When Misty Lown founded Misty's Dance Unlimited in Onalaska, Wisconsin, purchasing her space was not an option. “I was fresh out of college, and I didn't want to be tied to a permanent situation," she says. Instead, she decided to lease with an option to buy after five years. Nineteen years later, she not only owns her own location (a different, bigger space than her original rental), but she offers consulting services to studios through her company, More Than Just Great Dancing. Transitioning to ownership made sense for Lown, but it's not right for every studio owner. Here are factors to consider when weighing your options.


When to Rent

As a first step. Buying space usually requires a substantial financial commitment, so renting offers a better first step for new studio owners. It lets them test the market and location, grow their clientele and start to make a profit (which usually takes a few years).

For flexible growth. Tiffany Henderson, who rents the eight locations of Tiffany's Dance Academy (seven studios in California, and one in Boise, Idaho), says renting gives her businesses the freedom to grow physically as they grow in popularity. “If you're buying, you have to predict exactly how big you'll get," she says. “But if you lease, you can always start small and then move to a bigger space—or downsize if necessary."

Having a landlord comes with trade-offs. While you cede some leeway in terms of changes you can make to the physical space, you also gain someone to turn to if something needs fixing or updating.

When to Buy

Buying guarantees more control over your space. “The biggest hurdle for me was coming up with that down payment," says Lown, who extended her lease a couple of years until she had earned enough money. “But over time, I knew I could own for close to the same monthly price as renting, so it became a matter of, 'Do I want my money to build somebody else's future or my own?'"

Tax advantages. Purchasing a building is generally done via a commercial mortgage with monthly payments similar to rent. The initial down payment will generally be about 20 percent of the total building price. Lown warns that taking out a loan can be an expensive process in itself. Expect attorney fees, inspection fees and title search fees and closing costs like bank fees, processing fees or appraisal fees, which can vary a good deal. “There were also new costs once I got inside, like building insurance and the water bill, that I hadn't accounted for," Lown says. But owning has financial pluses as well, like tax deductions for mortgage interest, property depreciation and maintenance costs.

Building equity. Once the initial loan fees are paid, monthly costs should be comparable to renting. And as owners pay their mortgages, they build equity in their property—the amount of the building you truly own. “We see so many school owners who get to the end of an amazing, productive and meaningful career as teachers, and they don't have an exit strategy," says Lown. “Having a real estate component to your service business mitigates some of the risk. When you get to the end of your teaching days, if you're not able to sell your business, at least you still have an asset with value."

4 Considerations When Negotiating Your Lease

If you rent, read your lease carefully before signing—and discuss with an attorney any terms that concern you. You will have the greatest leverage to negotiate when you first sign the lease.

Beware of hidden costs. “Some commercial lessors will come up with a lower cost per square foot, but they'll make you responsible for certain operating costs, like snowplowing," says small-business consultant Thomas Gray.

Check maintenance details. Be sure you know exactly what utilities are included, like heat and water. Plus, confirm that regular maintenance and improvements will not only be done, but will be done in a timely manner without extra cost. For example, Gray says he'll often stipulate that roof leaks need to be fixed quickly to avoid damage to studio floors.

Avoid competition. If you're in a strip mall or retail complex, you may also want to negotiate an exclusive-use clause, a provision that can prohibit your landlord from leasing to another tenant who offers dance classes.

Provide for an early release, just in case. Most landlords ask that you commit for several years, so review the sublease policy closely in case you want to move sooner, a lesson Henderson learned the hard way. When she opened her business, she signed on to rent a one-room studio for three years—and quickly outgrew the space. She decided to switch locations and sublet the original. “I thought, 'What's the worst that can happen?'" she says. “What happened was that for the next three years, my landlord said no to every person I brought to him, and we paid $3,500 a month for a space that just sat there. I wish I'd known to make sure the lease was written in a way that I could have more control."

Location, Location, Location

Renting or buying, location remains the most important decision when choosing a studio space. Parking availability and public transportation factor in, as does whether to pay more for space in a high-traffic area. A location off the beaten path may cost less but require a bigger investment in marketing. Small-business consultant Thomas Gray recommends scoping out neighboring businesses to judge whether the trade-off is worthwhile. “If you're in a strip center, you want the stores nearby to attract your target market. Toys “R" Us is a great neighbor if you're teaching kids."

Follow the crowd. Certain businesses, like grocery stores, dental offices or daycare centers, scout demographics systematically before moving in. “KinderCare, for example, is a national daycare franchise that has very specific criteria for where they'll put their centers—a certain population density, median income or distance from schools," says studio owner and consultant Misty Lown. “They've already done that research, and you can take advantage of that."

Make a tomorrow decision. Lown also advises studio owners to call their school districts and ask, “Where are you planning to build elementary schools in the next 10 years?" “Their answer might be counterintuitive, maybe on the outskirts of town where the next 500 homes are going to be built. But who's going to live there? Young families looking for a dance studio," she says. “You're not making a today decision; you're making a tomorrow decision. And finding that new blue sky takes some digging."

The Conversation
Dance Teachers Trending
Photo courtesy of Hightower

The beloved "So You Think You Can Dance" alum and former Emmy-nominated "Dancing with the Stars" pro Chelsie Hightower discovered her passion for ballroom at a young age. She showed a natural ability for the Latin style, but she mastered the necessary versatility by studying jazz, ballet and other forms of dance. "Every style of dance builds on each other," she says, "and the more music you're exposed to, the more your rhythm and coordination is built."

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Harlequin Floors
Burklyn Ballet, Courtesy Harlequin

Whether you're putting on a pair of pointe shoes, buckling your ballroom stilettos or lacing up your favorite high tops, the floor you're on can make or break your dancing. But with issues like sticking or slipping and a variety of frictions suitable to different dance steps and styles, it can be confusing to know which floor will work best for you.

No matter what your needs are, Harlequin Floors has your back, or rather, your feet. With 11 different marley vinyl floors available in a range of colors, Harlequin has options for every setting and dance style. We rounded up six of their most popular and versatile floors:

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Insure Fitness
AdobeStock, Courtesy Insure Fitness Group

As a teacher at a studio, you've more than likely developed long-lasting relationships with some of your students and parents. The idea that you could be sued by one of them might seem impossible to imagine, but Insure Fitness Group's Gianna Michalsen warns against relaxing into that mindset. "People say, 'Why do I need insurance? I've been working with these people for 10 years—we're friends,'" she says. "But no one ever takes into account how bad an injury can be. Despite how good your relationship is, people will sue you because of the toll an injury takes on their life."

You'll benefit most from an insurance policy that caters to the specifics of teaching dance at one or several studios. Here's what to look for:

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Owners
Getty Images

If you're not prepared, studio picture day can be a real headache. But, if done right, it can provide you with gorgeous photos that will make your students and parents happy, while simultaneously providing you with marketing content you will be able to use for years to come.

Here are five tips that will help you pull off the day without a hitch.

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Success with Just for Kix
Bill Johnson, Courtesy Just for Kix

Running a dance studio is a feat in itself. But adding a competition team into the mix brings a whole new set of challenges. Not only are you focusing on giving your dancers the best training possible, but you're navigating the fast-paced competition and convention circuit. Winning is one goal, but you also want to create an environment that's fun, educational and inspiring for young artists. We asked Cindy Clough, executive director of Just For Kix and a studio owner with over 40 years of experience, for her advice on building a healthy dance team culture:

Keep reading... Show less
Just for fun
Via YouTube

In its 14 years of existence, YouTube has been home to a world of competition dance videos that we have all consumed with heedless pleasure. Every battement, pirouette and trendy move has been archived somewhere, and we are all very thankful.

We decided it was time DT did a deep dive through those years of footage to show you the evolution of competition dance since the early days of YouTube.

From 2005 to 2019, styles have shifted a whole lot. Check them out, and let us know over on our Facebook page what you think the biggest differences are!

Enjoy!

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by World Class Vacations
David Galindo Photography

New York City is a dream destination for many dancers. However aspiring Broadway stars don't have to wait until they're pros to experience all the city has to offer. With Dance the World Broadway, students can get a taste of the Big Apple—plus hone their dance skills and make lasting memories.

Here's why Dance the World Broadway is the best way for students to experience NYC:

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Photo courtesy of Koelliker

Sick of doing the same old stuff in technique class? Needing some across-the-floor combo inspiration? We caught up with three teachers from different areas of the country to bring you some of their favorite material for their day-to-day classes.

You're welcome!

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer Health
Thinkstock

Q: I have a very flexible spine and torso. My teachers tell me to use this flexibility during cambrés and port de bras, but when I do, I feel pain—mostly in my lower back. What should I change so I don't end up with back problems?

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Owners
Getty Images

If you're a studio owner, the thought of raising your rates most likely makes you cringe. Despite ever-increasing overhead expenses you can't avoid—rent, salaries, insurance—you're probably wary of alienating your customers, losing students or inviting confrontation if you increase the price of your tuition or registration and recital fees. DT spoke with three veteran studio owners who suggest it's time to get past that. Here's how to give your business the revenue boost it needs and the value justification it (and you) deserve.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
Margie Gillis (left); photo by Kyle Froman

Margie Gillis dances the human experience. Undulating naked in a field of billowing grass in Lessons from Nature 4, or whirling in a sweep of lilac fabric in her signature work Slipstream, her movement is free of flashy technique and tricks, but driven and defined by emotion. "There's a central philosophy in my work about what the experience of being human is," says Gillis, whose movement style is an alchemy of Isadora Duncan's uninhibited self-expression and Paul Taylor's musicality, blended with elements of dance theater into something utterly unique and immediately accessible. "I want an authenticity," she says. "I want to touch my audiences profoundly and deeply."

Keep reading... Show less

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox