Martine van Hamel: How I Teach BalletBy Rachel Caldwell
Special Section: Supporting the Pregnant DancerBy Andrea Marks
How Injury Changed the Way I TeachBy Paula Frasz
Ask the Experts: Tuition PolicyBy Kathy Blake and Suzanne Blake Gerety
Theory & Practice: Keep an Injured Student on the Path to a Healthy RecoveryBy Julie Diana
History: Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf NureyevBy Rachel Caldwell
Higher Ed: Add Pilates and Yoga Certification to a Dance DegreeBy Ashley Rivers
Studio Business: Team Up with a Local Dance Store to Benefit Your Students and Your BusinessBy Colleen Bohen
With so much else on your plate, from navigating virtual learning to keeping your studio afloat, it can be tempting to to cut corners or to settle for less in order to check "costumes" off of this season's to-do list. Ultimately, though, finding a costume vendor you trust is paramount to keeping your stress levels low and parent satisfaction high, not to mention helping your students look—and feel—their absolute best. Remember: You are the client, and you deserve exceptional service. And costume companies like A Wish Come True are ready to go above and beyond for their customers, but it's important that you know what to ask for. Here are some tips to make sure you are getting the most out of your costume company.
Personalized Attention<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDQyNzU5MS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxMjI3ODAxM30.vWctFbtd38AbcuBVT65dNV77cQoSXbA6-u3RLIvzWbI/img.jpg?width=980" id="b6ea5" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="b1ea54f95510ab3ca1b1fec8626189de" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Rosa D'Aleo on her visit to A Wish Come True's Bristol, PA, factory (courtesy of D'Aleo)<p>Developing a relationship with your sales contact will help you understand the company's procedures and fulfillment processes, and they'll learn your style preferences and specific needs. Are you currently on a first-name basis with your sales representative? If not, you might want to rethink whether you're getting the best customer service experience. </p><p>Luckily, it doesn't take much effort on your part to get the ball rolling. Renee Stojek, A Wish Come True's Marketing Director, explains, "You can take small steps to building a relationship, like signing up for a quick Zoom meeting, or following the company on <a href="https://www.facebook.com/awishcometruedance" target="_blank">Facebook</a> or<a href="https://www.instagram.com/wishdancecostumes/" target="_blank"> Instagram</a>."</p><p>When Rosa D'Aleo opened Royal Dance Center of Babylon, New York, in 2014, she first researched several companies before choosing one for her recital costumes. She was most impressed with <a href="https://awishcometrue.com/" target="_blank">A Wish Come True</a> in Bristol, Pennsylvania, and she is still working with the same sales rep she's had since day one. "I went to their annual costume show, met the owner, got a factory tour, and was really impressed with the quality of the costumes," she says. "That first year, I didn't have to return a single costume—the sizes were right on, and their customer service was everything."</p>
Quality<p>Some vendors manufacture their costumes in overseas factories, which might help bring down costs, but doesn't always guarantee a consistent, quality product. Plus, production can take longer, which can then impact shipping and arrival estimates. "You pay for what you get. A Wish Come True is charging appropriately for the quality you receive, and it's made right here in the U.S.," D'Aleo says. "I know everything is going to come on time and it's going to fit my students."</p><p>For 30 years, the family-owned business has had a goal to create the highest-quality, American-made dance costumes with the most dependable fit and exceptional customer service, says Stojek. <a href="https://awishcometrue.com/" target="_blank">A Wish Come True'</a>s offices, factory, and customer service teams are all under one roof, so it's an easy conversation amongst colleagues to see whether an order can be expedited or if a certain fabric lot is still available. "Fabric dye lots can change over time, and that's important to know when your costumes need to have the exact same look onstage," Stojek says. "We can tell you if it has changed, or if you call for an exchange, we'll be able to get you the exact same costume."</p>
Special Requests<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDQyNDE2NS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYwNDE2NDU2NX0.Wib8L9_u6P-Ovu7Xb43qwA-__G-RSyvqnFWQymoVe48/img.jpg?width=980" id="48488" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="3db542008981f64546950fd2f5dd1328" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
(Courtesy of A Wish Come True)<p>What happens if you find the perfect costume to fulfill your artistic vision, but there isn't an option for the lone boy in class? Or, what if one of your younger dancers requires an adult size? Can your vendor handle special requests like these in a timely manner?</p><p>D'Aleo says she's had students grow out of their costumes before showtime, and A Wish Come True was willing to do a size exchange for her. She's also requested costumes for her male students, so they had costumes to match or complement what the girls were wearing. "They'll make it happen. It's phenomenal," she says. "With other companies, it just isn't the same."</p>
Discounts<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDQyNDE3Mi9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxMzUwNzI5NX0.Kfo-dwZyaIIPWUfffFta9pme2iKNJbPr2CY3_aHdVP4/img.jpg?width=980" id="7e376" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="e8c7babd7d844216bad8ed051553b103" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
(Courtesy of A Wish Come True)<p>Is your vendor helping you reach your maximum potential benefits? Ask them about the company's volume discount structure, and if it offers any loyalty plans. The more you order, the bigger the discount. And some vendors give extra perks in return for your continued loyalty.</p><p>One way to get the best volume discount is by combining recital, holiday, competition and dance-team catalog orders. At <a href="https://awishcometrue.com/" target="_blank">A Wish Come True</a>, for example, the volume discount provides 8 percent off of a $1,500 order—and the savings increase as the order size increases.</p><p>A Wish Come True also offers another discount when you participate in a<a href="https://awishcometrue.com/costume-shows" target="_blank"> free in-person or virtual costume showcase tailored just for your studio.</a> Make an appointment to shop the company's full collection in its showroom, or gather your teachers together for a personalized Zoom call. Whichever way you do it, you not only get the newest catalog and some fun promo items in advance, you'll get a $100 credit or an additional 3 percent discount for attending in person, or a $100 credit for attending virtually.</p><p>"You can really increase your discount right off the bat, especially if you start getting free shipping or free size exchanges," Stojek says. "Let your teachers know what two or three books you'll be ordering from so you can get the best discounts. That will also make it so much less complicated for the studio owner or office manager."</p>
The Bottom Line<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDQyNDE3Ny9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1NDkxMzc0M30.hjHNvkJxJPv4Ccq0iVMX5MXprfnw4GhJyEWIQ1jUWW0/img.jpg?width=980" id="2ee61" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="af6eb81d0ddb4917ce58f819304fe076" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
(Courtesy of A Wish Come True)<p>"The bottom line is, the more your costume company knows about you, the better they can serve you," says Stojek. "Small family-owned businesses like A Wish Come True can be flexible to fit your studio's unique needs."</p>
Given the long history of American choreographers who have threaded activism into their work—Katherine Dunham, Pearl Primus, Donald McKayle, Joanna Haigood, Bill T. Jones, Jo Kreiter, to name a few—it's perhaps surprising that collegiate dance has offered so little in the way of training future generations to do the same.
Until now, that is. Within the last three years, two master's programs have cropped up, each the first of its kind: Ohio University's MA in community dance (new this fall), and the University of Texas at Austin's dance and social justice MFA, which emerged from its existing MFA program in 2018. These two programs join the University of San Francisco's undergraduate performing arts and social justice major, with a concentration in dance, which has been around since 2000.
Charles Anderson created UT Austin's program in 2018.
Jennifer Reel, courtesy Anderson
What are these programs?<p>Tresa Randall, associate professor at OU, defines community dance as "anytime professionals are working with nonprofessionals. It's engaging people in the practice of dance—anything that goes beyond just coming to the theater to see a concert."</p><p>Randall first toyed with the idea of a community dance MA after seeing how many OU dance undergraduates wound up having to forge their own paths in the community dance field. "Sometimes there are existing jobs, but most often, someone is creating a new program or partnering with existing programs and integrating dance into those," she says. OU's program now makes that process easier, preparing students for jobs such as outreach directors for dance companies and teaching artists in both the private and public sectors. (The state of Ohio recently created a roster of teaching artists, so OU graduates can also apply to have their names added to a list of recommended arts educators.)</p><p>UT Austin's MFA in dance and social justice offers its students a place to workshop how they can marry their commitment to social justice to their physical practice. "All classes bring social justice to the forefront," says Erica Saucedo, who is in her third of five semesters at UT Austin. "Because I am a woman of color, and all of the companies I've worked with in the past were centered around anti-racism, I do feel like I arrived here with a lot of tools. But this program is providing me with really incredible mentors. And it's providing funding, so I actually have time to imagine how radically I want to go in the direction of liberation."</p>
Erica Saucedo (left) says UT Austin's program has given her invaluable mentors.
Kyle Netzeband, courtesy Saucedo
USF students learn how dance fits into bigger social contexts.
Lawrence Peart, courtesy USF
What sets them apart<p>Like most dance degree candidates, students at UT Austin, USF and Ohio University can expect to take a mix of classes: physical practice, pedagogy, performance, production. But they also take courses that involve community engagement, and that marry theory with real-world and embodied practice.</p><p>At USF, students can take Dance in the Community and teach dance to schoolchildren—or participate in USF's intergenerational dance company, Dance Generators, which pairs students with Bay Area adults.</p><p>At OU, graduate students take a course called Community Dance Theory and Practice during their first year, which surveys different models for community dance and studies research on the benefits of dance for certain populations. "We want to give graduates a bank of knowledge to use to advocate for the value of dance," says Randall. "With a lot of community dance projects, it's about convincing another entity to partner with you."</p><p>At UT Austin, a focus on physicalizing knowledge keeps theoretical concepts connected to the body. For example, one of Saucedo's assignments was to create a solo movement autobiography through the lens of her research, in conjunction with curriculum learnings about decolonizing "the mind, body and spirit," she says. "It was up to me how I could balance bringing in critical theory from scholarly materials with processing that information through the body." At a certain point, students are encouraged to "stop thinking about it, and put it in your body."</p><p>UT Austin students also combine their research with an applied project, as Saucedo has done with Geografía, a contemporary dance festival she co-founded that celebrates Latinx narratives. This summer, when COVID-19 forced Saucedo to suspend the festival, she earned summer credit writing about the festival.</p><p>Both OU and UT Austin allow students to craft their own physical practice pathways, depending on their interests and backgrounds. "We've been successful in drawing folks to our program who don't necessarily specialize in ballet or Western forms of modern," says Anderson. OU also offers students wiggle room in how long it takes them to complete the three-semester program, depending on how much time they need to explore course content and plan their capstone project.</p>
Ohio University's program prepares students to "engage people in the practice of dance."
Riley Perone, courtesy Ohio University
Why we need them now<p>These programs are responding to trends both in the dance community and in the wider world. "The concept of social justice is showing up everywhere," says Anderson. In recent months, conversations around decolonizing higher ed dance curriculums—which historically prioritize Western techniques and relegate diasporic ones to electives—have gained traction, but this concept was already built into UT Austin's program. "We're really invested in shifting policy in dance," says Anderson. "There's a yearlong course called Dance in Academia. We're exposing the Byzantine nature of academia in relationship to the professional field and curatorial practices. How do we shift away from European, patriarchal paradigms?"</p><p>The idea of using dance as an agent of change also permeates OU's master's program. "A lot of community dance programs," Randall says, "are born out of an issue that's of pressing concern for a community." The concept of community dance, surprisingly, has only become more relevant since the pandemic. "Shifting dance online raises questions: What parts of a dance class can we capture and deliver online? What parts get lost in that translation?" says Randall. "When we talk about adapting dance to different populations, that idea of translation is inherent."</p><p>Both online learning and #BlackLivesMatter have exposed long-held prejudices about dance training. It'll take time for higher education to catch up, warns Dowling. "It isn't a single event—changing curriculum—and there are no steps to follow," she says. It requires "unpacking, unlearning and undoing colonial ideas, infrastructures and goals embedded in higher education."</p><p>But students for whom dance and social justice already go hand in hand—and who've been trained with the tools to merge them effectively—are well-poised to seize upon this moment. </p>
As many dance teachers begin another semester of virtual teaching, it is time to acknowledge the fact that virtual classes aren't actually accessible to all students.
When schools and studios launched their virtual dance programs at the beginning of the pandemic, many operated under the assumption that all their students would be able to take class online. But in reality, lack of access to technology and Wi-Fi is a major issue for many low-income students across the country, in many cases cutting them off from the classes and resources their peers can enjoy from home.