Studio Owners

3 studios Triumph In the Face of Unexpected Disaster

Danse Elite in Mamaroneck, NY, following Tropical Storm Irene. Photo courtesy of Melanie Hodges Malone

"It was surreal. Seven years of collected painted props, costumes, books, photos from concerts and thousands of dollars of dance apparel and CDs were all gone," says Jana Monson, whose Creative Arts Academy in Utah burned down last summer. But like other brave studio owners in her situation, Monson was undeterred. “The day after the fire, we made copies of the iconic World War II Rosie the Riveter poster that says, 'We Can Do It!' and placed them around the exterior of the building. I wanted my clients to know that we would persevere and overcome this tragedy."

While all might seem lost in the wake of this kind of devastation, your studio can survive. The key is to be as prepared as possible, never be afraid to ask for help and keep a positive attitude when the dust settles. Here, Monson and two other studio owners share how they revived their businesses after experiencing unexpected disaster.


Preparing for the Unexpected

Melanie Hodges Malone

Danse Elite

200 students

Mamaroneck, NY

When Melanie Hodges Malone moved into her studio space in 2008, she knew it sat in a floodplain. So as last August's Tropical Storm Irene neared Malone's Danse Elite, she removed all sound equipment and artwork the day before the storm hit. But that wasn't enough.

Irene's heavy rainfall caused six and a half feet of flooding. “When I looked into the window, the whole floor was lifted up because water and mud pushed it up from underneath," Malone says. “My first thought was, 'I don't even know how to come back after this.'"

The building owner's insurance covered only replacing the walls. Malone didn't apply for disaster aid because FEMA relief came in the form of small-business loans. Malone didn't want to borrow from the bank again—she had taken out a loan when opening the studio a few years back. Instead, she paid for the floors and mirrors out of pocket and upped her flood insurance coverage.

The total cost for mirrors alone was $7,000, due to labor—only one mirror had broken, but each time a wall was replaced, all mirrors had to be professionally moved. Replacing the original $24,900 marley and sprung wood floors wasn't an option because of the high cost and long delivery/installation period. So a student's father, who ran a contracting company, helped to install a new floor. Other studio families volunteered to scrub mud-caked furniture, paint rooms, rehang pictures and lay carpet squares. After spending $20,000 in repairs, Danse Elite reopened in time for the fall semester.

Malone's biggest mistake: letting young students see the building in shambles. “The younger dancers were so used to what it looked like before that when they saw it, they were hysterical," she says. Malone asked parents of young students via e-mail to avoid coming by the studio.

Through it all, Malone gained a deeper awareness of disaster's unpredictability. In retrospect, she would've packed up and removed many costumes and sentimental keepsakes that, because they were placed on top shelves, she didn't think would be damaged. But Malone is more grateful than ever to have a thriving business and strives not to take anything for granted. “Exhale. It takes a lot of work, but you can come back," she says.

Rebuilding a Sense of Hope

Jana Monson

Creative Arts Academy

700 students

Bountiful, UT

“Out of this tragedy we will be stronger" was the rallying cry for Jana Monson after her Utah studio, Creative Arts Academy, was damaged in a fire on July 30, 2011. The fire, caused by an HVAC company working on the building, collapsed part of the 100-year-old building's roof. Jana and her husband, Sean, an attorney in the Salt Lake City area, received a phone call at 2 a.m. from the fire dispatcher's office. They rushed to the scene to find several fire trucks pumping gallons of water into their studio. Smoke spread for several blocks, making it difficult to breathe, Jana recalls.

Creative Arts Academy was housed in two neighboring spaces; both were damaged: The three studios, office, kitchen and storage area in the building with the collapsed roof (at 185 South Main Street) completely burned down, and the water and smoke ruined two marley floors along with the Brazilian cherry ballroom flooring in their adjacent building at 165 South Main Street.

Instead of completely closing for repairs, Creative Arts continued to operate for the summer session. The Monsons shut down classes held in 185 South Main Street, but they rented four additional temporary spaces—only stopping classes for one week. (165 South Main Street closed for one month.) Approximately 100 classes, and tens of thousands of dollars in contents, were lost.

The Monsons decided to use the opportunity to rebuild 185 South Main Street into Jana's dream studio. To supplement the fire insurance proceeds and their savings, they secured $750,000 in loans. The new space, which opened this April, has four large studios, waiting and homework areas with built-in counter tops, seating and wi-fi, three storage areas, a main office, a teacher's area with kitchen and tables, four bathrooms, two dressing rooms and an enclosed glass vestibule where students can safely wait for parents. Marley floors and overhead speakers were installed in all classrooms, and additional speakers run near the entrance outside. Jana's favorite part: the wall of glass windows modeled after The Ailey Studios in Manhattan.

“You have a choice when this happens: You can either wilt and collapse in a shell of self-pity, or put a positive face forward," says Sean. “We were able to get through something I never thought we'd recover from, and we are continuing to survive.

The Power of Community

Nicole Drouin

Karen's Dance Studio

204 students

Joplin, MO

Nicole Drouin will never forget May 22, 2011. It was the day that an EF5 tornado ripped through Joplin and leveled her 41-year-old family business, Karen's Dance Studio. Drouin follows the same emergency action plan as local schools—take cover in the safest space—but luckily no one was in the building. The cinderblock and brick storage room that would have been the safe spot wasn't left standing.

After hearing about Drouin's misfortune, Ellen Ferreira of Costume Gallery immediately called to offer her help, even though the two had never met. Ferreira rallied the dance community's support through an e-mail campaign and suggested Drouin set up a relief fund. Area studios volunteered at fundraisers, and studios nationwide used their recitals as benefits. Drouin received hundreds of e-mails from across the country along with boxes of props, costumes, CDs, iTunes gift cards and teaching materials. The local paper gave free advertising space, Stagestep donated new dance floors and monetary gifts secured rented space, scholarships and apparel for students affected by the twister. Drouin estimates that gifts for apparel alone totaled over $20,000.

“When a tragedy hits like that, you go into a numb zone and do what you have to," Drouin says, adding that her first step was securing a new location. She found an old dance studio about three miles away, though the only parts still in place were the mirrors. Drouin spent approximately $20,000 on remodeling (she turned the single studio into two rooms) and $8,000 on sound systems, barres and decor. Some pieces from the old studio, like the shabby chic waiting room furniture, were refurbished. During renovations, a local dance studio allowed them to rent space for four weeks. The new location opened on September 7, 2011.

“Now, when it gets rainy or dark outside, or the sky looks strange, it's a whole different ball game," Drouin says. “We talk to our teachers about remaining calm. We changed our game plan to not just talking about our exit plan, but also about the demeanor while executing it."

Drouin was moved by the overall compassion of the dance community, and now she donates proceeds from Karen's Dance Studio recitals to other studios in need. “We have more than recovered from this tragedy," she says. “The dance community is so passionate, and it's extraordinary what we can all accomplish."

Disaster Insurance Primer

  • How much coverage do you need? Caitlyn Thompson of Colorado-based Anthony Insurance Services, Inc., says some carriers will take the size of your facility and multiply it by how much new commercial construction costs per square foot. For example, if your facility is 3,000 square feet, and the cost of commercial construction is $100 per square foot, buy $300,000 of coverage. Most policies will cover one year of actual loss sustained with a “business interruption" policy. Thompson also advises to renew policies yearly and/or when significant organization changes occur.
  • If you own: Acquire both a casualty policy to cover damages to the building, and a liability policy in case someone were to slip on the sidewalk. Attorney Sean Monson recommends creating two separate business entities for your studio—one that owns the building and one that operates the dance studio that rents from the building. (For the studio entity, take out renters' insurance for the contents and a commercial liability policy.) When the fire happened at Creative Arts Academy, the building was paid for structural damage, and the studio was paid for a portion of content losses.
  • If you rent: Get a policy that covers the loss of contents for barres, mirrors, CDs, costumes, furniture, etc. If your flooring is portable, it can be covered, too. In the event of damages, the landlord is usually only responsible for returning the space to the condition in which it was rented.


Dance Teachers Trending
Roshe (center) teaching at Steps on Broadway in New York City. Photo by Jacob Hiss, courtesy of Roshe

Although Debbie Roshe's class doesn't demand perfect technique or mastering complicated tricks, her intricate musicality is what really challenges students. "Holding weird counts to obscure music is harder," she says of her Fosse-influenced jazz style, "but it's more interesting."

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Dean College
Amanda Donahue, ATC, working with a student in her clinic in the Palladino School of Dance at Dean College. Courtesy Dean College

The Joan Phelps Palladino School of Dance at Dean College is one of just 10 college programs in the U.S. with a full-time athletic trainer devoted solely to its dancers. But what makes the school even more unique is that certified athletic trainer Amanda Donahue isn't just available to the students for appointments and backstage coverage—she's in the studio with them and collaborating with dance faculty to prevent injuries and build stronger dancers.

"Gone are the days when people would say, 'Don't go to the gym, you'll bulk up,'" says Kristina Berger, who teaches Horton and Hawkins technique as an assistant professor of dance. "We understand now that cross-training is actually vital, and how we've embraced that at Dean is extremely rare. For one thing, we're not sharing an athletic trainer with the football players, who require a totally different skillset." For another, she says, the faculty and Donahue are focused on giving students tools to prolong their careers.

After six years of this approach, here are the benefits they've seen:

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Thinkstock

Dance teachers are just as apt to fall into the trap of perfectionism and self-criticism as the students they teach. The high-pressure environment that is the dance world today makes it difficult to endure while keeping a healthy perspective on who we truly are.

To help you quiet your inner critic, and by extension set an example of self-love for your students, we caught up with sports psychologist Caroline Silby. Here she shares strategies for managing what she calls "neurotic perfectionism." "Self-attacking puts teachers and athletes in a constant state of stress, often making them rigid, inflexible and ultimately fueling high anxiety rather than high levels of performance," Silby says. "Perfectionistic teachers, dancers and athletes can learn to set emotional boundaries. They can use doubt, frustration and worry about missing expectations as cues to take actions that align with what they do when teaching/performing well and feeling in-control. Being relentless about applying a solution-oriented approach can help the perfectionist move through intense emotional states more efficiently."

Check out those strategies below!

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Alternative Balance
Courtesy Alternative Balance

As a dance teacher, you know more than anyone that things can go wrong—students blank on choreography onstage, costumes don't fit and dancers quit the competition team unexpectedly. Why not apply that same mindset to your status as an independent contractor at a studio or as a studio owner?

Insurance is there to give you peace of mind, even when the unexpected happens. (Especially since attorney fees can be expensive, even when you've done nothing wrong as a teacher.) Taking a preemptive approach to your career—insuring yourself—can save you money, time and stress in the long run.

We talked to expert Miriam Ball of Alternative Balance Professional Group about five scenarios in which having insurance would be key.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Thinkstock

Since the dawn of time, performers have had to deal with annoying, constant blisters. As every dance teacher knows (and every student is sure to find out), blisters are a fact of life, and we all need to figure out a plan of action for how to deal with them.

Instead of bleeding through pointe shoes and begging you to let them sit out, your students should know these tricks for how to prevent/deal with their skin when it starts to sting.

You're welcome!

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
Photo by Brian Guilliaux, courtesy of Coudron

Eric Coudron understands firsthand the hurdles competition dancers face when falling in love with ballet. Now the director of ballet at Prodigy Dance and Performing Arts Centre in Frisco, Texas, Coudron trained as a competition dancer when he was growing up. "It's such a structured form of dance that when they come back to it after all of the other styles they are training in, they don't feel at home at the barre," he says.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Turn It Up Dance Challenge
Courtesy Turn It Up

With back-to-back classes, early-morning stage calls and remembering to pack countless costume accessories, competition and convention weekends can feel like a whirlwind for even the most seasoned of studios. Take the advice of Turn It Up Dance Challenge master teachers Alex Wong and Maud Arnold and president Melissa Burns on how to make the experience feel meaningful and successful for your dancers:

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
Kendra Portier. Photo by Scott Shaw, courtesy of Gibney Dance

As an artist in residence at the University of Maryland in College Park, Kendra Portier is in a unique position. After almost a decade of performing with David Dorfman Dance and three years earning her MFA from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, she's using her two-year gig at UMD (through spring 2020) to "see how teaching in academia really feels," she says. It's also given her the rare opportunity to feel grounded. "I'm going to be here for two years," she says, which offers her the chance to figure out the answers to some hard questions. "What does it mean to not dance for somebody else?" she asks. "What does it mean to take my work more seriously? To realize I really like making work, and figuring out how that can happen in an academic place."

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by The Studio Director

As a studio owner, you're probably pretty used to juggling. Running a business is demanding, with new questions and challenges pulling your attention in a million different directions each day.

But there's a solution that could be saving you time and money (and sanity!). Studio management systems are easy-to-use software programs designed for the particular needs of studio owners, offering tools like billing, enrollment, inventory and emails, all in one place. The right studio management system can help you handle the day-to-day tasks that bog you down as a business owner, leaving you more time for the most important work—like connecting with students and planning creative curriculums for them. Plus, these systems can keep you from spending extra money on hiring multiple specialists or using multiple platforms to meet your administrative needs.

So how do you make sure you're choosing a studio management system that offers the same quality that your studio does? We talked to The Studio Director—whose studio management system provides a whole host of streamlined features—about the must-haves for any system, and the bonuses that make an excellent product stand out:

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer Health
Deanna Paolantonio leads a workshop. Photo courtesy of Paolantonio

Deanna Paolantonio had been interested in body positivity long before diabetes ever crossed her mind. As a Zumba and Pilates instructor who had just earned her master's degree in dance studies, she focused her research on the relationship between fitness and body image for women and young girls. Then, at age 25, just as she was accepted into the PhD program at York University in Toronto, she was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes (T1D).

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Robin Nasatir (center) with Peter Brown and Vicki Gunter. Photo by Christian Peacock

On a sunny Thursday morning in Berkeley, California, Robin Nasatir leads her modern class through a classic seated floor warm-up full of luscious curves and tilts to the soothing grooves of Bobby McFerrin. Though her modern style is rooted in traditional José Limón and Erick Hawkins techniques, the makeup of her class is far from conventional. Her students range in age from 30 all the way to early 80s.

Keep reading... Show less

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox