Peeping Parents, Travel Costs and Music Editing

Kathy Blake, Suzanne Blake Gerety, Joanne Chapman and Barry Blumenfeld answer your questions

Q: My studio has windows looking in on each classroom. Lately, I’m finding parents glued to them, even trying to peek through cracks when the drapes are drawn. My teachers feel intimidated by overbearing moms, and the parents are distracting—sometimes waving or disciplining through the glass. I understand it’s important for parents to watch, and windows allow youngsters to see advanced dancers, but the parents are driving me nuts. What can I do?

A: We’ve found closed-circuit cameras to be the best solution. By showing the video feed on waiting-room monitors, parents can watch their kids without being a distraction. While your teachers still may feel a sense of “big brother,” they usually find the lack of interference well worth it.

Our studio purchased two 32-inch flat-screen televisions and called a local security company to install one closed-circuit camera (non-recording) into the upper corner of each studio. (This provided the widest view of the floor space.) They also mounted the TVs onto the walls of our waiting rooms and threaded the wires through the walls. In total, for the two TVs, cameras and professional installation, we paid $800. If we were the hammer-and-nail type, we could have saved on installation costs, but years of experience have taught us to hire the right contractors for any job.

While this solution can seem expensive, approach it as another opportunity to boost enrollment by making customers—the parents—happy. When moms can observe what happens week to week, they see their child’s delight and will often refer your studio to others. It’s still important to schedule regular visiting days when parents can see a portion or all of the class—it gives dancers the chance to perform for an audience in a relaxed setting before the year-end recital.

Kathy Blake is the owner of Kathy Blake Dance Studios in Amherst, New Hampshire. She and Suzanne Blake Gerety are the co-founders of DanceStudioOwner.com.

Q: I’m starting to book my studio’s travel arrangements for the upcoming competition season, and I’m worried about the expense for my students’ families. How can I keep everyone happy?

A:  Let your dance families know of competition plans before the year begins. We hold a meeting with all of the parents at the end of October and give them a list of the events that we plan to attend. We include the competition fees so that they can budget accordingly. The cost can be daunting, so make sure to emphasize the benefits that competitions and workshops provide for their children.

We also give parents a list of hotels and rates for every competition location. This way, parents can book rooms in advance and then change or cancel the reservations (if necessary) once the exact schedule is posted later on.

My studio is fortunate that there are many events available within driving distance. We don’t travel by bus because it limits the families’ ability to get around freely during downtime. Plus, buses require all parties to leave and return at the same time, and some families prefer to drive back and forth in the same day, while others like to make a weekend out of the event.

When traveling to Nationals with the full competitive team, we choose an event that can also serve as a great vacation spot. Myrtle Beach is a popular destination: Families can drive there, and because there is so much to do outside of the competition, it can double as a family vacation—especially when students aren’t dancing.

But remember, travel, food and lodging are big expenses not only for your students’ families, but also for your faculty. To offset the cost for your staff, I suggest attaching a small fee—about $5—to each dancer’s entry fee.

Joanne Chapman is the owner of the award-winning Joanne Chapman School of Dance in Ontario, Canada.

Q: I’m in the process of choosing music for my classes’ recital pieces this year. I do have a few songs in mind, but they’ll need some fixing. What are the best ways to edit a song for length and content? 

A: There are many free, downloadable music-editing programs, including Wavosaur, WavePad and Music Editor Free. But in my opinion, Audacity—while similar to the other programs—is the best because of its functionality and ease of use. Compatible with both PCs and Macs, Audacity gives you the ability to cut and paste sections, fade in and out or cross-fade, and adjust a song’s speed without affecting pitch, among many other effects. While its interface is fairly intuitive, there are two hurdles within the program. First, importing the music can be tricky because it does not read all music file formats. The program is meant for WAV, AIFF or MP3 files, so if you have music in another format, you’ll have to convert it or download extra tools (from Audacity) that let you work with other file types. Second, if you’ve purchased music that is protected, Audacity doesn’t allow you to edit it. But simply burn the music onto a CD, re-import it and start editing.

If you’re looking for something more advanced and are willing to pay for software, there are an overwhelming number of programs that range in function and cost. My personal tech guru and co-worker recommends Ableton Live, a program that actual producers and DJs use. It’s complicated, but there are tutorials online to help you get started and achieve professional sound quality.

If you are wondering about an editing app for your tablet or phone, as we say here in Brooklyn, “Fuhgeddaboutit.” Currently, there are no apps that have the functionality of these programs. This is a task that is best done on a computer.

Barry Blumenfeld teaches at The Friends Seminary School in NYC. He is an adjunct professor at NYU and on the faculty of the Dance Education Laboratory of the 92nd Street Y.

 

 

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Studio Owners
Courtesy Tonawanda Dance Arts

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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