Studio Owners

How Dance Prodigy Studio Has a 97 Percent Retention Rate—Yes, Now

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.

Assigning Homework—the Good Kind

One of Arnold's biggest successes has been organizing and sending homework packets to her students, each meant to last through a month's worth of classes. For her younger students, for example, she created a Frozen-themed packet, complete with coloring pages and stickers, while older kids got bingo sheets, word searches and anatomy sheets. (Parents could give out the Frozen and studio-logo stickers after dancers completed class on Zoom, mimicking an in-studio practice of Arnold's.) Arnold also hired an Elsa character for a story-time session and dance party as a complementary offering to that month's homework packet. "We've had some really good feedback—parents have taken pictures with their homework packets," she says. "They've been really grateful."

Despite how involved the packets sound, Arnold says they were a cinch. "Honestly, the thing that took the most work, after I got all of the packets printed, was stamping and mailing them," she says. "Because this happened before we went into full-blown quarantine, some parents came and picked them up from the studio."

Keeping Her Faculty Informed and Invested

To support her eight faculty members, Arnold initiated a weekly Zoom book club (with a suggested wine and cheese pairing). The group's first book, which they've been reading and discussing chapter by chapter, feels especially relevant during COVID-19: Creating Magic: 10 Common Sense Leadership Strategies From a Life at Disney, by Lee Cockerell. "It's about creating magical moments with your staff so they enjoy their job even more, which helps create student retention," explains Arnold. "Then your staff will want to invest in your business, because you made them feel special and worthwhile." She makes sure that her faculty finds ways to make the book's lessons applicable to the niche field of studio dance education. "We've been talking about how they're going to incorporate these ideas into their classes," she says.

A big part of supporting her faculty has also been troubleshooting the potential minefield of online classes with them. "Make sure you're really communicating with your staff," says Arnold. "Zoom classes are a lot more work, in terms of preparation, to fill the entire time. You can go through an hour-and-a-half class in 30 minutes." She reminds her staff, too, that moments of community and connection for the students can make a big difference in their newly isolated lifestyles. "I tell my faculty: 'It's OK to have a moment to stop and just have kids talk to each other,'" she says. "You can make it about community, not just dance lessons."

Higher Ed
The author, Robyn Watson. Photo courtesy Watson

Recently, I posted a thread of tweets elucidating the lack of respect for tap dance in college dance programs, and arguing that it should be a requirement for dance majors.

According to, out of the 30 top-ranked college dance programs in the U.S., tap dance is offered at 19 of them, but only one school requires majors to take more than a beginner course—Oklahoma City University. Many prestigious dance programs, like the ones at NYU Tisch School of the Arts and SUNY Purchase, don't offer a single course in tap dance.

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Teaching Tips
Getty Images

After months of lockdowns and virtual learning, many studios across the country are opening their doors and returning to in-person classes. Teachers and students alike have likely been chomping at the bit in anticipation of the return of dance-class normalcy that doesn't require a reliable internet connection or converting your living room into a dance space.

But along with the back-to-school excitement, dancers might be feeling rusty from being away from the studio for so long. A loss of flexibility, strength and stamina is to be expected, not to mention emotional fatigue from all of the uncertainty and reacclimating to social activities.

So as much as everyone wants to get back to normal—teachers and studio owners included—erring on the side of caution with your dancers' training will be the most beneficial approach in the long run.

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Teachers Trending
Photo courtesy TUPAC

When legendary Black ballet dancer Kabby Mitchell III died unexpectedly in 2017, two months before opening his Tacoma Urban Performing Arts Center, his friend and business partner Klair Ethridge wasn't sure she had what it took to carry his legacy. Ethridge had been working with Mitchell to co-found TUPAC and planned to serve as its executive director, but she had never envisioned being the face of the school.

Now, Ethridge is heading into her fourth year of leading TUPAC, which she has grown from a fledgling program in an unheated building to a serious ballet school in its own sprung-floor studios, reaching hundreds of students across the Tacoma, Washington, area. The nonprofit has become a case study for what it looks like to carry out the vision of a founder who never had the chance to see his school open—and to take an unapologetically mission-driven approach.

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