Event-Planning Toolbox

Three owner-tested ideas, with marketing and budget tips

Valerie Stead Potsos hosts a popular workshop for Girl Scouts each year at her studio.

With new studios popping up on every corner, studio owners can’t expect to build a successful business simply by teaching classes and putting on a yearly recital. To stay one step ahead of the competition, it’s important to find new ways to market your business. Organizing one-shot events for your own students, potential customers or the community may not turn a hefty profit, but these events can boost studio morale, give you a higher profile in the community, bring in new enrollment and occasionally generate extra revenue. That makes it worth all the detailed hands-on preparation that a successful event requires.

As you’re planning an event, keep in mind your business goals and budget: Are you looking to set your studio apart? Attract more customers? Wow the ones you have? Get written up in the newspaper? Give back to your community? To give you a jump start on organizing a successful event, Dance Teacher talked to studio owners about three types of events they’ve run; they share tried-and-true tips and financial breakdowns.

IN-STUDIO EVENTS Taking time to show your clientele some appreciation is a great way to reaffirm your (and their) loyalty. Organizing a master class, studio sleepover or wine-and-cheese parent social gives you the chance to address a specific need—and a business opportunity—within your own dance community. Allison Evans, owner of Elite Studio of Dance in Elk Grove, California, brings in a guest artist for ballet, contemporary or hip-hop master classes nearly every month for her 300 students. Airfare, hotel bills and the guest artist’s master class fee clock in around $2,000. Evans charges an attendance fee from $15 to $35 per student, depending on the guest artist. Although she usually doesn’t break even financially, she counts the events as a worthwhile investment because of the huge improvement she sees in her students’ technique and performance.

Tried-and-true tips: After four years of consistently losing money on the master classes, Evans began including a mandatory $25 monthly fee for them in her competition team’s contracts, regardless of whether any of those 75 students attend. She also offers to house the guest artists herself, which can save her around $500. Evans makes sure to pepper her guest artist lineup with instructors who will ensure high attendance. “We had a couple of Justin Bieber’s backup dancers come in, and that master class had a record attendance of 50 kids!” says Evans. Such well-attended master classes even reap the occasional profit.

Don’t forget: liability insurance.Whenever you run an event outside of your regular classes, check with your insurance agent that visiting teachers or members of the public attending or participating in the event are covered by your policy. If they’re not, you may need a separate rider, or have independent contractors list you as an additional insured on their liability insurance, for instance.

IN-STUDIO EVENTS OPEN TO THE PUBLIC classes headed by studio parents, summer dance camps and workshops are perfect opportunities for you to introduce outsiders to your space and dance community, potentially increasing your enrollment and adding to your bottom line. At Dancer’s Edge Dance Studio in Dexter, Michigan, studio owner Valerie Stead Potsos offers an annual Girl Scout workshop, at which local Girl Scouts can earn their dance patch. The total cost for Potsos is relatively low: $400 covers hiring a few teachers to help out at the hour-and-a-half workshop, as well as purchasing rhinestoned “Girl Scouts Rock” T-shirts to sell to workshop participants. Potsos charges $5 a head (the optional T-shirts are $15), and can count on 90–120 participants signing up ahead of time, which results in at least a small chunk of extra revenue.

Tried-and-true tips: Potsos offers 5 percent off classes at her studio for any Girl Scout who attends, but she makes sure to put a deadline on the sign-up incentive. She’s observed a 10 percent bump in class registrations each year, thanks to the workshop.

Don’t forget: Targeted advertising is key. When the University of Michigan held a Girl Scout day, Potsos was there to hand out flyers. She keeps an eye on the dates of Girl Scout roundups, too, and asks the troop leader ahead of time if she can advertise at them.

COMMUNITY EVENTS Raising your studio’s community visibility with a small- or large-scale fundraiser can be expensive. But in return, you can get fresh marketing, positive associations with a charity or cause and increased community awareness about your studio. Student-performed dinner theater shows and Boys & Girls Clubs of Amercia co-chaired dances allow you to give back to the community and reach a potentially new demographic.

Metropolitan Ballroom’s Ballroom Battle pairs figures in the community with dance instructors to raise YMCA funds.

Partnering with another business or nonprofit can defray some of the costs. Clément Joly, who runs Metropolitan Ballroom in Charlotte, North Carolina, was approached by the local YMCA to help organize an event called Ballroom Battle. Modeled after “Dancing with the Stars,” it raises money for the Y’s financial-aid fund for kids. For last November’s event, Joly offered the 10 participants (well-connected community figures) five free dance lessons—for which Joly and his instructors donated their time and studio space. Joly doesn’t see an immediate increase in enrollment as a result of his studio’s involvement, but his business is certainly on the lips of the community afterward. The local newspaper always reports the story, and the Y posts a full write-up on its website, with dance instructor bios, photos and video from the event. “People remember us and may come in months later when they need a choreographed wedding dance,” says Joly.

Tried-and-true tips: Joly asked the Ballroom Battle participants to schedule their lessons during the day, so that the evening, the studio’s busiest time, was kept open for the approximately 150 paying customers. And once someone is in the studio, upselling is always a possibility. Joly suggested to the competitors that they employ the studio’s instructors at a discounted rate for any lessons over the five free ones.

Don’t forget: It’s important to market your business’ charitable work, but don’t be too heavy-handed. It’s fine to send out a press release, update your website and Facebook page with related information, send an e-mail with pictures from the event or even start a Pinterest board dedicated to the charitable organization you’re supporting. DT

Rachel Rizzuto is an assistant editor for Dance Teacher. She holds a BFA in dance and a BA in English from the University of Southern Mississippi.

Photos from top: by Jeremy Ross; by Robert Lahser, courtesy of The Charlotte Observer

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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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."

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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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