Secrets to fitting, fees and alterations
Students from Rita Ogden's Ovations Dance Studio
For more than 20 years, Denise Hawkins of Denise’s Dance Academy in Overland Park, Kansas, has allowed her studio parents to choose the costumes for spring recitals. “It sounds crazy, but parents feel they have a hand in the costumes they’re paying for,” she says. But Hawkins, who orders about 1,500 costumes each season, does manage the process. For instance, she never lets parents see the catalogs. Instead, teachers of each class select a few options, and then the parents pick their favorite from photographs.
While this system works for Hawkins, costume ordering isn’t a one-size-fits-all process. Between selecting the look and ensuring that garments are on time, paid for and accurately fit, it’s a daunting task. The key to successful ordering is staying organized, calm and ahead of schedule.
Choosing a Style
- Regardless of who makes the selection, reserve final approval. Chris Collins of Chris Collins Dance Studio in Alexandria, Virginia, asks his teachers to choose costumes. He gives the final OK after making sure every costume is age- and body-style-appropriate.
- Measure each dancer, and use each manufacturer’s size charts for consistency. In the past, Collins—who has 450 students—left the measuring task to his teachers, but that left room for error. “I now have all measurements done by the same person,” he says. “As a result, we had only a handful of exchanges in the last few years.”
Rita Ogden of Ovations Dance Studio in Oaklyn, New Jersey, holds a special week for measuring. She announces the dates in her registration handbook, and all of her 250 students must attend. A good rule of thumb is to have all measuring completed two weeks before the ordering deadline, in case there are stragglers. “Missing a deadline because you don’t have all the measurements means losing money,” she says. If costumes don’t fit properly, it costs extra to make an exchange.
- Order early for quicker shipping, and take advantage of discounts. Many manufacturers offer discounts on orders placed ahead of schedule, and with large orders, money saved means more for your recital budget, studio repairs or even teachers’ wages.
“If I’m close to qualifying for a discount, sometimes I get basic hairpieces, canes, hats, even if I don’t need them,” says Ogden, who typically orders about 1,000 costumes per season. “If I’m $100 short, and they have beautiful rhinestone chokers or barrettes, I order enough to use as gifts for graduates. I may spend $200 more, but I’ll save $1,000 in the long run.” She saves the invoices that include the unused merchandise in her storage closet, so she knows the full price to charge when used in the future.
- When the shipment arrives, carefully inventory the contents. Hawkins once received an incorrect shipment in which adult and child sizes were completely flipped, and another with an entire class receiving the wrong style. She now carefully inventories costumes upon arrival and immediately calls the companies to resolve any errors. Garments do not leave their studios until paid in full; there are no exchanges once students take costumes home.
- Consider the time of year for collecting fees. After getting complaints from parents about paying for costumes near Christmas, Hawkins’ studio parents now pay half at enrollment and the remaining cost by October 15. If students join in January, they’re charged an extra $10 per costume for shipping. Students who drop out receive a refund if they leave before costumes are ordered or if new students replace them. (Otherwise, they’re responsible for payment.)
- Establish and communicate your markup policy. “I state in my parent handbook that the costume fees include shipping, taxes, exchange fees, alterations and other costs associated with costumes,” says Hawkins, whose set costume fee covers two costumes and a pair of tights for $110. Her studio parents understand that she marks up costumes 20 percent from the retail value. (Costume fees account for as much as 10 percent of her yearly revenue.)
At Collins’ studio, all students pay an equal deposit by October 30 and are billed in the winter for the balance. Balances often range between $20 and $50 per student, depending on age and level and costume style, and parents receive an itemized balance statement. Collins makes a small profit from every costume (he orders approximately 3,500 per season), which goes back into the studio or toward production costs. With 37 years in the business, he’s learned that parents will pay a little extra, knowing that he takes the time to measure and fit the students well enough so they won’t have to pay a larger fee for alterations or exchanges.
- Take control. Don’t assume dance moms can handle minor sizing alterations. After a few years of straps being sewn on wrong (over the shoulder instead of crisscrossed, for example), Hawkins began hiring one or two parents as seamstresses who barter their work for discounted tuition. They keep track of the alterations, and the totals typically amount to roughly three months’ tuition. “It has worked out so much better, and the other parents are happy to have costumes that do not need any additional work at home,” she says.
- Consider function as well as fit. Ogden has added strips of coordinating fabric to conceal bra straps and applied grip tape to the palms of acrobatic long-sleeve costumes to prevent dancers from slipping. She agrees that skilled seamstresses should make the alterations, not individual moms. “There are always parents who think a costume should be tighter, shorter, longer than I prefer. Then there is the parent who will accidentally use 1,000 rhinestones instead of the requested 100,” says Ogden. “If you want a uniform look, have it done yourself. It’s that simple.” DT
USING AN ORDERING SERVICE
For the past three years, Shannon Wilson of Westwoods Center of Performing Arts has used a costume ordering service, CostumeManager.com. “I used to place all orders during the break in December,” says Wilson. “So it wasn’t a break for me.” Now, she says, when the costumes come in, they’re bundled by class and dancer, labeled and ready to hand out. “My staff and I save hours of sorting through mixed batches of garments.”
The studio selects the costumes and accessories that parents must order. Wilson recommends the sizes for each student, based on the manufacturers’ size charts. “Parents are free to order whatever size they want, but we let them know that if they don’t order the recommended size, it’s not going to fit,” she says.
There is no charge to the studio: The service collects the costume fees, plus handling charges, directly from the parents, who can choose when to order and pay. Wilson receives reports showing which families have ordered and paid for costumes so she can remind stragglers as deadlines approach.
Though she maintains a hand in the process, Wilson acknowledges that relinquishing any control to parents is not easy for many studio owners. Trusting that they will order all the necessary pieces on time can be nerve-racking, and in some cases when an order isn’t correct, parents blame the studio. “We are the face the parents see. If something is wrong, they come to us,” says Wilson. “But this has saved my studio time and money.”
Courtney Rae Kasper is a former Dance Teacher editor. Photo courtesy of Rita Ogden
The scoop on ordering costumes
With summer break winding down, it’s not too early to think about costuming your upcoming performances. But first, take note of these tips from three manufacturers:
• Order on the company’s website to ensure easier and faster processing, recommends Art Stone, founder of Art Stone/The Competitor. That will also allow you to double check your order before submitting. And always check your invoice as soon as the shipment arrives. If there is an error, the manufacturer can correct it. If you wait, it may be too late.
• Refer to the size chart for each company and order accordingly, advises Renée Stojek of A Wish Come True. Don’t use just one general size chart when placing orders from multiple companies. Every company uses its own measurements, and they don’t conform to street sizes.
• Check with your bank before using your credit card for online or phone orders, especially when making a large purchase, says Amy Imhoff, Curtain Call Costumes customer service manager. Banks often flag such activity and may decline your card to protect you from fraudulent use. Pay in full if eligible for additional discounts, and don’t remove tags or write students’ names inside costumes until each piece is tried on and inspected.
• Order early. You’ll want costumes well in advance of picture days, shows and competitions, and if you wait until the week when discounts expire—the busiest time—processing could be delayed. —DT
Photo courtesy of manufacturer
"It was surreal. Seven years of collected painted props, costumes, books, photos from concerts and thousands of dollars of dance apparel and CDs were all gone," says Jana Monson, whose Creative Arts Academy in Utah burned down last summer. But like other brave studio owners in her situation, Monson was undeterred. “The day after the fire, we made copies of the iconic World War II Rosie the Riveter poster that says, 'We Can Do It!' and placed them around the exterior of the building. I wanted my clients to know that we would persevere and overcome this tragedy."
While all might seem lost in the wake of this kind of devastation, your studio can survive. The key is to be as prepared as possible, never be afraid to ask for help and keep a positive attitude when the dust settles. Here, Monson and two other studio owners share how they revived their businesses after experiencing unexpected disaster.
Seasoned advice on offering adult group exercise classes
Adult fitness classes account for up to 45 percent of Kick It Up's schedule.
With the nationwide trend of dance-based fitness classes like Zumba, Bar Method and Cardio Dance, you may have considered offering adult group exercise in your studio. Your daytime hours are slow—when the kids are in school—so you can use these classes to fill empty slots and create extra income. But there's no question that competing with local gyms and community centers is tough. Whether you're looking for a way to add fitness classes or change up your current roster, it's all about finding what works for your business and listening to clients' needs. Here, three experienced owners share their strategies.
Kick It Up
Long Beach, CA
When Susan Janson opened her studio in 2004, she offered morning fitness classes. But as enrollment and client demand increased, she added evening classes: Zumba, Spinning, yoga and total body strength conditioning. Now, fitness accounts for 45 percent of her studio's schedule. Looking back, Janson would've booked more evening classes from the start. "A trend we noticed was that parents with children over age 7 would work out while their kid was in class," she says.
Janson has also noticed that hybrid classes, such as Spin & Lift and Spin 30 & Core are the most popular next to Zumba. As for pricing, Janson researched what gyms were providing and nearly halved the rate. "Requesting $90 to $180 a month didn't make sense for our clientele. We settled on $60 a month for unlimited classes and haven't raised our prices since 2007," she says. Students can also drop in for $5 to $10, or pay $20 a month for one class per week or $40 for two classes. She focuses on family pricing and programming. If one family member misses a class, for instance, another enrolled family member can use the makeup for dance or fitness.
When it comes to overhead costs, Janson says that buying and maintaining the equipment is much cheaper than installing a dance floor, yet she emphasizes that in her business model, dance and fitness are of equal importance.
"As a business owner, it was important to diversify my studio and not rely on just one area for a source of income," she says. Sometimes income from one source can help support the other. "If we need to rent backdrops for the dance recital and we just held a Spin event that made good money, then we use it," she says. "Our funds all pool in one account, but if the fitness classes weren't generating a profit independently, I wouldn't be holding them."
Stage Door School of Dance
East Patchogue, NY
Diane Giattino opened her studio 36 years ago in a church hall with just 30 students. Her enrollment quickly soared with the popularity of her Jacki Sorensen Dance Aerobics classes, which remained on the roster for 15 years. "When I opened, all I wanted to do was offer an evening hour of dance, fun, sweating and laughing set to fun music," she says. But when she reduced her teaching hours and concentrated on dance, the program fizzled.
Now at a bigger location, she's added fitness back into the schedule. But because Stage Door is located near four major gyms, Giattino says even trendy fitness classes like Zumba haven't been profitable. What she has found successful is to brand certain dance classes as fitness. For instance, her belly dance program has been going strong for six years and country line dance is becoming more popular.
Giattino isn't opposed to trying out more fitness classes, as long as they don't involve excessive prop storage and space is available in the schedule. "We have three rooms, and they're occupied from 4 to 10 pm every night. I'll wait until hours are open to offer any fitness classes," she says, stressing that her main focus is always dance instruction. "Fitness is something extra to offer the community and pay for the open hours."
Laura Faria Sciortino
Turning Pointe Dance Studio
"It's difficult for a parent of a new baby to find time to take care of herself," says new mom and Turning Pointe Dance Studio owner Laura Faria Sciortino. "I was determined to stay fit and be able to spend as much time with my little guy as possible." Realizing there were other moms like herself, she added Itsy Bitsy Yoga for Babies, Tots and Tykes to Turning Pointe's schedule in September.
The program, created by Helen Garabedian in 1999, includes more than 125 yoga poses, songs and developmental activities. (While the program is mainly for kids, moms get to do some yoga in each class, too.) The goal: to help children establish healthy habits at an early age. "Yoga is great for babies. They are too young to be in a dance class, but they are starting to stretch, learn rhythm and bond with their parents," says Sciortino, who takes classes with her 18-month-old son, Henry.
When scheduling, Sciortino and instructor Whitney Marshall (a certified Itsy Bitsy Yoga facilitator) were conscious to make first-time moms feel supported and not weighed down with commitment. Turning Pointe holds six 45-minute morning and evening options, with a drop-in rate of $11.25.
Sciortino also teaches Mommy and Baby Body Conditioning, where babies are worn in a sling and act as a weight. "Kids are learning while moms are toning their arms and working out," Sciortino says. The response has been positive, and the classes are constantly bringing in new clients, who may eventually become lifetime customers. "Offering these classes shows we are a warm and nurturing studio," she says. "As the babies and tots grow, they are also exposed to watching ballet classes, which at age 3 they can start." DT
Freelance writer Courtney Rae Kasper is a former Dance Teacher editor.
Photo by Beth Hutton, courtesy of Kick It Up
George Balanchine's The Nutcracker by New York City Ballet.
1. What was Tchaikovsky’s greatest contribution to the world
of dance music?
2. The Nutcracker was unconventional for its time because:
A) The lack of dancing in Act I
B) The use of children in leading roles
C) It didn’t have an ending plot resolution
D) All of the above
3. True or False: The flow of self-emotion that can be heard
and felt through his orchestrations was entirely new to
Russian music of that era.
4. Tchaikovsky was chosen to conduct the inaugural concert
for the opening of what American music institution in 1891?
5. Tchaikovsky was the first composer to use the ____
an instrument he discovered in Paris while writing The
Nutcracker that became the tinkling sound for the ______.
6. While there are now many versions of The Nutcracker,
what one element of the original ballet still remains intact in
most reproductions and why?
7. In addition to his three ballets, he also created a score
of operas, concertos, symphonies, and chamber music.
Name three of his most recognizable works.
BONUS. Name a famous work that Balanchine later created
to one of Tchaikovsky’s pieces of music, not originally
intended for ballet.
1.He broke the mold of the relationship between music and dance; the ballet’s score no longer served as background music to the dance.; 2. D; 3. True; 4. New
York’s Carnegie Hall; 5. Celesta; Sugar Plum Fairy; 6. Tchaikovsky’s original score: It’s a perfect score for the story of the ballet and tampering with it would break
the intended flow.; 7. Eugene Onegin, 1812 Overture, Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture and Symphony No. 6; the Pathetique; BONUS: Suite No. 4, Op. 61 in
Mozartiana; Suite No. 3 for Orchestra in Theme and Variations; and Piano Concerto No. 3, Op. 75 in Allegro Brillante.
Photo by Paul Kolnick, courtesy of New York City Ballet
New York City Ballet performs George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker to Tchaikovsky’s score.
It was evident from a very young age that Russian composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840–1893) had a heightened sense for music. Upon entering his bedroom one evening his governess found the nervous child in tears: “It’s this music!” he cried, although she heard nothing. “Get rid of it for me!” Tchaikovsky pointed to his head, “It’s here! Here! It won’t give me any peace!” Lucky for the dance world, Tchaikovsky learned to embrace his gift. These melodies that danced in his head were mere glimpses of the genius that would lead him to create three innovative scores for the Imperial Russian Ballet (now the Maryinsky): The Sleeping Beauty, Swan Lake and The Nutcracker.
Unlike the less-complex scores for the Romantic story ballets of the 19th century, Tchaikovsky ushered the classical ballet form into a new era where the score no longer served as background music to the dancing. Instead it supported the dancing, heightened dramatic depth for each individual character and enhanced the overall experience. “Tchaikovsky is the one who broke the mold of the relationship between music and dance,” says Jonathan McPhee, music director and principal conductor for Boston Ballet. “Without him we wouldn’t have Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet, Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring or the Ballets Russes.”
But the child prodigy, who mastered the piano by age 8 and wrote his first composition at age 4, was not encouraged to pursue music. His father, a mining engineer in the industrial town of Votkinsk, Russia, wanted him to become a lawyer. From the age of 10, Tchaikovsky was sent to boarding school in St. Petersburg and entered the civil service at 19. But the mundane routine of everyday life was not for him. In a letter to his sister Sasha, Tchaikovsky wrote that he couldn’t continue “to receive a salary for my entire life under false pretenses” and that he “must sacrifice everything to develop what God gave me in the womb.” By age 22 he had enrolled at the St. Petersburg Conservatory. After graduating, he moved to Moscow, where he excelled as a music theory professor for over 10 years before garnering enough patron funds to focus solely on a composing career. While his status as a composer grew, it wasn’t until Tchaikovsky began conducting his own works in his late 40s that he established himself and gained the attention of the Imperial Russian Ballet.
He was first commissioned to collaborate with Imperial Theatre ballet master Marius Petipa on the well-received, opulent The Sleeping Beauty (1890). This artistic collaboration flourished, producing The Nutcracker (1892) and Swan Lake (which was originally composed in 1877 for the Bolshoi Theatre, and later revived by Petipa in 1895). But The Nutcracker was particularly challenging for Tchaikovsky. It was difficult to finish, and finding inspiration for the characters was a struggle for him, even though Petipa gave him orders for each scene, detailing the number of bars and appropriate feeling for the music.
In his studies of Tchaikovsky, musicologist Roland John Wiley documents that the emotional turmoil faced during this time might have provided the composer inspiration for Act II. For instance, Wiley believes that the “death-defyingly serious adagio music of the grand pas de deux” was Tchaikovsky’s hidden homage to the loss of his sister Sasha, since it bears a close resemblance to a melody in the Russian Orthodox funeral service. Tchaikovsky also used special chords and sounds to denote the distinction between the magical and everyday elements, like the celestial tinkling sound for the Sugar Plum Fairy.
Because The Nutcracker was unconventional for its time—the mimed first act with child leads and the lack of a plot resolution didn’t follow the elite Imperial Ballet formula—it received mixed reviews and disappeared after its 11-show 1892 debut. It would only resurface as a ballerina showcase from time to time. It made North American appearances in the early 20th-century tours of Russian ballet companies, but it didn’t officially premiere in America until 1944 at the San Francisco Ballet. And in 1954, George Balanchine transformed the ballet into an American Christmas tradition. “Balanchine used to say that he wanted people to be able to come to New York City Ballet, and even if they didn’t care what was going on onstage, they could close their eyes and love the music,” says Andrews Sill, assistant music director for NYCB. “And with Tchaikovsky you can do that.”
Interestingly enough, The Nutcracker is the only Tchaikovsky score that has remained throughout the years as the composer originally intended it. Sills says this is because “the music is dramatically so perfect for the story, to tamper with it would break the flow.” And although he died less than a year after The Nutcracker debuted, Tchaikovsky would be as pleased with the international success of his magical ballet today as he was with the completion of his final work, the Sixth Symphony, upon which he said, “On my word of honor, I have never been so satisfied with myself, so proud, so happy to know that I have done something so good!” DT
Did You Know?
* Tchaikovsky was the first composer to use the celesta, a piano-like instrument he discovered in Paris while writing The Nutcracker.
* Tchaikovsky composed parts of The Nutcracker while at sea on his way to conduct his Coronation March at the inaugural concert at Carnegie Hall in New York City.
* Tchaikovsky had a terrible fear of mice, which could’ve inspired the climactic battle music he wrote in Act I of The Nutcracker.
* In addition to his three ballets, 10 operas, four concertos, six symphonies and four string quartets, Tchaikovsky wrote more than 100 piano works. His most popular orchestrations: Eugene Onegin, 1812 Overture, Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture and Symphony No. 6 (“Pathétique”).
* Some of Tchaikovsky’s music later inspired Balanchine to create original ballets: Suite No. 4, Op. 61, in Mozartiana (1933); Suite No. 3 for Orchestra in Theme and Variations (1947); and Piano Concerto No. 3, Op. 75, in Allegro Brillante (1956).
“Boson, Tchaikovsky, and birthdays,” by Clive Barnes, Dance Magazine, January 1994
“Nutcracker” Nation: How An Old World Ballet became a Christmas Tradition in the New World, by Jennifer Fisher, Yale University Press: New Haven and London, 2003
“Nutcrackers, Notcrackers and Joy to the World,” by K. C. Patrick, Dance Magazine, December 2000
Peter Tschaikowsky and the Nutcracker Ballet, by Opal Wheeler, E. P. Dutton & Company, Inc.: New York, 1959
Tchaikovsky, by Roland John Wiley, Oxford University Press, Inc.: New York, 2009
Tchaikovsky: His Life & Music, by Jeremy Siepmann, Sourcebooks, Incorporated, 2007
“The Nutcracker,” starring Mikhail Baryshnikov and Gelsey Kirkland, Kultur Video, 2004
The Nutcracker: A Story & A Ballet, by Ellen Switzer, Atheneum: New York, 1985
Freelance writer Courtney Rae Kasper is a former Dance Teacher editor.
Photo by Paul Kolnik, courtesy of New York City Ballet