as often during the school year. For Boniszewski, that means offering virtual master classes with big-name teachers, like Misha Gabriel and Briar Nolet. For Koch, it's bringing the full convention experience to her students—and opening it up to the community at large. In past years, she's rented her local community center for a weekend-long in-house convention and brought in professional ballet, jazz, musical theater and contemporary guest teachers.

In 2019, the convention was "nicely profitable" while still an affordable $180 per student, and attracted 120 dancers, a mix of her dancers and dancers from other studios. "It was less expensive than going to a big national convention, because parents didn't have to worry about lodging or travel," Koch says. "We wanted it to be financially attainable for families to experience something like this in our sleepy little town."

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