News: American Dance Guild Festival—Honoring Legacies of Living Legends

Alice Teirstein with Stuart Hodes

In a month when New York City’s stages are full of Nutcrackers, the American Dance Guild (ADG) offers an alternative—a wide array of contemporary dancemakers at its Annual Performance Festival. In addition to four days of performances, ADG honors three game-changers of modern dance: Doug Varone, Alice Teirstein and Liz Lerman.

Gloria McLean, president of ADG, says that its role is “both promoter of the new and preserver of the living history of modern dance as an artform,” and this year’s honorees are representative of this vision. Each honoree has pushed boundaries and had an impact on the field of dance—and beyond.

Doug Varone—a choreographer of work for contemporary dance, opera, Broadway and film—created his company Doug Varone and Dancers in 1986 and has toured the world and performed in more than 100 cities. “Doug Varone and his company are at a peak of vibrancy,” says McLean. “He certainly is a mature leader in the field and a choreographer/performer/teacher who came upon his own vision early and has persisted with it brilliantly over many years.” His company performs Lux during the festival.

 

Alice Teirstein, an 86-year-old dancer, choreographer and dance educator, recently received a Bessie for distinguished service to the field of dance. Her Young Dancemakers Company, now in its 20th season, will perform. “Alice is, in a sense, one of our own,” says McLean. “She was a founding member of the American Dance Guild when it formed in 1956 at the 92Y as the Dance Teachers Guild, and she has mirrored the mission of the Guild in her own life work, spreading the benefits of modern dance as education, creation, performance and cultural heritage.” 

 

Liz Lerman, a pioneer for her work with intergenerational dancers, has created multidisciplinary stage works that build bridges between the arts and sciences, like her Ferocious Beauty: Genome, The Matter of Origins and her most recent work, Healing Wars, which looks at war’s impact on medicine. She founded Liz Lerman Dance Exchange in 1976, leaving it in 2011 to pursue her own work. On being an ADG honoree, she says: “I think some younger artists may be struggling with the same questions that I did. I hope that the presentation of my work can help them to see that it can be done. You can break rules.”

This year’s ADG festival features the work of 35 artists and/or companies. It takes place December 3–6 at the Ailey Citigroup Theater. DT

For more: americandanceguild.org

Emily Macel Theys writes on dance from the Pittsburgh area.

Photo (top) by Julie Lemberger; all photos courtesy of American Dance Guild Festival

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Studio Owners
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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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