To Facebook or Not to Facebook?

Studio owners share social-media policies that work.

Take the time to create a social-media policy that works for your students and staff—you’ll thank us later.

Keeping up with the constant changes in social media may seem impossible. Even if you could remember the differences between pinning, snapping, tweeting and vining, you can’t possibly monitor every single post studio employees, students and parents make.

So what’s a busy studio owner to do? As burdensome as it may seem, the key is to take the time to create a social-media policy that protects your students and teachers from the worst of social media while still allowing for all the good things it has to offer. To help you create up-to-date and legally sound guidelines that fit your studio’s needs, DT spoke to three studio owners who have implemented successful policies.

Friends Without Benefits

Rejecting a friend request on Facebook or a follow request on Twitter can seem like a digital slap in the face—but it’s also something that Michelle Dawson encourages her staff to make a regular habit. “Our policy says that no staff member should be contacting any student under age 18 via social media,” says Dawson, who co-directs The Academy of Dance by Lori in Pittsburgh. “We ask them to direct their students to the studio’s Facebook page that everyone can friend.”

Dawson sets an example by not friending students or their parents on her personal Facebook page, even those she’s friendly with outside of the studio. “As close as I feel to these kids, I still have to remind myself that this is a professional relationship,” she says.

Sue Sampson-Dalena, owner of The Dance Studio of Fresno in California, has a similar policy, and for teachers who are reluctant, she says it’s helpful to compare the situation to high school, where students would never expect to be Facebook friends with their teachers. “I know some of my younger faculty think I’m old-fashioned, but there just has to be a line there,” she says. “If they step back and remember that we are educators just like a math teacher or school principal, they’ll realize it’s the right thing to do.”

One of the inherent problems with social media, however, is that it’s nearly impossible to keep tabs on, so it’s easy for staff (especially those with private accounts) to bend the rules. Even if you wanted to, employers are not legally able to fire employees based on whom they contact on social media, regardless of in-studio policy.

Staff members are more likely to follow the policy when they truly understand why it’s in place, and when their employer is flexible and open. Dawson says keeping an open dialogue makes teachers more willing to come to her when they have an issue with the policy. “When teachers approach us about specific situations, we’ll think about it,” she says. “For example, I have staff members who are Facebook friends with their young kid’s friends to monitor their own child. And I also have a teacher who’s good friends with some studio families, so she’s made a separate ‘teacher’ page for those parents who want to friend her, which is separate from her personal page.”

To Post or Not to Post

As far as what employees post on personal pages, the law, enforced by the National Labor Relations Board, says you may ask employees to be courteous and reflect your business in a positive light, but breaking these rules may not necessarily be grounds for lawful termination. Focus on helping your staff realize that they’re representing both your studio and themselves. And, of course, it helps to hire a staff that you trust to keep an open dialogue.

Sampson-Dalena worries more about what her students are posting, so she has her teams sign a code of ethics at the start of their season. “It says they will not post anything inappropriate, demeaning or provocative online, especially if they’re wearing Dance Studio of Fresno swag,” she says. “I’ve only had to call in a dancer once to ask if she was prepared for me to show her parents what she’d posted. It became a teaching moment about how the outside world, including future employers, will see her.”

Perhaps the biggest downside of social media comes when posts from students (or even the occasional parent) involve nasty comments, unflattering images or brutal private messages. Studio owners agree—a no-tolerance policy for bullying is absolutely essential. David Ahmad of Port Perry Dance Academy in Ontario, Canada, recalls an incident of improper social media use: “That child lost her solo and membership in a group routine for one year,” he says. He’s had no incidents since.

For Ahmad, students or staff posting video of studio choreography is another big no-no. “We make it clear that’s material owned by the studio,” he says. Studio owners may also want to remind students—and their smartphone-wielding parents—to ask permission of those being photographed or recorded before posting online. While not technically illegal, posting without permission can cause unnecessary upset. Dawson sets a privacy-keeping example by leaving students’ last names off any posts by the studio. DT

Rachel Zar is a frequent contributor to Dance Teacher.

Social-Media Cheat Sheet

You’re probably familiar with Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, but do you know the difference between a pin and a vine? Where can you find a subreddit or create a tumblelog? If all this social-media jargon has you confused, here are some of the hottest sites today—and what you should know about them.

1. Instagram This photo-sharing site allows users to create profiles and post images and videos that are either shared with approved followers or public and searchable. Hashtags (#), used to group similar content, are huge on Instagram—as are unfiltered and often inappropriate comments.

 

 

 

2. Snapchat: Users message, or snap, each other directly and put a time limit on how long their pictures or videos last after they’re opened. But even after the message disappears, know that the recipient may have a screen shot of it—so this is not a risk-free way of sending something private.

 

 

 

3. Vine: Users post six-second video clips, called vines. By default, these (and comments on others’ videos) are public but can be made private. Many of the public videos are inappropriate for young eyes.

 

 

 

4. Pinterest: Users create digital bulletin boards, organized by interest, where they post or pin their favorite content. It’s a great place to find dance images.

 

 

 

5. Tumblr: It’s a cross between a blog and Twitter. On custom-designed pages, or tumblelogs, users post text, photos, videos or audio clips. Posts on Tumblr are often reblogged—copied and shared to other tumble-logs—so even private posts can become public.

 

 

 

6. WhatsApp: WhatsApp allows users to send text or audio messages, videos or photos to each other with no message limits or fees (making it a great way to stay in touch when out of the country). WhatsApp is restricted to users 16 and older, although many younger teens find loopholes to join.

 

 

 

7. Reddit: Users submit links or text, which are voted up or down by other users. Highly ranked content appears on the front page. All posts are organized into categories, or subreddits. Reddit can be a fun way to find the latest news in a specific interest area or have your voice heard by like-minded users.

 

 

 

8. Yik Yak: Posts only show within a 10-mile radius, and since there are no profiles or followers, messages are anonymous, making it a possible haven for cyber-bullying. (Some schools have banned it.) —RZ

 

 

 

Thinkstock

Teachers Trending
Alwin Courcy, courtesy Ballet des Amériques

Carole Alexis has been enduring the life-altering after-effects of COVID-19 since April 2020. For months on end, the Ballet des Amériques director struggled with fevers, tingling, dizziness and fatigue. Strange bruising showed up on her skin, along with the return of her (long dormant) asthma, plus word loss and stuttering.

"For three days I would experience relief from the fever—then, boom—it would come back worse than before," Alexis says. "I would go into a room and not know why I was there." Despite the remission of some symptoms, the fatigue and other debilitating side effects have endured to this day. Alexis is part of a tens-of-thousands-member club nobody wants to be part of—she is a COVID-19 long-hauler.

Keep reading... Show less
Teachers Trending

Annika Abel Photography, courtesy Griffith

When the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis last May catalyzed nationwide protests against systemic racism, the tap community resumed longstanding conversations about teaching a Black art form in the era of Black Lives Matter. As these dialogues unfolded on social media, veteran Dorrance Dance member Karida Griffith commented infrequently, finding it difficult to participate in a meaningful way.

"I had a hard time watching people have these conversations without historical context and knowledge," says Griffith, who now resides in her hometown of Portland, Oregon, after many years in New York City. "It was clear that there was so much information missing."

For example, she observed people discussing tap while demonstrating ignorance about Black culture. Or, posts that tried to impose upon tap the history or aesthetics of European dance forms.

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Owners
Courtesy Tonawanda Dance Arts

If you're considering starting a summer program this year, you're likely not alone. Summer camp and class options are a tried-and-true method for paying your overhead costs past June—and, done well, could be a vehicle for making up for lost 2020 profits.

Plus, they might take on extra appeal for your studio families this year. Those struggling financially due to the pandemic will be in search of an affordable local programming option rather than an expensive, out-of-town intensive. And with summer travel still likely in question this spring as July and August plans are being made, your studio's local summer training option remains a safe bet.

The keys to profitable summer programming? Figuring out what type of structure will appeal most to your studio clientele, keeping start-up costs low—and, ideally, converting new summer students into new year-round students.


Find a formula that works for your studio

For Melanie Boniszewski, owner of Tonawanda Dance Arts in upstate New York, the answer to profitable summer programming lies in drop-in classes.

"We're in a cold-weather climate, so summer is actually really hard to attract people—everyone wants to be outside, and no one wants to commit to a full season," she says.

Tonawanda Dance Arts offers a children's program in which every class is à la carte: 30-minute, $15 drop-in classes are offered approximately two times a week in the evenings, over six weeks, for different age groups. And two years ago, she created her Stay Strong All Summer Long program for older students, which offers 12 classes throughout the summer and a four-day summer camp. Students don't know what type of class they're attending until they show up. "If you say you're going to do a hip-hop class, you could get 30 kids, but if you do ballet, it could be only 10," she says. "We tell them to bring all of their shoes and be ready for anything."

Start-up costs are minimal—just payroll and advertising (which she starts in April). For older age groups, Boniszewski focuses on bringing in her studio clientele, rather than marketing externally. In the 1- to 6-year-old age group, though, around 50 percent of summer students tend to be new ones—98 percent of whom she's been able to convert to year-round classes.

A group of elementary school aged- girls stands in around a dance studio. A teacher, a young black man, stands in front of the studio, talking to them

An East County Performing Arts Center summer class from several years ago. Photo courtesy ECPAC

East County Performing Arts Center owner Nina Koch knows that themed, weeklong camps are the way to go for younger dancers, as her Brentwood, California students are on a modified year-round academic school calendar, and parents are usually looking for short-term daycare solutions to fill their abbreviated summer break.

Koch keeps her weekly camps light on dance: "When we do our advertising for Frozen Friends camp, for example, it's: 'Come dance, tumble, play games, craft and have fun!'"

Though Koch treats her campers as studio-year enrollment leads, she acknowledges that these weeklong camps naturally function as a way for families who aren't ready for a long-term commitment to still participate in dance. "Those who aren't enrolled for the full season will be put into a sales nurture campaign," she says. "We do see a lot of campers come to subsequent camps, including our one-day camps that we hold once a month throughout our regular season."

Serve your serious dancers

One dilemma studio owners may face: what to do about your most serious dancers, who may be juggling outside intensives with any summer programming that you offer.

Consider making their participation flexible. For Boniszweski's summer program, competitive dancers must take six of the 12 classes offered over a six-week period, as well as the four-day summer camp, which takes place in mid-August. "This past summer, because of COVID, they paid for six but were able to take all 12 if they wanted," she says. "Lots of people took advantage of that."

For Koch, it didn't make sense to require her intensive dancers to participate in summer programming, partly because she earned more revenue catering to younger students and partly because her older students often made outside summer-training plans. "That's how you build a well-rounded dancer—you want them to go off and get experience from teachers you might not be able to bring in," she says.

Another option: Offering private lessons. Your more serious dancers can take advantage of flexible one-on-one training, and you can charge higher fees for individualized instruction. Consider including a financial incentive to get this kind of programming up and running. "Five years ago, we saw that some kids were asking for private lessons, so we created packages: If you bought five lessons, you'd get one for free—to get people in the door," says Boniszewksi. "After two years, once that program took off, we got rid of the discount. People will sign up for as many as 12 private lessons."

A large group of students stretch in a convention-style space with large windows. They follow a teacher at the front of the room in leaning over their right leg for a hamstring stretch

Koch's summer convention experience several years ago. Photo courtesy East County Performing Arts Center

Bring the (big) opportunities to your students

If you do decide to target older, more serious dancers for your summer programming, you may need to inject some dance glamour to compete with fancier outside intensives.

Bring dancers opportunities they wouldn't have as often during the school year. For Boniszewski, that means offering virtual master classes with big-name teachers, like Misha Gabriel and Briar Nolet. For Koch, it's bringing the full convention experience to her students—and opening it up to the community at large. In past years, she's rented her local community center for a weekend-long in-house convention and brought in professional ballet, jazz, musical theater and contemporary guest teachers.

In 2019, the convention was "nicely profitable" while still an affordable $180 per student, and attracted 120 dancers, a mix of her dancers and dancers from other studios. "It was less expensive than going to a big national convention, because parents didn't have to worry about lodging or travel," Koch says. "We wanted it to be financially attainable for families to experience something like this in our sleepy little town."

Get Dance Business Weekly in your inbox

Sign Up Used in accordance with our Privacy Policy.