Give Me a Break

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

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.

Keep reading... Show less
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.

Keep reading... Show less
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."

Get Dance Business Weekly in your inbox

Sign Up Used in accordance with our Privacy Policy.