How-To: Above and Beyond

These days, giving students a thorough and balanced dance education often means going beyond your regular curriculum. Since dancers are expected to be versatile, intelligent and savvy, it pays to go that extra mile with special workshops and activities that will enrich them physically, mentally and emotionally. “The reason to have adjunct classes is to create the total dancer,” says Charles Maple, director of the Maple Conservatory of Dance in Irvine, Calfornia, and a former soloist with American Ballet Theatre. “And those who don’t become professional can be successful in other areas of dance.”

Here are some ways you can cultivate dancers who are well-rounded in body, mind and spirit.

#1 Weekly film series

Host a film series at your studio, and screen documentaries and performance videos to boost students’ dance history knowledge. Once in a while, throw in a fun cult hit like The Turning Point. Lucretia Lomax Alvarez, director of The Dance Studio in Austin, Texas, holds movie-night slumber parties. A self-described “avid collector of dance films,” she’s shown everything from documentaries on Jacob’s Pillow to West Side Story. Task dancers with taking turns bringing different snacks or beverages to share with everyone.

#2 Special workshops and guest teachers

A summer intensive program is a great way to expose your students to disciplines you can’t fit into your regular curriculum, such as yoga, Pilates, Gyrokinesis, Irish step, character dance, acting, mime, world dance, audition technique and more. If you don’t have staff instructors qualified to teach these classes, find local experts through your network of parents and colleagues. Or search online for teachers in your area with whom you haven’t yet connected.

Another option is to take a cue from the Maple Conservatory and integrate some enrichment classes into your regular curriculum. Maple offers special classes on Saturday mornings before rehearsal and changes the topic often to give students a wide range of material. You can also invite guest teachers to come in for a chat with your dancers—for example, Maple recently brought in former ABT dancer Cynthia Gregory to give a lecture about her life and career. Alternatively, take students to classes outside your studio. When Edward Villella was teaching at The University of Texas at Austin, Alvarez arranged for some of her advanced students to attend.

#3 Health days

Educate students about the latest dance medicine research. Maple requires students in his professional division to take courses held at the studio in injury prevention and nutrition, and he brings in local health professionals, many of whom he knows from his ABT days, to give the seminars. To find experts in your area, check nearby universities, medical centers and physical therapist offices that specialize in adolescent dance or athletic care.

#4 Trivia game

At the end of the year, test what your students have learned with a “Jeopardy”-style game of trivia. Challenges can include performing a tricky step or piece of choreography, translating a ballet term, recalling a piece of dance history or naming the composer of a famous work. Offer winners prizes such as discounted tuition or a gift certificate to a local dance retail shop.


#5 Company tours and performances

If you live in or near a city with a major dance company, inquire about arranging a tour of the company’s studios or theater. Your students will gain an inside look into the professional dance world by watching company class or rehearsal. They may also be allowed to visit the costume, prop or set rooms, and chat with designers.

Finish the day by attending a performance (be sure to ask about group discounts). Alvarez makes an effort to bring awareness about any local shows to her students and their families. “A lot of times I choose one for the parents and children to see. We’ve seen Broadway shows like Phantom of the Opera, The Lion King and Beauty and the Beast, and companies like ABT, Philadanco and Pilobolus.”

#6 Book clubs

Take advantage of all of the great nonfiction dance titles available—from biographies and memoirs of famous dancers and choreographers to dance criticism. Encourage students to participate in book clubs and discussion groups. It doesn’t require a lot of work on your part: Appoint one dancer to organize each group and allow the groups to report back to their classes about what they learned. Parents may also wish to participate.

#7 Stretch-and-study parties

Invite students to prepare for SAT tests while they stretch. You can quiz them on vocabulary with call-and-response while directing their stretching exercises. Just make sure they continue to breathe and stretch actively, rather than passively.

#8 Campus visits

Alvarez arranges for college-bound dancers to visit nearby schools like The University of Texas at Austin, Southern Methodist University and one of her alma maters, Texas Christian University. In the past, she’s even organized campus visits in the cities where her dance company is also attending a convention. “I take them to watch class, and sometimes they’re allowed to take class,” says Alvarez. “I arrange with the faculty to give us 10 or 15 minutes so that they can talk about what their jobs are at the university and what they entail.”

#9 Stage makeup seminars

Lori Lahnemann, director of The Philadelphia Dance Academy, held a class on how to apply stage makeup, and it was by far the most popular special class offered in her summer program. Lahnemann hired a dancer’s mom, a makeup artist with experience doing runway shows and theatrical productions, to teach dancers how to apply stage makeup and alter it according to different types of lighting. At the end, students did each other’s makeup and received feedback.

#10 Choreography workshops

Alvarez has enjoyed great success with her Young Choreographers Workshop, in which students spend three months setting works on their fellow dancers that are presented in a spring show. As part of the experience, Alvarez often enlists theater specialists to give lectures or takes the students on field trips.

“They learn firsthand about working with their peers, how to handle the responsibility of being in charge of their rehearsal and using the time wisely and productively,” says Alvarez. “As their coach and mentor, I guide them and make suggestions on how to work more efficiently, how to give staging and layering to their choreography, and how to choose or design costumes to fit their music and choreography.”

#11 Video analysis

Teach students to self-correct and analyze technique by videotaping them. Then sit down together and watch the tape in slow-motion. It’s a strategy Maple often uses for pirouettes.

Here’s how it works: Replay the tape with the student, pausing and rewinding to point out problems with form, and explain how they affect the execution of a particular step. Students eventually should be able to recognize good form without your assistance. You can also use video analysis to tape rehearsals, so dancers can analyze their technique and interpretation of the choreography.

#12 Terminology

While Lahnemann makes it a point to explain ballet terms during technique classes, she also teaches a terminology class during the summer to build students’ understanding. In the class, Lahnemann, who minored in French, requires dancers to learn word meanings as well as spellings. She concludes with a quiz. “It’s multisensory,” she explains, “writing, doing and saying.”

#13 Mock Company

One of Maple’s most popular activities is a company project that gives dancers firsthand experience with what it takes to run a successful professional group. He divides students into faux companies, empowering each to come up with a name, fundraise, rent rehearsal space, organize rehearsals, cast, choreograph, market and perform. The company with the most money in its account at the end of the project wins. Any money raised is funneled back into the school’s nonprofit preprofessional company, Maple Youth Ballet. DT

Kristin Lewis is a writer in New York City.

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"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.

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"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."

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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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