Studio Owners

How 3 Studios Have Reimagined Recitals This Year

Photo courtesy of Shanna Kirkpatrick

Planning a recital pre-COVID-19 was enough to make even the most well-organized dance studio owner feel stressed. Add a global pandemic into the mix, and you've got a recipe for a nervous breakdown—not to mention a serious revenue shortfall. Good thing studio owners have resilience and creativity to spare: These three owners reimagined and restructured their recitals in only weeks. While their recital revenue will still take a hit this year, they've found inspiring ways to keep the families involved in and excited about end-of-year recitals—and, most important, eager to return as loyal customers, come fall.

Though each state offers its own plan and protocols for incremental reopening—with varying numbers of COVID-19 cases and trajectories—the one certainty across the board is that nothing is certain. Reopening may require some serious backtracking if it results in a surge of new outbreaks, so flexibility will remain a key part of any studio's success.

A Plan for All Phases
Rachel Arnold, Dance Prodigy Studios

Greenville, TX
100 students
10 years in business
Recital revenue: 8.6 percent of annual revenues

Rachel Arnold doesn't just have one new recital plan—she has four, one for each phase of social-distancing that her state might be in, come mid-June. "No matter what," says Arnold, "we're going to have our recital. I'm willing to die on this cross. These kids have worked too hard, and our teachers have put in too much effort."

Her Plan-A recital for Dance Prodigy Studios, which correlates with the most lax social-distancing guidelines, would mean Arnold's show operates as normal, at the high school auditorium she was slated to hold it in, before COVID-19. Her Plan-B recital is slightly more scaled-down: "If the state says we can have a large group of people, we'll hold it outside, as a festival," she says. She'll push the recital back to the end of June—she doesn't want to interfere with Fourth of July family plans—and rent a stage, tent and chairs. "We'll make it a party outside, with fireworks and s'mores," says Arnold. Under this plan, she would still sell tickets and offer families the option to purchase DVDs of the recital, allowing her to bring in some much-needed revenue.

Plan C would happen if Texas orders require that gatherings not exceed more than 50 people. In that case, Arnold is in talks with a local dinner theater built for a much smaller audience. "We'll do the recital in small groups and only bring in that group's parents at a time," she says. Because she would most likely incur new venue rental fees with this option, Arnold is hoping to work with local businesses to sponsor each recital group, to defray costs. She would still sell flowers, recital programs and DVDs under this plan.

Plan D means Arnold's recital will happen as a solo event, for each dancer who wants to participate, at either her studio or a local theater over multiple days. "We'll go one person at a time, and they'll perform all of their recital dances as solos," she says. She'll fashion it as a red-carpet experience, with a step-and-repeat and the chance for parents to purchase balloons and flowers for their dancers. She'll also offer her students another opportunity to perform this fall.

Though two of these four options involve an unanticipated loss of revenue, Arnold isn't focused on that. Retaining the confidence of her customers—and their loyalty—is more the point. "What's more important right now than making [recital] revenue is making parents see we're fulfilling our promise—so they want to re-enroll next year," she says.

The Red-Carpet Experience
Shanna Kirkpatrick, Chara Christian Dance Academy

Friendswood, TX
1,000-plus students
12 years in business
Recital revenue: 8 percent of annual revenue

Like other studio owners who have seen their original recital plans dashed, Shanna Kirkpatrick is forging ahead—but with her customers' needs in mind. "I've chosen to think not about what a dance teacher wants, but about what a mom really needs right now," she says. "I didn't want to drag out our recital plans to fulfill my artistic dreams. Parents want to wrap this up and move on with their lives." Kirkpatrick will treat her last week of online classes as Zoom performances, asking students to get into costume, hair and makeup and perform for any invited family and friends. For students who want a bonus recital experience, she'll allow families to sign up for 15-minute time slots at the studio during the week after classes end and create a complete awards-ceremony-like event. Students will walk a red carpet, pose for photos in costume with the studio's photographer, perform in-studio for immediate family members in front of a makeshift stage backdrop and, finally, collect awards in another designated area of the studio. "We want every single student to feel a sense of accomplishment," says Kirkpatrick.

Having a costumed Zoom recital is possible only because Kirkpatrick ordered her costumes in October and held a parade-style pickup in mid-April. "Parents drove through our studio parking lot, and some of our teachers DJ-ed," she says. "It was fun!" Though she won't have recital ticket sales, Kirkpatrick was still able to sell recital T-shirts and will earn revenue from any family that opts for the $40 photography package of the red-carpet recital experience. As for her recital fees, she's offering families a refund; the chance to credit any unused recital fees to their account for next year; or the ability to donate it to her nonprofit scholarship fund, which she set up for students whose parents are public servants. (This year, she's also opening up the fund to families who have lost their jobs due to COVID-19.)

A Recital Where Every Parent Gets a Front-Row Seat
Pam Simpson, Forte Arts Center

Morris and Channahon, IL
600 students
27 years in business
Recital revenue: 25–30 percent of annual revenue

With a studio of 600 students, Pam Simpson's recital ticket sales were often a source of excitement and anxiety for parents, who were itching to get the best seat. That's why she's reimagined her in-home recital as a front-row opportunity for parents: "We're saying that our students are making the magic, and our parents have a front-row seat," says Simpson. Students will log into Zoom, listen to a short introduction from their teachers (Simpson is writing a script) and then perform for their families—including any extended family invited via Zoom. In addition, Simpson will record a run of each class' dance during what would've been her studio's dress-rehearsal week and then send those videos to an editing company, which will compile all the dances into one viewable recital. Simpson plans to eventually hold a live watch party, when students and parents can log in and watch the studio's performances together.

Though Simpson was initially worried about pushback from parents over this idea, she was pleasantly surprised to find that they were grateful for this option. "There's no graduation, no sports, no prom," she says. "But they still get to do something with their studio." Parents are still ordering recital goodies, too—shirts, magic wands, unicorns. Though refunding ticket sales was a difficult financial decision, Simpson thinks she made the right choice. "From a revenue perspective, that's not so fun," she says. "But we needed to make the decision that was best for our families and not necessarily for our business, right now—in the hope that it makes for a better business later."

Teachers Trending
Maks and Val Chmerkovskiy. Photo courtesy Dance With Me

Listening to Maks and Val Chmerkovskiy riff together makes it crystal-clear why each has mastered the art of partnering in the ballroom—they've long been doing this dance in real life as brothers and business partners.

Along with their "Dancing with the Stars" pedigree (and a combined three mirror-ball trophies between them), Maks and Val (and their father, Sasha) also run Dance With Me, a dance company hosting six ProAm Dancesport competitions annually and running 14 brick-and-mortar studio locations across the U.S.

Last year, the pair launched an online component, Dance & Co. The online video platform offers beginner through advanced instruction in not only ballroom but an array of other styles, as well as dance fitness classes from HIIT to yoga to strength training. "DWTS" fans will recognize such familiar faces as Peta Murgatroyd, Jenna Johnson, Sharna Burgess and Emma Slater, along with Maks and Val themselves.

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Teaching Tips
@jayplayimagery, courtesy Kerollis

In the spring of 2012, Barry Kerollis was abruptly forced into treating his career as a small business. Having just moved cross-country to join BalletX, he got injured and was soon let go.

"I'd only ever danced with big companies before," the now-freelance dance-teacher-choreographer-podcaster recalls. "That desperation factor drove me to approach freelancing with a business model and a business plan."

As Kerollis acknowledges, getting the business of you off the ground ("you" as a freelance dance educator, that is) can be filled with unexpected challenges—even for the most seasoned of gigging dancers. But becoming your own CEO can make your work–life balance more sustainable, help you make more money, keep you organized, and get potential employers to offer you more respect and improved working conditions. Here's how to get smart now about branding, finances and other crucial ways to tell the dance world that you mean business.

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Teachers Trending
Courtesy Oleson

American dance educator Shannon Oleson was teaching recreational ballet and street-dance classes in London when the pandemic hit. As she watched many of her fellow U.S. friends pack up and return home from their international adventures, she made the difficult choice to stick with her students (as well as her own training—she was midway through her MFA at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance).

Despite shutdowns and shelter-in-place orders, she was able to maintain a teaching schedule that kept her working with her dancers through Zoom, as well as lead some private, in-home acro classes following government guidelines. But keeping rec students interested in the face of pandemic fatigue hasn't been easy.

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