On the Side

Jen Jones is a freelance writer and certified BalleCore instructor in Los Angeles. Her website is www.creative-groove.net.

 

Looking to generate more revenue at your studio? Provide added value to your clientele? Opening a side business onsite just might be a win-win situation. From cafés to retail shops, there are many options that give students and their families convenient access to services or products they may sorely need—and that put extra money in your bank account. Get inspired by these three success stories from studio owners who’ve found solutions that work.

 

Studio Soma 

West Hollywood, CA

Side business: Pilates studio

 

Located behind trendy TRAIN gym in the heart of L.A.’s West Hollywood district, Studio Soma merges owner Thalia Thomas’ two passions: dance and Pilates. The first floor houses Pilates equipment and a reception area, while a spacious dance studio occupies the second floor. “I wanted to target young dancers who weren’t getting taught injury prevention,” says Thomas. “I thought, ‘How wonderful would it be if they could go downstairs and have a form of physical therapy?’ It’s a wonderful synergy.”

 

In business since September 2005, Studio Soma offers private Pilates training and classes in aerobic dance, ballet, burlesque and Pilates mat. To garner interest in both sides of the business, Thomas has employed creative marketing techniques. “The winning ticket has been selling a package that is good for anything on the schedule,” she says. “I’ve scheduled different types of classes back-to-back—why not stay two hours and take dance at 6 and Pilates at 7?”

 

Thomas’ methods have evidently been effective. Due to high demand, she plans on relocating the studio to a larger space within the year. Looking back, she says patience has been the secret to her success: “My ideas were so big that I needed to take baby steps at first. When you add too much too quickly, nothing sticks. Give new classes and concepts time to grow. Each baby step will bring you closer and closer to your vision.”


Words of Wisdom

  • Hire multi-talented instructors. Many of Thomas’ dance teachers are also certified Pilates instructors. “Dancers like coming to a place like this because we are all trained dancers,” says Thomas, who studied at Australia’s Sydney Dance Company School. “They feel comfortable because we can simulate the ballet barre on the Reformer and use dance terminology to explain the movements.”

  • Reach out to loyal clientele to raise funds. Buying Pilates equipment can be a hefty initial investment, so Thomas enlisted the support of trusted customers as a form of fundraising. “I suggest reaching out to long-time clients who have already invested money and time in you,” she says. “Share your business plan and your vision, and see if they might be interested [in contributing].”


Leap Above Dance

Oregon, WI

Side business: retail shop

 

After opening her studio’s doors in 2001, Natalie Nemeckay quickly realized that the families patronizing her business had one thing in common: They needed a local dance retail shop. “We’re in a smaller community with at least a 30-minute drive to the nearest dance store,” she says. “I wanted it to be convenient for dancers to get what they needed for class.”

 

Once Nemeckay decided to open a store onsite, serendipity stepped in. A local antique shop donated an old countertop, and she found a well-priced clothing rack at Goodwill. Initially, Nemeckay erred on the side of practicality, offering limited store hours and carrying only the tights and shoes required for recital season. As interest grew, she expanded the store’s offerings to leotards, jazz pants and custom logowear. “It would have been really overwhelming to stock everything right away,” she recalls. “By starting small, it wasn’t a major expense and we could place orders as needed.”

 

Today, A Leap Above Dance’s retail store has expanded into a 10' x 24' space near the studio’s entrance, and Nemeckay is pleased with its progress. “Though the store isn’t our major source of profit, it definitely helps,” she says. “It’s been a really positive addition to our studio.”


Words of Wisdom

  • Do your homework. When getting started, research your state’s required paperwork and selling permits. You may also have to file quarterly taxes depending on the store’s projected volume. 

  • Use creative methods to attract customers. Along with clothing, show DVDs and recital tickets are available only from inside the shop. Nemeckay has also found success with logo apparel: “They see our store as a resource; it’s the only place they can get T-shirts and sweatshirts bearing our studio’s name!”

  • Encourage teachers to moonlight. “When our teachers have a one- or two-hour break, they’ll use that to work in the store,” says Nemeckay. “They make great salespeople, and they know how things should fit.”


Dance Conservatory of McAllen

McAllen, TX

Side business: snack bar/café

 

Shortage of activity is hardly a problem at the Dance Conservatory of McAllen, which offers a wide spectrum of dance classes, from ballet to tumbling and bellydance, for all ages. “We attract everyone from 3 year olds to senior citizens,” says owner Edward Pequeño, adding that the studio’s client base has grown to 120 students since opening in late 2006. 

 

In response to demand from this burgeoning clientele, Pequeño is now in the process of opening an onsite café that will offer healthy snacks and beverages to studio patrons. “We noticed a lot of parents sitting in the lobby waiting for their children, as well as dancers who would come to the studio starving after school,” says Pequeño. “Opening a snack bar was a no-brainer.”

 

Remodeling is currently in progress to make way for the café, and Pequeño envisions the final product as not only a place to get grub but to gather. A small stage will be incorporated into the café’s lounge area for students to dance, sing or read poetry, while large television monitors will be installed for parents to watch classes in session.


Words of Wisdom

  • Keep it simple. The studio’s menu will offer only premade items such as sandwiches, fruits and protein snacks, as Pequeño sees no need for a fully functioning kitchen. (Machines will also be on hand for whipping up smoothies and cappuccinos.) “When cooking hot items, you must meet a lot of city requirements—such as fire permits, grease traps and different types of sinks,” says Pequeño. “I don’t think students and parents are looking to dine, but rather to get healthy snacks in a convenient place.”
  • Staff wisely. To assist with the café’s launch, Pequeño has enlisted managers with previous experience at Starbucks and similar chains. Though it may be more budget-friendly to hire students to run the café, Pequeño advises against doing so—at least at first. “It’s too much of a liability,” he says. DT


Dancer Diary
Claire, McAdams, courtesy Houston Ballet

Former Houston Ballet dancer Chun Wai Chan has always been destined for New York City Ballet.

While competing at Prix de Lausanne in 2010, he was offered summer program scholarships at both the School of American Ballet and Houston Ballet. However, because two of the competition's winners that year were Houston Ballet's Aaron Sharratt and Liao Xiang, dancers Chan idolized, he turned down SAB. He joined Houston Ballet II in 2010, the main company's corps de ballet in 2012, and was promoted to principal in 2017. Oozing confidence and technical prowess, Chan was a Houston favorite, and even landed himself a spot on Dance Magazine's "25 to Watch."


In 2019, NYCB came calling: Resident choreographer Justin Peck visited Houston Ballet to set a new work titled Reflections. Peck immediately took to Chan and passed his praises on to NYCB artistic director Jonathan Stafford. Chan was invited to take class with NYCB for three days in January 2020, and shortly thereafter was offered a soloist contract.

The plan was to announce his hiring in the spring for the fall season that typically begins in September, but, of course, coronavirus postponed the opportunity to next year. Chan is currently riding out the pandemic in Huizhou, Guangdong, China, where he was born and trained at the Guangzhou Art School.

We talked to Chan about his training journey—and the teachers, corrections and experiences that got him to NYCB.

On the most helpful correction he's ever gotten:

"Work smart, then work hard to keep your body healthy. Most of us get injuries when we're tired. When I first joined Houston Ballet, I was pushing myself 100 percent every day, at every show, rehearsal and class. That's when I got injured [a torn thumb ligament, tendinitis and a sprained ankle.] At that time, my director taught me that we all have to work hard, memorize the steps and take corrections, but it's better to think first because your energy is limited."

How it's benefited his career since:

"It's the secret to me getting promoted to principal very quickly. When other dancers were injured or couldn't perform, I was healthy and could step up to fill a higher role than my position. I still get small injuries, but I know how to take care of them now, and when it's OK to gamble a little."

Chan, wearing grey pants and a grey one-sleeved top, partners Jessica Collado, as she arches her back and leans to the side. Other dancers behind them are dressed as an army of some sort

Chun Wai Chan with Jessica Collado. Photo by Amitava Sarkar, courtesy Houston Ballet

On his most influential teacher:

"Claudio Muñoz, from Houston Ballet Academy. The first summer intensive there I couldn't even lift the lightest girls. A month later, my pas de deux skills improved so much. I never imagined I could lift a girl so many times. A year later I could do all the tricky pas tricks. That's all because of Claudio. He also taught me how to dance in contemporary, and act all kinds of characters."

How he gained strength for partnering:

"I did a lot of push-ups. Claudio recommended dancers go to the gym. We don't have those kinds of traditions in China, but after Houston Ballet, going to the gym has become a habit."

On his YouTube channel:

"I started a YouTube channel, where I could give ballet tutorials. Many male students only have female teachers, and they are missing out on the guy's perspective on jumps and partnering. I give those tips online because they are what I would have wanted. My goal is to help students have strong technique so they are able to enjoy the stage as much as they can."

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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