Three studio owners share their know-how and numbers.

Don’t duke it out over prices for your Nutcracker.

Chances are, you either produce an annual Nutcracker each winter or students are constantly begging you to institute one. It’s no small undertaking: A comprehensive Nutcracker means budgeting for costumes, backdrops, insurance, marketing, guest-artist salaries and more. Most studio owners don’t undertake these productions as profit generators; they see them as an investment in community visibility and an opportunity to promote studio loyalty. No matter your studio size or where your production falls on the spectrum of all things Nutcracker, you’re surely always looking for ways to cut costs, raise revenue and brand your winter show to guarantee its status as a community staple. Here, owners of three studios of varying sizes and locations share their tricks of the Nutcracker trade.

LIKE MOTHER, LIKE DAUGHTER

For her annual Nutcracker production, Nicole Benson, owner of the 150-student Benson Academy of Dance, Inc., in Ocala, Florida, turns to the Marion Ballet Theatre that her mother, Jeanne Benson Smith, founded as the studio’s resident company more than 30 years ago. As a nonprofit, MBT qualifies for state and community grants and private donations, which cover most of the production costs. (Nicole, who took over the studio after her mother died, was also appointed artistic director of MBT by the nonprofit’s board of directors.) Benson charges $25 per dancer for auditions, which are also open to the community. Dancers who make it into MBT also pay a $50 membership fee.

Ticket Price: $20 (10 shows total)

Overall Budget: $100,000

To Cut Costs

A friend of Benson’s offered to create the ballet’s four backdrops, which means Benson no longer has to fork over a couple thousand dollars each year for scenery.

Several MBT moms went to “tutu school,” where they learned to sew basic classical tutus, in both short and Romantic lengths. Afterward, one mother created all the “Waltz of the Flowers” costumes.

Benson found company dads to volunteer for event security, eliminating that expense.

To Fund the Production

Each child in the ballet has to sell two advertisements for the program magazine.

Last year, Benson’s board of directors raised ticket sales by organizing field trips for three different groups of Marion County schoolchildren to see MBT’s Nutcracker. Benson cut the show to a half-hour for these performances—so they could happen over the course of one day, one right after another, and the dancers wouldn’t miss too much school themselves.

Branding Strategies

Benson gets her ballet company out in the community as often as possible. When the local library put on a fairy-tale festival, Benson sent her Sugar Plum Fairy in costume as a representative. She supplied dancers for book signings when a local author published a book about the ballet.

Selected Budget Items

Ocala Civic Theatre rental, for two weeks: $8,500

Lighting and sound, for design work and tech time: $7,500

Costumes: $3,000 to replace the “Waltz of the Flowers” corps’ and soloists’ outfits last year.

Marketing (local magazine and newspaper advertising, posters and two or three billboards): $7,500

Liability insurance: $3,500

Guest artists (performance stipend, travel, car rental, accommodations): $15,000

Extras Renting a recording studio to re-record Tchaikovsky’s music in a new order each year and program printing

HOME IS WHERE THE TALENT IS

Unlike most Nutcracker productions, studio owner Gina Chiavelli’s ballet only features dancers who audition from among her 600 students at Pinewood School of Dance and the local Dutchess and Putnam County, New York, area. She saves thousands of dollars on guest-artist travel, accommodations and performance stipends, while simultaneously creating a niche of pure local talent for her production, now in its 10th year. The combined performance troupe is known as the Dutchess Dance Theatre. Each child pays an $85 participation fee.

Ticket price: $17 (two shows)

Overall Budget: $33,000

To Cut Costs

For Chiavelli’s first Nutcracker, a studio mom offered to make all the angel, mouse and soldier costumes; Chiavelli, who paid for materials, still uses these costumes today.

Every parent with a child in the ballet has to volunteer, whether ushering, selling concessions, installing backdrops, laying marley, altering costumes, selling tickets or coordinating other volunteers.

To Fund the Production

Each student is asked to sell at least one ad in the program to a local business.

Chiavelli runs a concession stand before the show and during intermission.

Branding Strategies

Tapping into community pride, Chiavelli promotes her show as being entirely homegrown—and without watering down the notoriously difficult choreography.

Selected Budget Items

Local high school theater rental, for four days (two dress rehearsals and two performances): $5,000

Lighting crew of five: $1,500

Costumes, replaced every few years: $800 per soloist tutu

Scenery (three backdrops): $1,500

Marketing (newspapers, PennySaver, posters and e-mail blasts): $5,000

Extras Rehearsal assistants’ salaries and the monthly cost of storage space

BUILDING A TOWN TRADITION

Of the 800 students at Lisa Tuska’s Colorado School of Dance in Parker, Colorado, 120 participate in the school’s annual Nutcracker production, each paying an $85 fee. Tuska aims to cover at least two-thirds of her expenses with revenues. She named her production the Nutcracker of Parker, enlisted support from the mayor and put on community performances, making it an essential part of the town’s holiday season.

Ticket Price: $20–25 (six shows)

Overall Budget: $33,000

To Cut Costs

When she learned that the Parker community was building a cultural arts center, Tuska began writing letters of intent to the city from the Nutcracker of Parker, rather than her studio. Because her winter ballet has become a community event endorsed by the mayor, Tuska is able to split her ticket sales with the theater, in lieu of paying rent.

To Fund the Production

Tuska created a “Junior Clara Club,” in which kids ages 4 to 7 pay $25 each to learn a dance, dress up and then do a performance during the mayor’s annual toast to the production.

She joined the chamber of commerce and obtained the mailing list for sponsorships; Tuska targeted these businesses when selling publicity spots in the program.

Branding Strategies

By officially naming her ballet the Nutcracker of Parker, Tuska cemented her studio’s role in the community’s winter holiday activities. She invited the mayor to make an opening toast during the first night of performances. Studio members also perform during the town’s Christmas tree–lighting ceremony.

Selected Budget Items

Props: $2,000–3,000

Backdrop rental (three backdrops): $1,400

Costumes (last year, Tuska replaced the Snow costumes and accounted for alterations): $4,200

Photographer: $900

Extras Awards and ribbons for the cast DT

From top: photo by Dave Schlenker, courtesy of Nicole Benson; by Jeffrey Baker, courtesy of Gina Chiavelli; by Darcy Miccio Pace, courtesy of Lisa Tuska

The Conversation
Dance Teachers Trending
Photo courtesy of Hightower

The beloved "So You Think You Can Dance" alum and former Emmy-nominated "Dancing with the Stars" pro Chelsie Hightower discovered her passion for ballroom at a young age. She showed a natural ability for the Latin style, but she mastered the necessary versatility by studying jazz, ballet and other forms of dance. "Every style of dance builds on each other," she says, "and the more music you're exposed to, the more your rhythm and coordination is built."

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
Studio Owners
Getty Images

Q: I'm trying to think of ways to maximize studio space and revenue during the summer. What has worked for you?

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
Studio Owners
Getty Images

In 2019, dance parents are more eager than ever to observe their child's progress, and stay up-to-date with the ins and outs of what's happening in the classroom. That means yearly recitals aren't always enough to keep them satisfied—especially if you have rules against visitors observing class from week to week. The solution? Visitor observation weeks. Trust us, the guardians and loved ones of your students will love you for it!

We caught up with Suzanne Blake Gerety, vice president of Kathy Blake Dance Studios and regular contributor to Dance Teacher's "Ask The Experts" column, to hear her tips on how to have a successful visitor observation week.

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Success with Just for Kix
Bill Johnson, Courtesy Just for Kix

Running a dance studio is a feat in itself. But adding a competition team into the mix brings a whole new set of challenges. Not only are you focusing on giving your dancers the best training possible, but you're navigating the fast-paced competition and convention circuit. Winning is one goal, but you also want to create an environment that's fun, educational and inspiring for young artists. We asked Cindy Clough, executive director of Just For Kix and a studio owner with over 40 years of experience, for her advice on building a healthy dance team culture:

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer Health
Adequate dorsiflexion mobility is needed to find a supple demi-plié needed to bound into the air and land safely. Getty Images

Dancers are trained to think often about the range of motion, stability and power of their extended lines: the point of the foot, the reach of the penché, the explosion of the sauté in the air. But finding that same mix of flexibility and strength in the flexed foot is just as integral to technique and injury prevention. Without adequate dorsiflexion mobility, it is nearly impossible to find the kind of supple demi-plié needed to bound into the air and land safely.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by World Class Vacations
David Galindo Photography

New York City is a dream destination for many dancers. However aspiring Broadway stars don't have to wait until they're pros to experience all the city has to offer. With Dance the World Broadway, students can get a taste of the Big Apple—plus hone their dance skills and make lasting memories.

Here's why Dance the World Broadway is the best way for students to experience NYC:

Keep reading... Show less
Site Network
Irina Kolpakova in the studio with Katherine Williams. Photo by Quinn Wharton for Pointe

Being coached by a treasure like former Kirov prima Irina Kolpakova is an experience most dancers only dream of. But company members at American Ballet Theatre have been the lucky beneficiaries of her wisdom since 1990. Thanks to Instagram, where pros like Gillian Murphy and James Whiteside share snippets of their sessions with Kolpakova, any ballet lover can be a fly on the wall during rehearsals with the famed ballet mistress.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
Photo by The Fleet, courtesy of Lion's Jaw Festival

Growing up in New Jersey, Lisa Race trained with a memorable dance teacher: Fred Kelly, the younger brother of famous tapper Gene. "Fred would introduce our recitals," she says. "He would always cartwheel down the stairs." It wasn't until years later, when Race was pursuing her master's degree and chose to write a research paper on Kelly, that she realized there was a clear connection between her own movement style—improvisational and floor-based—and his. "In this television clip I watched, Fred jumps up to the piano, then jumps off it—he's going up and down and around," she says. "I thought, 'Oh, wow, all this time, I've thought of my dancing as my own, but that's where it started!' Moving upside-down and into the floor. There's a thread there. I rerouted it in different ways, but there's a connection."

Now, as a professor at Connecticut College, she concentrates on how to introduce her students to that love and freedom of upside-down work—and how to best prepare them for life after graduation, no matter what dance path they take.

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Owners
Getty Images

It's summertime, which means we're all starting to feel HOT! HOT! HOT!

While a warm room is certainly better than a cold room when it comes to dancing, you don't want your students to get heat stroke at your studio. To help you survive this sweaty time of year, here are tips and tricks that will keep your classrooms comfortable for an excellent class.

Enjoy!

Keep reading... Show less

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox