Maximum Impact

Make the most of your studio space

If there is one lesson to be learned from running a small business, it might well be: Things change. For that reason, DT sought the advice of veteran studio owners who have learned to build flexibility into their business plans. Here they share some ideas on how to design and use your space in ways that will strengthen your bottom line without tying you down.

Consider Portable Flooring

Whether you outgrow your space, or your rent outgrows your enrollment, nothing could be more painful than to leave behind a custom floor when you move. Maggie Parungao-Ferla, owner of Dance Theatre International in San Jose, CA, preempted that possibility by purchasing a portable Harlequin Liberty floor with Reversible double-sided marley-type flooring laid on top.

“We are happy where we are now, but it gives me peace of mind knowing the floor is portable,” says Parungao-Ferla. Completely free-floating, the floor consists of panels that can be easily moved or added to without creating permanent damage to rental space. “Our portable floors use a special clip system where nothing is permanently screwed into the floor,” says Claire Londress, marketing manager for Harlequin Dance Floors.

There is also the matter of versatility. While DTI offers mostly ballet classes, Ferla needed a surface that would work for jazz and tap as well. She purchased the Reversible flooring with the idea that she could easily take it with her for a performance. “Right now, we mostly use the black side, but it’s great knowing we could flip it and use the white for a performance,” she says. “It’s easy to maintain as long as we occasionally replace the tape.”

The Hedberg family, owners of Summit Dance Shoppe in Plymouth and Wayzata, MN, have been using Rosco Adagio Marley in seven of their nine dance rooms at their two locations. “We recently moved from a mall to our own building, so we just rolled up our Adagio floor and took it with us,” says Matt Hedberg, the facilities manager. “The floor gets great reviews by teachers and students alike. We also expanded into more rooms, so it was easy to just add on more rolls.” Because Summit Dance Shoppe offers a range of classes from pointe to hip hop, they needed a versatile surface. “The floor is even sturdy enough for the high-heeled ballroom dancers who rent the space during the day.”

Look Into Movable Barres

Leslie Updyke shopped around before purchasing portable barres from Stagestep for her two Leslie School of Dance locations in Western New York. “I was looking for a barre that was lightweight, easy to dismantle and sturdy enough to provide support,” says Updyke, who uses portables in nearly every dance room in her studios. “Portable barres also prevent my older students from gripping the barre and the younger ones from using them like monkey bars. I want them to learn to use a light touch on the barre and find their core strength.”

Portable barres also solved her space issue in an oddly shaped room where heaters prevented installing permanent barres, and in a basement studio with cinder block walls. “I want my dancers to have space to dance, and utilizing the center area just makes sense,” she says. “As for the basement studio, portables were a necessity.” Updyke says that her jazz and lyrical teachers use the barres for various stretching activities, and she likes how quickly they can be collapsed and removed for the ballroom renters.

“If you have a growing class, you are going to need more than the barres along the wall,” says Rosco Dance Floor product manager Caroline Rault. “And you also want to consider the changes you make to a rental space, such as permanent barres. Our barres are lightweight and can easily be put up and moved out of the way.”

Find New Uses for Existing Space

When Cory Hunt opened her one-room dance studio, Total Dance Inc., in Durham, NC, she knew tumbling classes would be popular with her younger students. With a roll-out mat, a wedge and a carpet from Carolina Gym Supply, Hunt was off and running with four levels of tumbling for ages 3–12. “I always danced and did gymnastics, and I find they go well together,” says Hunt. “It also opens up my studio to a whole new group of students.”

Patti Jean Spinillo, equipment consultant at Carolina Gym Supply, helps studio owners take their first step in starting a tumbling program, whether it’s just one class or several. “We ask a lot of questions,” says Spinillo. “We need to understand the studio’s goal before recommending our products.”

When Hunt moves into a four-room studio later this year, she will have a dedicated space for her tumbling classes and add on to her collection of apparatus. But for right now, she appreciates how quickly and easily she can transform her dance space into a tumbling room. “All of our products are portable, they come in a variety of colors and they can be put down and taken up in a matter of minutes,” says Spinillo. “A tumbling room can return to a ballet studio easily.”

Share Your Space

To fully maximize your space, you’ll need to find uses for your studio during hours when it’s otherwise vacant. Evelyn Ireton owns Houston-based West University Dance Centre and Houston Academy of Dance. She likes to keep the 6,000-square-foot West University location booked solid

during the day, as well as in the evening, when most of her classes take place. She has found a perfect fit with Ad Deum Dance Company, which rents two rooms every weekday, 9–3 pm. The location is ideal for local dancers because it is convenient to major highways, with both Starbucks and Whole Foods within walking distance. Ad Deum Artistic Director Randall Flinn also takes over the studio to conduct workshops during winter and spring holiday breaks.

“It’s a win/win for me,” Ireton says. “Randall brings new dancers into town, several of whom end up teaching at both of my studios.” She also says that Flinn and his company are gracious about welcoming people who drop by to ask questions. The situation is a good fit for Flinn as well. “Even though we are technically ‘just renters,’ we are treated as if this were our home, and that is exactly the way we feel,” he says. “It makes a huge difference to me and my dancers. And the extra teaching work supplements my dancers’ income considerably.”

Ireton has also built relationships with several former Houston Ballet dancers and ballroom teachers. They use the small studios during evening hours for coaching sessions and private lessons. On Sundays, she rents to an Irish dance troupe and she says that her studio is the place for out-of-towners to hold auditions. “People respond to the vibrancy and activity in the studio; it’s inspiring,” she says. “So many studios look empty during the early daytime hours. Mine looks thriving all the time. There is always something going on.” DT

Nancy Wozny writes from Houston, TX.

Photo ©

Keeping It Small

Marjie Major thought long and hard about Happy Feet Dance Studio’s redesign when she rented a 1,300-square-foot space in a strip mall in Cherry Hill, NJ, just outside of Philadelphia. “I had enough space for a small waiting room and two studios. But I thought about my clientele of young parents and went in the other direction with a large waiting room and one studio,” says Major, who has been in business for four years. “The waiting area is almost as large as my studio.” With an open space complete with a play area for younger siblings, a stroller-friendly wood floor and a viewing window, parents can be comfortable while they wait and watch. “There is nothing worse than trying to juggle a baby on your lap while you sit in an uncomfortable chair,” Major says.

“When parents call the studio, the first thing they ask is if there is a place to wait with younger siblings.” Handy bins make cleanup of crayons, trucks and books easy.

“I want to be in tune with my parents and create the feeling of a small restaurant,” says Major, who runs the studio with the help of two part-time instructors. “I know everybody’s name, and I offer a welcoming atmosphere.” Because younger students are more interested in early classes, the studio is often empty after 7:30 pm, when Major rents the space to ballroom and Pilates teachers. On Sundays, an Indian classical dance teacher conducts class, and Fridays will soon be filled with yoga. —N.W.

Barre, Floor and Mirror Makers



Ballet Dynamics/Finis Jhung

California Portable Dance Floor

Carolina Gym Supply

Dance Equipment International

En Pointe Enterprises Ltd.

Entertainment Flooring Systems


O’Mara Sprung Floors

Rosco Laboratories, Inc.


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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