Talking Shop

Insight on running a dancewear store in your studio

Students browse at A Leap Above Dance

Incorporating retail into your studio environment can add another layer of service and convenience for your clientele, grow enrollment and boost your bottom line as well as business skills. But selling dancewear on-site often comes with an added set of responsibilities and challenges. To provide you with experienced insight on running a dance boutique, we asked four studio owners with successful shops to share their ordering, price setting and managing methods.

 

 

Lynne Taylor-Kilgore

Synergy Dance Academy and Performing Arts Studio

(250 students)

Plymouth, MI

When Lynne Taylor-Kilgore and her mom opened The Dancers’ Niche at Synergy Dance last year, they made an initial inventory investment of $1,500, with an additional $600 for equipment and supplies like display racks, signage and merchandise bags. The investment is slowly paying off, with $200–300 of revenue per month. “Feedback from parents has been very positive,” Taylor-Kilgore says. “When we tell classes what type of tights and accessories they need, we can now say, ‘We have that for you right in the back.’”

The 400-square-foot boutique carries all dancewear essentials except for pointe shoes, for which Taylor-Kilgore provides referrals to another local shop. She and her mother (the store’s manager) meet once a week to consult on inventory. “Our initial order was a shot in the dark, but we keep track of what’s selling and use those figures to determine how much and what new stock to buy,” she explains. Her biggest piece of advice: “Make sure you pay attention to what the kids are wearing—not just what you think is cute—when ordering.”

Maria Bai

Central Park Dance

(1,200 students)

Scarsdale, NY

Miss Talia’s Boutique launched 24 years ago, when Central Park Dance opened. The 2,300-square-foot boutique is divided into three separate areas (children’s, adults and sale items), strategically placed outside each of the dance studios. Open seven days a week, the store carries everything from gift items to accessories to dancewear and shoes, and it brings in more than $16,000 in revenue every month. Owner Maria Bai says that 70 percent of the store’s
clientele are students; 30 percent of business comes from the public and outside referrals.

Bai and her husband, Mario LaStrada, rely on store manager Alice Masters to handle all retail matters, but Bai often works in the store fitting shoes. To keep inventory moving, they regularly run promotions, like offering a free leotard, shoes and tights to students who sign up for classes in June, or giving $50 store certificates to those who register early. “It really jumpstarts our class sessions and helps bring business to the retail end. Many people used the gift certificates as Hanukkah and Christmas gifts, and the recipients ended up spending more,” says Bai.

Lisa Girdy

Free to Dance Foundation/Encore! Dance Project

(100 students)

Ashburn, VA

Over its 26 years of existence, Encore! has seen a lot of transformation (most recently, a conversion to nonprofit status), but the one constant has been Encore! Boutique. The store currently provides anywhere from 5 to 15 percent of total revenue, and it is slowly rebounding to its pre-recession rate of 20 percent. To keep overall costs down, co-owners Lisa Girdy and Stephanie Johnson sell on demand, placing orders for students and using shoe-sizing kits to determine accurate fit. Samples and catalogs are displayed throughout the store, alongside regular merchandise like tights, skirts and legwarmers. “We’ve learned that having everything available all the time isn’t beneficial; it ends up going on sale and we have to sell it at cost,” says Girdy. She advises collecting payment up front and not allowing customers to put purchases on their studio accounts, unless they have a credit card on file. Why do they love running an in-house boutique? “It provides an extra service and convenience for our customers, and every time someone comes through the doors, it’s an opportunity to grow our enrollment,” says Girdy.

Natalie Nemeckay

A Leap Above Dance

(260 students)

Oregon, WI

With the nearest dance retail store 20 minutes away, shopping at A Leap Above Dance’s on-site shop makes life easier for those who frequent the studio. The shop started with a simple counter display. Now, after eight years, it is a 10' x 24' room adjacent to the studio. Owner Natalie Nemeckay estimates the shop brings in about 10 percent of total revenue.

The store sells tights, leotards, shoes and apparel, including branded logo wear that doubles as advertisement. It also sells show DVDs and recital tickets. The greatest challenge for her is working double-duty. The store is open until 7 pm every day, and although she has three employees and an office manager, Nemeckay still spends five hours a week ordering and additional time managing other needs. “It’s like running another business,” she says. “But when I look at the pros, they outweigh the extra work.” DT

A former hip-hop, dance fitness and cheerleading instructor, Jen Jones is a Los Angeles–based freelance writer.

Photo courtesy of A Leap Above Dance

Music
Mary Malleney, courtesy Osato

In most classes, dancers are encouraged to count the music, and dance with it—emphasizing accents and letting the rhythm of a song guide them.

But Marissa Osato likes to give her students an unexpected challenge: to resist hitting the beats.

In her contemporary class at EDGE Performing Arts Center in Los Angeles (which is now closed, until they find a new space), she would often play heavy trap music. She'd encourage her students to find the contrast by moving in slow, fluid, circular patterns, daring them to explore the unobvious interpretation of the steady rhythms.


"I like to give dancers a phrase of music and choreography and have them reinterpret it," she says, "to be thinkers and creators and not just replicators."

Osato learned this approach—avoiding the natural temptation of the music always being the leader—while earning her MFA in choreography at California Institute of the Arts. "When I was collaborating with a composer for my thesis, he mentioned, 'You always count in eights. Why?'"

This forced Osato out of her creative comfort zone. "The choices I made, my use of music, and its correlation to the movement were put under a microscope," she says. "I learned to not always make the music the driving motive of my work," a habit she attributes to her competition studio training as a young dancer.

While an undergraduate at the University of California, Irvine, Osato first encountered modern dance. That discovery, along with her experience dancing in Boogiezone Inc.'s off-campus hip-hop company, BREED, co-founded by Elm Pizarro, inspired her own, blended style, combining modern and hip hop with jazz. While still in college, she began working with fellow UCI student Will Johnston, and co-founded the Boogiezone Contemporary Class with Pizarro, an affordable series of classes that brought top choreographers from Los Angeles to Orange County.

"We were trying to bring the hip-hop and contemporary communities together and keep creating work for our friends," says Osato, who has taught for West Coast Dance Explosion and choreographed for studios across the country.

In 2009, Osato, Johnston and Pizarro launched Entity Contemporary Dance, which she and Johnston direct. The company, now based in Los Angeles, won the 2017 Capezio A.C.E. Awards, and, in 2019, Osato was chosen for two choreographic residencies (Joffrey Ballet's Winning Works and the USC Kaufman New Movement Residency), and became a full-time associate professor of dance at Santa Monica College.

At SMC, Osato challenges her students—and herself—by incorporating a live percussionist, a luxury that's been on pause during the pandemic. She finds that live music brings a heightened sense of awareness to the room. "I didn't realize what I didn't have until I had it," Osato says. "Live music helps dancers embody weight and heaviness, being grounded into the floor." Instead of the music dictating the movement, they're a part of it.

Osato uses the musician as a collaborator who helps stir her creativity, in real time. "I'll say 'Give me something that's airy and ambient,' and the sounds inspire me," says Osato. She loves playing with tension and release dynamics, fall and recovery, and how those can enhance and digress from the sound.

"I can't wait to get back to the studio and have that again," she says.

Osato made Dance Teacher a Spotify playlist with some of her favorite songs for class—and told us about why she loves some of them.

"Get It Together," by India.Arie

"Her voice and lyrics hit my soul and ground me every time. Dream artist. My go-to recorded music in class is soul R&B. There's simplicity about it that I really connect with."

"Turn Your Lights Down Low," by Bob Marley + The Wailers, Lauryn Hill

"A classic. This song embodies that all-encompassing love and gets the whole room groovin'."

"Diamonds," by Johnnyswim

"This song's uplifting energy and drive is infectious! So much vulnerability, honesty and joy in their voices and instrumentation."

"There Will Be Time," by Mumford & Sons, Baaba Maal

"Mumford & Sons' music has always struck a deep chord within me. Their songs are simultaneously stripped-down and complex and feel transcendent."

"With The Love In My Heart," by Jacob Collier, Metropole Orkest, Jules Buckley

"Other than it being insanely energizing and cinematic, I love how challenging the irregular meter is!"

For Parents

Darrell Grand Moultrie teaches at a past Jacob's Pillow summer intensive. Photo Christopher Duggan, courtesy Jacob's Pillow

In the past 10 months, we've grown accustomed to helping our dancers navigate virtual school, classes and performances. And while brighter, more in-person days may be around the corner—or at least on the horizon—parents may be facing yet another hurdle to help our dancers through: virtual summer-intensive auditions.

In 2020, we learned that there are some unique advantages of virtual summer programs: the lack of travel (and therefore the reduced cost) and the increased access to classes led by top artists and teachers among them. And while summer 2021 may end up looking more familiar with in-person intensives, audition season will likely remain remote and over Zoom.

Of course, summer 2021 may not be back to in-person, and that uncertainty can be a hard pill to swallow. Here, Kate Linsley, a mom and academy principal of Nashville Ballet, as well as "J.R." Glover, The Dan & Carole Burack Director of The School at Jacob's Pillow, share their advice for this complicated process.

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Teachers Trending

From left: Anthony Crickmay, Courtesy Dance Theatre of Harlem Archives; Courtesy Ballethnic

It is the urgency of going in a week or two before opening night that Lydia Abarca Mitchell loves most about coaching. But in her role as Ballethnic Dance Company's rehearsal director, she's not just getting the troupe ready for the stage. Abarca Mitchell—no relation to Arthur Mitchell—was Mitchell's first prima ballerina when he founded Dance Theatre of Harlem with Karel Shook; through her coaching, Abarca Mitchell works to pass her mentor's legacy to the next generation.

"She has the same sensibility" as Arthur Mitchell, says Ballethnic co-artistic director Nena Gilreath. "She's very direct, all about the mission and the excellence, but very caring."

Ballethnic is based in East Point, a suburban city bordering Atlanta. In a metropolitan area with a history of racism and where funding is hard-won, it is crucial for the Black-led ballet company to present polished, professional productions. "Ms. Lydia" provides the "hard last eye" before the curtain opens in front of an audience.

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