Dancing Around Health Care

Making affordable choices for your studio

A few years ago, a veteran dance teacher working full-time at a New York City–based studio heard a sound that she knew meant trouble. She had let an old injury go unwatched for some time, and in a moment too late, she realized it had resurfaced.

“It sort of sounded like my knuckle cracking,” she says. “The pain that followed made me quickly realize that something was definitely wrong.”

Luckily, she had health insurance through her husband, but her major lower leg injury opened the eyes of a co-worker, who realized that if something happened to her, she would have no way to cover it. It wasn’t long before that teacher was out the door and working somewhere else.

This is an issue that resonates throughout the dance industry. Since many studios have few employees or hire mostly part-time teachers, health insurance is often absent from an employment package.

Douglas E. Yeuell, artistic director at Joy of Motion Dance Center in Washington, DC, says that because his faculty members are considered independent contractors, the studio does not provide coverage. “Offering insurance would sway the balance more into employee status, and we would be responsible for payroll taxes with the IRS,” he says. “It would be a huge financial burden that we couldn’t handle.”

A National Matter

The Supreme Court recently upheld President Obama’s aggressive health care plan, including the Affordable Care Act, which allows businesses with up to 25 employees the opportunity to qualify for tax credits of up to 35 percent to offset the cost of health insurance. (That percentage is slated to rise to 50 percent in 2014.)

Still, the majority of dance studios seem to follow the trend of other small businesses by not offering health insurance for their employees. Says one, who chose to remain anonymous for this story, “I would love nothing better than to provide health insurance for my dance instructors, but it just doesn’t make sense from a financial standpoint. The cost is just too much.”

Health plans that offer full coverage are costly, so it makes sense that a small business might avoid the subject altogether. But in a field where injuries abound and quality instructors are hard to replace, finding an affordable alternative that works for your budget is worth the research.

Making It Work

“Two increasingly popular choices for resource-challenged small businesses are limited medical plans and high-deductible health plans,” says Paul Broughton of Markel, a company that develops and underwrites specialty insurance products for a variety of niche markets. Both alternatives are less expensive per month for the employer, and they work especially well for covering employees who are young and in generally good health.

“Limited medical plans typically offer reimbursement in a predetermined dollar amount for various types of medical services, though the overall payments are limited in a calendar year,” explains Broughton. “And high-deductible health plans control costs by requiring patients to pay the first few thousand dollars of medical expenses each year (the amount depends on your plan). Then, employees typically have unlimited coverage beyond the deductible.”

“In some cases, providing health insurance can help offset the cost of other insurance, like workers’ compensation, general liability and property coverage,” says Broughton, noting that purchasing bundled insurance packages decreases expenses. “Another benefit is that if an employee has an illness or injury, they will be more likely to seek treatment if they do have health insurance. That means, they’ll be back at work sooner, decreasing absenteeism.”

Offering insurance can also help attract and retain a quality staff, which is something that Kathy Taylor, owner of Centreville Dance Academy in Centreville, Virginia, has seen firsthand. “I had purchased private insurance for my family, but when I looked into the option of forming a small group to include the three other employees who were in a similar situation, it was less expensive per person,” she says. “I was also able to offer the benefit to someone who I was looking to hire full-time. That helped her make her decision.”

Taylor offers employees a standard medical plan that costs about $4,000 per employee annually. “I pay the full monthly premium for the employee, and they pay any extra for additional family members,” she says. For her, the annual expense is worth every cent because it shows a commitment to her staff.

Taylor does not provide coverage for her 10 part-time employees, but all are covered under their spouses’ health plans. Likewise, Yeuell says that most of Joy of Motion’s 100 part-time teachers are covered by spouses or partners, or get their own insurance.

Yet not everyone has someone else to rely on for coverage, and not everyone—especially the self-employed—can afford an individual policy. In these cases, Yeuell emphasizes the importance of understanding an employee’s need for outside work. “A lot of our teachers also have a day job and may receive health benefits that way,” he says. “We are not the number-one source of income for these individuals.” DT 

 

Keith Loria is a business writer based in Virginia.   Photo courtesy of Joy of Motion Dance Center

 

Music
Mary Malleney, 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.


"I like to give dancers a phrase of music and choreography and have them reinterpret it," she says, "to be thinkers and creators and not just replicators."

Osato learned this approach—avoiding the natural temptation of the music always being the leader—while earning her MFA in choreography at California Institute of the Arts. "When I was collaborating with a composer for my thesis, he mentioned, 'You always count in eights. Why?'"

This forced Osato out of her creative comfort zone. "The choices I made, my use of music, and its correlation to the movement were put under a microscope," she says. "I learned to not always make the music the driving motive of my work," a habit she attributes to her competition studio training as a young dancer.

While an undergraduate at the University of California, Irvine, Osato first encountered modern dance. That discovery, along with her experience dancing in Boogiezone Inc.'s off-campus hip-hop company, BREED, co-founded by Elm Pizarro, inspired her own, blended style, combining modern and hip hop with jazz. While still in college, she began working with fellow UCI student Will Johnston, and co-founded the Boogiezone Contemporary Class with Pizarro, an affordable series of classes that brought top choreographers from Los Angeles to Orange County.

"We were trying to bring the hip-hop and contemporary communities together and keep creating work for our friends," says Osato, who has taught for West Coast Dance Explosion and choreographed for studios across the country.

In 2009, Osato, Johnston and Pizarro launched Entity Contemporary Dance, which she and Johnston direct. The company, now based in Los Angeles, won the 2017 Capezio A.C.E. Awards, and, in 2019, Osato was chosen for two choreographic residencies (Joffrey Ballet's Winning Works and the USC Kaufman New Movement Residency), and became a full-time associate professor of dance at Santa Monica College.

At SMC, Osato challenges her students—and herself—by incorporating a live percussionist, a luxury that's been on pause during the pandemic. She finds that live music brings a heightened sense of awareness to the room. "I didn't realize what I didn't have until I had it," Osato says. "Live music helps dancers embody weight and heaviness, being grounded into the floor." Instead of the music dictating the movement, they're a part of it.

Osato uses the musician as a collaborator who helps stir her creativity, in real time. "I'll say 'Give me something that's airy and ambient,' and the sounds inspire me," says Osato. She loves playing with tension and release dynamics, fall and recovery, and how those can enhance and digress from the sound.

"I can't wait to get back to the studio and have that again," she says.

Osato made Dance Teacher a Spotify playlist with some of her favorite songs for class—and told us about why she loves some of them.

"Get It Together," by India.Arie

"Her voice and lyrics hit my soul and ground me every time. Dream artist. My go-to recorded music in class is soul R&B. There's simplicity about it that I really connect with."

"Turn Your Lights Down Low," by Bob Marley + The Wailers, Lauryn Hill

"A classic. This song embodies that all-encompassing love and gets the whole room groovin'."

"Diamonds," by Johnnyswim

"This song's uplifting energy and drive is infectious! So much vulnerability, honesty and joy in their voices and instrumentation."

"There Will Be Time," by Mumford & Sons, Baaba Maal

"Mumford & Sons' music has always struck a deep chord within me. Their songs are simultaneously stripped-down and complex and feel transcendent."

"With The Love In My Heart," by Jacob Collier, Metropole Orkest, Jules Buckley

"Other than it being insanely energizing and cinematic, I love how challenging the irregular meter is!"

For Parents

Darrell Grand Moultrie teaches at a past Jacob's Pillow summer intensive. Photo Christopher Duggan, courtesy Jacob's Pillow

In the past 10 months, we've grown accustomed to helping our dancers navigate virtual school, classes and performances. And while brighter, more in-person days may be around the corner—or at least on the horizon—parents may be facing yet another hurdle to help our dancers through: virtual summer-intensive auditions.

In 2020, we learned that there are some unique advantages of virtual summer programs: the lack of travel (and therefore the reduced cost) and the increased access to classes led by top artists and teachers among them. And while summer 2021 may end up looking more familiar with in-person intensives, audition season will likely remain remote and over Zoom.

Of course, summer 2021 may not be back to in-person, and that uncertainty can be a hard pill to swallow. Here, Kate Linsley, a mom and academy principal of Nashville Ballet, as well as "J.R." Glover, The Dan & Carole Burack Director of The School at Jacob's Pillow, share their advice for this complicated process.

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Teachers Trending

From left: Anthony Crickmay, Courtesy Dance Theatre of Harlem Archives; Courtesy Ballethnic

It is the urgency of going in a week or two before opening night that Lydia Abarca Mitchell loves most about coaching. But in her role as Ballethnic Dance Company's rehearsal director, she's not just getting the troupe ready for the stage. Abarca Mitchell—no relation to Arthur Mitchell—was Mitchell's first prima ballerina when he founded Dance Theatre of Harlem with Karel Shook; through her coaching, Abarca Mitchell works to pass her mentor's legacy to the next generation.

"She has the same sensibility" as Arthur Mitchell, says Ballethnic co-artistic director Nena Gilreath. "She's very direct, all about the mission and the excellence, but very caring."

Ballethnic is based in East Point, a suburban city bordering Atlanta. In a metropolitan area with a history of racism and where funding is hard-won, it is crucial for the Black-led ballet company to present polished, professional productions. "Ms. Lydia" provides the "hard last eye" before the curtain opens in front of an audience.

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