Geo Hubela’s Advice for Going From Professional Dancer to Studio Owner Without Skipping a Beat

A popular and highly sought-after dancer and choreographer, Geo Hubela has worked with stars and productions all over the world from French pop star "Lorie" to the MTV show BeComing. Geo isn't just a choreography sensation. He has also danced on film, onstage, and on TV. He was worked with everyone from *NSYNC to JLo. On top of his incredible professional career, Geo owns a dance studio called Icon Dance Complex.

Owning and running a successful dance studio is not an easy task. Showstopper got together with Geo for his advice on going from a professional dancer to studio owner.


Think Ahead
When Geo decided that he wanted to open a studio, he knew that it was going to take time to establish a system that worked for him and grow the studio into a place that his students would love to be. Because of this, he recommends planning to take time off from your professional career. "I had to be willing to make sacrifices in my professional career to focus on the business, so I took a good two years off to take the time necessary to open the studio," he says. Unfortunately, your studio isn't going to setup itself and your students are going to want to see and learn from you, so you have to take time to get to know them. If you want to become a studio owner, you have to make the time to take on that role. Don't think this means that you have to cut yourself off from your career, though! It just means that you have to be willing to know when the business you are creating will come first.

Have a Good Support System
One of the things Geo is most grateful for is his support system, his family, and his dance family. They all come together to make the studio what it is. A good support system is key to developing a studio that will create an inviting and encouraging environment for its students and that will allow you to leave for career opportunities you may have in the future. For Geo, this means hiring people he can trust and depend on. When he is home, he teaches at his studio, but if he has to leave to work as a professional choreographer and dancer, he doesn't want his students to feel lost without him. Because of this, all of his teachers are people his students know and love to learn from. "You have to have a support system of really good people that you trust, for sure. You are dealing with tremendous responsibility, and if you don't choose the right people and the right support system, your investment can go out the door."

Focus on Branding
As a professional dancer, you have to spend a lot of your time developing what potential employers think of you. This means developing a work ethic, collecting headshots, and creating a style to make you stand out from the crowd. Opening a dance studio works the same way. It is important to develop a brand that will attract students because people know what you have to offer. Being a professional dancer and choreographer sets Geo apart. Because he knows how the dance industry works, he can not only teach his students to be talented performers and hip hop dancers, he can also show them how to develop their own dance careers.

For Geo, developing a brand means creating a name that people will recognize and remember. Geo has a wall in his studio that features pictures of him and the people he has worked with. For students and parents looking at it, the wall brings to life Geo's long list of dance and choreography credits. When people can see and appreciate what you do, they will want to work with you. It is easy to tell people that you are talented, but showing them that you are talented and helping them to develop their own talents will give them a reason to appreciate what you can do and to look up to you as a teacher.

Know What You Do Best
Geo's strengths lie in hip hop. Because of this, he knew that starting a successful studio would rely on teaching what he knows best. Despite his talents, a ballet studio or a tap studio would not have blossomed in the same way that Icon has. If you are considering opening a studio, focus on your own strengths. If you know your own strengths, it will only make helping your students highlight their own strengths easier. The things you do best set you apart. They will help you build your brand, enhance your abilities as a teacher, and create an environment that will allow you to give your students everything you have to offer. Knowing what you do best also require you to assess your weaknesses. It's ok if you can't fill the shoes of every role in your studio. You don't have to! Your support system should fill in any gaps and enhance what you can do.

Come dance with Geo at one of Showstopper's 2018-19 Dance Conventions. Register today for a weekend of non stop dance!

By Veronica Good
Writer, Showstopper VIP

Geo Hubela is a choreographer, dancer, teacher, and producer. He is owner of Icon Dance Complex in New Jersey. Geo is an internationally known choreographer who choreographed national commercials for Jet Blue, Best Buy, Campbell's Soup campaign, and much more. As a performer, Geo has danced with stars such as Jennifer Lopez, Will Smith, P!NK, Britney Spears, 'NSYNC, Jessica Simpson, Selena Gomez, and Michael Jackson, to name a few. He has danced on MTV's America's Best Dance Crew and America's Got Talent. Geo's ICONic Dancers perform professionally at the Apollo Theater, Madison Square Garden and on Nickelodeon and MTV.

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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