Prepare to take some time away from your studio.

When Shari Devora (left) and Paige Sayegh (second from right) took their families to Disney World in June 2009, registration was still going on at their studio. They charged credit cards every evening online after their children were asleep.

Sabrina Miller-Helma, owner of Miller's dance studio, inc., never considered taking time off from her business; her only vacations were working ones—traveling with students to competition or to a performance. But in July 2010, her husband suffered a major stroke, and she was unexpectedly forced to take almost a year away to care for him. She has three studios (two in Aurora, CO, and one in Parker, CO) and almost 1,400 students, but her business didn't skip a beat.

By staffing each location with employees who were on board with all of her philosophies, she had unknowingly prepared her studios to operate without her. Now that she's seen what her staff can handle, she's changed her tune on taking vacations. "I definitely wouldn't hesitate now to take a week or two off," she says. "I feel very blessed to have the people that I do, and I know that it wouldn't be a problem."

But realizing that your studio will go on whether or not you're in the building can be a hard pill to swallow. DT talked to owners about how they prepare for some well-deserved time away— whether for business or pleasure—and how they trust that their studio will still be standing when they return.

One Thing at a Time

Katie Owings, owner of inspiration Performing Arts Center in Mahtomedi, MN, enjoys traveling about four or five times per year. And she has her pre- vacation preparation down to a science.

Her first step is referring to her list of substitute teachers to fill in for her classes—turning only to those who are familiar with her studio. "I make having a sub positive in the students' eyes," she says. "It's awesome to learn from mul- tiple teachers."

Once her classes are taken care of, Owings checks in with her front desk staff to make sure that the studio phone is being forwarded to a staff member's cell phone at all times. The rest, she says, runs itself. And she doesn't even feel the need to stay in touch while she's away. "My staff is the studio's lifeblood," she says.

"When I step away, I know they know every protocol that's in place. I never leave nervous."

The only times that the frequent traveler would never take a vacation are during show times. "But through strategic delegation and implementing new faculty into director roles, I think there will be a time when I could leave even then," she says. "However, I really love sharing in that weekend and having fun with the kids. Even if I could, I don't know that I would ever want to."

Keep In Touch

"One of the great things about having a partner is that when you're gone, you can actually be gone," says Sonja Brown. She and co-owner Andrea Myers usu- ally take about a week of vacation per year while the other runs the studio, Evolution Dance Company in Selkirk, Manitoba, on her own.

This year, the pair planned to attend the JUMP Dance Convention Teacher Retreat in Hawaii together—until they learned that it fell on the same weekend as a provincial competition where they had over 90 dances entered. Though they knew the retreat would be a good learning experience (and a chance to visit Hawaii), they instantly decided that they just couldn't go. But their staff, friends and even parents convinced them to take the trip. "They made us realize that the show will go on whether we're there or not," Brown says.

And just because the owners were in Hawaii (with a five-hour time differ- ence), it didn't mean they weren't on top of what was going on back home. "We had the competition schedule with us, so we knew exactly when our students were performing," says Myers. "We'd wake up in the middle of the night or walk out of a seminar to call and find out how they placed."

The competition went off without a hitch, and Brown and Myers made sure to show how much they appreciated the two senior instructors who stepped up to take the reins. In addition to paying them for all their hours, Myers and Brown sent them flowers and bought them a spa day, just to say thank you.

Turn to Technology

After 17 years in business, Dance Attitudes co-owners Paige Sayegh and Shari Devora believe in their staff, but they also depend on a revamped com- puter system to keep them in the loop, no matter how far away from their Marlboro, NJ, studio they travel.

About three years ago, they installed JackRabbit, internet-based software that allows them "to do everything from any- where," says Sayegh, who travels once or twice per year, both with and without Devora. "We can see who has made payments, check attendance and gain access to all studio records."

And when they moved to a new facility four years ago, they had cameras installed in each studio, which link to an internet site that only the co-owners have access to. They can play back the classes if there's a conflict or issue while they're away. Parents also love that they can watch classes live on screens in the lobby.

Owners agree that the key is to delegate as much as possible, so that whether you are at your desk or halfway around the world, keeping the studio up and running is just business as usual. At Dance Attitudes, parents are given a list of specific e-mail addresses to contact for each question they may have—whether it pertains to costumes, billing or the retail store. When you're away, you shouldn't have to worry about checking your inbox—trust that your staff can handle it, or at least hold down the fort until you return. "Unless, God forbid, there's a medical emergency," says Devora, "Anything else can wait." DT

 

Photo courtesy of Paige Sayegh

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