Is Sharing Your Studio Right For You?

The financial responsibility that comes with owning and running a dance studio is a lot to take on. Sharing your space is one way to ease the burden all around. How you go about doing just that, though, has as much to do with your personality as with your financial needs. You can rent out space to another instructor or take on a partner, depending on what you are most comfortable with.

Do you prefer to run things solo, or enjoy working with others in more of a team environment? On the one hand, renting your space lets you maintain control of studio decisions—and the best time slots—while earning revenue during off-hours. On the other, sharing your space equally with another business may help you save even more on the costs of rent, utilities, maintenance and even marketing, while providing more long-term stability. Here are some issues to consider before deciding which avenue to pursue and, after you’ve decided, what to discuss with potential renters or partners.

Renting Space

Choosing the right renter has the potential to bring in more students and increase your exposure in the community. Jane Archer, owner of Euphoria Studios in Portland, Oregon, takes great care in choosing her renters. “We make every effort to rent to high-quality teachers who have a thorough knowledge of the body and proper form,” she says. Renting also helps fill up empty studio hours. “We look for those with a similar philosophy and try to sense a fit with the studio if possible,” Archer says. “Many times the instructors find us, and like the atmosphere.”

Renting space for a set fee translates to guaranteed income each month. On the other hand, you may feel cheated if a rental instructor’s enrollment grows and you are not entitled to a percentage of the increase. Charging renters a percentage helps insure you will make money if they increase their business, but if their class sizes dwindle, so does your share.

A combination approach can be one solution—charging a flat fee along with a percentage if the class increases beyond a certain size. Yet another option is to charge a fee for each class the instructor offers. That way, as more classes are added, you make more money. Again, the agreement you reach will depend on your personality.

On the downside, renting out your studio means extra paperwork and taking care of details such as keeping track of rental payments and making sure that the renting instructor has liability insurance. “Renters can be flaky and [create the need for] a tremendous amount of administration,” Archer admits.

Drawing up a contract will help to eliminate any gray areas. It is also an important step in terms of protecting yourself legally in the event of any conflict. Here are just a few of the other issues to discuss at the onset of the relationship and to spell out in writing:

  • If there are any damages to a rental property, who is responsible? (By law, the landlord is generally responsible for normal wear and tear.)
  • If you are able to hire staff, do you split that cost?
  • What are the ramifications of late rent payments?
  • Who will be responsible for cleaning?
  • Will you share office space, storage space, equipment and supplies? Or will renters be responsible for bringing equipment to and from the studio?

Last but not least, consider how you will arrange the décor of the space to be shared. With renting teachers, this is somewhat limited, since they will be using your area, but they may enjoy having the studio reflect their tastes as well. Something as simple as hanging a picture illustrating the instructor’s style of class can enhance the overall studio atmosphere and will be appreciated by him or her.

Taking On a Partner

Sharing a studio with a business partner can be risky, but can also be an enormous payoff. Gabrielle Deschaine, owner of Grow in Motion Dance and Wellness Center in Forest Park, Illinois, has found that splitting costs such as rent, water and marketing, and having the common goal of operating a successful studio, have paid off tremendously. She shares the space with Catherine Lewan, who owns Equability Yoga & Pilates—a complementary business that nevertheless has a separate client base that doesn’t compete with Deschaine’s. According to Deschaine, “Our partnership works, in part because I respect Catherine’s skill level and professionalism. We are both committed to the success of the studio. Communication is key in working together well.”

Deschaine and Lewan share a website, but have different sections for each business. The site shows a picture of the studio and has a unified look, but each teacher has her own area. They have separate pricing plans and policies for classes and never take money from each other’s students. Deschaine said that they rarely have any issues doing business this way.

When the two teachers decided to join efforts, they were careful to consider every detail, especially because they wanted to share space while keeping their businesses separate. “We sat down together and went through every piece of the lease to make sure that we were both protected,” Deschaine says. “We added an addendum to it detailing exactly how the time would be split between us at the studio. We chose different days, and wound up with about 16 hours each.”

You’ll also want to discuss and spell out many of the same issues that are important in a renting situation, such as who is liable for rent if one person defaults, staff costs, office space, storage space, and the use of equipment and supplies. Marketing costs can even be shared to meet tight budgets. As for décor, ideally both people should have an equal say in the design, or at least the power to veto. When in doubt, resort to a third party to aid in the process and negotiate conflicts.

Perhaps most importantly, evaluate the personality of your potential business partner: Talking candidly about expectations and ideas can help both of you see if the combination is a match. Try talking about issues that may come up, such as how each of you might handle a difficult parent or someone who did not pay for a class, to see if you are on the same page.

It also helps to have a person who has similar ideas when it comes to instruction. Make sure that you have a solid picture of the atmosphere that you hope to create in the studio, and discuss your thoughts with any potential partners. It is much easier to deal with these issues on the front end of a business relationship than later on.

Some teachers may think that splitting up the studio time might not leave them with enough usable hours in which to hold their classes. To her own surprise, Deschaine found this to be a good thing. “When I had my own studio, it was tempting to say yes to every request that students had, both to be sure that they were happy and to make sure the business was doing well,” she reflects. “Now, the days I am there are limited and so is my schedule, which allows me to rest and be fresh.”

Teachers who enjoy working with others and are trying to save some money can benefit from sharing a studio with a renter or even a partner. Careful planning and preparation are the keys to making that a good relationship. Teamwork can help ease the load, and make it a profitable venture for everyone involved. DT

Catherine Tully is a freelance writer and high school dance instructor. She serves as the Outside Europe Representative for the National Dance Teachers Association in the UK and has more than 17 years of dance teaching experience.

Music
Mary Malleney, courtesy Osato

In most classes, dancers are encouraged to count the music, and dance with it—emphasizing accents and letting the rhythm of a song guide them.

But Marissa Osato likes to give her students an unexpected challenge: to resist hitting the beats.

In her contemporary class at EDGE Performing Arts Center in Los Angeles (which is now closed, until they find a new space), she would often play heavy trap music. She'd encourage her students to find the contrast by moving in slow, fluid, circular patterns, daring them to explore the unobvious interpretation of the steady rhythms.


"I like to give dancers a phrase of music and choreography and have them reinterpret it," she says, "to be thinkers and creators and not just replicators."

Osato learned this approach—avoiding the natural temptation of the music always being the leader—while earning her MFA in choreography at California Institute of the Arts. "When I was collaborating with a composer for my thesis, he mentioned, 'You always count in eights. Why?'"

This forced Osato out of her creative comfort zone. "The choices I made, my use of music, and its correlation to the movement were put under a microscope," she says. "I learned to not always make the music the driving motive of my work," a habit she attributes to her competition studio training as a young dancer.

While an undergraduate at the University of California, Irvine, Osato first encountered modern dance. That discovery, along with her experience dancing in Boogiezone Inc.'s off-campus hip-hop company, BREED, co-founded by Elm Pizarro, inspired her own, blended style, combining modern and hip hop with jazz. While still in college, she began working with fellow UCI student Will Johnston, and co-founded the Boogiezone Contemporary Class with Pizarro, an affordable series of classes that brought top choreographers from Los Angeles to Orange County.

"We were trying to bring the hip-hop and contemporary communities together and keep creating work for our friends," says Osato, who has taught for West Coast Dance Explosion and choreographed for studios across the country.

In 2009, Osato, Johnston and Pizarro launched Entity Contemporary Dance, which she and Johnston direct. The company, now based in Los Angeles, won the 2017 Capezio A.C.E. Awards, and, in 2019, Osato was chosen for two choreographic residencies (Joffrey Ballet's Winning Works and the USC Kaufman New Movement Residency), and became a full-time associate professor of dance at Santa Monica College.

At SMC, Osato challenges her students—and herself—by incorporating a live percussionist, a luxury that's been on pause during the pandemic. She finds that live music brings a heightened sense of awareness to the room. "I didn't realize what I didn't have until I had it," Osato says. "Live music helps dancers embody weight and heaviness, being grounded into the floor." Instead of the music dictating the movement, they're a part of it.

Osato uses the musician as a collaborator who helps stir her creativity, in real time. "I'll say 'Give me something that's airy and ambient,' and the sounds inspire me," says Osato. She loves playing with tension and release dynamics, fall and recovery, and how those can enhance and digress from the sound.

"I can't wait to get back to the studio and have that again," she says.

Osato made Dance Teacher a Spotify playlist with some of her favorite songs for class—and told us about why she loves some of them.

"Get It Together," by India.Arie

"Her voice and lyrics hit my soul and ground me every time. Dream artist. My go-to recorded music in class is soul R&B. There's simplicity about it that I really connect with."

"Turn Your Lights Down Low," by Bob Marley + The Wailers, Lauryn Hill

"A classic. This song embodies that all-encompassing love and gets the whole room groovin'."

"Diamonds," by Johnnyswim

"This song's uplifting energy and drive is infectious! So much vulnerability, honesty and joy in their voices and instrumentation."

"There Will Be Time," by Mumford & Sons, Baaba Maal

"Mumford & Sons' music has always struck a deep chord within me. Their songs are simultaneously stripped-down and complex and feel transcendent."

"With The Love In My Heart," by Jacob Collier, Metropole Orkest, Jules Buckley

"Other than it being insanely energizing and cinematic, I love how challenging the irregular meter is!"

For Parents

Darrell Grand Moultrie teaches at a past Jacob's Pillow summer intensive. Photo Christopher Duggan, courtesy Jacob's Pillow

In the past 10 months, we've grown accustomed to helping our dancers navigate virtual school, classes and performances. And while brighter, more in-person days may be around the corner—or at least on the horizon—parents may be facing yet another hurdle to help our dancers through: virtual summer-intensive auditions.

In 2020, we learned that there are some unique advantages of virtual summer programs: the lack of travel (and therefore the reduced cost) and the increased access to classes led by top artists and teachers among them. And while summer 2021 may end up looking more familiar with in-person intensives, audition season will likely remain remote and over Zoom.

Of course, summer 2021 may not be back to in-person, and that uncertainty can be a hard pill to swallow. Here, Kate Linsley, a mom and academy principal of Nashville Ballet, as well as "J.R." Glover, The Dan & Carole Burack Director of The School at Jacob's Pillow, share their advice for this complicated process.

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Teachers Trending

From left: Anthony Crickmay, Courtesy Dance Theatre of Harlem Archives; Courtesy Ballethnic

It is the urgency of going in a week or two before opening night that Lydia Abarca Mitchell loves most about coaching. But in her role as Ballethnic Dance Company's rehearsal director, she's not just getting the troupe ready for the stage. Abarca Mitchell—no relation to Arthur Mitchell—was Mitchell's first prima ballerina when he founded Dance Theatre of Harlem with Karel Shook; through her coaching, Abarca Mitchell works to pass her mentor's legacy to the next generation.

"She has the same sensibility" as Arthur Mitchell, says Ballethnic co-artistic director Nena Gilreath. "She's very direct, all about the mission and the excellence, but very caring."

Ballethnic is based in East Point, a suburban city bordering Atlanta. In a metropolitan area with a history of racism and where funding is hard-won, it is crucial for the Black-led ballet company to present polished, professional productions. "Ms. Lydia" provides the "hard last eye" before the curtain opens in front of an audience.

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