Everybody wants to dance nowadays, but who has the time? Kids are overscheduled and parents overstressed, so it’s important to remember one of the basic principles of successfully running a business: Know your customer. This concept holds true especially in today’s challenging economy. If your typical customer is the preprofessional student who longs to spend every waking moment in the dance studio, arranging a studio schedule is not so tricky. Hold the classes; they will come.

But if your customer is the dancer who also likes to play the tuba and run track; the little ballerina who comes in a carpool driven each week by a different stressed-out mom; or the preteen who dances because her friends do, you need to set a schedule that’s convenient for them all. And the top priority should be their convenience, not yours.

Luckily, with a little pre-planning and creative thinking, you can develop a timetable that not only works for your studio but accommodates—rather than complicates—your customers’ busy lives.

What Else Do Your Dancers Do?

Want a healthy enrollment in that sixth-grade ballet class? Better not schedule it at the same time as the local middle school’s soccer practice. Becky Seamster of Kokomo, Indiana, collects school information, from release times to marching band rehearsals, and works her September-to-June schedule around all of it. “The best way is to know what’s going on in the community,” says Seamster, who founded the Becky Seamster Dance Studio 25 years ago. “Even if it’s the brother or sister with a conflict, the neighborhood carpool won’t be running in that direction at that time.”

With parents providing info on sports teams, school musicals, show choir and cheerleading, Seamster fits her schedule around her students’ engagements, paying attention to ages and levels, and prioritizing ballet classes and team class requirements. “It is a challenge,” she says. “I put all the kids in a level together and try to find a common denominator that works for everyone. This one can’t come Tuesday; this one can’t come at 4:30. If it’s not exact, I choose as close as I can.”

Each May, parents at To the Pointe of Performing Arts fill out a form created by owner Sheri Masiello stating which days and times are best for them, and listing all potential conflicts with other activities. Masiello then diligently uses the information when creating her fall schedule. Masiello, who runs schools in both Cranston and North Providence, Rhode Island, says it makes life easier. “It tells us if the child is coming back, lets us know what she wants to take next year and helps us create levels. Our kids tend to do a lot of things—they have no time to dance five days a week.”

Know Your Customer

Parents appreciate timesavers such as schedules that allow siblings to dance on the same night. This is more important with younger ones—when the parents generally stay and watch class—than with older students, who arrive by carpool or are dropped off. Finding out details like this is essential for creating a schedule that works for parents, Seamster says.

Other factors, such as how long it takes students to get home on the school bus, are also worth considering. Due to the large Jewish population in Chicago, the schedule at Jessica Swiggum-Goldman’s All About Dance can’t conflict with the year’s bat mitzvah schedule. In Rhode Island, Masiello is equally conscientious about weekly Catholic education classes.

Scheduling suggestions from customers are greatly appreciated by Swiggum-Goldman, who will gladly fill an empty spot with a new class—as long as the parents who request it can guarantee a five-student enrollment. “Let the parents do the marketing for you,” she says. Then, if enrollment doesn’t pick up, she transfers those students into other classes and tries something else. “We saturate the schedule with tons of classes,” she says. “Once we randomly put classes on a Sunday, and they were packed.”

Schedule Faculty for Maximum Effect

Masiello, who has two studios to staff, hires teachers capable of handling a wide variety of classes. With “a staff that can teach everything and run the desk,” she is free to create a schedule with as many class options as possible, especially for her younger students.

To avoid wasting time by canceling and rescheduling classes due to faculty illness or absences, Seamster arranges her calendar so that teachers with the night off are capable of handling that night’s regular schedule, in the event she needs last-minute coverage. (One hip-hop teacher on, one off, for example.) Or, if that isn’t possible, she places similar styles and levels near each other on the schedule, so that if one faculty member is sick, the classes can easily be combined.

Limit Time at Recitals and Dress Rehearsals

With most studios holding multiple recitals, parents’ complaints about the time required—especially if their child has four dances in one recital and only one in another—are on the rise. This past year, Susan Montrond of Spotlight Dance Studio in East Taunton, Massachusetts, color-coded her class schedule based on the recitals the classes would be in. Classes were either in the red, blue or green recital. This way, by selecting all classes of a certain color, she says, parents limit the time they’ll have to spend at dress rehearsals and shows. “I have no idea where this idea came from—it just popped into my head,” says Montrond. “But it was a real timesaver for parents, and it saved me time and work. In the spring, everything went a lot more smoothly—even putting together the program book was so easy.”

This system also allowed Montrond to give parents recital information much earlier in the year. In the past, recital show order was announced in January. Some parents—particularly those with several dancing children—were either faced with attending multiple recitals or given the option of switching around classes at that time. By color-coding the schedule, everyone either had all of their classes in one recital or knew what they were up against by mid-September.

“The parents appreciated knowing in September if they were in two recitals,” Montrond says. “We only had four sets of siblings that were in two shows, because of the variety and number of classes they take, and those parents were very understanding. Of our 300 students, about 95 percent had all of their classes in one recital.”

Saving Time with Technology

Once the 50-class schedule at All About Dance is set, a scheduling software program helps Swiggum-Goldman stay organized. With classes running Monday through Friday from 9 am to 10 pm, and shorter Saturday and Sunday timeslots, “I feel that half of my job is scheduling,” she says. The software that Swiggum-Goldman uses, MINDBODY, logs details such as class openings and students’ names, information and credit card payments. Students can also register online—a hugely popular feature, especially for her large adult population, many of whom are not enrolled but enjoy the freedom of weekly drop-in classes, she says. (For more information on studio software, refer to “Operation: Studio Update” in the June 2008 issue of DT.)

To Change or Not to Change

After three years in business, Swiggum-Goldman feels she has finally set a basic schedule that satisfies her wide-ranging student population, from youth ballet to cardio striptease to private ballroom classes for engaged couples. “I’m trying to keep as much of last year’s schedule as I can. Last year’s was great—why change what works?” she says.

Keeping the same schedule wouldn’t work for Seamster, whose kitchen table disappears under a snowstorm of papers, schedules and jotted-down ideas for several weeks each June until a new, workable schedule for the next school year emerges. “My life would be simpler if the classes stayed the same and the kids moved around!” she says, laughing. “In the end, you have to prioritize. Find the most important issue, and work from there.” DT

Karen White is a freelance journalist and longtime dance instructor in Taunton, MA.

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