DT on Dance Moms: Prepared for the Worst

I have good news and bad news. This season of Dance Moms has come to an end, and a second season is already in the works! (It’s up to you which is the good and which is the bad.) At Dance Teacher, we’re a little sad to see our favorite troupe of talented comp kids leave the silver screen—after all, they were pretty darn cute, and we learned some valuable lessons along the way.


As is Abby Lee’s way, this season ends with a bang.  The girls audition for and make it into a real live music video! Though their role on a TV show might have helped them land these roles, and we’d never actually heard of this so-called “pop star,” it is still awesome to see these little dancers in the spotlight. And (spoiler alert), Chloe snags the lead role! Gotta love seeing this consistent second placer come out on top.


Other highlights: Abby Lee abolishes the dreaded pyramid, the moms get drunk, and we get to see Abby Lee herself doing hip hop! Ok, only the first thing was actually a highlight.  Plus, we see first-hand how hard it can be to break into the world of commercial dance. Six-year-old Mackenzie has it the roughest, breaking down multiple times during rehearsals. But as she says, “I just cry sometimes. It’s no big deal.” Here are DT’s tips for breaking your dancers into the commercial world, hopefully avoiding any tears:


* First, generate awareness. Schedule a meeting for interested students and their parents, and outline what commercial dance includes and what it could mean for them. Highlight the fact that dancers who have a lot of personality, theatrical skills or a special talent for hip hop can thrive in this industry.


* Now your students need an agent. If you don’t live near NYC or L.A., look to local big cities and search online for nearby agents, agencies and auditions. Remember, that anyone who asks you for money upfront is not legitimate. The only way agencies make money is by getting a percentage of what their clients make. And conventions are also a great place to look, as agencies frequently send representatives to network with studio owners. You might even take a page out of Abby Lee’s book and put on a free showcase at the studio, inviting casting directors and agents to scout your kids.


* Once you’ve found representation for your students, they will need headshots, a resumé and a firm grasp of what to expect and how to behave at an audition. Hold a resumé-writing seminar, and call local professional photographers to inquire about group rates. Then, hold mock auditions or add an extra class to your schedule that focuses on real-world training for auditions, including dancing, acting and singing. Focus on picking up choreography quickly. Don’t know the first thing about acting? Look to local community theaters or a nearby performing arts high school for possible guest instructors.


* When a student does land an audition, make sure you know what the casting directors are looking for. Less is usually more—stay away from red lipstick and rhinestones unless they’re specifically asked for. And remember, much more comes into play than just talent—casting directors may be looking for a specific height, race or hair color. So even if your students are having trouble at first, don’t throw in the towel.



And we say farewell to Dance Moms Season 1 with a few phenomenal quotes from the final two episodes:


“Abby told me that I have the potential to be on Broadway. And what she says to me and what she thinks matters, because she’s my dance teacher.” —Chloe, reminding us of the motivational power of educators


“I worked the cat walk!” —Maddie, modest as always


“Sometimes, I don’t think Abby knows what she’s talking about.” —our favorite forever, Mackenzie


(Tips based on “Navigating the Commercial World” by Jennifer Anderson)



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Alwin Courcy, courtesy Ballet des Amériques

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Annika Abel Photography, courtesy Griffith

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"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."

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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.

Find a formula that works for your studio

For Melanie Boniszewski, owner of Tonawanda Dance Arts in upstate New York, the answer to profitable summer programming lies in drop-in classes.

"We're in a cold-weather climate, so summer is actually really hard to attract people—everyone wants to be outside, and no one wants to commit to a full season," she says.

Tonawanda Dance Arts offers a children's program in which every class is à la carte: 30-minute, $15 drop-in classes are offered approximately two times a week in the evenings, over six weeks, for different age groups. And two years ago, she created her Stay Strong All Summer Long program for older students, which offers 12 classes throughout the summer and a four-day summer camp. Students don't know what type of class they're attending until they show up. "If you say you're going to do a hip-hop class, you could get 30 kids, but if you do ballet, it could be only 10," she says. "We tell them to bring all of their shoes and be ready for anything."

Start-up costs are minimal—just payroll and advertising (which she starts in April). For older age groups, Boniszewski focuses on bringing in her studio clientele, rather than marketing externally. In the 1- to 6-year-old age group, though, around 50 percent of summer students tend to be new ones—98 percent of whom she's been able to convert to year-round classes.

A group of elementary school aged- girls stands in around a dance studio. A teacher, a young black man, stands in front of the studio, talking to them

An East County Performing Arts Center summer class from several years ago. Photo courtesy ECPAC

East County Performing Arts Center owner Nina Koch knows that themed, weeklong camps are the way to go for younger dancers, as her Brentwood, California students are on a modified year-round academic school calendar, and parents are usually looking for short-term daycare solutions to fill their abbreviated summer break.

Koch keeps her weekly camps light on dance: "When we do our advertising for Frozen Friends camp, for example, it's: 'Come dance, tumble, play games, craft and have fun!'"

Though Koch treats her campers as studio-year enrollment leads, she acknowledges that these weeklong camps naturally function as a way for families who aren't ready for a long-term commitment to still participate in dance. "Those who aren't enrolled for the full season will be put into a sales nurture campaign," she says. "We do see a lot of campers come to subsequent camps, including our one-day camps that we hold once a month throughout our regular season."

Serve your serious dancers

One dilemma studio owners may face: what to do about your most serious dancers, who may be juggling outside intensives with any summer programming that you offer.

Consider making their participation flexible. For Boniszweski's summer program, competitive dancers must take six of the 12 classes offered over a six-week period, as well as the four-day summer camp, which takes place in mid-August. "This past summer, because of COVID, they paid for six but were able to take all 12 if they wanted," she says. "Lots of people took advantage of that."

For Koch, it didn't make sense to require her intensive dancers to participate in summer programming, partly because she earned more revenue catering to younger students and partly because her older students often made outside summer-training plans. "That's how you build a well-rounded dancer—you want them to go off and get experience from teachers you might not be able to bring in," she says.

Another option: Offering private lessons. Your more serious dancers can take advantage of flexible one-on-one training, and you can charge higher fees for individualized instruction. Consider including a financial incentive to get this kind of programming up and running. "Five years ago, we saw that some kids were asking for private lessons, so we created packages: If you bought five lessons, you'd get one for free—to get people in the door," says Boniszewksi. "After two years, once that program took off, we got rid of the discount. People will sign up for as many as 12 private lessons."

A large group of students stretch in a convention-style space with large windows. They follow a teacher at the front of the room in leaning over their right leg for a hamstring stretch

Koch's summer convention experience several years ago. Photo courtesy East County Performing Arts Center

Bring the (big) opportunities to your students

If you do decide to target older, more serious dancers for your summer programming, you may need to inject some dance glamour to compete with fancier outside intensives.

Bring dancers opportunities they wouldn't have as often during the school year. For Boniszewski, that means offering virtual master classes with big-name teachers, like Misha Gabriel and Briar Nolet. For Koch, it's bringing the full convention experience to her students—and opening it up to the community at large. In past years, she's rented her local community center for a weekend-long in-house convention and brought in professional ballet, jazz, musical theater and contemporary guest teachers.

In 2019, the convention was "nicely profitable" while still an affordable $180 per student, and attracted 120 dancers, a mix of her dancers and dancers from other studios. "It was less expensive than going to a big national convention, because parents didn't have to worry about lodging or travel," Koch says. "We wanted it to be financially attainable for families to experience something like this in our sleepy little town."

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