You've grown up dancing; you can no longer ignore the itch to teach; you've been secretly planning your first recital theme for the past three years—in fact, you're eagerly hatching plans to open your own studio. While your passion for dance and desire to pass on such a beloved artform will be strengths for running a studio, they are by no means sufficient to make it a success. Owning a studio is a commercial venture that requires capital, business savvy and an almost obsessive attention to detail. Here are six risk-reducing strategies to ease into studio ownership.


Be an Apprentice First

The best way to learn about running a studio business is to work at one, preferably in different roles or jobs and over the yearlong cycle. You'll soak up lessons from different owners, with distinct customer and market profiles. (Professional courtesy demands, however, that your eventual studio exist in another area.) You can observe close up the ups and downs of running this type of business—typical problems and how they're solved, how cash flows in and out of the business. To give this hands-on experience context, educate yourself on business basics by taking advantage of your state and city's resources. Get yourself a mentor through a program like SCORE, a nonprofit small-business advisory association. At score.org, you can find business tips, counseling in person or by e-mail, local (free) workshop listings for small-business owners and even webinars. Above all, get comfortable with business financials and marketing.

Make a Name for Yourself

Long before you own your own studio, you can develop a student following, giving you a built-in clientele for your first year as a studio owner. Offer your dance teacher services to local after-school programs, gyms and churches.

Denise Schindler, who owns Blanchard Dance Center in Kenner, Louisiana, first offered dance classes to a local daycare center, making it as painless as possible for the owner. “I told her I'd send out the registration forms and the students would pay me directly," says Schindler. “I said it didn't matter if the kids were male or female—they didn't have to go change into leotards. And I traveled to the school to teach." After a couple of years, several of Schindler's students were ready to leave the daycare but still wanted to take dance classes with her—and a studio was born, with a guaranteed enrollment.

Write a Business Plan

A formal business plan is a crucial reality test to counterbalance your passion for your business idea. Do market research on your potential customers (a free widget, SizeUp, at sba.gov/sizeup will help), and test different pricing for classes based on variable classes offered and potential enrollment. Figure out all your costs, including those often overlooked: marketing, website design and upkeep, signage, studio-management software, equipment and insurance policies. Once you're launched, you'll often need to adapt this business plan, but the initial plan is a must-have blueprint to how you're going to make money. A great resource is sba.gov, where you'll find a 10-step guide to starting a business, with relevant blogs and access to local counseling, mentoring and training.

Get Creative About Space

Studio space is probably the biggest cost you'll face. If you buy or even lease your own location, you'll need to pay monthly mortgage or lease payments, and you may also need to invest in a build-out to adapt the space to your needs. Then there are ongoing bills for extensive utilities and upkeep. Consider renting an alternative space for classes, at least at first. As long as your demeanor is professional and your curriculum is legitimate, a space like a legion hall or Veterans of Foreign Wars hall could be a great locale for weekly dance classes. Offering to rent at typically slow rental time slots will often get you a cheaper rate.

Or consider adapting your garage or basement as a studio space. You're already paying rent or mortgage, and by working from home, you'll also benefit from a hefty tax deduction. If you're based in a bigger city and have a mostly adult clientele, don't overlook the novelty of pop-up dance classes in variable locations each week. Changing the location of classes often will require careful communication with your clients but can be an inexpensive, buzzworthy launch to your business.

Don't Go Wild Hiring

Rather than hiring an extensive dance faculty, teach as often as you (sanely) can, and ask around to see if local college dance students are looking for teaching experience or an internship—possibly for academic credit, depending on their university's policies. Today's college dance programs often incorporate comprehensive pedagogical practices into their curricula. Plus you can mold a new crop of dance teachers in your own style at lower hourly rates. For the more unwieldy children's classes, start your own class-assistant program, pooling class helpers from your older, more mature students. Have your dance helpers conduct bathroom trips, work the sound system and keep the energy high in the room. Many dance teachers reward their class assistants with a special number in the end-of-the-year recital or the occasional pizza party.

Schindler, who has kept her studio small, hired her first outside faculty member only after three years. She relied on her business-partner sister and, later, her own daughter to help her teach and manage classes. Now, after 15 years, Schindler has just hired two of her former students to come in and teach, one on a regular basis and the other as needed.

Try the Old Give-and-Take

Bartering for services is as old as commerce itself, and when done in a business-like way, it can be a cost-saver. Delegate certain office tasks—administrative work, studio cleaning and costume rhinestoning—to qualified and willing parents, in return for free or reduced tuition for their kids. Or offer free dance classes in return for accounting or legal services. For older and more responsible students, establish a work/study program with class credit in exchange for checking students into class, posting tuition reminders and publicizing studio updates.

“I love the barter system!" says Schindler. After discovering that a studio mom had a knack for artwork, Schindler exchanged free dance classes for recital scenery. A studio dad tinted her studio windows on the outside (to prevent nosy peepers) in exchange for tuition; another parent painted the studio's interior in return for dance classes.

The key to keeping bartering professional, Schindler says, is clear communication, preferably in writing. “You need to spell out exactly what you're looking for and what you're willing to give up for it, in terms of number of classes or dollar amounts," she says. “And if you convey the idea that the service is for the betterment of the studio, it raises the exchange above the merely transactional."

Owning a studio is certainly not a cheap or easy undertaking, but by reducing your risks and costs up front, you certainly improve your chances of building a sustainable business doing what you love.


The Conversation
Dance Teachers Trending
Photo by spinkickpictures.com, courtesy of Mitchell

"Popular music has an overall energy that lends itself to the street-jazz style," says Derek Mitchell. But over the last eight years or so, the choreographer, who also teaches contemporary, jazz funk and musical theater, has noticed a lack of great musicality and interesting lyrics. As a result, Mitchell's music searches often gravitate toward the classic hits from artists like Prince and Janet Jackson. "Rarely do I hear a new song that makes me go, 'Oh, I want to dance to that!'"

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
Students in Pulinkala's Cocoon. Photo by Robert Pack, courtesy of Kennesaw State

When Ivan Pulinkala was preparing for his interview at Kennesaw State University to create the school's first dance program, he figured the whole thing would be a lark, at best. After all, the New Delhi–born choreographer had just gotten his green card, which meant he could teach anywhere, and Kennesaw, Georgia (a half-hour outside of Atlanta), wasn't his first choice as a location. But after doing a scan of collegiate dance in Georgia, he began to change his mind. "I thought, 'Wow, if someone starts a big dance program at a public institution, the market's wide open,'" says Pulinkala. "There were some good programs, like Emory University, but they were niche—private and expensive."

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Harlequin Floors
Courtesy Harlequin Floors

Just like your car, your studio needs periodic tune-ups to keep it humming along smoothly. If you take the time to address a few small fixes, your business will stand out. And you don't have to break the bank, either—you might be surprised how low-cost, DIY improvements can make a surprising difference.

Keep reading... Show less
To Share With Students
Getty Images

When your students graduate and move to the big city to pursue their dreams, they'll almost immediately discover that there's a void left where your studio once was. Not only will they miss your instruction and daily support, but they'll miss having a physical space to work through challenging movement, polish their technique and improv with no one watching. Help them with their adjustment period by telling them about the studio spaces they can rent out when they need some one-on-one time with the mirror and the music.

Here are five for you to share with them—you're welcome!

Keep reading... Show less
Site Network
Gabriel Figueredo in a variation from Raymonda. VAM Productions, Courtesy YAGP.

This week, more than 1,000 young hopefuls gathered in New York City for the Youth America Grand Prix finals, giving them the chance to compete for scholarships and contracts to some of the world's top ballet schools and companies. Roughly 85 dancers made it to the final round at Lincoln Center's David H. Koch Theater on Wednesday. Today, the 20th anniversary of YAGP came to a close at the competition's awards ceremony. Read on to find out who won!

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer Health
Thinkstock

Q: A student of mine recently got a bad sprained ankle, and it's been weak ever since she returned to class. Are there any exercises you suggest to strengthen it?

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Photos by Kyle Froman

A few years ago, Mary Ann Lamb got a phone call from Ann Reinking, who was choreographing a production of The Visit starring Chita Rivera. Lamb was thrilled when Reinking offered her the role of Young Claire without even asking for an audition. "And then she said, 'In the first act, you're going to play Chita Rivera when she's a 17-year-old virgin,'" Lamb says, "and I'm like, 'What am I gonna do? I'm like 50 years old!' I started panicking. My dream was to be in the room with Ann Reinking and Chita Rivera, but I was scared to death I was going to make a fool of myself."

Keep reading... Show less
Dance News
YouTube

"WOD" is back for Season 3, and once again, the internet is loving it! How much do they love it, you ask? Well they've watched many of the dances millions of times, so it's safe to say—A WHOLE LOT! We did some research and discovered which dances have been watched the most since Season 3's premiere, and the results may surprise you.

Here are the top-four most viewed "WOD" videos of the season so far! Let us know your favorite over on our Facebook page!

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Thinkstock

Q: As a dance teacher, which products do you prefer, Apple or Google?

Keep reading... Show less
Unsplash

When it comes to running a thriving dance studio, Cindy Clough knows what she's talking about. As executive director of Just For Kix and a studio owner for more than four decades, she's all too aware of the unique challenges the job presents, from teaching to scheduling to managing employees and clients.

Here, Clough shares her best advice for new studio owners, and the answers to some common questions that come up when you're getting started.

Keep reading... Show less
Just for fun
Getty Images

The one thing that can unite all of us on April 15 is the fact that everyone hates doing their taxes. Though they are necessary, they are exhausting and time-consuming, and just plain no fun for anyone!

To help you cope, we've captured what doing taxes feels like through a series of dancer memes.

YOU'RE WELCOME!

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
Bartlett, front and center, leading a class. Photo by Arthur Fink, courtesy of Bartlett

When Hollis Bartlett began attending NYU's Tisch School of the Arts in 2007, the modern-dance faculty urged students to explore the relationship between composed music and dancing. Coming from a studio that typically used popular tunes or songs with lyrics, rather than scores by Philip Glass or John Cage, Bartlett found this valuable, yet challenging. "Now, as an artist I can fight that rule," says Bartlett, who's danced with Doug Varone and Dancers for seven years.

Keep reading... Show less

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox