Making Fundraising Fair

Karen White is a freelance journalist and longtime dance instructor in Taunton, MA.

 

When it comes to funny stories about fundraising, Glenna Wilson, the director of Dance Dreams Studio in Kannapolis, North Carolina, wins the gold. Things took a strange turn one year when a parent running a calendar drive at the studio was arrested on drug possession charges. “We have a big joke now about the mom who used the fundraising money for her bail bond,” she says.

 

Many studios engage in fundraising activities, usually with the happy outcome that they are able to support competition teams or senior students’ performance trips. Yet fundraising can also be the cause of frustration and ill feelings when parents or dancers start to think the system is unfair—either in the amount of work being done, or the way the funds are distributed.

 

While there are many different methods that can help prevent conflict, common keys to success include setting up an organized, well-thought-out system before getting others involved, being completely honest and transparent about how much can be earned by participating, and making participation optional. 

 

“The hardest part [about fundraising] is dealing with the conflict that can sometimes come out,” says Mary L. Myers, director of The Dance Connection in Woodward, Oklahoma. “Be sure to do preplanning and have it all lined up as to how it’s going to work, and how the money will be divided, before you approach the parents.”

 

Myers’ studio is located in a rural area, so her dance and cheer teams often travel two and a half to six hours to reach a competition. Some of her non-team dancers also take to the road for performances at football bowl games and other events, which require overnight stays. Raising a little extra to help with all those expenses is imperative, so Myers and her staff put their creative brainpower to work every year thinking up new and innovative fundraisers “that make the community go, ‘Wow!’” Past successes include washing windows and tidying up the sidewalks of downtown merchants for donations, and raffling off a candlelight dinner at a local teahouse. Their goal, Myers says, is to “find events or situations that will raise the most amount of money in the least amount of time.”

 

These fundraisers won’t work unless there are many hands available. But participation is always optional, Myers stresses. The amount of time each student or family spends on fundraising is carefully time-tracked by the studio staff. Myers also lets students know beforehand how much money they will raise depending on how many hours they work. That way, she says, each student or the student’s family can make an informed decision about whether they want to participate.

 

“The main reason for raising funds is to help the girls who don’t have the money to compete,” she says. “Once you set the standard, there aren’t any problems. The girls who need the funds are those who are there 100 percent of the time.” Myers consulted an accountant to set up a separate, designated account for all fundraised monies, which is at a different bank from the one used by the studio. All the funds are used for specified purposes, such as to help pay individual balances due on flight or hotel costs.

 

At On Stage Academy of Performing Arts in Fall River, Massachusetts, Director Linda Mercer-Botelho heads off fundraising issues by handling all the details herself. Every few years her singers and dancers go on an extensive performance tour, including a recent jaunt to Tennessee, where students went sightseeing at Graceland and performed at Dollywood. She arranges several fundraisers—candle sales, Avon drives or a meat pie dinner—that coincide with the dates when trip deposits are due.

 

Before each event, students are told how much their participation will earn—for example, $4 for each $8 candle sold. “I come from a generation where if you wanted something, you went out and worked for it,” Mercer-Botelho says. “It’s a learning experience: ‘We’re on this trip, and we did this together.’ It teaches them so much more than just dance.”

 

Each student’s total is then tallied on a spreadsheet so she is aware of how much money she has earned toward individual trip expenses. Mercer-Botelho also conducts group activities, such as a raffle at the meat pie dinner, where every student is required to bring in one prize. The money from that raffle goes toward group expenses, such as tipping the bus driver or tour director. She handles all the details of planning and running each fundraiser herself, preferring to focus on her students rather than the parents. “We have a giant initial parents’ meeting so they know everything ahead of time, but from then on, it’s the kids I really work with,” she says, adding that the girls generally cover about 75 percent of their trip expenses with fundraising.

 

In contrast, Wilson relies on parents to shoulder the fundraising at Dance Dreams Studio, despite her one disastrous experience. Yet participation is completely optional, and she encourages not only her competition dancers but anyone at her studio to participate. “I’m of a mind that if you need help with your costumes, this is an option,” she explains. “Moms with two kids are highly motivated. It’s easy to find those kinds of volunteers.”

 

Wilson invites anyone with a fundraising idea to step forward and head up a fundraising drive. Often, it’s mothers involved in other activities, such as one who sells Avon products and another who has her own line of jewelry. Wilson sends information out via e-mail and makes announcements about fundraisers in the lobby. The mother in charge keeps track of participants and the amount of “credit” each raises, information that is logged in the studio’s computer database under each child’s name. Each student can then specify how he or she would like that credit to be used. 

 

Wilson has found that this system works well for everything—even group fundraisers, such as the popular children’s clothing consignment sale that she runs twice a year. Each student who brings in an item of old dance or school clothing is assigned a number, which is tagged on the article along with the price. When a piece is purchased, that information is logged in the studio computer. “When people ask, ‘Did I ever get that credit?’ I show it to them in the ledger,” she explains.

 

Despite your best efforts, of course, be aware that “there will always be those people who think they are being treated unfairly,” says Myers. “Make sure they understand the level of commitment required to participate. It can’t just be about the money.”



News
Courtesy Russell

Gregg Russell, an Emmy-nominated choreographer known for his passionate and energetic teaching, passed away unexpectedly on Sunday, November 22, at the age of 48.

While perhaps most revered as a master tap instructor and performer, Russell also frequently taught hip-hop and musical theater classes, showcasing a versatility that secured him a successful career onstage and in film and television, both nationally and abroad.


His resumé reads like an encyclopedia of popular culture. Russell worked with celebrities such as Bette Midler and Gene Kelly; coached pop icon Michael Jackson and Family Guy creator Seth McFarlane; danced in the classic films Clueless and Newsies; performed on "Dancing with the Stars" and the Latin Grammy Awards; choreographed for Sprite and Carvel Ice Cream; appeared with music icons Reba McEntire and Jason Mraz; and graced stages from coast to coast, including Los Angeles' House of Blues and New York City's Madison Square Garden.

But it was as an educator that Russell arguably found his calling. His infectious humor, welcoming aura and inspirational pedagogy made him a favorite at studios, conventions and festivals across the U.S. and in such countries as Australia, France, Honduras and Guatemala. Even students with a predilection for classical styles who weren't always enthused about studying a percussive form would leave Russell's classes grinning from ear to ear.

"Gregg understood from a young age how to teach tap and hip hop with innovation, energy and confidence," says longtime dance educator and producer Rhee Gold, who frequently hired Russell for conferences and workshops. "He gave so much in every class. There was nothing I ever did that I didn't think Gregg would be perfect for."

Growing up in Wooster, Ohio, Russell was an avid tap dancer and long-distance runner who eventually told his mother, a dance teacher, that he wanted to exclusively pursue dance. She introduced him to master teachers Judy Ann Bassing, Debbi Dee and Henry LeTang, whom he credited as his three greatest influences.

"I was instantly smitten, though competitive with him," says longtime friend and fellow choreographer Shea Sullivan, a protégé of LeTang. "Over the years we developed a mutual respect and admiration for each other. He touched so many lives. This is a great loss."

After graduating from Wooster High School, Russell was a scholarship student at Edge Performing Arts Center in Los Angeles, where he lived for many years. He founded a company, Tap Sounds Underground, taught at California Dance Theatre and even returned to Edge as an instructor, all while maintaining a busy travel schedule.

A beloved member of the tap community, Russell not only spoke highly of his contemporaries, but earned his place among them as a celebrated performing artist and teacher. With friend Ryan Lohoff, with whom he appeared on CBS's "Live to Dance," he co-directed Tap Into The Network, a touring tap intensive founded in 2008.

"His humor, giant smile and energy in his eyes are the things I will remember most," says Lohoff. "He inspired audiences and multiple generations of dancers. I am grateful for our time together."

Russell was on the faculty of numerous dance conventions, such as Co. Dance and, more recently, Artists Simply Human. He was known as a "teacher's teacher," having discovered at the young age of 18 that he enjoyed passing on his knowledge to other dance educators. He wrote tap teaching tips for Dance Studio Life magazine and led classes for fellow instructors whenever he was on tour.

In 2018, he opened a dance studio, 3D Dance, in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, where he had been living most recently.

Russell leaves behind a wife, Tessa, and a 5-year-old daughter, Lucy.


"His success was his family and his daughter," says Gold. "They changed his entire being. He was a happy man."

GoFundMe campaigns to support Russell's family can be found here and here.

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Betty Jones in The Moor's Pavane, shot for Dance Magazine's "Dancers You Should Know" series in 1955. Zachary Freyman, Courtesy Jacob's Pillow

An anchor of the Humphrey-Limón legacy for more than 70 years, Betty Jones died at her home in Honolulu on November 17, 2020. She remained active well into her 90s, most recently leading a New York workshop with her husband and partner, Fritz Ludin, in October 2019.

Betty May Jones was born on June 11, 1926 in Meadville, Pennsylvania, and moved with her family to the Albany, New York, area, where she began taking dance classes. Just after she turned 15 in 1941, she began serious ballet study at Jacob's Pillow, which was under the direction of Anton Dolin and Alicia Markova for the season. Over the next three summers as a scholarship student, Jones expanded her range and became an integral part of Jacob's Pillow. Among her duties was working in the kitchen, where her speedy efficiency earned her the nickname of "Lightning."

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