How Safe is Your Studio?

No teacher or studio owner likes to think about an emergency situation arising while he or she is in charge. Unfortunately, it does happen. A little time spent preparing and taking precautionary measures will ensure that you and your staff know what to do should an accident or emergency occur.


Identify Potential Hazards

Whether you’re setting up a new space or renewing a 10-year lease, it pays to take a fresh look at the interior and exterior of your studio with safety in mind. Do a walk-through regularly to look for things that can cause accidents. Grab a pen and paper and take note of the following:


-Are electric sockets within reach of your 4-year-old students? Plug them with safety covers when not in use.


-If you have a changing area, how is the lighting? Check bulbs to make sure they have the proper wattage; wattage that is too high is a potential fire hazard.


-Take special care to check for any unusual steps up or down in your building (either too high or too low), or unevenness in the floors of your studios, dressing rooms, bathrooms and hallways. According to the National Safe Kids Campaign, falls are the leading cause of unintentional injury for children.


-Make sure that furniture kids may be tempted to climb, such as benches and chairs, are necessary, sturdy and in locations where adults can provide supervision.


-Take a close look at the outside of your studio. Check for potential dangers such as leaky gutters and poor visibility at the front door.


-Would emergency personnel be able to find you? As Robert Solomon, assistant vice president of the National Fire Protection Association tells DT, “It is very important for the emergency responders to be able to make out the address.”


If you don’t own the space, bring any problems you find to the attention of your landlord so he or she can handle them. Looking for hazards should become an ongoing task. Use the “Safety Checklist” at right as a basis for creating one tailored to your space, and mark your calendar to remind yourself to run through the list regularly—for example, once a month before you sit down to pay bills. This will help you stay aware of things that could cause accidents or injury.


Communicate with Students and Parents

One way to identify hazards is to keep your ears open to the concerns of parents and students. If you let them know in person, on your lobby bulletin board and in your monthly newsletter that you are looking out for them, they will feel comfortable coming to you with concerns. This not only keeps your studio safe but also creates a healthy dialogue among everyone.


Have parents fill out a questionnaire when they sign their child up for classes. This can help identify important information that parents may not think to disclose to you. Keep the form brief and concentrate on things that you would potentially need to know, such as medical conditions, allergies, injuries and other physical challenges students may have.


Knowing these facts ahead of time can make the difference between a minor incident and an ambulance ride. If a child has a history of seizures or asthma, it is important that the teacher know ahead of time. Parents should provide basic information on what to do if the child has a seizure or attack during class.


Keep emergency contact information on file for every student. Aim to have at least two different phone numbers for every student, and update this list periodically. Mail a note home or send reminders via e-mail or newsletter every six months, asking parents to update emergency numbers.


Set Preventative Guidelines

Taking precautions is key in avoiding emergency situations. When you create a basic dress code, keep safety in mind. For example, requiring students to pin hair back and wear properly fitted dance shoes not only encourages discipline and contributes to a professional appearance in the studio, but can also help students avoid trips and falls.


Developing and enforcing rules for behavior is just as important. Let students know that they need to keep hands to themselves and that running is not acceptable. Keeping up on these simple things can help ward off all kinds of accidents.


Have an Emergency Plan

Sometimes, no matter how well you prepare, an emergency situation will arise. It is important to have a plan in place, and make sure that everyone that works with you knows what to do.


A good emergency plan starts with the telephone. Post emergency numbers in a visible place right by studio phones, along with any special instructions (such as dialing 9 for an outside line). Make sure that the address of the building and name of your studio are on this sheet as well, so that the person calling can give this information to emergency personnel quickly. Also, have an emergency kit ready. Stock it with flashlights, ice packs, aspirin, ointment, gauze and other materials.


All staff should know where the main and fire exits are in order to get everyone out of the building quickly. Also be sure they know where students’ contact information is kept so that these files can be pulled if necessary. For situations such as a fire, when it would be necessary to evacuate as quickly as possible, create a phone tree to help get the word out more efficiently. Phone trees can also be handy for informing parents of weather closures as well as changes in class and rehearsal schedules.


When there is an emergency, the person who responded should fill out an incident report sheet afterward for you to keep on file, both to better prepare for future emergencies and in case questions are raised as to whether the situation was handled properly. Be sure to have him or her include the people involved, the nature of the emergency and the actions taken at the time it occurred.

Emergency situations happen. Being prepared can greatly improve response time and effectiveness. Taking steps to prevent the situations from happening in the first place can also help give you peace of mind so that you are free to concentrate on your other tasks in the studio.



Freelance writer Catherine L. Tully has more than 30 years of dance experience.

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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."

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