Secrets to fitting, fees and alterations

Students from Rita Ogden's Ovations Dance Studio

For more than 20 years, Denise Hawkins of Denise’s Dance Academy in Overland Park, Kansas, has allowed her studio parents to choose the costumes for spring recitals. “It sounds crazy, but parents feel they have a hand in the costumes they’re paying for,” she says. But Hawkins, who orders about 1,500 costumes each season, does manage the process. For instance, she never lets parents see the catalogs. Instead, teachers of each class select a few options, and then the parents pick their favorite from photographs.

While this system works for Hawkins, costume ordering isn’t a one-size-fits-all process. Between selecting the look and ensuring that garments are on time, paid for and accurately fit, it’s a daunting task. The key to successful ordering is staying organized, calm and ahead of schedule.

Choosing a Style

- Regardless of who makes the selection, reserve final approval. Chris Collins of Chris Collins Dance Studio in Alexandria, Virginia, asks his teachers to choose costumes. He gives the final OK after making sure every costume is age- and body-style-appropriate.

- Measure each dancer, and use each manufacturer’s size charts for consistency. In the past, Collins—who has 450 students—left the measuring task to his teachers, but that left room for error. “I now have all measurements done by the same person,” he says. “As a result, we had only a handful of exchanges in the last few years.”

Rita Ogden of Ovations Dance Studio in Oaklyn, New Jersey, holds a special week for measuring. She announces the dates in her registration handbook, and all of her 250 students must attend. A good rule of thumb is to have all measuring completed two weeks before the ordering deadline, in case there are stragglers. “Missing a deadline because you don’t have all the measurements means losing money,” she says. If costumes don’t fit properly, it costs extra to make an exchange.

Ordering

- Order early for quicker shipping, and take advantage of discounts. Many manufacturers offer discounts on orders placed ahead of schedule, and with large orders, money saved means more for your recital budget, studio repairs or even teachers’ wages.

“If I’m close to qualifying for a discount, sometimes I get basic hairpieces, canes, hats, even if I don’t need them,” says Ogden, who typically orders about 1,000 costumes per season. “If I’m $100 short, and they have beautiful rhinestone chokers or barrettes, I order enough to use as gifts for graduates. I may spend $200 more, but I’ll save $1,000 in the long run.” She saves the invoices that include the unused merchandise in her storage closet, so she knows the full price to charge when used in the future.

- When the shipment arrives, carefully inventory the contents. Hawkins once received an incorrect shipment in which adult and child sizes were completely flipped, and another with an entire class receiving the wrong style. She now carefully inventories costumes upon arrival and immediately calls the companies to resolve any errors. Garments do not leave their studios until paid in full; there are no exchanges once students take costumes home.

Fees

- Consider the time of year for collecting fees. After getting complaints from parents about paying for costumes near Christmas, Hawkins’ studio parents now pay half at enrollment and the remaining cost by October 15. If students join in January, they’re charged an extra $10 per costume for shipping. Students who drop out receive a refund if they leave before costumes are ordered or if new students replace them. (Otherwise, they’re responsible for payment.)

- Establish and communicate your markup policy. “I state in my parent handbook that the costume fees include shipping, taxes, exchange fees, alterations and other costs associated with costumes,” says Hawkins, whose set costume fee covers two costumes and a pair of tights for $110. Her studio parents understand that she marks up costumes 20 percent from the retail value. (Costume fees account for as much as 10 percent of her yearly revenue.)

At Collins’ studio, all students pay an equal deposit by October 30 and are billed in the winter for the balance. Balances often range between $20 and $50 per student, depending on age and level and costume style, and parents receive an itemized balance statement. Collins makes a small profit from every costume (he orders approximately 3,500 per season), which goes back into the studio or toward production costs. With 37 years in the business, he’s learned that parents will pay a little extra, knowing that he takes the time to measure and fit the students well enough so they won’t have to pay a larger fee for alterations or exchanges.

Alterations

- Take control. Don’t assume dance moms can handle minor sizing alterations. After a few years of straps being sewn on wrong (over the shoulder instead of crisscrossed, for example), Hawkins began hiring one or two parents as seamstresses who barter their work for discounted tuition. They keep track of the alterations, and the totals typically amount to roughly three months’ tuition. “It has worked out so much better, and the other parents are happy to have costumes that do not need any additional work at home,” she says.

- Consider function as well as fit. Ogden has added strips of coordinating fabric to conceal bra straps and applied grip tape to the palms of acrobatic long-sleeve costumes to prevent dancers from slipping. She agrees that skilled seamstresses should make the alterations, not individual moms. “There are always parents who think a costume should be tighter, shorter, longer than I prefer. Then there is the parent who will accidentally use 1,000 rhinestones instead of the requested 100,” says Ogden. “If you want a uniform look, have it done yourself. It’s that simple.” DT

USING AN ORDERING SERVICE

For the past three years, Shannon Wilson of Westwoods Center of Performing Arts has used a costume ordering service, CostumeManager.com. “I used to place all orders during the break in December,” says Wilson. “So it wasn’t a break for me.” Now, she says, when the costumes come in, they’re bundled by class and dancer, labeled and ready to hand out. “My staff and I save hours of sorting through mixed batches of garments.”

The studio selects the costumes and accessories that parents must order. Wilson recommends the sizes for each student, based on the manufacturers’ size charts. “Parents are free to order whatever size they want, but we let them know that if they don’t order the recommended size, it’s not going to fit,” she says.

There is no charge to the studio: The service collects the costume fees, plus handling charges, directly from the parents, who can choose when to order and pay. Wilson receives reports showing which families have ordered and paid for costumes so she can remind stragglers as deadlines approach.

Though she maintains a hand in the process, Wilson acknowledges that relinquishing any control to parents is not easy for many studio owners. Trusting that they will order all the necessary pieces on time can be nerve-racking, and in some cases when an order isn’t correct, parents blame the studio. “We are the face the parents see. If something is wrong, they come to us,” says Wilson. “But this has saved my studio time and money.”

 

Courtney Rae Kasper is a former Dance Teacher editor. Photo courtesy of Rita Ogden

Dance Teachers Trending
Photo by Mitchell Button, courtesy of the artist

Dusty Button prefers music with a range. "There needs to be a beginning, a climax and a strong ending. Like a movie," she says. The award-winning dancer, who joined American Ballet Theatre's second company, ABT II, at 18, has always been drawn to lyric-free tracks filled with dynamic phrasing, rhythms and composition. "Whether it's the violin, piano or cello, instrumental music gives me more inspiration. I want the dancers and the audience to feel something new," she adds.

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Success with Just for Kix
Courtesy Just for Kix

As a teacher or studio owner, customer service is a major part of the job. It's easy to dread the difficult sides of it, like being questioned or criticized by an unhappy parent. "In the early years, parent issues could have been the one thing that got me to give up teaching," says Cindy Clough, executive director of Just For Kix and a teacher and studio owner with over 43 years of experience. "Hang in there—it does get easier."

We asked Clough her top tips for dealing with difficult parents:

Keep reading... Show less
Site Network

When the news broke that Prince George, currently third in line for the British throne, would be continuing ballet classes as part of his school curriculum this year, we were as excited as anyone. (OK, maybe more excited.)

This was not, it seems, a sentiment shared by "Good Morning America" host Lara Spencer.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Dean College
Amanda Donahue, ATC, working with a student in her clinic in the Palladino School of Dance at Dean College. Courtesy Dean College

The Joan Phelps Palladino School of Dance at Dean College is one of just 10 college programs in the U.S. with a full-time athletic trainer devoted solely to its dancers. But what makes the school even more unique is that certified athletic trainer Amanda Donahue isn't just available to the students for appointments and backstage coverage—she's in the studio with them and collaborating with dance faculty to prevent injuries and build stronger dancers.

"Gone are the days when people would say, 'Don't go to the gym, you'll bulk up,'" says Kristina Berger, who teaches Horton and Hawkins technique as an assistant professor of dance. "We understand now that cross-training is actually vital, and how we've embraced that at Dean is extremely rare. For one thing, we're not sharing an athletic trainer with the football players, who require a totally different skillset." For another, she says, the faculty and Donahue are focused on giving students tools to prolong their careers.

After six years of this approach, here are the benefits they've seen:

Keep reading... Show less
To Share With Students
Photo via Claudia Dean World on YouTube

Most parents start off pretty clueless when it comes to doing their dancer's hair. If you don't want your students coming in with elastic-wrapped bird's nests on their heads, you may want to give them some guidance. But who has time to teach each individual parent how to do their child's hair? Not you! So, we have a solution: YouTube hair tutorials.

These three classical hairdo vids are exactly what your dancers need to look fabulous and ready to work every time they step in your studio.

Enjoy!

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Alternative Balance
Courtesy Alternative Balance

As a dance teacher, you know more than anyone that things can go wrong—students blank on choreography onstage, costumes don't fit and dancers quit the competition team unexpectedly. Why not apply that same mindset to your status as an independent contractor at a studio or as a studio owner?

Insurance is there to give you peace of mind, even when the unexpected happens. (Especially since attorney fees can be expensive, even when you've done nothing wrong as a teacher.) Taking a preemptive approach to your career—insuring yourself—can save you money, time and stress in the long run.

We talked to expert Miriam Ball of Alternative Balance Professional Group about five scenarios in which having insurance would be key.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
Roshe (center) teaching at Steps on Broadway in New York City. Photo by Jacob Hiss, courtesy of Roshe

Although Debbie Roshe's class doesn't demand perfect technique or mastering complicated tricks, her intricate musicality is what really challenges students. "Holding weird counts to obscure music is harder," she says of her Fosse-influenced jazz style, "but it's more interesting."

Keep reading... Show less
To Share With Students
Via @madisongoodman_ on Instagram

Nationals season is behind us, but we just aren't quite over it yet. We've been thinking a lot about the freakishly talented winners of these competitions, and want to know a bit more about the people who got them to where they are. So, we asked three current national title holders to tell us the most powerful piece of advice their dance teacher ever gave them. What they have to say will melt your heart.

Way to go, dance teachers! Your'e doing amazing things for the rising generation!

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Turn It Up Dance Challenge
Courtesy Turn It Up

With back-to-back classes, early-morning stage calls and remembering to pack countless costume accessories, competition and convention weekends can feel like a whirlwind for even the most seasoned of studios. Take the advice of Turn It Up Dance Challenge master teachers Alex Wong and Maud Arnold and president Melissa Burns on how to make the experience feel meaningful and successful for your dancers:

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Owners
Getty Images

Enrollment is an issue that plagues brand-new and veteran studio owners alike. Without a steady stream of revenue from new students coming through your doors, your studio won't survive—no matter how crisp your dancers' technique is or how well-produced your recitals are.

Enrollment—in biz speak, customer acquisition and retention—depends on your business' investment in marketing. How effectively you get the word out about your studio will directly influence the number of people who register. Successful businesses typically use certain tried-and-true marketing strategies to recruit and retain clients or customers. These four studio owners' tricks for kicking enrollment into high gear are modeled after classic marketing techniques.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by The Studio Director

As a studio owner, you're probably pretty used to juggling. Running a business is demanding, with new questions and challenges pulling your attention in a million different directions each day.

But there's a solution that could be saving you time and money (and sanity!). Studio management systems are easy-to-use software programs designed for the particular needs of studio owners, offering tools like billing, enrollment, inventory and emails, all in one place. The right studio management system can help you handle the day-to-day tasks that bog you down as a business owner, leaving you more time for the most important work—like connecting with students and planning creative curriculums for them. Plus, these systems can keep you from spending extra money on hiring multiple specialists or using multiple platforms to meet your administrative needs.

So how do you make sure you're choosing a studio management system that offers the same quality that your studio does? We talked to The Studio Director—whose studio management system provides a whole host of streamlined features—about the must-haves for any system, and the bonuses that make an excellent product stand out:

Keep reading... Show less

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox