Jody Gottfried Arnhold Takes Dance Education to the Next Level

Yesterday afternoon, I had the pleasure of witnessing exciting news in dance education. Teachers College at Columbia University is launching a new doctoral program in dance education to begin fall 2017, thanks to a $4.36 million gift from Jody Gottfried Arnhold and her husband John. The news was announced at a luncheon at the school.

When I arrived, I could feel the excitement as teachers, administrators and advocates from TC and other New York cultural institutions greeted one another. I was happy to see some familiar faces: Kathleen Isaac, a 2016 DT awardee and director of Hunter College’s Arnhold Graduate Dance Education Program; Patricia Dye, one of the five outstanding teachers featured in the Emmy-nominated documentary P.S. Dance!; and Dance Theatre of Harlem artistic director Virginia Johnson, to name a few.

Before speeches got underway, I spoke with Tom James, provost and dean of Teachers College. He told me the program has a three-pronged approach to training master dance educators—offering specialization in teacher education, leadership and policy and movement sciences. There are also plans for collaboration with the art and music departments.

After a warm introduction by Teachers College president Susan Fuhrman, Jody Arnhold took the podium. She gave a rousing speech about the importance of dance education and how TC’s new doctoral program will take it to the next level. Pending state approval, the new program will start in fall 2017. “I look forward to welcoming the first class next year. Maybe I’ll be in it,” said Arnhold, to the delight of her peers.

Kathleen Isaac, art education professor Mary Hafeli and Patricia Dye also spoke, and a trailer for P.S. Dance! was shown. While watching the footage, I remembered what a joy it was to speak last year with Catherine Gallant, one of the five teachers featured in the film. The work she and other public school dance teachers are doing is truly inspirational.

To cap off the celebration, members of Patricia Dye’s Jow-Ile-Bailar Dance Company from Science Skills High School for Science, Technology and the Creative Arts performed an uplifting dance for the crowd, and we all sang happy birthday to Jody Arnhold. What better way to celebrate than to see this new doctoral program realized?

Since the launch of the new program’s website, TC has received more than two dozen inquiries from prospective students. For more information, visit: tc.columbia.edu/danceed.

Jody Gottfried Arnhold (in navy) stands with Patricia Dye, Susan H. Fuhrman, TC trustee Dailey Pattee, TC board vice chair Leslie Morse Nelson and members of Jow-Ile-Bailar Dance Company at the luncheon on October 18.

Photo by Bruce Gilbert, courtesy of Teachers College

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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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