Studio Owners

Why It’s More Important Than Ever for Dance Companies to Watch Marketing Trends

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It's easy to come up with excuses not to spend time and money on marketing right now.

You may have lost revenue due to canceled classes and recitals and need to be tight with your budget. You may fear appearing opportunistic during a global crisis. You may worry that people just don't have any money to spend right now.

While these are all understandable, they miss the larger point: Marketing is ultimately about building relationships with your community, says Gretchen Fox, CEO and founder of MTO Agency. And these relationships matter more now than ever—especially within our tight-knit dance community.

We talked to the experts at MTO about best practices for marketing during difficult times, and the trends that all dance companies should be paying attention to right now. And to get even deeper into your questions about everything from promoting your virtual classes to making up for lost recital revenue, join us for a (free!) live webinar with MTO, June 25 at 3 pm ET.

Put your values (and your value) first.

There's a reason why you're probably turned off by certain commercials you're seeing during this time. As a consumer, it's obvious when a brand isn't being genuine in their marketing, says Arielle Mullen, strategic marketing specialist at MTO. (For example, a corporation that spends millions on a commercial thanking its employees, when we know from the news that those same employees aren't being treated fairly.)

Instead, focus on what really matters to you as a brand, and let that come through in all your marketing. "Make sure your values are where you are grounded," says Fox. "They are the number-one reason why we connect with each other, and people are more and more making their purchasing decisions based on values. It's a way to stand out." Are you driven by helping dancers perform at their best? By bringing quality dance performances to the most people possible? By providing dancers and dance educators with the tools they need to succeed? Know what your values are, and communicate them clearly.

In addition to leading with your values, focus on the value you're offering, says Mullen. You have something worthwhile to share—like a fun, educational class, or an exciting, enriching performance—and being clear about that will help you avoid coming across as opportunistic.

Be forward-looking.

Raise your hand if you're tired of hearing the phrase "uncertain times." How about "unprecedented"?

Instead of telling your audience what they already know—and overusing language that's become cliché around the current crisis—tell them about how you're looking to the future. "Share what your vision is or how you're working to build new things," says Fox. "We need some light at the end of the tunnel. We need some leadership, some hope and some orientation right now."

Promoting your innovative virtual class offerings or giving your community a peek at your safe and creative plan for staging performances can give everyone something to look forward to.

Be sure to also look ahead to any prescheduled promotions—perhaps around summer intensives or camps—and make sure your language and framing still feel appropriate given the circumstances, says Mullen.

Market smart, not hard.

Effective marketing doesn't have to cost you lots of time and money. In fact, paying attention to trends can save you both.

For example, Mullen says that since the beginning of the pandemic, Facebook has seen a significant drop in ad spending—which means that those who do spend see their money go further. "Lots of small businesses reacted out of fear and pulled way back," she says. "It means the competition isn't there right now. That won't last forever, but we're seeing higher click-throughs, engagements and delivery than we've seen in the past few years."

Paying close attention to Google Trends, too, can help you keep track of what consumers are interested in right now. Mullen says that keywords and phrases have been fluctuating more rapidly than usual during this time.

And in general, focus on making the highest impact in the leanest way possible with a minimum viable product, says Fox—whether you're trying out marketing on a new social platform or launching a video series. That way, she says, you can learn what works before overbuilding an idea and wasting time and money. "If people take that approach to their resources, that's better than me saying, 'Spend money here. Spend money there,'" she says.

See marketing as change management.

The pandemic has forced everyone in the dance world to rethink their entire business models.

Instead of thinking of marketing as an extra thing you have to do on top of all this, understand that marketing is an essential part of any organizational change.

"Relationships matter a lot as we're transitioning as companies," says Fox. "Marketing is the tip of the sphere for change management for an organization."

Whether you're pivoting from classes in the studio to classes online or outside, or restructuring your season, communicating these changes to your community is essential.

Have more questions about running your dance company during this time? Join us June 25 at 3 pm ET for a free webinar with MTO.

Nan Melville, courtesy Genn

Not so long ago, it seemed that ballet dancers were always encouraged to pull up away from the floor. Ideas evolved, and more recently it has become common to hear teachers saying "Push down to go up," and variations on that concept.

Charla Genn, a New York City–based coach and dance rehabilitation specialist who teaches company class for Dance Theatre of Harlem, American Ballet Theatre and Ballet Hispánico, says that this causes its own problems.

"Often when we tell dancers to go down, they physically push down, or think they have to plié more," she says. These are misconceptions that keep dancers from, among other things, jumping to their full potential.

To help dancers learn to efficiently use what she calls "Mother Marley," Genn has developed these clever techniques and teaching tools.

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Teachers Trending
Alwin Courcy, courtesy Ballet des Amériques

Carole Alexis has been enduring the life-altering after-effects of COVID-19 since April 2020. For months on end, the Ballet des Amériques director struggled with fevers, tingling, dizziness and fatigue. Strange bruising showed up on her skin, along with the return of her (long dormant) asthma, plus word loss and stuttering.

"For three days I would experience relief from the fever—then, boom—it would come back worse than before," Alexis says. "I would go into a room and not know why I was there." Despite the remission of some symptoms, the fatigue and other debilitating side effects have endured to this day. Alexis is part of a tens-of-thousands-member club nobody wants to be part of—she is a COVID-19 long-hauler.

The state of Alexis' health changes from day to day, and in true dance-teacher fashion, she works through both the good and the terrible. "I tend to be strong because dance made me that way," she says. "It creates incredibly resilient people." This summer, as New York City began to ease restrictions, she pushed through her exhaustion and took her company to the docks in Long Island City, where they could take class outdoors. "We used natural barres under the beauty of the sky," Alexis says. "Without walls there were no limits, and the dancers were filled with emotion in their sneakers."

These classes led to an outdoor show for the Ballet des Amériques company—equipped with masks and a socially distanced audience. Since Phase 4 reopening in July, her students are back in the studio in Westchester, New York, under strict COVID-19 guidelines. "We're very safe and protective of our students," she says. "We were, long before I got sick. I'm responsible for someone's child."

Alexis says this commitment to follow the rules has stemmed, in part, from the lessons she's learned from ballet. "Dance has given me the spirit of discipline," she says. "Breaking the rules is not being creative, it's being insubordinate. We can all find creativity elsewhere."

Here, Alexis shares how she's helping her students through the pandemic—physically and emotionally—and getting through it herself.

How she counteracts mask fatigue:

"Our dancers can take short breaks during class. They can go outside on the sidewalk to breathe for a moment without their mask before coming back in. I'm very proud of them for adapting."

Her go-to warm-up for teaching:

"I first use a jump rope (also mandatory for my students), and follow with a full-body workout from the 7 Minute Workout app, preceding a barre au sol [floor barre] with injury-prevention exercises and dynamic stretching."

How she helps dancers manage their emotions during this time:

"Dancers come into my office to let go of stress. We talk about their frustration with not hugging their friends, we talk about the election, whatever is on their minds. Sometimes in class we will stop and take 15 minutes to let them talk about how their families are doing and make jokes, then we go back to pliés. The young people are very worried. You can see it in their eyes. We have to give them hope, laughter and work."

Her favorite teaching attire:

"I change my training clothes in accordance with the mood of my body. That said, I love teaching in the Gaynor Minden Women's Microtech warm-up dance pants in all available colors, with long-sleeve leotards. For shoes, I wear the Adult "Boost" dance sneaker in pink or black. Because I have long days of work, I often wear the Repetto Boots d'échauffement for a few exercises to relax my feet."

How she coped during the initial difficult months of her illness:

"I live across from the Empire State Building. It was lit red with the heartbeat of New York, and it put me in the consciousness of others suffering. I saw ambulances, one after another, on their way to the hospital. I broke thinking of all the people losing someone while I looked through my window. I thought about essential workers, all those incredible people. I thought about why dance isn't essential and the work we needed to do to make it such. Then I got a puppy, to focus on another life rather than staying wrapped in my own depression. It lifted my spirit. Thinking about your own problems never gets you through them."

The foods she can't live without:

"I must have seafood and vegetables. It is in my DNA to love such things—my ancestors were always by the ocean."

Recommended viewing:

"I recommend dancers watch as many full-length ballets as possible, and avoid snippets of dance out of context. My ultimate recommendation is the film of La Bayadère by Rudolf Nureyev. The cast includes the most incredible étoiles: Isabelle Guérin, Élisabeth Platel, Laurent Hilaire, Jean-Marie Didière, who were once the students of the revolutionary Claude Bessy."

Her ideal day off:

"I have three: one is to explore a new destination, town, forest or hiking trail; another is a lazy day at home; and the third, an important one that I miss due to the pandemic, is to go to the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine, where my soul feels renewed by the sermons and the music."

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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