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.
David Roussève has spent the last 35 years creating dance theater work that's both fiercely political and personal. He took on AIDS with The Whispers of Angels (1995), same-sex marriage with Jumping the Broom (2005) and the Twitter generation with Stardust (2014). Dance writer Deborah Jowitt characterizes his work as treading "a fine line…between gritty tragedy and fairytale pathos." For every critic who might accuse him of occasionally tugging too hard on his audience's heartstrings, there's someone else who thinks his work "offers a succinct and lyrical look at how the highs and lows of life collide" (Sarah Kaufman, for the Washington Post). But perhaps, more than anything, Roussève is interested in the process of discovery. He wants every choreographic experience to feel different.
It's easy to characterize parents as the perpetual thorn in the side of studio owners—they can be demanding, and annoyingly free with their opinions on dance education. But they're also your customers. They deserve not just excellent customer service but an exceptional customer experience, says Annette Franz, head of a customer-experience strategy firm. "What's the difference?" you might ask. "I define customer experience as the sum of all the interactions that a customer has with a brand over the life of their relationship with that brand—plus the feelings, emotions and perceptions about these interactions. Customer service is just one of those interactions," says Franz, author of Cus-tomer Understanding: Three Ways to Put the "Customer" in Customer Expe-rience (and at the Heart of the Business).
In every class Kathryn Alter teaches, two things are immediately evident: how thoughtfully she chooses her words, and how much glee she gets from dancing the movement and style of modern choreographer José Limón. At the 2019 Limón summer workshop at Kent State University, Alter demonstrated a turning triplet with her arms fully outstretched, a smile stretching easily across her face. "It should be as if…" She paused to think of the perfect analogy that would help the dancers find the necessary circularity of the movement. "As if you live in a doughnut!" she finished, grinning broadly. The dancers gathered around her laughed—her smile and love for something as foundational as a triplet was contagious.
Jessica Kubat's path to becoming a studio owner wasn't typical or glamorous or the product of a family business, handed down. When she opened MJ's House of Dance in Lindenhurst, New York, this past summer, she had just turned 40, was a mom of three, and had worked at two different studios long-term. Over the last two and a half years, she'd painstakingly saved up $25,000 and had gone to the Small Business Development Center at a local college on Long Island for help creating her business plan. Her area was moderately saturated with studios, so she spent considerable time planning what would set her school apart—live musical accompaniment, for one—and hired a marketing director nine months before the business even opened. It was a methodical, careful approach—Kubat calls it "the old-fashioned way"—to opening a studio, and it's paid off: She started summer classes with 75 students and is well on her way to reaching her first-year enrollment goal of 250 dancers. "When I turned 40, I decided that it was time to do something bigger," says Kubat. "I always wanted to own a studio—it was just never financially available to me."
Since she was hired in 2006 to create a dance program at Washington & Lee University in Virginia, Jenefer Davies has operated as, essentially, a one-woman show. She's the only full-time faculty member (with regular adjunct support). Over the last 13 years, she has created a thriving program along with a performance company—at a school with fewer than 2,500 students—by drawing on her admittedly rare strength: aerial dance.
When I went back to school last fall to earn my MFA, I was surprised by how much dance in higher education had changed since my undergraduate experience 10 years before—and how much it hadn't. Diasporic dance forms, such as African and hip hop, for example, are now much more integral to curriculums, but ballet and modern still take precedence. Students are now more interested in somatic practices, yet teachers have moved away from cuing or correcting students by touch.
Traditional curriculum that emphasizes Western European dance and separates the path of teaching from that of performance may be deeply ingrained in academia, yet there are many signs of progress to note throughout the field. Here, faculty members of three colleges explain how they are evolving their offerings to better meet the needs of today's dancers.
It's the last class of the spring semester, and Paige Cunningham Caldarella isn't letting any of her advanced contemporary students off the hook. After leading them through a familiar Merce Cunningham–style warm-up, full of bounces, twists and curves, she's thrown a tricky five-count across-the-floor phrase and a surprisingly floor-heavy adagio at the dancers. Now, near the end of class, she is reviewing a lengthy center combination set to a Nelly Furtado song. The phrase has all the hallmarks of Cunningham—torso twists atop extended legs, unexpected timing, direction changes—which means it's a challenge to execute well.
After watching the dancers go through the phrase a couple of times, Caldarella takes a moment to troubleshoot a few sticky spots and give a quick pep talk before having them do it again. "I know it's fast," she tells them. "I know it's a lot of moves. And you're hanging in there! But stick with the task of articulating everything—try to hyper-explore that."
Enrollment is an issue that plagues brand-new and veteran studio owners alike. Without a steady stream of revenue from new students coming through your doors, your studio won't survive—no matter how crisp your dancers' technique is or how well-produced your recitals are.
Enrollment—in biz speak, customer acquisition and retention—depends on your business' investment in marketing. How effectively you get the word out about your studio will directly influence the number of people who register. Successful businesses typically use certain tried-and-true marketing strategies to recruit and retain clients or customers. These four studio owners' tricks for kicking enrollment into high gear are modeled after classic marketing techniques.