Spruce Up Your Studio

Centerstage Starz in Littleton, CO

An attractive studio makes a great impression. “Its appearance is a reflection on your business,” says Michele Hamilton, owner of West Virginia–based Michele’s One Step Up Studio. “Parents want to know that their kids are in a clean, safe place.” For many studio owners, finding the time and funds to regularly upgrade furnishings, fixtures and equipment is key to long-term success. Here’s how Hamilton and other studio directors prioritize and tend to their studio environments.

 

 

Michele Hamilton

Michele’s One Step Up Studio

(106 students)

St. Mary’s, WV

“I like to buy one new piece of equipment each year,” says Hamilton. “Whatever money we have left over after year-end recitals and doing all of the payouts, I try to put back into the business before we take our summer break.” Purchases in recent years have included a wireless speaker system and an iPod dock, a tumbling incline and several back handspring machines, and miscellaneous decor items. “The amount we can spend fluctuates from year to year,” says Hamilton, adding that it usually ranges between $300 and $500.

This is on top of funds she sets aside for unforeseen issues. Hamilton cites one instance at her affiliate studio where a student fell into a large 72" mirror, causing it to shatter. “Luckily, insurance covered the damage and no one was hurt,” she says. “I have been fortunate enough to avoid a large replacement or having to fix major damages on my own.”

 

Danette Tomasello

5678 Dance Studio

(Approximately 900 students)

Modesto, CA

Co-owner Danette Tomasello’s priority is to keep her lobby looking shiny and new. Since many families have younger children and come from relatively far away, they tend to spend a lot of time at the studio. “It’s a must that our lobby be clean and presentable, which is tough when you’re working with kids,” she says.
Tomasello has the carpets cleaned every three months and also maintains a weekly contract with a janitorial company. Keeping the chairs in good condition has been one of the biggest challenges. “Our chairs go through lots of wear-and-tear from kids standing and playing on them,” she says. Last winter break, she had all of the chairs reupholstered—stretching her yearly upkeep budget from $2,300 to $3,300. To cover the difference, money was pulled from studio savings and a number of day camps were held during winter break to raise funds.

“With the economy, it can be hard to decide where to put your money, but having a fresh face for our lobby was worth it,” says Tomasello. Other improvements in recent years have included a shelf for dance bags and repainting the walls and hanging new photos. She also gives regular attention to the flooring, stripping and recoating the floors in bathrooms and break rooms twice a year.

To help manage cash flow, Tomasello often turns to barter arrangements with studio parents. “Many of our fathers are in construction and can trade out for various things in exchange for free classes,” she says.

 

Lindsey Evered-Ceilley

Centerstage Starz

(Approximately 600 students)

Littleton, CO

Six years ago, a water main break at Centerstage Starz flooded the entire studio, leaving the floors warped and destroyed. Rather than fix the damage, owner Taami Bash chose to start from scratch. “It was the Field of Dreams mentality; we decided to build our dream studio,” says Lindsey Evered-Ceilley, the studio’s director of business operations. “We wanted a state-of-the-art facility and a beautiful place where kids could come and express themselves.”

Bash found a new space twice the size just a block away and did a “complete build-out.” Today, Centerstage Starz is a 12,000-square-foot studio featuring five dance studios with suspended wood flooring and one-way viewing mirrors, complete digital sound system, locker rooms and snack bar.

Owner Bash earmarks a set amount monthly for improvements, but Evered-Ceilley says finances can be challenging during the slower summer months. Revenue from class enrollment must first cover routine monthly expenses like teacher salaries, construction loans and rent. To pay for extras, the studio holds Zumba classes and rents out studio space to capoeira instructors, ballroom programs and visiting conventions. DT

 

A former hip-hop, dance fitness and cheerleading instructor, Jen Jones is a Los Angeles–based freelance writer.

Photo by Antoinette DeGeorge, courtesy of Centerstage Starz

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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