For the past decade, Merritt Moore has been living a double life as both a professional ballerina and a quantum physicist. While dancing with Zurich Ballet and Boston Ballet, she received her undergrad degree from Harvard in physics, and she's currently pursuing a PhD in quantum physics at Oxford while performing with English National Ballet and London Contemporary Ballet.
Now, Moore is hoping to add another ball to her juggling act: becoming an astronaut. She's one of 12 contestants competing on the BBC reality show " Astronauts: Do You Have What It Takes?" For six weeks, Moore and her competitors face a series of demanding physical and psychological challenges to see if they're astronaut material. (Show mentor Chris Hadfield, former Commander of the International Space Station, will recommend the winner to space agencies recruiting for astronauts.) Even in a cast of extremely accomplished people—the contestants include a military pilot, a surgeon, and a dentist who has summited Mount Everest—Moore's unusual combination of skills stands out.
We leveled with the renaissance woman about how she's managed to pursue all her different passions.
Royal Dance Works
A studio owner for 33 years, Carole Royal has learned the hard way how to separate her passion for dance from her livelihood as a business owner. The four-time ambassador shares her experience and advice at the annual Dance Teacher Summit.
Carole Royal: If you’re working in a typical business, you expect to make a profit, but I think when it’s something you love, you feel guilty making money. When I first started teaching, I couldn’t stand to charge people. It made me feel terrible. I can’t tell you how much I gave away for free. I’d teach all my performance classes for free, choreograph for soloists and do extra routines for students without charging. I could only bring myself to charge for regular classes and wouldn’t add on for anything. As a result, I spent many years not doing well.
DT: What made you change how you approach your business?
CR: I started listening to books on tape about success, and I think that’s when it sunk in. I started realizing I work hard, and I deserve to make a good living. Some of the most helpful were Dare to Change: How to Program Yourself for Success, by Joel Alexander; The Success System That Never Fails, by William Clement Stone; and All You Can Do Is All You Can Do But All You Can Do Is Enough! by A.L. Williams.
DT: What should studio owners consider as they take their first steps toward becoming more business-minded?
CR: Anything you change, just make sure you do it gradually. If your performance kids have never paid a fee on top of their classes, you can’t jump in demand $350 extra. You can start with maybe $50 and then build from there.
At the Summit a couple years ago, someone talked about charging for recital costumes in the fall and I thought it was a great idea. I used to have parents pay a costume deposit up front with the rest of the money in May, but it was always this big hassle trying to collect. But when I made the change, a lot of people complained. And we didn’t say, “Too bad, too sad.” We explained that it was something a lot of other studios around the country had suggested and asked them to bear with us while we tried it out. Well, everybody was ecstatic when they didn’t have to pay a balance in May. Nobody says a word about the policy now. But you almost always have to go through a rough patch the first year. Just remember to be careful with your customers. Treat them the way you’d like to be treated. —Andrea Marks
Photos by Dustin Curtis
Seen & Heard At the Dance Teacher Summit
Co-owner, Center Stage Performing Arts Studio
Currently in her 25th year of business, Utah’s Kim DelGrosso was featured in our April 2012 cover story, “Where Ballet Meets Ballroom.” Her successful crossover studio was honored as Studio of the Year at the 2012 Dance Awards. Last summer at the Dance Teacher Summit, DelGrosso spoke about how studio owners can generate alternative income for their business.
Dance Teacher: Studio owners often need to look beyond tuition and costume purchases to support their businesses. What are the most unique ways you’ve found to bring in additional revenue to your studio?
Kim DelGrosso: We’ve had a creative year! Of course we rent to different dance groups in the area, but there are so many more ways you can be making money. I have a performing arts preschool and kindergarten that rent from me and a bunch of boutiques that set up in our studios. We’ve rented to colleges, we’ve had fencing classes here—any type of meeting or class that needs a big room, we try to get them to come to us. I make sure everyone in town knows my studio’s available for auditions—Disney has held a few auditions here. We also bought some good-quality chairs that people can set up for meetings, and it’s proven to be a good investment.
DT: Sounds like you’re open to anything! How can a studio owner who’s never done anything like this get started?
KD: Yes, everything is game! And a large part of it is just doing the work to let people know you’re there. For example, when I opened my first studio, I literally went through the white pages and called every person in town, telling them I was starting a studio and I’d love for them to come. Because of that, we opened with 450 students. If you make yourself known, they will come to you. Call local businesses, go to your chamber of commerce, participate in charities, build good relationships with your town’s newspapers. And don’t forget to use your studio parents for their resources and connections. Networking is where it’s at!
Photo courtesy of Kim Delgrosso
Seen & Heard At the Dance Teacher Summit
After studying dance in college, with minors in arts administration and math, Jessica Scheitler founded Financial Groove, dedicated to helping dance studios and entertainers with their bookkeeping. She spoke to studio owners about taxes at the 2012 Dance Teacher Summit.
Dance Teacher: What made you decide to go into this line of work?
Jessica Scheitler: As an independent choreographer after college, I did a lot of research for myself on bookkeeping, because when I got my tax return done I found I had to make a major case for myself. It became obvious to me that studio owners, artists and entertainers need an advocate. They seemed to be skipped over, because accountants weren’t speaking their language. I had the background in math and experience bookkeeping, so I decided to help people out. Since I was able to speak both languages, it all fell into place.
DT: When you spoke at the DT Summit, you mentioned that it works to a studio owner’s advantage to do things by the book—for instance, to bite the bullet and define a teacher as an employee, rather than an independent contractor, if there is any doubt about the status. Why?
JS: The general consensus among small-business owners is that they want to fly under the radar whenever possible. They think if they’re paying cash under the table they’re helping their business, but really that strategy is working against them.
People tend to be afraid of payroll because they have to pay employment taxes. And it’s a bit of a headache, of course. There’s more paperwork, there’s an extra 12 percent, approximately—depending on your state—that’s coming out of your pocket, and that feels like a burden. Ultimately, however, by defining a teacher as an employee (if she really is an employee and not an independent contractor), you can claim her earnings as a business expense. That will often help you out more. Also, the word is that this issue is something the IRS is going to start cracking down on soon.
DT: What is the number-one thing studio owners can do to improve their tax preparation practices?
JS: It starts with the bookkeeping. Many studio owners are not keeping complete books. I encourage them to be as detailed as possible when bookkeeping, to really go through their day and keep track of everything they do for their business so they don’t miss out on deductions.
They should also do a reality check now and then. People forget that something they justify as a tax write-off is still money being spent. So link reality to what you see in the numbers. Then it will all make more sense once you get to tax time. Things will fall into place much more easily if all the information is there.
Photo courtesy of Financial Groove
Seen & Heard At the Dance Teacher Summit
former owner, Dance Unlimited
As owner of Dance Unlimited for over 40 years, Danie Beck has seen her students go on to study dance in college and perform in national Broadway touring companies. A Dance Teacher Summit ambassador for three years, Beck has recently sold Dance Unlimited to a former student.
Dance Teacher: Over the years, you’ve had as many as 500 students performing in just one yearly recital weekend. How do you organize ticketing for such a high-volume event?
Danie Beck: For many years we went through the “waiting in line at 4 am with a lawn chair” routine, so by the time the parents got into the studio, they were so aggravated it was like dealing with a tiger! And when they got to the auditorium for the show, the grandmother would be saving six seats with a sweater, a purse and an umbrella and people got annoyed.
Something had to change. I couldn’t go through this horrific mob scene every year, so we started a lottery for requesting tickets. There’s an open period of about a week when parents can come in, draw lottery numbers and fill out ticket request forms for each show. At first the office would be mobbed on the first day, but people have learned it really is strictly luck of the draw, and it doesn’t matter when they come. They have an equal chance of getting the seats they want whether they arrive on the first hour of the first day, or right at the end.
DT: How do you assign tickets once you have the ticket request forms?
DB: I do it. I can do about one show an evening, going through the ticket forms, filling each request the best I can, starting with the lowest lottery number. It works well, it’s organized and everyone is polite about it. They understand it’s luck of the draw. One year you might draw number 9; the next year you might draw 99.
I also use the lottery to encourage early registration. If you register early, before April, you draw from a lottery bag of 1–50 instead of 1–100. So it’s useful as an in-house tool for registration, as well.
DT: Did you get a lot of pushback from parents when you made that change?
DB: I was lucky that the lottery worked right off the bat. When you make a big change, you have to believe in it, and you have to show that you do. You go in with a positive attitude. “It’s going to be so much better, you’re all going to be happier,” and so on. Then, once you’re made the change, you work with what you’ve created. You can expand it, or if it’s not working the way you’d hoped, you can adjust it, but you don’t need to announce that. You don’t say, “It wasn’t working like I wanted.” Always stay positive, because if people doubt the way you’re thinking, then they’re going to question every move you make. You simply say, “Yes, that worked well, but I think this will work even better.”
Photos from top: courtesy of Break the Floor Productions; courtesy of Dance Unlimited
Owner, Jazz Unlimited Studio of Dance Arts
As a successful studio owner for 42 years, Carryl Slobotkin has participated three times as an Ambassador at the Dance Teacher Summit, leading discussions on starting performing or competition groups at dance studios.
Dance Teacher: What’s your best advice for studio owners to consider when starting their own performing ensemble or company?
Carryl Slobotkin: Be firm with the parents. When their child doesn’t make it into the ensemble, the parents will claim their daughter is just as good as that one. You need to tell them what she needs more of in terms of technique before she’ll be ready for the ensemble.
Other times you get a child who has the desire and works hard but doesn’t have the facility. We’ve seen certain kids develop just because they want it so badly and it’s their passion. If you decide to let a student like this into the ensemble, you need to explain to the parents that once their daughter is in, they aren’t allowed to come to you and get mad if she’s dancing in the back line. You need to be clear that she might not be the star of the ensemble, but if she wants to work at it, you will give her that chance. If you know you’re being fair, you have to stand strong.
DT: How do you make sure all your students feel included at the studio, even when they aren’t part of the ensemble?
CS: We offer a Next Step audition program for kids 7–13 who aren’t in the ensemble but who have a little more interest in dance than those coming just once a week. They come every weekend and learn a big production number of their own to perform in almost all of our seven shows.
We also have an intern program for teens who don’t quite have the talent and the technique to make the ensemble, but they want a little bit more. The interns take almost as many classes as the ensemble: two ballet, two jazz and usually tap. They take those classes together as a group, and they go to one competition instead of the three that the ensemble attends. It makes them feel special. That’s an important thing—giving kids something a little bit more. It keeps them happy, and it keeps them at your studio.
DT: What’s the biggest challenge you face as a business owner?
CS: We’ve had to become a bit stricter when it comes to collecting tuition. We give a lot away. We give out maybe $40,000 worth of classes for kids who can’t afford them. But you have to be careful. Sometimes you get parents driving up in their BMWs and they’re complaining, and you realize that as an expense, you and your studio have been left for last. Teachers find themselves in hard times because they get so involved in the dancing, but if you own the studio, you need to remember the business aspect, as well. You can’t come down to June when kids are performing onstage and find that you’re still out $10,000. —Andrea Marks
Photos courtesy of Carryl Slobotkin
Royal Dance Works
Number of students: 500
Years open: 32
Dance Teacher: What is the biggest piece of advice you have for other business owners?
Carole Royal: For the first years of my business, I really just bobbed along, hoping for good circumstances without a real plan. I had a vast dance background, but trying to learn the business aspects of running my studio was hard. Setting concrete goals turned everything around for my business and my dancers. I gave a seminar on goal setting at the Summit, just like I give to my teachers every year. I even have my students write out their goals at the beginning of each year.
DT: What kind of things do the students write down?
CR: Some will say that they want to get their left split or a solid triple turn. Some will say that they want to receive a scholarship at a particular convention. If students really focus on what they want to accomplish, it brings them closer to it. It’s fun to go back and look at the goals that dancers have written, and what they’re doing now. One of our dancers mentioned that she wanted to dance with a star. She just toured with Lady Gaga!
“The Dance Teacher Summit has completely changed my business. I’ve utilized many suggestions from teachers across the country, like creating a new program for preschoolers and updating the way I charge for costumes. Next year for the first time, I’m going to be taking some of my teachers with me. I’m in Phoenix, so traveling to New York is a little bit hard for me. But after last year, I came back to my studio and said, ‘You guys just have to go!’” —Carole Royal, owner of Royal Dance Works in Phoenix, AZ
Photos by Dustin Curtis, courtesy of Carole Royal