A studio owner talks about how she grew the confidence to be business-minded.

I first taught dance at the high school where I worked as an English teacher. I’d danced my entire life and had a degree in theater. I used to take some of the kids to Roland Dupree’s professional dance center in California, and he kept urging me to open up my own studio. When my son was born, I thought being a studio owner might make for an easier time raising a child. (Little did I know!) I opened my studio in Phoenix, Arizona, 34 years ago with 75 students, and I’ve built it up slowly to about 500 students.

I had to learn that running a business required much more than being passionate about teaching dance. At first, I couldn’t stand collecting money from people. Maybe this was because I’d been teaching dance in a public school, where you don’t charge for classes. I kept equating running my studio with volunteering as a Girl Scout leader or coaching a peewee softball team. Having a business working with children where you charge a price was a rough concept for me. In hindsight, I wish I’d thought about pediatricians. They work with children, and they don’t volunteer—they make money! But I didn’t think that way then. I hired someone to collect the money, so that I didn’t have to face it.

Learning Not to Work for Free

My initial business plan was slim. I had tuition revenue, but I did everything extra for free. For instance, I choreographed everyone’s solos for competition at no charge. Then I began listening to other dance teachers. I learned that to run a successful business you need to get your income from several different sources, not just tuition. You need to understand that your time—or a staff member’s—is money. To choreograph a solo, you charge a fee. And when you stop choreographing and have another teacher create the solos, you still need to make sure that you’re getting a fee.

I never used to charge anything extra for conventions, either. But then I’d kill myself getting everything ready. When I began to tack on administrative fees, I was nervous—all the convention fees were published, and the parents would know I’d charged extra.

But it’s important to be aware of the standard practices in your market. I learned that other studio owners were already doing that, and I knew I could go back and tell that to parents. Even the phrase “tack on” is misleading, since it sounds like I’m doing something underhanded. What I’m actually doing is adding on fees to cover the services my studio provides. I’m transparent with parents that I add fees for something like fitting and ordering costumes. But I’m not specific about how much—I give a range.

Being up-front and unapologetic about charges doesn’t mean you have to divulge every single financial detail to parents. I’m not at all transparent about my personal finances, and I don’t share information about my studio’s profits and losses.

My New Guilt-Free Philosophy

A turning point for me was when I started listening to success books on tape. I’ve probably read or listened to hundreds of them: books on good customer service or how to build your business, and best-sellers like The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. One thing I learned is that you need to make sure the people who work for you want you to be successful. You have to surround yourself with people who are on your side.

I also realized that I should stop trying to prove parents wrong when they accused me of being wealthy. They seemed to think that their tuition was paying for my car, and it bothered me that they didn’t get the difference between my studio’s revenues and my salary. I felt like taking my W-2 and waving it in their faces just so they knew I wasn’t ripping them off.

Now, I’ve totally changed my philosophy. I decided that instead of trying to prove to parents that I don’t make what they think I do, I’m just going to go ahead and try to make as much as they think I’m making. I don’t feel guilty for driving a Lexus. My clients wouldn’t want me to drive up in an old jalopy—they wouldn’t be able to trust that I was good enough at this job, if all I could afford to drive was a jalopy. You need to communicate the idea that you are successful, and then you gain the confidence. And that instills confidence in your clientele.

The Right Price Lets You Deliver Quality

Setting prices at the right level is important if you want to build a sustainable business. Set them too low, and you’ll never be able to grow and offer new opportunities to your dancers, attract the best teachers, or even last for long. To decide on my prices, I first called other studios in the area. Our current tuition might be on the more expensive side, but I feel OK with that, because it reflects that my studio has top-notch teachers. If parents are dissatisfied with their child’s performance placement, I tell them, “You can trust us, we’re a national championship studio.” It’s possible that by changing studios their kid could be at the top of the totem pole, but that studio might not be able to push the child to their full potential.

I bend over backward when it comes to customer service, but I remain confident in the way I’ve chosen to run my business. People at the studio definitely think of me as the successful business owner now. Studio fathers, especially, tend to think of owning a dance studio as a hobby, but I think the fathers at my studio really respect what I do. Only a couple of my students will go on to be professional dancers. Mostly, I’m trying to shape them for success in whatever they do. I’m teaching them commitment, dedication and discipline, plus the ability to learn quickly, get along with all kinds of kids and listen to authority.

I’ve had students tell me that they want to grow up and be a successful business owner just like me. When you love doing something as much as studio owners love teaching dance, you don’t think you should be charging people. But the bottom line is: You can really love it and still make money and grow a business that will last. DT

Carole Royal is the owner/director of Royal Dance Works in Phoenix, Arizona.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CREATISTA/Thinkstock

 Photo (bottom) courtesy of Carole Royal

Dance Teachers Trending
Roshe (center) teaching at Steps on Broadway in New York City. Photo by Jacob Hiss, courtesy of Roshe

Although Debbie Roshe's class doesn't demand perfect technique or mastering complicated tricks, her intricate musicality is what really challenges students. "Holding weird counts to obscure music is harder," she says of her Fosse-influenced jazz style, "but it's more interesting."

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Dean College
Amanda Donahue, ATC, working with a student in her clinic in the Palladino School of Dance at Dean College. Courtesy Dean College

The Joan Phelps Palladino School of Dance at Dean College is one of just 10 college programs in the U.S. with a full-time athletic trainer devoted solely to its dancers. But what makes the school even more unique is that certified athletic trainer Amanda Donahue isn't just available to the students for appointments and backstage coverage—she's in the studio with them and collaborating with dance faculty to prevent injuries and build stronger dancers.

"Gone are the days when people would say, 'Don't go to the gym, you'll bulk up,'" says Kristina Berger, who teaches Horton and Hawkins technique as an assistant professor of dance. "We understand now that cross-training is actually vital, and how we've embraced that at Dean is extremely rare. For one thing, we're not sharing an athletic trainer with the football players, who require a totally different skillset." For another, she says, the faculty and Donahue are focused on giving students tools to prolong their careers.

After six years of this approach, here are the benefits they've seen:

Keep reading... Show less
To Share With Students
Photo via Claudia Dean World on YouTube

Most parents start off pretty clueless when it comes to doing their dancer's hair. If you don't want your students coming in with elastic-wrapped bird's nests on their heads, you may want to give them some guidance. But who has time to teach each individual parent how to do their child's hair? Not you! So, we have a solution: YouTube hair tutorials.

These three classical hairdo vids are exactly what your dancers need to look fabulous and ready to work every time they step in your studio.

Enjoy!

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Alternative Balance
Courtesy Alternative Balance

As a dance teacher, you know more than anyone that things can go wrong—students blank on choreography onstage, costumes don't fit and dancers quit the competition team unexpectedly. Why not apply that same mindset to your status as an independent contractor at a studio or as a studio owner?

Insurance is there to give you peace of mind, even when the unexpected happens. (Especially since attorney fees can be expensive, even when you've done nothing wrong as a teacher.) Taking a preemptive approach to your career—insuring yourself—can save you money, time and stress in the long run.

We talked to expert Miriam Ball of Alternative Balance Professional Group about five scenarios in which having insurance would be key.

Keep reading... Show less
To Share With Students
Via @madisongoodman_ on Instagram

Nationals season is behind us, but we just aren't quite over it yet. We've been thinking a lot about the freakishly talented winners of these competitions, and want to know a bit more about the people who got them to where they are. So, we asked three current national title holders to tell us the most powerful piece of advice their dance teacher ever gave them. What they have to say will melt your heart.

Way to go, dance teachers! Your'e doing amazing things for the rising generation!

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Owners
Getty Images

Enrollment is an issue that plagues brand-new and veteran studio owners alike. Without a steady stream of revenue from new students coming through your doors, your studio won't survive—no matter how crisp your dancers' technique is or how well-produced your recitals are.

Enrollment—in biz speak, customer acquisition and retention—depends on your business' investment in marketing. How effectively you get the word out about your studio will directly influence the number of people who register. Successful businesses typically use certain tried-and-true marketing strategies to recruit and retain clients or customers. These four studio owners' tricks for kicking enrollment into high gear are modeled after classic marketing techniques.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Turn It Up Dance Challenge
Courtesy Turn It Up

With back-to-back classes, early-morning stage calls and remembering to pack countless costume accessories, competition and convention weekends can feel like a whirlwind for even the most seasoned of studios. Take the advice of Turn It Up Dance Challenge master teachers Alex Wong and Maud Arnold and president Melissa Burns on how to make the experience feel meaningful and successful for your dancers:

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Thinkstock

Dance teachers are just as apt to fall into the trap of perfectionism and self-criticism as the students they teach. The high-pressure environment that is the dance world today makes it difficult to endure while keeping a healthy perspective on who we truly are.

To help you quiet your inner critic, and by extension set an example of self-love for your students, we caught up with sports psychologist Caroline Silby. Here she shares strategies for managing what she calls "neurotic perfectionism." "Self-attacking puts teachers and athletes in a constant state of stress, often making them rigid, inflexible and ultimately fueling high anxiety rather than high levels of performance," Silby says. "Perfectionistic teachers, dancers and athletes can learn to set emotional boundaries. They can use doubt, frustration and worry about missing expectations as cues to take actions that align with what they do when teaching/performing well and feeling in-control. Being relentless about applying a solution-oriented approach can help the perfectionist move through intense emotional states more efficiently."

Check out those strategies below!

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by The Studio Director

As a studio owner, you're probably pretty used to juggling. Running a business is demanding, with new questions and challenges pulling your attention in a million different directions each day.

But there's a solution that could be saving you time and money (and sanity!). Studio management systems are easy-to-use software programs designed for the particular needs of studio owners, offering tools like billing, enrollment, inventory and emails, all in one place. The right studio management system can help you handle the day-to-day tasks that bog you down as a business owner, leaving you more time for the most important work—like connecting with students and planning creative curriculums for them. Plus, these systems can keep you from spending extra money on hiring multiple specialists or using multiple platforms to meet your administrative needs.

So how do you make sure you're choosing a studio management system that offers the same quality that your studio does? We talked to The Studio Director—whose studio management system provides a whole host of streamlined features—about the must-haves for any system, and the bonuses that make an excellent product stand out:

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Thinkstock

Since the dawn of time, performers have had to deal with annoying, constant blisters. As every dance teacher knows (and every student is sure to find out), blisters are a fact of life, and we all need to figure out a plan of action for how to deal with them.

Instead of bleeding through pointe shoes and begging you to let them sit out, your students should know these tricks for how to prevent/deal with their skin when it starts to sting.

You're welcome!

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
Photo by Brian Guilliaux, courtesy of Coudron

Eric Coudron understands firsthand the hurdles competition dancers face when falling in love with ballet. Now the director of ballet at Prodigy Dance and Performing Arts Centre in Frisco, Texas, Coudron trained as a competition dancer when he was growing up. "It's such a structured form of dance that when they come back to it after all of the other styles they are training in, they don't feel at home at the barre," he says.

Keep reading... Show less

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox