Professions across the globe hold yearly conferences, and the dance industry is certainly no exception. Annual conferences exist for dance teachers, dance medicine professionals, dance educators and more. Taking the time out to attend them can be well worth your while for a number of different reasons. Let's take a closer look at four of them.
Any teacher who works with little ones knows that props can make class time run much more smoothly. That said, it's often difficult to find the right mix of tools that will both capture a child's attention and are manageable enough to carry around from one location to another—or pack up and store easily. Anything too big or too heavy is out, and some of the props you love to use with little ones may not be the most practical choice if you're a freelance teacher traveling to multiple studios throughout the week.
We asked two experienced teachers to share a couple of their favorite tips for easy-travel props for those who teach young ones. Here are five solid suggestions you can choose from, to incorporate into your overall teaching plans.
The culture of your dance studio should be a major consideration when it comes to hiring new instructors. After all, teaching experience isn't the only thing that matters! You'll also want to make sure an interviewee fits with your overall philosophy when it comes to interacting with students (and parents!) and teaching dance. Here are some great tips that can help you find the right match.
Operating a dance studio requires a lot of work, and studio owners are always looking for effective ways to make extra money without adding too many demands to their already packed schedules. Here are just a few virtually hassle-free ways to increase your bottom line.
1. Adjust prices and class lengths.
“I raise prices just a little bit each September,” says Diane VanDerhei, owner of INTUIT Dance Studio in Oak Park, Illinois. As VanDerhei has discovered, increasing class rates on a regular basis is a good idea, and not just because it’s smart to keep up with the pace of inflation.
For example, if every other studio in town is more expensive it might be time to up your prices. Research their pricing structure and make sure yours is comparable. The back-to-school season, when customers often expect price increases, is a good time to make adjustments.
To justify increasing costs, consider making classes a little longer. For example, more advanced classes can run for an hour and a half instead of just an hour, and intermediate ones an hour and 15 minutes. Students and their parents might not mind paying more if they see added value.
2. Create promotional days.
“Bring a friend day” (or “week”) is a great way to get the word out about your studio and pick up some additional students. “Word of mouth is a powerful tool in building enrollment, and we’ve found that these initiatives allow us to grow our student body in an organic way that builds upon the relationships we’ve already made with our students,” says Cassandra Oliveras, director of marketing for Ballet Hispanico School of Dance in New York City. Oliveras points out that even if students’ friends don’t enroll, they often tell other people about their experience, thus increasing the studio’s visibility.
Get creative and try out some new ideas to expand your student pool. Why not do a “boys dance for free” day to bring in more male students, or experiment with a “parent day” to see if you can snag new students for your adult classes? Reaching beyond your usual demographic could pay off.
3. Offer discounts and coupons.
Classes at a discounted rate can be an effective way to draw in a larger crowd. Run a coupon in the local paper for a free class or hold 10-minute “sampler” sessions a few times a year. A standing “one free class” option for new students will also keep them flowing in through your studio doors.
VanDerhei holds an annual “Dime A Dance” promotion, based on the concept of dance marathons, to publicize her studio while giving the local community a chance to try out different types of dance. Visitors pay for classes as they wish—anything from literally 10 cents to five dollars. “A lot of people from the neighborhood come, and they sign up for classes because of it,” she says. “I probably get at least 25 new students.”
4. Rent out your studio.
Renting your studio to outside teachers is a great way to earn extra revenue without having to teach more classes. Consider filling extra studio time with yoga, Pilates, martial arts or even other dance classes, as long as they don’t compete with what you already offer. Sheryl Sulek, owner of Sheryl’s School of Dance in Novi, Michigan, rents her studio out by the hour to several other dance instructors who teach different styles. “I have a flamenco teacher who comes in during the day and teaches adults, and I also rent space to a Highland dance teacher and a ballroom instructor,” she says.
If you’re hesitant to commit long-term, offer space for one-time or weekend events. Decide in advance whether you want to charge a flat fee, or discuss an arrangement based on getting a percentage of the profits from the workshops. Sulek has found that renting out the studio for birthday parties is especially profitable. “It’s a good way to utilize the space during off-times, and it has worked out really well as an extra source of cash,” she says, adding that she’s trained her senior students to run the parties. Families can choose a simple room rental, or select a “theme” party with a mini-dance lesson included in the cost. Popular themes have included “princess,” “1950s,” “American Idol” and “hip hop.”
5. Hold mini-recitals.
Instead of having just one end-of-year recital, why not hold regular “mini-recitals” that are open to the public for a nominal charge? Offering to donate a portion of the revenue to a local nonprofit can get you more community visibility and even a mention in the local paper.
VanDerhei began staging mini-recitals in her studio as a way to keep performances low-pressure for her students, but has since discovered that charging a $5 admission fee makes them financially beneficial as well. “This year I did five mini-recitals over three days,” she says, “and parents loved it!”
Bringing in more dollars doesn’t always have to take a lot of effort. Whether you hold special fundraisers or capitalize on rental potential, you can add to your income with just a little creativity. DT
Catherine L. Tully is the Outside Europe Representative for the National Dance Teachers Association in the U.K.
Kristine Anderson has been teaching dance for 25 years in a variety of settings, from studios to public schools. But it was only five years ago, when she joined the faculty at Butler Community College in El Dorado, Kansas, that she found what she’d long been missing: benefits.
“I finally have a job that provides healthcare. I can actually have compensated sick days and perhaps a pension,” Anderson says. “Dance instructors are in a category of their own when it comes to not being compensated properly for their efforts. I am very glad to be where I am.”
The benefits of teaching at a community college come in many other forms as well. It can be a great addition to your resumé, as well as an opportunity to expand your knowledge base and develop new teaching skills. For those interested in eventually teaching at a four-year university, this is an ideal stepping-stone, allowing you test the waters of academia while building related experience.
Studio teachers hoping to reach out into the community and boost name recognition can also profit. By teaching a course or two, you can introduce yourself to a new group of students, and perhaps attract prospective students to your school in the future.
Read on to find out what kinds of opportunities are out there and how to get started.
Options & Qualifications
The types of teaching positions available at a community college will depend on the breadth of its dance offerings. Those with dance departments often have both full-time and adjunct (part-time) faculty positions. These schools usually offer a two-year degree in dance and may also have a performing company.
Other community colleges offer dance classes but do not have a degree program or dance department. Sometimes these courses are taught through the physical education department or are simply given for elective credit. Still others offer continuing education classes, which are non-credit courses geared toward the enrichment and enjoyment of participants.
Teaching requirements for community colleges can differ widely, depending on the school and the program. For example, some schools hire based on teaching experience, while others require a degree in dance. Typically, the requirements for teaching a non-credit course in the continuing education department will be less rigorous than those for an adjunct faculty slot at a school that offers a dance degree.
Lane Community College in Eugene, Oregon, which offers an associate degree in dance, requires part-time faculty members to have at least a BA in dance. Full-time teachers need an MFA with related experience in somatics, creative process and history/theory. When asked what qualities she looks for in potential instructors, lead faculty member Bonnie Simoa says that, aside from a mastery of the form, she wants to see an understanding of the learning process and an approach that allows students to thrive mentally, physically and creatively.
What To Expect
Teaching at a community college comes with its own set of challenges. In a degree program some classes will require the presentation of history, theory and other academic material, as well as grading and paperwork. Continuing education courses will tend to run more like studio classes.
The demands of full-time and adjunct work differ as well. “The main advantage of adjunct work is the freedom it gives me as a dance artist,” says Carley Conder, artistic director of Arizona-based company CONDER/dance, and an adjunct at Scottsdale Community College in Arizona. “I can walk in, teach my class and walk out. The full-time faculty is in charge of the administrative end of things, which allows the adjuncts to concentrate on teaching.”
Anderson says that the greatest challenge has been managing students of widely varying abilities and meeting the needs of each one. Lauri Roesch, who taught at a public high school for seven years before joining Scottsdale Community College as an adjunct faculty member, agrees: “Know the environment you are going to be teaching in,” she advises. “What is the population taking your class? That is going to affect everything from movement vocabulary to music choice. Be flexible. For example, you may be prepared to teach turns and leaps but you may have several students who can't do them due to age or injury.”
Scottsdale Dance Director Angea Rosenkrans adds: “The instructor must understand the demographic of non-traditional students without lowering the expectations and standards of the course. Many times, this means more work in terms of advising, counseling and time, but the results are very gratifying.” DT
Catherine L. Tully is a writer, photographer and educator with more than 35 years of experience in the dance field.
If you’ve faced the challenge of finding a good photographer—and have one or two bad experiences under your belt—you’re not alone. Struggling to communicate with someone who doesn’t understand the unique demands of working with dancers or small children, or worse yet, just doesn’t know what he’s doing, can be frustrating.
For a successful experience, start your search far in advance (to avoid scheduling conflicts with other dance recitals, weddings and special events) and ask around for referrals. If there aren’t other dance studios in your area, check for photography professionals online or in the phone book. If a photo-grapher has a website, read his or her bio and take a look at the style and quality of work posted.
If you’re sufficiently impressed with what you see, call the photographer or meet with him or her in person and ask the following questions:
1. “How long have you been a photographer and what type of experience do you have with dancers (or children)?”
The ideal candidate regularly photographs dancers. If this isn’t an option, see if you can find someone who specializes in children’s portraits. Chances are he or she will be better at taking pictures of your dancers than, say, someone who works primarily with adults or shoots mostly landscapes.
“Our photographer is specifically a dance photographer, and his professionalism really contributes to the fluidity of our day,” says Cheryl Cusick, artistic director of Narragansett Performing Arts Dance Centre in Narragansett, Rhode Island. “He and his staff of dancers are able to pose our students and relate to them on a different level than other photographers.”
2. “Can you provide me with a few references?”
Whatever you do, don’t skip this step! Especially if you’re not working from a referral, references provided by the photographer are crucial. Be sure to check several before making a commitment. (Even if they aren’t listed on a photographer’s website, don’t be afraid to ask.)
3. “Can I see samples?”
Like references, samples are essential—and don’t settle for e-mail or web photos. You’ll want to review the actual product your students’ families will be purchasing. “Not every photographer is good at posing or working with children,” explains Joe Wallace, a Chicago-area photographer who has experience shooting dancers. “This ability really shows through in samples.”
4. “Will you be the person taking the photos that day?”
Make sure that the person you are talking with and seeing samples from is the actual photographer who will be doing your studio’s photos. Some establishments set up an appointment, then send out a photographer with less experience to do the job, so beware of the bait and switch.
5. “Can you send me pricing and photo package information?”
Although you’ll want to have little to do with the actual money/product exchange, you will want an idea of the cost and what your students and their parents will get for their money. Have a conversation with the parents to determine an appropriate price range before approaching a photographer about his or her rates. An experienced professional will likely have a standard price sheet that he works from and revises periodically. “It helps to have that type of information readily available for busy studio owners,” Wallace notes. “That way they can share it with parents, too.”
6. “Do you have insurance?”
This is an important question that many studio owners don’t ask. If a photographer is insured, it’s a sign of their professionalism and can help ease your mind regarding liability issues—especially if the photography is taking place somewhere other than your studio. While you don’t necessarily have to rule out every photographer without insurance, some venues require a photo-grapher to have it, so check with yours ahead of time.
7. “What type of equipment do you use?”
For portrait work, make sure he or she has indoor lighting and a backdrop—and a backup camera, adds Wallace. “If the photographer has an issue with their main camera, the backup can be used to complete the session on time,” he says. Also, most good photographers work with assistants, who can help wrangle large numbers of children in and out of photos.
8. “Can I have a proposal in writing?”
Once you find a solid candidate, ask that he or she put a proposal together in writing so you can review the details more closely. This will also serve as a contract, protecting you and your students. “Don’t be tentative about asking a photographer to lay out the details on paper,” says Wallace. “A photographer who doesn’t want to take the time to address your concerns before you work together is probably not a good choice to begin with.”
9. “Will you deal directly with the students and parents? If not, what will my involvement be?”
You don’t want to wind up playing middleman, setting up, collecting money, giving out photos and making sure everyone is happy—it’s too time-consuming. Instead, make sure that the person you hire takes care of the majority of the delivery details. The less involved you are the better, so work out with the photographer ahead of time what both of your roles will be.
Cusick focuses her energies on scheduling and distributes a timetable about one month prior to picture day. “We give everyone a list of suggested makeup and a short explanation of how to apply it, along with their schedule,” she says. “Our picture day information is also available online for parents’ convenience.”
Thanks to this division of labor, Cusick’s picture day has gone off without a hitch for the past 15 years. “It runs in a very timely manner, and always ends exactly when we plan,” she says. “It impresses parents, especially of new students, that we are able to function in such an organized manner. They feel confident that we really know what we’re doing, and that makes us feel great.”
10. “What is your policy if a client is unsatisfied?”
Knowing how to advise students and their families on what to do if they are unhappy with the photographs they’ve purchased is a smart move. Policies vary widely from photographer to photographer: Some may guarantee their photographs by retake, substitution or refund, while others may have a no-refund policy. Check ahead of time.
Hiring the right photographer for your studio’s recital photos is an important task, and knowing what questions to ask can help you choose one who’s right for you. Once you’ve done that, you’ll have more time and energy to concentrate on what really matters: making sure your students shine onstage. DT
Catherine L. Tully is a writer, photographer and educator with more than 35 years of experience in the dance field.
Catherine L. Tully is the Outside Europe Representative for the National Dance Teachers Association in the UK.
Hiring instructors to teach at your studio is one of the most important things you will ever do as an owner. Finding the right people, however, can be a challenge: How do you track down qualified candidates? What qualities do you want in someone representing you to students and their parents? What are warning signs to watch out for? Here are some ideas to help you find the perfect match for your studio.
Where to Look
Placing an ad in the newspaper or announcing job openings on your studio’s website are both good options, but a more proactive and directed approach can help you narrow the field. Check in with the faculty at local college or university dance programs and see if they have someone to recommend or somewhere to refer you. You may also inquire about posting a job description on the department bulletin board. Area dance companies are another good resource—many professional dancers or advanced students teach on the side for extra money. In addition, consider attending dance workshops to network and find someone who has the experience you need.
Grooming an instructor from within your own school is often an excellent bet, as she will already be familiar with your studio’s clientele, style and standards. Sandra Vaughan, owner of Vaughan Dance Academy in Plainfield, Illinois, says that it has always been her policy to hire internally—starting with her two daughters. “As the years have gone by and the studio has grown, I have hired former students trained in our methods,” Vaughan says. “Some added to their dance expertise at other Chicago-land studios or went on to college and received their degrees in dance. All kept in contact with us and eventually came back to teach. The newest member of our staff of seven is my granddaughter.”
What to Look For
Once you have an applicant in mind, how can you tell if she will be a good match for your studio? One of the most important things you can do is spend time mapping out exactly what you are looking for in an instructor. Write a job description that lists in detail the expectations, rules and structure of the available positions. Decide if you want to hire individuals as employees or independent contractors. (For more on the pros and cons of each, including tax and insurance issues, visit www.irs.gov/businesses/small/topic/html and look for “Independent Contractor” in the “A-Z Index for Business.”
Prior to the interview, ask candidates to submit their resumés, with references—and check them ahead of time. Write down some thoughts regarding your teaching and studio philosophy that you’d like to share, and make a list of questions to ask, such as how long they have been teaching, what age groups they have experience with and any other points that you feel are important. (See page 84 for a list of sample questions.) When interviewees arrive, take note of their punctuality, demeanor, appearance and poise. In addition, be sure to ask them how they would handle difficult situations—such as an angry parent or a shy student—so you can get a feel for their personality and problem-solving skills, as well as their capacity to work with little or no supervision.
Consider an Audition
Assessing applicants’ knowledge of proper technique and teaching ability can be challenging, if not impossible, in a sit-down interview. Consider having them come in to teach a sample class as part of the process. As Lisa Wasserman, artistic director for Pennsylvania’s Delaware Valley Dance Academy, says, “If we are interested in a potential teacher after reviewing her resumé and conducting an interview, I always have her teach an audition class. A resumé can only tell you so much.”
Wasserman takes that opportunity to observe how the teacher interacts with students, manages the classroom and gives corrections, in addition to how well she can keep dancers motivated. “I have found the audition class to be very beneficial,” she says. “Not only do I get to see the potential instructor’s teaching style and ability, but the teacher gets a chance to learn more about our studio as well.”
What to Watch Out For
When considering candidates, keep an eye out for warning signs such as a string of short-lived teaching positions or a negative attitude about past jobs or co-workers. First, give potential teachers a chance to explain the situation; from there you can decide if it sounds problematic.
Above all, make sure you feel totally comfortable with a teacher before hiring her. Great qualifications don’t necessarily mean that a person is right for your studio, especially if her personality doesn’t mesh with others on your staff. Better to keep interviewing until you come across the right person for the job.
Making Sure It’s a Match
If all goes well and you find a suitable candidate, consider having a trial period to give both you and the teacher a chance to find out if you are a good match for each other. “I like to hire teachers as substitutes first,” says Diane Fotino, owner and director of Impact Dance Studios in LaGrange and Countryside, IL. “It’s a good way to get a feel for them and to see if they will work out well.” Another possibility is having periodic contracts, which allow each party to reevaluate before continuing the relationship. If you hire a teacher as an employee, include class observations and reviews as part of the agreement—that way you can continually touch base with her and establish that things are moving in the direction you want.
Making sure an instructor is the right one can be a difficult process, but finding a perfect fit is well worth the trouble. Knowing where to look, what you want and how to assess applicants are all key steps toward beginning a successful new relationship. DT
The financial responsibility that comes with owning and running a dance studio is a lot to take on. Sharing your space is one way to ease the burden all around. How you go about doing just that, though, has as much to do with your personality as with your financial needs. You can rent out space to another instructor or take on a partner, depending on what you are most comfortable with.
Do you prefer to run things solo, or enjoy working with others in more of a team environment? On the one hand, renting your space lets you maintain control of studio decisions—and the best time slots—while earning revenue during off-hours. On the other, sharing your space equally with another business may help you save even more on the costs of rent, utilities, maintenance and even marketing, while providing more long-term stability. Here are some issues to consider before deciding which avenue to pursue and, after you’ve decided, what to discuss with potential renters or partners.
Choosing the right renter has the potential to bring in more students and increase your exposure in the community. Jane Archer, owner of Euphoria Studios in Portland, Oregon, takes great care in choosing her renters. “We make every effort to rent to high-quality teachers who have a thorough knowledge of the body and proper form,” she says. Renting also helps fill up empty studio hours. “We look for those with a similar philosophy and try to sense a fit with the studio if possible,” Archer says. “Many times the instructors find us, and like the atmosphere.”
Renting space for a set fee translates to guaranteed income each month. On the other hand, you may feel cheated if a rental instructor’s enrollment grows and you are not entitled to a percentage of the increase. Charging renters a percentage helps insure you will make money if they increase their business, but if their class sizes dwindle, so does your share.
A combination approach can be one solution—charging a flat fee along with a percentage if the class increases beyond a certain size. Yet another option is to charge a fee for each class the instructor offers. That way, as more classes are added, you make more money. Again, the agreement you reach will depend on your personality.
On the downside, renting out your studio means extra paperwork and taking care of details such as keeping track of rental payments and making sure that the renting instructor has liability insurance. “Renters can be flaky and [create the need for] a tremendous amount of administration,” Archer admits.
Drawing up a contract will help to eliminate any gray areas. It is also an important step in terms of protecting yourself legally in the event of any conflict. Here are just a few of the other issues to discuss at the onset of the relationship and to spell out in writing:
- If there are any damages to a rental property, who is responsible? (By law, the landlord is generally responsible for normal wear and tear.)
- If you are able to hire staff, do you split that cost?
- What are the ramifications of late rent payments?
- Who will be responsible for cleaning?
- Will you share office space, storage space, equipment and supplies? Or will renters be responsible for bringing equipment to and from the studio?
Last but not least, consider how you will arrange the décor of the space to be shared. With renting teachers, this is somewhat limited, since they will be using your area, but they may enjoy having the studio reflect their tastes as well. Something as simple as hanging a picture illustrating the instructor’s style of class can enhance the overall studio atmosphere and will be appreciated by him or her.
Taking On a Partner
Sharing a studio with a business partner can be risky, but can also be an enormous payoff. Gabrielle Deschaine, owner of Grow in Motion Dance and Wellness Center in Forest Park, Illinois, has found that splitting costs such as rent, water and marketing, and having the common goal of operating a successful studio, have paid off tremendously. She shares the space with Catherine Lewan, who owns Equability Yoga & Pilates—a complementary business that nevertheless has a separate client base that doesn’t compete with Deschaine’s. According to Deschaine, “Our partnership works, in part because I respect Catherine’s skill level and professionalism. We are both committed to the success of the studio. Communication is key in working together well.”
Deschaine and Lewan share a website, but have different sections for each business. The site shows a picture of the studio and has a unified look, but each teacher has her own area. They have separate pricing plans and policies for classes and never take money from each other’s students. Deschaine said that they rarely have any issues doing business this way.
When the two teachers decided to join efforts, they were careful to consider every detail, especially because they wanted to share space while keeping their businesses separate. “We sat down together and went through every piece of the lease to make sure that we were both protected,” Deschaine says. “We added an addendum to it detailing exactly how the time would be split between us at the studio. We chose different days, and wound up with about 16 hours each.”
You’ll also want to discuss and spell out many of the same issues that are important in a renting situation, such as who is liable for rent if one person defaults, staff costs, office space, storage space, and the use of equipment and supplies. Marketing costs can even be shared to meet tight budgets. As for décor, ideally both people should have an equal say in the design, or at least the power to veto. When in doubt, resort to a third party to aid in the process and negotiate conflicts.
Perhaps most importantly, evaluate the personality of your potential business partner: Talking candidly about expectations and ideas can help both of you see if the combination is a match. Try talking about issues that may come up, such as how each of you might handle a difficult parent or someone who did not pay for a class, to see if you are on the same page.
It also helps to have a person who has similar ideas when it comes to instruction. Make sure that you have a solid picture of the atmosphere that you hope to create in the studio, and discuss your thoughts with any potential partners. It is much easier to deal with these issues on the front end of a business relationship than later on.
Some teachers may think that splitting up the studio time might not leave them with enough usable hours in which to hold their classes. To her own surprise, Deschaine found this to be a good thing. “When I had my own studio, it was tempting to say yes to every request that students had, both to be sure that they were happy and to make sure the business was doing well,” she reflects. “Now, the days I am there are limited and so is my schedule, which allows me to rest and be fresh.”
Teachers who enjoy working with others and are trying to save some money can benefit from sharing a studio with a renter or even a partner. Careful planning and preparation are the keys to making that a good relationship. Teamwork can help ease the load, and make it a profitable venture for everyone involved. DT
Catherine Tully is a freelance writer and high school dance instructor. She serves as the Outside Europe Representative for the National Dance Teachers Association in the UK and has more than 17 years of dance teaching experience.