High Five with Robin Dawn

September is an exciting month: Time to kick off a new year at the studio! Here’s advice from Robin Dawn, owner of Robin Dawn Dance Academy in Cape Coral, Florida, on how to get your season started on the right foot. 


1 Spruce up your space. Paint the walls, hang new pictures, make repairs, clean the bathrooms—do whatever you can to make your studio feel welcoming for new visitors and clean and rejuvenated for those who are returning.


2 Hold a grand-opening event a few weeks before classes start. We call ours “Back to Dance.” We create a special registration day with refreshments and balloons, where people can come see the studio and meet the teachers. My company dancers demonstrate and perform, and we offer free 30-minute mini-classes so dancers can try out the different teachers and styles. We also have a raffle and giveaway one free month of classes. Events like these get people into the studio, and whether they sign up or not, you can get their information for follow-ups.


3 Advertise—it’s the best thing you can do. At the start of every year we put a big ad in the local newspapers right next to the school bus schedules. All the parents check that section to see what time their kids are getting picked up for school—and next to it they’ll see our studio.


4 Have a meet-and-greet event for your competition team. Once our entire team is selected, we plan to spend a day together at a local park. It’s a potluck for the dancers and their families. We introduce the new team members, play games like sack races and wheelbarrow races and teach everyone the Robin Dawn chant. We don’t do anything that has to do with dance on that day. We just have fun together.


5 Create a big brother/big sister program. At the start of the year, the competition team members get assigned a buddy. The seniors pick a younger dancer from the team to mentor all the way through Nationals—and they get really into it. They watch each other at competitions and help each other out backstage. It’s fun to watch them get attached and grow throughout the year together.



Photo: At Robin Dawn Dance, senior company members mentor younger dancers. (courtesy of Robin Dawn Dance Academy)

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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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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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According to onstageblog.com, 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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