Playing Favorites, Competition Costs, Music Technology

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

Q: I have a few students who spend almost all their extra time after school and on weekends at the studio, and I’ve naturally formed a tight bond with them. I don’t want to appear like I’m favoring them in classes over other students, but I do want to keep them as passionate, eager and involved as they want to be. Sometimes I feel like I’m neglecting them just to avoid favoring them. Please help!

A: First, acknowledge that every student is special and may require a different amount of attention at various times during their training. For instance, a student who spends so much time at the studio might really need a little extra attention. With this in mind, it is counterproductive to avoid students for fear of showing favoritism. Rather, it’s best to come up with ways to praise or acknowledge every student and develop a system to interact with students both on and off the dance floor.

In rehearsals, make a conscious effort to balance the amount of coaching, correcting and praising across all students. Outside of class, you can recognize all students on their birthdays, for example, or for regular attendance or years of participation. Consider creating a student-of-the-month program that honors a student’s teamwork and school spirit. For the eager students who are always at the studio, you could develop an assistant teacher-training program, or an extra performance or competition team. This will allow you to maintain professionalism in your interactions while giving them a constructive outlet for their energy and focus.

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 struggling to make ends meet when it comes to my studio’s competitive division. The choreographers and travel are expensive, and unlike in the recreational division, there’s no recital to generate extra revenue. How can I keep my comp division running? 

A: It’s a challenge, to say the least, to make competitive teams financially viable. One of the ways to do this is to fill all your classes. We encourage our families to enroll even their youngest dancers in multiple dance classes. By the time dancers are 6 years old, we make it compulsory for them to enroll in a jazz class if they’re in a tap or acro class, and as they get older, we require them to take a ballet class if they’re in a jazz class. Our junior company dancers are required to take one jazz, tap, hip-hop, lyrical or contemporary, and two ballet classes per week—and they’re allowed to sign up for more. Your dancers know that with more classes they will improve faster, and if you offer a multiclass discount, they’ll often choose to do more than the minimum. It’s a win for all—your students become more well-rounded, your classes are full and many of the competition expenses will be covered.

We also ask some of our competition faculty members to teach a few recreational classes. Although they often teach at higher rates, we find that this encourages some of the recreational dancers to enroll in more classes. To balance the higher cost, a number of junior teachers (who are at least 17 years old) teach recreational classes at a lower pay scale. These junior teachers are usually former competitive students who are in college. Though they teach as a part-time job, we hold them to the same standard of quality as the competitive teachers. Since your recreational program is your moneymaker, it’s imperative to maintain enrollment and show recreational parents that their children are receiving the best training possible.

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

Q: I know there are programs like Audacity that allow you to alter a song’s tempo. But to do so, I have to open the song, choose the tempo, convert it and then play it. It takes way too long. Is there a program that will let me do it instantly? 

A: Neutrino is a music-player program for Macs that has an easy-to-use interface. It pulls your music directly from iTunes, so your music will stay organized in the playlists you’ve created. The program lets you modify tempo on the spot, or you can save a song (and burn it to CD) at a different tempo. I use this feature in my tap classes if my students are working up to a particular speed. If they don’t make it to the actual tempo by performance time, I can make a copy of the version they’ve been practicing to and use that. Another feature I like is the looping function. When I’m working on a combination for class, I can focus on just a few bars of music and play it over and over until I’ve figured out the phrase.

Neutrino isn’t free, but before purchasing it for $29.95, you can download it from the internet for a 30-day free trial. And here’s a little secret: You can still use the software once the trial expires. The program will lose most of the functions, but the tempo-change ability will remain.

Windows Media Player has the ability to change the tempo while playing the song. Look under the menu “Enhancements,” and choose “Play Speed Settings.” This opens a slider that allows you to control tempo.

As for apps for portable devices, there are a few that work. I’m a fan of the iPhone app, Tempo Magic Pro. It is $4.99, but the app is worth the money because its slider interface is easy to use and you can create a playlist and then lock the tempo, so that all songs in the list play at the same tempo. Tempo SloMo is a great free option, and this app allows you to add markers so you can go back to specific points in the song. For Android users, Music Tempo and Audio Speed Change are apps that are highly rated and free.

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

Teachers Trending
Alwin Courcy, courtesy Ballet des Amériques

Carole Alexis has been enduring the life-altering after-effects of COVID-19 since April 2020. For months on end, the Ballet des Amériques director struggled with fevers, tingling, dizziness and fatigue. Strange bruising showed up on her skin, along with the return of her (long dormant) asthma, plus word loss and stuttering.

"For three days I would experience relief from the fever—then, boom—it would come back worse than before," Alexis says. "I would go into a room and not know why I was there." Despite the remission of some symptoms, the fatigue and other debilitating side effects have endured to this day. Alexis is part of a tens-of-thousands-member club nobody wants to be part of—she is a COVID-19 long-hauler.

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Teachers Trending

Annika Abel Photography, courtesy Griffith

When the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis last May catalyzed nationwide protests against systemic racism, the tap community resumed longstanding conversations about teaching a Black art form in the era of Black Lives Matter. As these dialogues unfolded on social media, veteran Dorrance Dance member Karida Griffith commented infrequently, finding it difficult to participate in a meaningful way.

"I had a hard time watching people have these conversations without historical context and knowledge," says Griffith, who now resides in her hometown of Portland, Oregon, after many years in New York City. "It was clear that there was so much information missing."

For example, she observed people discussing tap while demonstrating ignorance about Black culture. Or, posts that tried to impose upon tap the history or aesthetics of European dance forms.

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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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