Studio Success with Just for Kix

The Key to Creating a Healthy Dance Team Environment, According to Just for Kix Executive Director Cindy Clough

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:

What makes a good coach?

Your success as a coach comes down to credibility. Your dancers don't care what you know until they know how much you care. Do you walk the walk? Do you show up prepared? Do you communicate well? Are you consistent? Have you demonstrated some measure of success? Do they trust you?

Not only do good coaches focus on high-level performance, they also spend a tremendous amount of time developing their athletes as people. This means fostering quality relationships, monitoring and improving team chemistry, building each individual's confidence, being genuinely interested in their goals outside of dance, and being aware of their emotions. When you coach with both your head and your heart, you develop dancers who perform with their heads and hearts.

Courtesy Just for Kix

How do I juggle the needs of each member of the team?

Invest the time to get to know each of your dancers on a personal level so you can learn what makes them tick. Find out why they dance: Because they love to compete? To please other people, win championships or earn a college scholarship? For the camaraderie? Adjust your coaching accordingly.

How do I build my dancers' confidence?

Focus on potential and plant seeds of success. Sell athletes on themselves. Make them feel they can do anything, and inspire them to try harder and take risks. Show them the steps they will need to take on a daily, weekly and monthly basis. Arrange their schedules to build in small early successes, like easy competitions or a parents' night, because success breeds success.

Bill Johnson, Courtesy Just for Kix

What about the days where you can tell they're struggling?

Remember that confidence fluctuates. You have to create an environment where it's OK to fail. The minute you start talking perfection, mistakes happen. Help them instead to relax. Make sure to appreciate everyone's contributions; you want your dancers to own the team's success.

Any other words of advice?

Think about the legacy you would like to leave as a coach. The time we have to impact our dancers is relatively short. Will they be better for having been on your team? Ask yourself, What is my purpose in coaching? Do I want my career to count for something other than the number of wins I accumulate? Do I want to make a difference in the lives around me?

A great program is built by the culture that's developed, and that remains pretty constant from year to year. Everybody can learn to teach turns, kicks, formations and drills. It is your ability to inspire greatness that will differentiate you as a successful coach.

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Securing the correct music licensing for your studio is an important step in creating a financially sound business. "Music licensing is something studio owners seem to either embrace or ignore completely," says Clint Salter, CEO and founder of the Dance Studio Owners Association. While it may seem like it's a situation in which it's easier to ask for forgiveness rather than permission—that is, to wait until you're approached by a music-rights organization before purchasing a license—Salter disagrees, citing Peloton, the exercise company that produces streaming at-home workouts. In February, Peloton settled a music-licensing suit with the National Music Publishers' Association out-of-court for an undisclosed amount. Originally, NMPA had sought $300 million in damages from Peloton. "It can get extremely expensive," says Salter. "It's not worth it for a studio to get caught up in that."

As you continue to explore a hybrid online/in-person version of your class schedule, it's crucial that your music licenses include coverage for livestreamed instruction—which comes with its own particular requirements. Here are some answers to frequently asked questions about music licensing—in both normal times and COVID times—as well as some safe music bets that won't pose any issues.

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A 2019 Dancewave training. Photo by Effy Grey, courtesy Dancewave

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Of course, there's no easy answer, and no perfect approach. As social justice advocate David King emphasized at a recent interactive webinar, "Cultivating Racial Equity in the Classroom," this work is never-ending. The event, hosted by Dancewave (which just launched a new racial-equity curriculum) was a good starting point, though, and offered some helpful takeaways for dance educators committed to racial justice.

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The author, Robyn Watson. Photo courtesy Watson

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According to, out of the 30 top-ranked college dance programs in the U.S., tap dance is offered at 19 of them, but only one school requires majors to take more than a beginner course—Oklahoma City University. Many prestigious dance programs, like the ones at NYU Tisch School of the Arts and SUNY Purchase, don't offer a single course in tap dance.

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