Extra Credit

"Tutu Boo" activity night at Stage Door Dance Productions

While tuition payments cover regular business expenses, studio owners often need to do extra fundraising to offset recital, competition and scholarship costs. Here, three studio directors share their successful approaches. Our most surprising discovery: Providing students with a memorable experience oftentimes outweighs the importance of making a large profit.

Brooke Maxwell

Utah Dance Artists

(400 students)

South Jordan, UT

Utah Dance Artists has held “Starry, Starry Night” each spring for the past five years as a showcase for its competition company. Originally a fundraiser for the company dancers, the event now helps fund The Lisa Wells Memorial Dance Scholarship, in honor of the school’s late costumer. The scholarship is awarded to one or more UDA students in financial need who exhibit the same passion and qualities as Wells—humbleness, dedication and living without regret. Dancers apply by writing an essay. “Everyone involved knows that we are fundraising for a special cause, not to raise money for ourselves, but to use our gifts and talents to raise funds for dancers in need,” says owner Brooke Maxwell.

The showcase has a $2,000 budget, which includes theater rental and tech fees. Acquiring local businesses to sponsor program ads and holding the dress rehearsal at the studio helps reduce production costs. A 15-member parent committee that meets once a month from the start of the school year does all the event planning, and Maxwell acts as the show’s stage manager. (Going forward, all company members’ parents will be required to donate their time.) This year, “So You Think You Can Dance” finalist Gev Manoukian performed and $4,000 was raised for the scholarship fund. With tickets sold for $10 in advance or $12 at the door, the show raised $3,000 and the Wells family donated $500, which Maxwell matched. There were two performances (matinee and evening), and each attracted 200 to 300 people.

Brooke Maxwell backstage at "Starry, Starry Night" 2009

Chasta Hamilton Calhoun

Stage Door Dance Productions

(265 students)

Raleigh, NC

To help cover general operating expenses at Stage Door Dance Productions, Chasta Hamilton Calhoun holds several Parents’ Night Out events each year. While their parents have a night out to themselves, children ages 3 and older stay at the studio for four hours, learning fun dances, playing games and making crafts under adult supervision. “The children have a great, safe time and it reinforces our studio as a staple within the community,” says Hamilton Calhoun. “Everybody bonds and creates great friendships.”

For $35, each child gets pizza, juice boxes and a special craft, such as jingle-bell bracelets during Nutcracker season or animal visors for a zoo-focused function. The Halloween-themed “Tutu Boo” activity night cost $50 because the studio partnered and split the profit with a local tutu company to provide materials, so students could create their own tutus. In addition to making tutus, the children watched a Scooby-Doo movie, colored and learned a routine to “Monster Mash,” which they performed for their parents.

Hamilton Calhoun offers a half-price discount for a sibling, as well as an occasional half-off incentive for bringing a non-studio friend. Older students who volunteer to help with the events receive tuition credit. Payment is collected in advance and there is a strict no-refund policy. Each Parents’ Night Out attracts about 15 children and costs $50–$75 to produce. The profit ranges between $275 and $600 per function. “I personally love the events because they give me time to interact and learn about our students in a non-classroom setting,” says Hamilton Calhoun.

Karen Lynch

Lynch School of Ballet

(120 students)

Huntington, NY

In March, Lynch Ballet Company, the performance branch of Lynch School of Ballet, presented “An Evening with Julie Kent.” During the three-hour cocktail and hors d’oeuvres party, the American Ballet Theatre principal signed autographs, posed with students for photographs and spent an hour casually answering students’ questions. Tickets were $75 for adults and $35 for children; 105 people attended.

The idea to bring in a well-known professional dancer for a fundraiser came from owner Karen Lynch’s volunteer parent group, Friends of Lynch Ballet. Lynch thought of Kent because one of her instructors also works at ABT and was able to make a connection. The parent organization spent five weeks planning the event, from production to execution. One studio family offered the use of their restaurant at a reduced rate, and another family donated wine. Extra income came from selling posters of Kent and raffling off a pair of tickets (donated by the studio) to see her perform with ABT.

After spending $1,750 on expenses, plus Kent’s guest fee, the company netted $1,700 to help buy new costumes for the spring production of Don Quixote. “Even more than the fact that we made some money, it was very inspiring for the students and memorable for them,” says Lynch. “Many parents were telling me weeks after the event how much it meant to their children.” DT

Hannah Maria Hayes is a freelance writer with an MA in dance education from New York University.

Photo: "Tutu Boo" activity night at Stage Door Dance Productions

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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