Studio Owners
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I recently spent a Saturday night with my husband and my 17-year-old dancing daughter, who sobbed at the foot of our bed. My daughter revealed her experiences with implicit bias and overt racism in school, and especially in the dance studio.

For six years, she has danced at a classical ballet school tied to the city's ballet company. The previous six years were spent at a mid-sized recreational/competition studio. I want to recount a few examples of the racism that my daughter shared that night.

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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
Pam Simpson of Forte Arts Center. Photo courtesy of Forte Arts Center

As COVID-19 forced state after state into some form of lockdown this spring, most studio owners realized right away that they needed to evolve quickly—or else watch their enrollment plummet. Online classes became the key to business continuity, but with so little time to adapt material to remote learning and train faculty members on new technology, there was little room for finesse. But that's what Pam Simpson focused on first with her 600-student studio, Forte Arts Center, in Morris and Channahon, IL. She knew she needed to predict pedagogical issues that might crop up with Zoom dance education before they happened and offer solutions to keep students happy—and enrolled. And she knew the key to that was to invest in training her staff.

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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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Q: How do I stand out on social media if all the other dance studios seem to say the same things I do?
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