Smart Marketing

With the economy still sput-tering along, dance teachers shouldn’t rely on last year’s marketing tactics to get them through the seasons ahead. Instead, be creative and devise a new plan to get potential students in the door. And if you’re tightening your belt, be careful not to cut ad dollars too short. “You don’t want to cut your marketing in a tight economy. You want to cut extraneous marketing,” advises Kim T. Gordon, author of Maximum Marketing, Minimum Dollars. “You want to put your dollars where they’re going to work the hardest.”

Fine-tune your target customer and message.
Gordon suggests starting your new plan by writing a list of target customers—those who have a need, can afford what you’re offering and are willing to pay for it. “Whenever you have a tight budget, the first thing you do is reallocate dollars to the tactics that reach customers when they’re closest to making a buying decision,” says Gordon. A couple of examples include moms of 4-year-olds interested in beginning ballet, or senior citizens looking to enroll in a weekly tap class.

When your list is complete, decide on the image you want to communicate to potential students. Keep in mind that four years ago customers were more interested in the benefits of a product, but now price is at the top of the list. “You have to get the message out to parents that you understand what they’re going through,” says Gordon.

Weigh your media options.
With the target client and your message in mind, the next step is figuring out which media outlet will best suit your business. Here are a few options for you to consider:

E-Newsletters:
E-mail marketing is an inexpensive way to reach target audiences, and sending out e-newsletters is an excellent way to keep your customers informed while promoting your studio. Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater puts out a newsletter each month with information on The Ailey Extension, which offers dance classes for the general public. “I can honestly say the more targeted you can be, the higher the return rate,” says Alison Lucek, Ailey’s associate director of marketing. “For example, if we’re offering a belly-dance class, we’ll send out a dedicated e-mail to people who’ve already taken one. But the monthly newsletter works really well and we pack it with what people want, like jazzy pictures and lots of information.” (See below for more newsletter do’s and don’ts.)

Traditional media:
Don’t forget to include print media when itemizing your budget. Advertising in dance-related magazines and trade newspapers will go a long way toward reaching your target audience, as will a colorful brochure with class schedules that can be handed out to walk-ins. Rachel McRoberts, communications manager at Malashock Dance and the Malashock Dance School in San Diego, California, found that mailing or giving out postcards is a great way to make new contacts in the community. “We are also more aggressively looking for free trade and marketing opportunities,” says McRoberts. “For example, we put out other arts organizations’ collateral materials at our shows, and vice versa, basically creating a win-win situation.”

Don’t be afraid to try out new strategies.
Sometimes just pairing creativity with your business smarts is the most effective budget-cutting method. Last September, Pamm Drake, director and owner of Dance/10 Performing Arts Center in Alameda, CA, noticed a steep drop in enrollment and decided to cut corners elsewhere. “We backed off spending money on competition entry fees and costuming, and instead played up the educational component of dance. Parents are always going to want to spend money on a child’s education—that’s a given,” says Drake. The strategy worked and enrollment is now back up and growing steadily.

Providing customer incentives could also do the trick. According to Gordon, about half of all Americans belong to at least one customer rewards program, so offering discount cards for classes is another way to draw attention to your business. Randy Allaire, owner of EDGE Performing Arts Center in Los Angeles, offers class cards at a regular and professional rate, for anywhere from 1 to 30 classes. Rates are listed on the website, with savings noted in red. Drake offers a discount for students who register before September. Last year she also instituted a spring special: one month of unlimited classes for $99, which brought in a lot of new faces. “You have to pay your dues,” says Allaire. “But if you have a really good message that’s supportive of the kids, that’s a great plus.” DT

Newsletter Do's and Don'ts

Do highlight one of your teachers, course offerings and/or special events each month, using a photo and detailed information.

Don’t jam up your clients’ inboxes with e-newsletters—once a month is fine.

Do use software like PatronMail or Constant Contact to keep track of how many subscribers open your e-newsletter and click on links within it.

Don’t include more than six small articles within the newsletter. Content ideas include new classes, schedule changes and upcoming recitals and
performances.



Fiona Kirk is a freelance journalist based in New York City.

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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Teachers Trending

From left: Anthony Crickmay, Courtesy Dance Theatre of Harlem Archives; Courtesy Ballethnic

It is the urgency of going in a week or two before opening night that Lydia Abarca Mitchell loves most about coaching. But in her role as Ballethnic Dance Company's rehearsal director, she's not just getting the troupe ready for the stage. Abarca Mitchell—no relation to Arthur Mitchell—was Mitchell's first prima ballerina when he founded Dance Theatre of Harlem with Karel Shook; through her coaching, Abarca Mitchell works to pass her mentor's legacy to the next generation.

"She has the same sensibility" as Arthur Mitchell, says Ballethnic co-artistic director Nena Gilreath. "She's very direct, all about the mission and the excellence, but very caring."

Ballethnic is based in East Point, a suburban city bordering Atlanta. In a metropolitan area with a history of racism and where funding is hard-won, it is crucial for the Black-led ballet company to present polished, professional productions. "Ms. Lydia" provides the "hard last eye" before the curtain opens in front of an audience.

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