Making the (Up)grade

As the saying goes, it takes money to make money: Spending a little now to spruce up your studio may do more than energize existing students—it could help attract new ones. Here, we offer ideas for every budget.

Major Overhauls: $$$
A stellar dance floor is essential to any great studio—and one of the most expensive components to upgrade. To make the most of your investment, be sure to do your homework. Contact companies that specialize in dance flooring, and they’ll provide samples and discuss the best options for your individual needs.

No matter what, investigate installation options before making a decision. Nancy Solomon Rothenberg, owner of Studio B Dance Center in Eastchester, New York, says it’s important to check your lease. “Sometimes when you’re leasing a space, there are certain things that have to stay,” she says. “Make sure you have portable floors so you can take them with you.”

After the floors, pristine mirrors are a must. If your studio has five-foot-tall mirrors, it may be time to upgrade. When Sarah-Jane Measor, co-owner of Menlo Park Academy of Dance in Menlo Park, California, decided to renovate her studio to coincide with the opening of a second location, she made sure to install mirrors that were eight-feet-tall to modernize the space. It’s also wise to upgrade to shatterproof glass. “Kids run into mirrors on purpose,” says Solomon Rothenberg, who adds that it can get tricky when ordering online, so make sure to ask the appropriate questions. If you prefer to buy from a local company, be prepared to make a specific request for shatterproof products.

The third most important part of any studio is sturdy barres. If you have only one row, update your space by adding another row at a varying height for students of different ages: “one for the adults and teenage kids, and one for the younger kids,” says Measor. Portable barres are another good transitional purchase for accommodating more students as your studio grows.

Ask local merchants if they’re willing to donate goods or give you a price break in exchange for helping to build a stronger community. For example, a paint store donated a good portion of the paint Measor used for her recent renovation and offered the rest to her at the wholesale price.

Minor Boosts: $$
Regularly upgrading your tech equipment is a must to keep your business competitive. For a renovation that will likely appeal to parents, consider installing a closed-circuit TV system. “When there are windows in the hallway, everybody stands around staring in, tapping on glass and disrupting class,” explains Solomon Rothenberg. “I put TV cameras in each room, and we have monitors in the lobby so parents can watch their children. You can do a split-screen or have the picture switch from room to room. When the doors are closed, the kids don’t know which moms are watching and which ones left to run a quick errand.”

A local security system company installed Solomon Rothenberg’s entire circuit, and the same company put her stereo speakers into the wall, giving her studios a clean look. Additionally, she upgraded her music system by adding iPod docks, eliminating the need to plug and unplug wires when switching between CDs and iPods. Investing in a laptop with music already downloaded onto it is another option to keep your CDs from getting scratched or lost, says Solomon Rothenberg.

Cosmetic Fixes: $
After your building’s facade, the lobby is where students’—and parents’—impressions of your studio first take shape. Make yours inviting and functional with some inexpensive improvements. Solomon Rothenberg recently set up a reading nook in her waiting area, which has been a huge hit. “We bought a crate and asked people to donate books to it,” she explains. “A lot of siblings wait with parents, and I don’t want to encourage food and toys in the waiting room. Instead of running up and down the hallways, kids rush over to the reading bin. There are also a couple of magazines for adults, to make everyone feel comfortable and welcome.”

Make your studio instantly look bigger by installing stackable cubbyholes from stores like Ikea or The Container Store, so students can stash personal belongings quickly and easily. Toy boxes in your waiting area can double as seating and additional storage. “Kids put stuff in piles against walls and take up a lot of space,” says Solomon Rothenberg. “Even if you have a small studio, bins give you room to accommodate more students as business grows.”

As more people are going green, get with the movement by making your studio more environmentally sound. “We switched all our cleaning supplies and soap to all-natural products,” says Solomon Rothenberg. “We also keep hand sanitizer in the studio and started using reusable, recycled water bottles instead of buying water,” she explains, adding that she prints both the studio’s logo and each student’s name on the individual bottles. Solomon Rothenberg also has recycling bins in her lobby.

Often, it doesn’t take a lot of money or effort to make transformative improvements to your studio. Make it a habit to pop into other businesses to see what they’re doing. “I always go into other studios when I’m traveling,” says Solomon Rothenberg. “Just stop in and get their fall brochure. That’s how you get a lot of good ideas.” Sometimes the smallest changes stand out the most. “Step back and look at your studio from a parent’s point of view,” suggests Solomon Rothenberg. “Make people feel like you care about them and their children.”

Sara Jarrett is a freelance writer in New York City.

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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