Associate editor Rachel Rizzuto is originally from Chalmette, Louisiana. She dances for MMDC and heads her own project-based company, touche pas. A graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi with degrees in dance and English, she edits the Face to Face, Higher Ed, Technique, Theory & Practice and Business columns. Contact her at email@example.com.
Students in Pulinkala's Cocoon. Photo by Robert Pack, courtesy of Kennesaw State
When Ivan Pulinkala was preparing for his interview at Kennesaw State University to create the school's first dance program, he figured the whole thing would be a lark, at best. After all, the New Delhi–born choreographer had just gotten his green card, which meant he could teach anywhere, and Kennesaw, Georgia (a half-hour outside of Atlanta), wasn't his first choice as a location. But after doing a scan of collegiate dance in Georgia, he began to change his mind. "I thought, 'Wow, if someone starts a big dance program at a public institution, the market's wide open,'" says Pulinkala. "There were some good programs, like Emory University, but they were niche—private and expensive."
Accountant Jessica Scheitler has a helpful phrase for the clients of her Las Vegas–based tax preparation business, Financial Groove—one she thinks they'll understand: Expense full-out. "It's the same as when you're at a convention, and you're supposed to dance full-out, as big and crazy as possible," she explains. In the world of tax preparation, it means handing over all your studio business receipts, rather than cherry-picking what seems appropriate or "right."
There are a few other things she'd like from her clients as well—so we made a list. Use it to impress your accountant this year (and make their job a little easier).
Students at UNCSA in Twyla Tharp's Sweet Fields. Photo by Rosalie O'Connor, courtesy of UNCSA
Where do you want to live?
Though this question might seem unrelated to the issue, Katie Glasner, chair of Barnard College's dance department, believes it's actually a crucial one. "A liberal arts institution in an urban area is going to offer more possibilities outside of the university setting, potentially, than a rural setting," she says. "And then there are the students who are really not comfortable in a metropolitan area and want a smaller area." If high schoolers are waffling over the type of dance program but have firm feelings about urban versus rural, geographical setting could be a definitive way to settle the matter.
The Dance Studio of Fresno dancers. Courtesy of DSF
So you think you want to start a competition team, eh? It's a lot of work to take your studio into this arena, but, as many will attest, it can be well worth your while—both as a way to increase performance opportunities and exposure for your students and to grow your studio. Is there a way to avoid pitfalls and take the fast track to success? We talked with the directors of some of the most well-run teams we know about their strategies, from logistics like fees and schedules to navigating the emotions that are sure to come with this new territory.
Trai Allgeier, whose studio received a Torch Award. Photo by Wes Hamilton, courtesy of Point Performing Arts
Competition trophies, well-respected faculty and an end-of-year recital with Vegas-level production elements are all powerful attractions for potential students and their families. But what about recognition outside the studio sphere, in your community? Is there value in that?
To say Lisa Morgan wears more than one hat would be a gross understatement. For starters, she teaches a pedagogy course for dance majors at Colorado State University and heads the dance component of an arts-integration program (BRAINY) for local elementary students. She also runs a professional-development seminar for K–12 teachers who want to incorporate movement into their classrooms. And she teaches movement to music therapy students at CSU. Oh, and she was part of a weeklong summer institute last year to expose high-needs high schoolers to college via integrative dance activities.
It's tempting to say that Morgan, who has been an adjunct professor throughout her 20-year tenure at CSU, is just someone who goes above and beyond her job description. But she avows that it's more about feeling compelled to make her mark in dance education. If that sounds idealistic, it is. "When you're in arts education, you always see the bigger picture—a bigger list of things you want to do and get to," she says. Her bigger picture of late? Working on broadening CSU's dance-degree offerings (currently a BA) to include a BFA, eventually with a concentration in dance education—and teacher licensure. "It's what I'm most passionate about," she says. "It's what I can make the biggest difference in."
Many a studio owner might agree that the idea of maternity leave is laughable. "So many people say, 'I was back after two weeks—we had a competition,'" says Meagan Ziebarth, a former owner who sold her studio two years ago. "If that works for you, and you feel great, wonderful. But I feel passionately that having a baby is one of the most transformational life events, and you don't need to put that kind of pressure on yourself and accept that that's the norm."
So how can you take the maternity leave you want and make sure your studio doesn't run itself into the ground? We asked three who did it for their best advice—including what they wish they'd done differently.
Be OK With Crazy
Suzana Stankovic and Natalia.
Suzana Stankovic Wild Heart Performing Arts Studio Astoria, New York Enrollment: 500 (drop-in) 2 years in business
Suzana Stankovic signed the lease on her New York studio a mere 10 days before she gave birth to her first child. The space she'd been renting hourly for private and group lessons unexpectedly became available for a lease takeover, and, despite the timing, it felt like the right decision. "I said, 'This is happening for a reason,'" she says.
For the first two months after her baby was born, Stankovic recovered (she'd had a C-section). She held a soft opening in mid-November (2 1/2 months postdelivery) for existing students and officially opened her studio—with a drop-in class format—to the public the following January (4 months postdelivery).
Figure out your childcare. "It's the most important thing. You've got to figure that out, whether that means visiting daycare centers and finding one you're comfortable with or involving your entire family," she says. Stankovic's parents are retired and live near her, luckily, so they became her nannies. "That's the major reason I was able to do this," she says.
Expect to feel different after giving birth. "When I had my baby, and it came time to leave her and go to work, it was very, very difficult," says Stankovic. "I wasn't prepared for that. I was texting my mother constantly: 'Is she OK? Did she have her milk? Is she colicky?' It was hard to be fully present, initially. Be prepared for the effects of sleep deprivation and not eating well and the postpartum blues."
Have a support system in place. That's how Stankovic got through the roughest times, postbirth. "Have a friend or your husband or partner," she says. "And know that the very difficult times are temporary. They do abate. And if they don't, there are resources. There's help out there."
Be OK with crazy. "I would plan my lesson and do my combos in the shower," she says. "On my way to the studio, I'd finish up my grand allégro in my head. I'd send e-mails in the middle of changing her diaper—I'd write two sentences, change the diaper, write two more, then hit send." The result of so much multitasking? "I realized, 'Wow, I can do so much more than I thought I could,'" says Stankovic. "I'm ready for anything."
Gesel Mason has serious chutzpah. Eighteen years ago, fresh off a performance career with the Dance Exchange and eager to focus on her own work, she decided to ask some high-profile African-American choreographers—Bebe Miller, Andrea Woods Valdés, Jawole Willa Jo Zollar, Donald McKayle, David Roussève—if they'd set solos on her. "It was one of those moments where you don't realize what you're asking," she says. "Before I got too in my head, too 'Why-would-I-even-dare-to-ask-these-people?', I just...did." In looking back, she's surprised they all said yes.
That was the beginning of No Boundaries: Dancing the Visions of Contemporary Black Choreographers, an evolving collection of solos meant to show the resilience and diversity of black contemporary performance. "The work very clearly shows that, actually, the boundary of the term 'blackness' doesn't really exist. It's wide and risk-taking and sophisticated," says MK Abadoo, a friend and colleague who has performed with Mason.
Since 2001, Mason—while also creating her own work, directing a company and holding teaching positions at many universities—has steadily amassed 11 solos, embedding herself in these choreographers' processes. Now, No Boundaries is evolving once more. Mason is archiving videos of the solos and extensive interviews with their respective choreographers via an online platform that will go live this spring, as part of her new (as of fall 2018) position at The University of Texas at Austin.