Studio Owners
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Small businesses across the U.S. are keeping careful tabs on their states' reopening schedules and making changes to their business models accordingly. As pandemic-related guidelines and timelines evolve, it's important that you have a multilayered plan for the gradual reopening of your studio—one that prioritizes your dancers' and staff's health, reassures families that it's safe to return and allows you to operate your business to the fullest extent. Keep in mind that flexibility will be key: It's possible your state may experience a spike in new cases of COVID-19, requiring your studio's plan to take a step or two backward before it moves forward again.

Here are four crucial steps to preparing your studio for a flexible, responsive and well-considered reopening.

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Studio Owners
Talent Factory dancers performed The Clarity of Being Alive by Tara Iacobucci for NYCDA Foundation. Photo by Chris Coates-Mitchell, courtesy of NYCDA

Talk about being close: Dana and Hugo Adames have been together 18 years and have two kids who love to dance—and the couple owns The Talent Factory Performing Arts Centre, with two locations, 550 students and a third site in the works. Dana, artistic director, and Hugo, general manager, have a method for how they handle everything from parenting to business decisions: "We work as partners. We look at the pros and cons together before making any decisions," Dana says. "We have a mutual respect for each other and really talk about everything, all the time."

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Studio Owners
Sacramento Ballet began offering online classes to its SB School students on April 1. Photo by Scott Beckner, courtesy of Sacramento Ballet

On Wednesday, March 11—two weeks ahead of a statewide stay-at-home mandate—Colorado Conservatory of Dance executive director Richard Cowden and artistic director Julia Wilkinson Manley made the difficult decision to take all of CCD's classes online. As you'd expect, it wasn't easy. "This chapter in our future book will be called 'The 96 Hours From Hell,'" says Cowden, laughing, who joined the Broomfield-based nonprofit and its conservatory program of 200 students in 2018. "Over four days, we got together with our staff and faculty, all hands on deck, and launched our entire conservatory of classes online." You've probably done something similar at your own studio, scrambling to orient yourself and your staff with a video-conferencing platform (like Zoom, a popular choice among owners) for classes, as sweeping stay-at-home orders preclude in-person instruction.

COVID-19 continues to disrupt daily life as we know it, which means the state of your studio has been evolving often and rapidly. But regardless of what lies ahead, the skills you're learning as you pivot your business from in-person to online will come in handy again, no matter the crisis you're facing. We've compiled COVID-19-specific advice from the leadership of four studios and schools, in an effort to help you communicate and operate as effectively—and thriftily, and smoothly, and normally—as possible.

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Studio Owners
Shanna Kirkpatrick. Photo by Meghan McCluskey, courtesy of Chara Christian Dance Academy

For Shanna Kirkpatrick, owner of Chara Christian Dance Academy, the key to retaining 96.5 percent of her 1,000-student enrollment through COVID-19 has been communication: regular e-mail updates, mass studio text messages, personal phone calls and—perhaps most significantly—following up with Zoom no-shows.

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Studio Owners
Students and Studio Company dancers join Rawson on the steps of their new building, before social distancing became necessary for COVID-19. Photo by Daniel Garcia, courtesy of New Ballet

Silicon Valley Ballet announced in February 2016 that the company would close and file for bankruptcy. The closure included the school—and $250,000 in tuition money for the current school year and summer program was lost in the bankruptcy.

But the collapse could not take down Dalia Rawson, the school director. A survivor who had weathered the company's financial upheaval for years—and her own life-threatening illness—the bankruptcy didn't stop her.

Just two weeks after Silicon Valley Ballet closed, she incorporated a brand-new entity, New Ballet. What started as an effort to offer classes to the school's 250 students through the term they had already paid for turned into a fresh start for a school freed from a troubled company.

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Studio Owners
Photo courtesy of Shanna Kirkpatrick

Planning a recital pre-COVID-19 was enough to make even the most well-organized dance studio owner feel stressed. Add a global pandemic into the mix, and you've got a recipe for a nervous breakdown—not to mention a serious revenue shortfall. Good thing studio owners have resilience and creativity to spare: These three owners reimagined and restructured their recitals in only weeks. While their recital revenue will still take a hit this year, they've found inspiring ways to keep the families involved in and excited about end-of-year recitals—and, most important, eager to return as loyal customers, come fall.

Though each state offers its own plan and protocols for incremental reopening—with varying numbers of COVID-19 cases and trajectories—the one certainty across the board is that nothing is certain. Reopening may require some serious backtracking if it results in a surge of new outbreaks, so flexibility will remain a key part of any studio's success.

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Studio Owners
Rachel Arnold (top center) and her students. Photo courtesy of Dance Prodigy Studio

Rachel Arnold is a studio owner who knows how to transform lemons into lemonade. Rather than viewing stay-at-home orders as something to just power through at her Greenville, TX–based school, Dance Prodigy Studio, she's turned online education into a chance to offer students and staff alike enrichment activities and community-building content. "I wanted great ideas that would help bring the parents and kids back each week—an add-on, versus 'OK, I have to Zoom again,'" says Arnold, whose 10-year-old studio enrolls 100 students in 49 classes a week.

Her investment has paid off. Arnold reports a 97 percent enrollment retention rate since COVID-19 came into the picture, with 101.5 percent revenue retention, since a few students have even added classes. She doesn't have any plans to slow down, either, because she knows the offerings she sets up today will have a big effect on her business' health, particularly if online classes are a mainstay for studios for the next few months. "This next year, people will be looking for extracurricular activities that will step up and create interactions that are worthwhile for their children," she says.

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Studio Owners
Marlana Doyle entered build-out stage for her new business just before COVID closures. Photo by Ben Doyle, courtesy of ICD

When Houston's beloved METdance lost its lease in 2019, artistic director Marlana Doyle struck out on her own to open the Institute of Contemporary Dance Houston. With a new building, school and performing company, Doyle had carefully set the stage for an April 2020 grand opening.

"I wanted to create a space for everyone, from professionals to those trying dance for the first time—a real home for the arts," says Doyle.

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