What Dancers Can Do to Help Keep Studios in Business Right Now

Pavan Thiammaiah is fighting to keep open PMT House of Dance. Photo by Vita Bum Photography, Courtesy PMT

With the pandemic raging on, dance studios have had to get creative to stay open. Some are hosting virtual classes, others are setting up outdoor workshops, many are offering a hybrid of online and in-person classes.

But their efforts to save their businesses hinge on their local dance communities. Without support from their students, many might be forced to close their doors permanently—and several already have. What can dancers do to help their studios?

Ask Studio Owners What They Need

There are many ways to advocate for your local dance studio, but the best place to start is contacting the studio owners or directors. Dorothy Dubrule, who recently made the hard decision to close Pieter Performance Space in Los Angeles (though the organization has continued digital programming), firmly believes the dancer–studio relationship is a two-way street.

"Reach out to the leadership of your beloved studios to find out what they need, but also to let them know what their community needs," Dubrule says.

No contribution is too small, volunteering included. "Too often we forget that nonmonetary forms of support have great value, and assume we have nothing to give," Dubrule says. Find out if there is a fundraising plan in the works, or ways you can help advocate within the community.

Contact Elected Officials

It might be intimidating to dial the phone or write the formal letter to local officials, but trust that individual stories and personal messages have more power to change minds than robo-dialers. "It's actually far more meaningful when there are personal anecdotes connected to those moments of outreach," executive director of Dance/NYC Alejandra Duque Cifuentes says. She suggests telling your personal stories in a simple way as opposed to following a pre-scripted email.

Join Collective Action Groups

"In 2020 it feels more clear than ever: Collective action and shared resources are the future," Dubrule says. For instance, Dance/NYC not only wrote a letter to Mayor Bill de Blasio, but it also launched a new campaign: Artists Are Necessary Workers.

Find a global, national or local advocacy campaign, spread the message on social media and increase visibility for the plight of dancers. PMT House of Dance founder Pavan Thimmaiah says, "Speak up, get involved, educate yourself on what's going on, find a studio that is advocating for you."

Thimmaiah joined forces with New York City dance studios to create an advocacy group: Ballroom Hub, PMT House of Dance, Peridance Center, Steps on Broadway, José Limón Dance Foundation and others collaborated to fight for the needs of all dance studios, regardless of style. Together, NYC Dance Studio Alliance launched a petition to "Help Save The Future of Dancing in New York City."

For Thimmaiah, this is a potential shift in the dance culture mentality. "The audition culture is about trying to get ahead. But this is not a situation where getting ahead is going to help anyone." Because at the end of the day, "we all want to get on the floor and move and move safely."

Pay for Virtual Classes If You Can (Even if They’re Donation-Based)

Some studios are surviving the pandemic by hosting entirely virtual programming. While dancing at home is not the same experience as a studio, it's important for dancers to pay for virtual classes. Unlike most industries, dancers sustain their own field.

"A lot of dance teachers who are also dancers themselves are finding themselves teaching and not being compensated at the same level for their work," Cifuentes says. "If you are a dancer and you are continuing to be trained, contribute financially to those classes, to those studios and to those teachers that are keeping the industry alive right now."

Dancers can also ask to buy class packages for future use. "Think of it as an investment," Thimmaiah says. Better yet, Thimmaiah recommends buying class packages for someone else who can't afford the expense. Every dollar helps a dance studio stay open.

Build the Dance Community You Want

If your go-to studio closes, don't just lose hope—shift your efforts to helping another studio stay open. "Do some research on what are the studios near you," suggests Cifuentes. "Maybe there's one that you didn't go to before, or maybe there's another one that you could develop a relationship with." Other local studios are likely facing similar pressures, and could also end up shutting their doors if dancers don't rally around them.

Many studios are pivoting to accommodate not only COVID-19 limitations, but also reevaluating their programming and operations. "We've been laying the groundwork for a lot of changes in the last few months, and I am so excited to see Pieter grow in the direction of what we aspire to become: an inclusive platform for dancing bodies of all kinds," Dubrule says. Although it no longer has a physical studio right now, the Pieter Performance Space has committed to creating a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion advisory committee as it figures out the next steps.

Dancers have a unique opportunity to join forces with studios and shape the future of their dance communities. Dubrule says, "I really feel like the pandemic knocked down the studio walls and forced us to focus on the people who have been holding us up all along."

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.

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer Diary
Claire, McAdams, courtesy Houston Ballet

Former Houston Ballet dancer Chun Wai Chan has always been destined for New York City Ballet.

While competing at Prix de Lausanne in 2010, he was offered summer program scholarships at both the School of American Ballet and Houston Ballet. However, because two of the competition's winners that year were Houston Ballet's Aaron Sharratt and Liao Xiang, dancers Chan idolized, he turned down SAB. He joined Houston Ballet II in 2010, the main company's corps de ballet in 2012, and was promoted to principal in 2017. Oozing confidence and technical prowess, Chan was a Houston favorite, and even landed himself a spot on Dance Magazine's "25 to Watch."

Keep reading... Show less
Mary Mallaney/USC Glorya Kaufman School of Dance, courtesy Osato

In most classes, dancers are encouraged to count the music, and dance with it—emphasizing accents and letting the rhythm of a song guide them.

But Marissa Osato likes to give her students an unexpected challenge: to resist hitting the beats.

In her contemporary class at EDGE Performing Arts Center in Los Angeles (which is now closed, until they find a new space), she would often play heavy trap music. She'd encourage her students to find the contrast by moving in slow, fluid, circular patterns, daring them to explore the unobvious interpretation of the steady rhythms.

Keep reading... Show less

Get Dance Business Weekly in your inbox

Sign Up Used in accordance with our Privacy Policy.