Seasoned advice on offering adult group exercise classes

Adult fitness classes account for up to 45 percent of Kick It Up's schedule.

With the nationwide trend of dance-based fitness classes like Zumba, Bar Method and Cardio Dance, you may have considered offering adult group exercise in your studio. Your daytime hours are slow—when the kids are in school—so you can use these classes to fill empty slots and create extra income. But there's no question that competing with local gyms and community centers is tough. Whether you're looking for a way to add fitness classes or change up your current roster, it's all about finding what works for your business and listening to clients' needs. Here, three experienced owners share their strategies.

Susan Janson

Kick It Up

(1,000 students)

Long Beach, CA

When Susan Janson opened her studio in 2004, she offered morning fitness classes. But as enrollment and client demand increased, she added evening classes: Zumba, Spinning, yoga and total body strength conditioning. Now, fitness accounts for 45 percent of her studio's schedule. Looking back, Janson would've booked more evening classes from the start. "A trend we noticed was that parents with children over age 7 would work out while their kid was in class," she says.

Janson has also noticed that hybrid classes, such as Spin & Lift and Spin 30 & Core are the most popular next to Zumba. As for pricing, Janson researched what gyms were providing and nearly halved the rate. "Requesting $90 to $180 a month didn't make sense for our clientele. We settled on $60 a month for unlimited classes and haven't raised our prices since 2007," she says. Students can also drop in for $5 to $10, or pay $20 a month for one class per week or $40 for two classes. She focuses on family pricing and programming. If one family member misses a class, for instance, another enrolled family member can use the makeup for dance or fitness.

When it comes to overhead costs, Janson says that buying and maintaining the equipment is much cheaper than installing a dance floor, yet she emphasizes that in her business model, dance and fitness are of equal importance.

"As a business owner, it was important to diversify my studio and not rely on just one area for a source of income," she says. Sometimes income from one source can help support the other. "If we need to rent backdrops for the dance recital and we just held a Spin event that made good money, then we use it," she says. "Our funds all pool in one account, but if the fitness classes weren't generating a profit independently, I wouldn't be holding them."

Diane Giattino

Stage Door School of Dance

(600 students)

East Patchogue, NY

Diane Giattino opened her studio 36 years ago in a church hall with just 30 students. Her enrollment quickly soared with the popularity of her Jacki Sorensen Dance Aerobics classes, which remained on the roster for 15 years. "When I opened, all I wanted to do was offer an evening hour of dance, fun, sweating and laughing set to fun music," she says. But when she reduced her teaching hours and concentrated on dance, the program fizzled.

Now at a bigger location, she's added fitness back into the schedule. But because Stage Door is located near four major gyms, Giattino says even trendy fitness classes like Zumba haven't been profitable. What she has found successful is to brand certain dance classes as fitness. For instance, her belly dance program has been going strong for six years and country line dance is becoming more popular.

Giattino isn't opposed to trying out more fitness classes, as long as they don't involve excessive prop storage and space is available in the schedule. "We have three rooms, and they're occupied from 4 to 10 pm every night. I'll wait until hours are open to offer any fitness classes," she says, stressing that her main focus is always dance instruction. "Fitness is something extra to offer the community and pay for the open hours."

Laura Faria Sciortino

Turning Pointe Dance Studio

(300 students)

Falmouth, MA

"It's difficult for a parent of a new baby to find time to take care of herself," says new mom and Turning Pointe Dance Studio owner Laura Faria Sciortino. "I was determined to stay fit and be able to spend as much time with my little guy as possible." Realizing there were other moms like herself, she added Itsy Bitsy Yoga for Babies, Tots and Tykes to Turning Pointe's schedule in September.

The program, created by Helen Garabedian in 1999, includes more than 125 yoga poses, songs and developmental activities. (While the program is mainly for kids, moms get to do some yoga in each class, too.) The goal: to help children establish healthy habits at an early age. "Yoga is great for babies. They are too young to be in a dance class, but they are starting to stretch, learn rhythm and bond with their parents," says Sciortino, who takes classes with her 18-month-old son, Henry.

When scheduling, Sciortino and instructor Whitney Marshall (a certified Itsy Bitsy Yoga facilitator) were conscious to make first-time moms feel supported and not weighed down with commitment. Turning Pointe holds six 45-minute morning and evening options, with a drop-in rate of $11.25.

Sciortino also teaches Mommy and Baby Body Conditioning, where babies are worn in a sling and act as a weight. "Kids are learning while moms are toning their arms and working out," Sciortino says. The response has been positive, and the classes are constantly bringing in new clients, who may eventually become lifetime customers. "Offering these classes shows we are a warm and nurturing studio," she says. "As the babies and tots grow, they are also exposed to watching ballet classes, which at age 3 they can start." DT

Freelance writer Courtney Rae Kasper is a former Dance Teacher editor.

Photo by Beth Hutton, courtesy of Kick It Up

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