Etiquette Tips for Your Dancers Before They Leave for Their Summer Intensives

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Summer intensive season is just around the corner, which means it's time to begin prepping your students for the do's and don'ts of program etiquette. Of course your students know how to behave within the classroom (you've raised them right), but there are a few curveballs coming there way during their five weeks of intense training that you may need to give them a heads up for. After all, they're a representation of you and your dance studio every time they step out of your doors. Let's help them put their best foot forward!

We spoke with Pacific Northwest Ballet School managing director Denise Bolstad to get her advice for gracious summer program attendance. Be sure to share this with your dancers!

You're welcome!


1. Prepare your students to be good roommates.

"For many of the students coming to our intensive, this is their first time having a roommate. It would be helpful if dance teachers prepared them for what this entails. Decipher whatever special sleeping and living needs you may have with your parents, and then communicate them to your roommate or dorm advisor. Are you the kind of person who sleeps with a light on? Do you have trouble falling asleep by curfew? Do you have personal health habits that may affect someone living with you? Communicate, and be sensitive to the needs of others. Don't borrow each other's stuff without asking. Lastly, don't be afraid to come forward if you have a roommate who's been negative or makes you feel uncomfortable. It will keep you safe, and in the end, you're really helping that person."


2. Prepare your students to be gracious and patient with level placement.

"At PNB, our levels are not necessarily based on level of talent, but rather they are based on age and strength. That's generally really hard for the kids and parents to settle in with. If they are in level 5 but they really think they should be in level 6, that is a really big deal to them, but from our viewpoint it really shouldn't be. We look at placement very closely, and put students in the level we know they are going to be successful in.

"If your dancers are frustrated with their level, encourage them to wait a few weeks before coming to us and speaking respectfully about it. Classes really ramp up over the five weeks, and they may be pleasantly surprised by the difficulty of their classes. In the end, anyone can have a good class, and all of our teachers teach all of our levels. They aren't missing out on anything."


3. Remind your students that there is no acceptance of tardiness.

"Be prepared to go from class to class in a timely fashion. You simply can never be late. Make sure your roommates are awake and ready to go when you leave to get on the bus. Look out for one another."


4. Teach your students to adhere to dress and grooming standards.

"The dress code here is just your standard leotard, clean tights with no holes, no dirty shoes, and neat and tidy hair. Help your students develop good hygiene habits by reminding them to shower and wear deodorant. These are long days, if you don't. Remind your students to wash their clothes regularly."


5. Encourage your students to participate in the school's planned outings.

"Each year there are outings that the students do together. Recommend your dancers participate in them so they can enjoy the full experience. Remind them to reach out and encourage others to join them. Everyone should participate and feel included. If you see someone who hangs by themselves, ask them to join your group."


6. Double down on your no cell phones in the studios speech.

"It's important your dancers understand that it's disrespectful to bring their phones in the studio. What's more, teach them that they cannot take a photo of another person without their permission. If we find out about that, we will potentially send them home. They have to be very careful with what they think is acceptable. Be very careful about what you post on social media."

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Courtesy Tonawanda Dance Arts

If you're considering starting a summer program this year, you're likely not alone. Summer camp and class options are a tried-and-true method for paying your overhead costs past June—and, done well, could be a vehicle for making up for lost 2020 profits.

Plus, they might take on extra appeal for your studio families this year. Those struggling financially due to the pandemic will be in search of an affordable local programming option rather than an expensive, out-of-town intensive. And with summer travel still likely in question this spring as July and August plans are being made, your studio's local summer training option remains a safe bet.

The keys to profitable summer programming? Figuring out what type of structure will appeal most to your studio clientele, keeping start-up costs low—and, ideally, converting new summer students into new year-round students.


Find a formula that works for your studio

For Melanie Boniszewski, owner of Tonawanda Dance Arts in upstate New York, the answer to profitable summer programming lies in drop-in classes.

"We're in a cold-weather climate, so summer is actually really hard to attract people—everyone wants to be outside, and no one wants to commit to a full season," she says.

Tonawanda Dance Arts offers a children's program in which every class is à la carte: 30-minute, $15 drop-in classes are offered approximately two times a week in the evenings, over six weeks, for different age groups. And two years ago, she created her Stay Strong All Summer Long program for older students, which offers 12 classes throughout the summer and a four-day summer camp. Students don't know what type of class they're attending until they show up. "If you say you're going to do a hip-hop class, you could get 30 kids, but if you do ballet, it could be only 10," she says. "We tell them to bring all of their shoes and be ready for anything."

Start-up costs are minimal—just payroll and advertising (which she starts in April). For older age groups, Boniszewski focuses on bringing in her studio clientele, rather than marketing externally. In the 1- to 6-year-old age group, though, around 50 percent of summer students tend to be new ones—98 percent of whom she's been able to convert to year-round classes.

A group of elementary school aged- girls stands in around a dance studio. A teacher, a young black man, stands in front of the studio, talking to them

An East County Performing Arts Center summer class from several years ago. Photo courtesy ECPAC

East County Performing Arts Center owner Nina Koch knows that themed, weeklong camps are the way to go for younger dancers, as her Brentwood, California students are on a modified year-round academic school calendar, and parents are usually looking for short-term daycare solutions to fill their abbreviated summer break.

Koch keeps her weekly camps light on dance: "When we do our advertising for Frozen Friends camp, for example, it's: 'Come dance, tumble, play games, craft and have fun!'"

Though Koch treats her campers as studio-year enrollment leads, she acknowledges that these weeklong camps naturally function as a way for families who aren't ready for a long-term commitment to still participate in dance. "Those who aren't enrolled for the full season will be put into a sales nurture campaign," she says. "We do see a lot of campers come to subsequent camps, including our one-day camps that we hold once a month throughout our regular season."

Serve your serious dancers

One dilemma studio owners may face: what to do about your most serious dancers, who may be juggling outside intensives with any summer programming that you offer.

Consider making their participation flexible. For Boniszweski's summer program, competitive dancers must take six of the 12 classes offered over a six-week period, as well as the four-day summer camp, which takes place in mid-August. "This past summer, because of COVID, they paid for six but were able to take all 12 if they wanted," she says. "Lots of people took advantage of that."

For Koch, it didn't make sense to require her intensive dancers to participate in summer programming, partly because she earned more revenue catering to younger students and partly because her older students often made outside summer-training plans. "That's how you build a well-rounded dancer—you want them to go off and get experience from teachers you might not be able to bring in," she says.

Another option: Offering private lessons. Your more serious dancers can take advantage of flexible one-on-one training, and you can charge higher fees for individualized instruction. Consider including a financial incentive to get this kind of programming up and running. "Five years ago, we saw that some kids were asking for private lessons, so we created packages: If you bought five lessons, you'd get one for free—to get people in the door," says Boniszewksi. "After two years, once that program took off, we got rid of the discount. People will sign up for as many as 12 private lessons."

A large group of students stretch in a convention-style space with large windows. They follow a teacher at the front of the room in leaning over their right leg for a hamstring stretch

Koch's summer convention experience several years ago. Photo courtesy East County Performing Arts Center

Bring the (big) opportunities to your students

If you do decide to target older, more serious dancers for your summer programming, you may need to inject some dance glamour to compete with fancier outside intensives.

Bring dancers opportunities they wouldn't have as often during the school year. For Boniszewski, that means offering virtual master classes with big-name teachers, like Misha Gabriel and Briar Nolet. For Koch, it's bringing the full convention experience to her students—and opening it up to the community at large. In past years, she's rented her local community center for a weekend-long in-house convention and brought in professional ballet, jazz, musical theater and contemporary guest teachers.

In 2019, the convention was "nicely profitable" while still an affordable $180 per student, and attracted 120 dancers, a mix of her dancers and dancers from other studios. "It was less expensive than going to a big national convention, because parents didn't have to worry about lodging or travel," Koch says. "We wanted it to be financially attainable for families to experience something like this in our sleepy little town."

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