Tips, tricks and a timeline

If your year-end studio recital involves costumes, you’re aware of what headaches, hassles and horrors lie beneath every glittery sequin. Year after year, studio owners take on the challenge of making sure every costume arrives on time and fits perfectly—without sending their business into the red. (Competition costumes, usually ordered near the beginning of the studio year, pose their own problems—though they operate on a similar but slightly more compressed schedule.) Costume ordering may never be a profit center for your business, but managed poorly, it may force you to dip into general revenues (and cut overall profitability) because of costly mistakes like incorrect orders or having to pay significant staff overtime.

Streamlining your recital costume process will help eliminate these potentially pricey oversights and bolster your studio’s reputation as a well-run business. We’ve spoken with four veteran studio owners to get their advice on how to make the measuring, ordering, fee collection, alterations, organizing and distributing go off without a hitch. Be sure to check out our year-end recital costume timeline. DT

 

The studio owners

Kathy Blake

Kathy Blake Dance Studios

Amherst, NH

600+ students

Samantha Gobeille

Arizona Dance Artistry

Phoenix, AZ

230 students

Hedy Perna

Perna Dance Center

Hazlet, NJ

486 students

Andrea Polyak

8*Count Dance Studio

Queen Creek and Mesa, AZ

280 students

 

Measuring

Get parents involved Samantha Gobeille takes her students’ measurements during parent observation week, so parents can help measure their kids.

Strive for consistency “My office manager measures every kid in the studio herself,” says Hedy Perna. “If too many different people are measuring, it’s a little off here, a little off there. I like the consistency of one person.” Perna allows for two weeks to get everyone measured. Be sure to have all measurements complete by the end of November.

Don’t forget to convert Different costume companies may have different sizing charts. Be sure to convert your students’ measurements accordingly.

 

Ordering

Time it right Most studios with early summer recitals place orders before the winter break—and make parents’ deposits due at the same time.

Take advantage of discounts “If you order from one company, you can get a big discount,” says Kathy Blake. But you may sacrifice artistry for price, she warns. “You’ll get more uniformity of size and bigger discounts, but will each costume fit its dance artistically?”

Keep on top of deadlines Because Gobeille uses CostumeManager.com, an online self-service ordering program, parents are responsible for placing their own orders. To make sure no one forgets, she sends out weekly e-mails to stragglers, with a countdown of how many days they have left to place their order.

 

***Get parents to make timely costume payments by offering a discount if, instead of putting down a deposit and then following up with the balance, they pay in full.

***Don’t send off your order without having someone else audit it for mistakes—especially if you’re the one who creates the order.

 

Fees

Mark it up Blake adds at least $20–30 onto each costume, making sure parents know that the final price includes the cost of labor: sizing, fitting, alterations, shipping and handling.

Forget the guilt “Parents know I’m taking the extra time and effort to outfit their kids properly,” says Perna. “And I’m sure they’re aware of pricing—if you buy a shirt at Macy’s for $39, you don’t think it cost Macy’s $39.”

 

Alterations

Schedule the seamstress After costumes arrive—typically at the end of March or early April—Perna sends out a notice informing parents that the studio’s seamstress will be on-site on a particular day. Parents are responsible for setting up five-minute appointments per costume that needs to be altered. They pay the seamstress for their own alterations, though Perna pays if she adjusts a costume’s design for an entire class.

Blake doesn’t charge extra for alterations, since she calculates it into the full price she charges for each costume. “Four or five classes in a row may not need any alterations, and yet a percentage of their fee went to alterations,” she says. That’s to balance out “a class’ costume that requires a lot of alterations.”

 

Organization and Distribution

A place for everything, everything in its place Blake sorts newly arrived costumes into laundry baskets on shelves in her studio, with a label for each class, such as “Tuesday morning tap and ballet” plus the teacher’s name.

Quality control Because some companies send costumes in plastic bags and others package their costumes with more flair, Blake puts every one in a drawstring plastic bag with the studio’s logo on the outside. “It doesn’t look very good if someone gets a costume in a plastic bag and someone else gets a nicer bag,” she says.

No payment? No costume! “If parents haven’t paid, I’ll hold the costume,” says Andrea Polyak. “We don’t make a big deal of it in the classroom—you don’t want to embarrass the child. I’ll just tell the student, ‘I need to talk to your mom.’”

Show them off Perna posts a sign “Costume work in progress!” where she organizes and hangs the costumes as they arrive. “It’s an exciting time at the studio,” she says. “Parents see the costumes on the rack, and they’re not about to let their kids go home without one.”

 

***Looking for costume ideas? Consider attending one of the United Dance Merchants of America’s exhibits in October each year. You’ll see more than 10,000 costumes in one place.

 

In-House or Outsourced?

Hiring Your Own Costume Manager

Kathy Blake employs a year-round, all-in-one costume manager and seamstress—known as the “Sew Wiz”—at $15–20 an hour. “She attends every meeting regarding costumes, costume budgets, our dance shop, dancewear, dress-code requirements, anything we purchase,” says Blake. Her costume manager measures and orders every costume, helps set prices, organizes them upon arrival and makes any needed alterations.

Despite the salary Blake has to pay, she is convinced she made the right choice hiring someone. “With a studio our size, there’s no way I could do this myself,” she says.

Using a Virtual Costume Storefront

More and more owners use a software program designed especially to help studios handle large costume orders. Samantha Gobeille has used CostumeManager.com, which is free for studio owners, for the past three years. (CostumeManager.com makes its money by adding a markup to the price of each company’s costumes; parents see only CostumeManager.com’s final price, not the original fee charged by the costume company.) She chooses which costumes she’d like for which class from the program’s database, and parents are responsible for ordering their own children’s costumes online (after their kids are measured in class).

Gobeille also uses the dance studio software The Studio Director, which integrates with CostumeManager.com. “All of my classes in The Studio Director synchronize with CostumeManager.com, which takes out the huge step of creating every class within CostumeManager.com,” she says.

Gobeille adds her own markup to each costume’s price (which includes CostumeManager.com’s original markup) and the program charges the total fee to parents. “The later they order, the more the service and shipping fees go up,” she says. When the entire exchange is complete, she gets a commission check from the company.

“There was definitely a learning curve,” she says. “At first we didn’t communicate with the parents enough—we didn’t know how many times we’d have to connect with them on every little detail.” See costumemanager.com.

 

RECITAL COSTUME TIMELINE

October

• Pick out costumes

• Attend United Dance Merchants of America show

November

• Have teachers

decide on costume choices by November 1

• Measure and size all students

December

• Place orders before winter break

• Deposit due from parents

January

• Nudge stragglers

March

• Organize all incoming costumes

• Balance due from parents

• Distribute costumes

April

• Set up seamstress and alteration fittings

May

• Distribute any backordered costumes

• Return altered costumes

 

Illustration by Emily Giacalone

Dance Teacher Tips
Photo by Jayme Thornton for Dance Magazine

When choosing music for tap, Jason Samuels Smith encourages teachers to start with classic jazz music. Improvisation, call and response, and syncopated rhythms embedded in the genre and its history, in general, help students to understand the structure of tap, which is different than other styles of dance. "Tap dancers have the responsibility to be more than just a visual artist," he says. "They're an instrument and a sound."

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Turn It Up Dance Challenge
Courtesy Turn It Up

With back-to-back classes, early-morning stage calls and remembering to pack countless costume accessories, competition and convention weekends can feel like a whirlwind for even the most seasoned of studios. Take the advice of Turn It Up Dance Challenge master teachers Alex Wong and Maud Arnold and president Melissa Burns on how to make the experience feel meaningful and successful for your dancers:

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Summit
Photo by Sarah Ash, courtesy of Larkin Dance

Ask Michele Larkin-Wagner and Molly Larkin-Symanietz what sets them and Maplewood, Minnesota–based Larkin Dance Studio apart, and they immediately give the credit to their mom. Shirley Larkin founded the school in 1950 and continued to oversee the growing business until she passed away in 2011. "She put Minnesota on the map for dance training and made other local studios step up to the plate to become as strong as we are," Michele says. "A lot of people's lives are better because of Shirley Larkin."

For Michele and Molly, following in their mom's footsteps was a no-brainer. "I knew I was going to be a choreographer and take over the studio," Michele says. To Molly, seven years Michele's junior and the baby out of six siblings, the studio was always a second home. The two sisters trained across genres but had distinct specialties: Michele found her niche in jazz, musical theater and lyrical, while Molly excelled in tap. In the summers, they'd travel for workshops in Chicago, New York City and Los Angeles. While Michele was in class with jazz legends like Gus Giordano, JoJo Smith, Luigi and Frank Hatchett, Molly was taking tap classes with the likes of Brenda Bufalino and Phil Black.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by The Studio Director

As a studio owner, you're probably pretty used to juggling. Running a business is demanding, with new questions and challenges pulling your attention in a million different directions each day.

But there's a solution that could be saving you time and money (and sanity!). Studio management systems are easy-to-use software programs designed for the particular needs of studio owners, offering tools like billing, enrollment, inventory and emails, all in one place. The right studio management system can help you handle the day-to-day tasks that bog you down as a business owner, leaving you more time for the most important work—like connecting with students and planning creative curriculums for them. Plus, these systems can keep you from spending extra money on hiring multiple specialists or using multiple platforms to meet your administrative needs.

So how do you make sure you're choosing a studio management system that offers the same quality that your studio does? We talked to The Studio Director—whose studio management system provides a whole host of streamlined features—about the must-haves for any system, and the bonuses that make an excellent product stand out:

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Summit
Photo courtesy of Gandarillas

In Macarena Gandarillas' jazz class at California State University, Fullerton, a sign in the studio reads, "Never underestimate the power of determination." This simple mantra embodies what has made this self-described "danceaholic" such an impactful teacher.

When Gandarillas came to Los Angeles at age 6 with her family from Santiago, Chile, the language barrier was beyond overwhelming—until her mom enrolled her in ballet classes. Gandarillas found an instant love. "There were no Spanish-speaking kids at my school," she says. "But with dance I could communicate with my body. I'd finally found my voice."

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Harlequin Floors
Burklyn Ballet, Courtesy Harlequin

Whether you're putting on a pair of pointe shoes, buckling your ballroom stilettos or lacing up your favorite high tops, the floor you're on can make or break your dancing. But with issues like sticking or slipping and a variety of frictions suitable to different dance steps and styles, it can be confusing to know which floor will work best for you.

No matter what your needs are, Harlequin Floors has your back, or rather, your feet. With 11 different marley vinyl floors available in a range of colors, Harlequin has options for every setting and dance style. We rounded up six of their most popular and versatile floors:

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Getty Images

Q: Is teaching for an after-school program a good way to find a job in K–12?

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Insure Fitness
AdobeStock, Courtesy Insure Fitness Group

As a teacher at a studio, you've more than likely developed long-lasting relationships with some of your students and parents. The idea that you could be sued by one of them might seem impossible to imagine, but Insure Fitness Group's Gianna Michalsen warns against relaxing into that mindset. "People say, 'Why do I need insurance? I've been working with these people for 10 years—we're friends,'" she says. "But no one ever takes into account how bad an injury can be. Despite how good your relationship is, people will sue you because of the toll an injury takes on their life."

You'll benefit most from an insurance policy that caters to the specifics of teaching dance at one or several studios. Here's what to look for:

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Summit
Photo courtesy of Inspire School of Arts and Sciences

It was the morning of November 8, 2018, and Jarrah Myles' first-period choreography students were in last-minute rehearsals for their fall dance concert that evening. "All of a sudden my students' phones started ringing like crazy," says Myles, a teacher at Inspire School of Arts and Sciences, a Chico, California, high school whose dance and theater programs Myles helped establish in 2010. "And once they answered, I saw these tragic faces staring back at me."

Keep reading... Show less
Site Network

abezikus/Getty Images

"Dancers can do everything these days," I announced to whoever was in earshot at the Jacob's Pillow Archives during a recent summer. I had just been dazzled by footage of a ballet dancer performing hip hop, remarkably well. But my very next thought was, What if that isn't always a good thing? What if what one can't do is the very thing that lends character?

Keep reading... Show less
Just for fun
Courtney Schwartz and Jake Mcauley perform a Talia Favia combination at Radix Dance Convention Nationals. Via Instagram

Summer intensives and Nationals make June, July and August some of the richest dance-video months of the year. There is so much fabulous content out there, we can hardly contain our excitement!

We have spent hours down the rabbit hole of class videos this week and thought you should see some of our favorite findings.

Enjoy!

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Summit
Photo courtesy of Infinite Flow

While taking class in 2006, Marisa Hamamoto felt a tingling sensation in her elbows, then suddenly collapsed to the floor. She was hospitalized and diagnosed with spinal cord infarction, a rare spinal stroke that left her paralyzed from the neck down. Despite being told by her doctor that she may never walk again, let alone dance, Hamamoto miraculously walked out of the hospital two months later.

Since her stroke, Hamamoto has found a new lease on life. She has channeled her indomitable will to overcome adversity into a dance company that marries her love of ballroom dance with her passion for social activism. Los Angeles–based Infinite Flow is the first professional wheelchair ballroom dance company in the U.S. Over the past four years it has become a torchbearer for social change, performing worldwide and offering workshops and school assemblies to educate audiences about accessibility and inclusion.

Keep reading... Show less

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox