Finding Male Dancers for your University

If you’re constantly struggling to add male dancers to your department’s performances, you may be able to find willing participants in a few unconventional places. While these fellows may not all have extensive dance experience, their various talents can contribute to innovative performances and exciting choreography. Some of these in-a-pinch dancers may be ready to execute most dance moves, while others may be used for their strength or star factor.

1. Local studios. Post flyers in local studios or ask owners to include an advertisement in their newsletters to entice these young, but experienced, dancers to join you. At the studio, don’t forget to speak to the teachers and their teaching assistants who might be interested in getting some stage time.

2. Cheerleading squads and gymnastics and dance teams. If the piece that you’re trying to cast calls for tumbling or acrobatic moves, seek out these boys who are already accustomed to partnering girls and are familiar with performing and learning choreography. Get in touch with coaches to help you recruit them. Offer non-credit admission to your dance classes as an incentive.

3. Boyfriends, friends and family members. With a little persuasion, devoted friends, brothers, cousins and boyfriends of dancers you’ve already cast may be happy to spend some quality time at rehearsal. As a choreographer, you can use these comfortable, friendly relationships to your advantage and explore the closeness in your work. While most of your dancers’ families may live far away, if you teach at a community college you might have a good shot at enlisting fathers and uncles for an onstage family affair.

4. At the gym or YMCA. Get in touch with Pilates, yoga and aerobics instructors who teach at nearby facilities. These physically fit men may turn out to be capable movers and enjoy the challenge of dance. Allow them to use the opportunity to market to your students as potential clients.

5. Athletic teams. “In ancient times, the best male dancers were the best warriors,” says College of Marin’s dance professor David Jones. “Professional football players demonstrate the connection between dance and athletic ability quite often by dancing in the end zone after a touchdown.” Soccer, basketball, tennis and other sports require coordination just like dance. While you can’t expect experienced team players to perform a classical pas de deux, they can add an athletic component to your troupe. Coaches may be on your side and encourage players to participate to improve agility.

6. Faculty. You never know where former dancers may be hiding: in the English department or the chemistry lab. Send out an e-mail to your colleagues who may have secret dance roots that they are ready to dig up.

7. In the orchestra pit or backstage. Whether they march in the band or play in the symphony, these musicians have been accompanying dance performances for years. Certainly some of them have been yearning to take center stage. For a striking visual effect, you can even include the musical instruments in the choreography.

The theater tech crew has also been on the sidelines hanging lights and building sets for your performances year after year. It would be no surprise if these men have picked up a few moves.

8. Local K-12 schools. Your local public and private schools may have dance or drama classes and clubs whose boys would be excited to add a collegiate-level performance to their college applications. Be sure to get parents involved with the planning to make sure that transportation and scheduling run smoothly.

9. Local police or fire departments. Everyone loves men in uniform, so why not put them onstage? Organize a fundraiser for the firehouse or police athletic league and get these protectors of the peace dancing. Just be sure to avoid clichéd Village People references.

10. Prominent university or town figures. Getting onstage for a potentially embarrassing performance could be the ultimate public relations stint. The mayor of your town or the dean of the college would not only draw a large crowd for your show, but he might also be itching to show off his kickline skills. DT

Teachers Trending
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.

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Teachers Trending

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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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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