Two to Tango

Studio directors handle the delicate dance of co-ownership.

Lindsey Brown (left) and Carrie Quest have yet to truly strangle each other.

Are two heads really better than one? Many studio owners agree that having a partner to help take on the often overwhelming to-do list can be an invaluable asset. "You're both putting in the same blood, sweat and tears, and it makes it that much more rewarding to share your success with someone," says Lindsay Brown, co-owner of Eden Prairie, MN–based Dance Esteem. But dual directorship also comes with its challenges. Brown and others tell how they make the most of combining their efforts.

Lindsay Brown and Carrie Quast

Dance Esteem

150 students

Eden Prairie, MN

Shared vision and constant communication are the keys to Dance Esteem's success, according to co-owners Lindsay Brown and Carrie Quast. In the 10 months before the studio first opened in 2009, the two met weekly at Caribou Coffee to discuss their vision and get on the same page. "We went over our ideas on how to run every single class," says Brown. "It really helped us to lay everything on the table and be open and honest about our opinions."

Brown and Quast first met as dancers growing up together, and each brings unique expertise to the table. Quast formerly owned a studio in West Palm Beach for 10 years, while Brown is firmly ensconced in the local Minnesota dance community. "Lindsay brings a huge connection to dance families," says Quast. "She had a big pool she could draw from to get our business going."

The two rarely disagree, though costuming is an area where they'll often have to find a compromise. "We just keep looking until we find something we can both agree on," Quast says.

Now that the studio has been running for three years, Brown and Quast continue to meet daily to discuss business. "And every year, we look back and evaluate what worked and what didn't," says Brown. "We try to address things before they turn into an issue."

"We split everything 50/50," Quast adds. "That way, we both know every aspect of the business inside and out."

Katie and Lisa Lewis

Dance & Company Performing Arts Studio

160 students

San Diego, CA

Life at Dance & Company Performing Arts Studio is truly a family affair. Not only are co-owners Lisa and Katie Lewis mother and daughter, they strive to make their students feel as though the studio is their second home.

Their strengths complement each other well professionally. Katie, a self-described "people person," takes on the artistic and teaching aspects, while Lisa focuses on the business plan and money matters.

But the biggest learning curve was transitioning from the mother-daughter dynamic to a more professional partnership. Lisa had to overcome the idea that she'd automatically have authority, while Katie focused on communication. "We had to set aside the tone that we might normally use with each other," says Katie. "In order to create our schedule and budgets and make other important decisions, we had to set aside our mother-daughter relationship and talk to each other like business partners."

After three years, the two have found their groove. Lisa comes to the studio from 4:30 to 7:30, while Katie spends her time teaching at the studio. They often rely on e-mail to discuss studio matters, which Katie says helps her communicate more professionally with her mom.

Vicky Gonzalez and Alicia Norwood

Donna Lee Studio of Dance

400 students

Homestead, FL

Donna Lee left quite a legacy when she handpicked Vicky Gonzalez and Alicia Norwood to take over her studio after 27 years in business. Both were dancers who had spent many years training and transitioned into teaching at the studio. "This sort of fell into our laps," says Gonzalez. "Donna had given us a lot of responsibilities as far as teaching classes and choreography, so we had already been working together for several years when she retired."

Gonzalez and Norwood gladly took the reins, and for the last six years, the two have been running the studio in tandem. "Everything just fell into place," says Gonzalez, who handles computer-related duties, scheduling for their nonprofit dance company and hiring guest choreographers. Norwood handles financials (such as payroll and bank reconciliations) and oversees studio maintenance. And both directors also teach.

Gonzalez and Norwood pride themselves on being a support system for each other. Says Norwood, "The perk of co-ownership is having someone to fall back on and be able to bounce ideas and thoughts off. If it wasn't for our partnership, neither of us would be able to have a day off every week."

Norwood is grateful that the partnership has proven fortuitous. "Vicky and I didn't have a choice—the opportunity was offered as a unit. We even had people tell us that partnerships are so fatal," she says. "The reason it has worked well for us is that we share the same principles, the same policies. It has to be someone you trust, can be honest with and not only get along with, but have a genuine friendship." DT

 

Jen Jones Donatelli is based in Los Angeles.

Photo courtesy of Dance Esteem

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.