What's Up for 2017: 7 Studio Owners Look at the Big Picture

The start of a new calendar year—smack dab in the middle of the studio year—often brings its own challenges, issues and focuses. We checked in with seven prominent studio-business leaders to see what's on their minds for the new year. Their responses run the gamut, from worries about how to avoid gender stereotypes in classroom language to a need to update studio policies.

Are we giving our students what they really need? Last year, after taking a few of her senior dancers to college dance auditions, Dale Lam noticed how they struggled with the modern portion of the audition. “They did fine in the ballet," she says, “but then when it came to the modern part, they felt like they were fish out of water."

Her approach Last fall, Lam hired a modern teacher for Horton and Graham techniques at her South Carolina–based studio, Columbia City Jazz Dance School & Company. Attendance was required for her pre-professional teen and senior students.

During a recent master class with Parsons Dance company members, she could see the difference in her dancers after only a few months. “We got a lot of feedback that I was doing the right thing," says Lam, who will continue the modern classes this spring. “I feel like I'm actually getting them more of what they're going to need—providing them the education they'll need after competitions."

What's the future of our studio? “We're quickly approaching our 30th anniversary, and that leaves the question of, 'What do the next 30 years bring?'" says Joseph Naftal, marketing director at his mother Mary's studio, Dance Connection, on Long Island, New York. “What direction does our company go in, and how do we want to grow the company in the best way possible?"

Their approach Naftal understands that looking forward begins with looking back. He plans to celebrate the 30th anniversary by honoring the studio's history and engaging its community. Festivities include reprising past dances; putting the opening number (also a reprise) to an audience vote; projecting clips from previous recitals and classes; and creating a montage of throwback photos submitted by current students and alumni to play during intermission. He hopes an alumni reception at the studio with food and wine will encourage past dancers to attend the recital.

How can I engage my customers further? “I want to establish a relationship beyond the transaction, or just dropping your kid off for dance," says Phyllis Balagna, owner of Steppin' Out—The Studio in Lee's Summit, Missouri.

Her approach Though she currently sends parents weekly updates, publishes a monthly newsletter and invites customers to holiday-themed events, Balagna plans to step up her studio's social-media exposure, hold more studio events that include both parents and kids and introduce incentives to spread the word about classes.

We want to stop the objectification of girls in dance. “It's hard to avoid, because our bodies are our tools and our canvas," says Cynthia King, who runs her eponymous studio in Brooklyn, New York, “but I'm still really horrified by the focus on prettiness and tricks and allure—things that keep girls stuck in very old stereotypes."

Her approach King and her staff have pledged to be careful about what language they use. Rather than calling their female students “adorable" or “cute," they say “beautiful job" or “good work." “We don't ever say, 'You look so pretty,'" says King. “We're going to talk about how they move."

Does our competition policy still make sense? Jill Athridge of Stage Door Studios in Sarasota, Florida, has had a competition team for nine years, so it's time to update her policies and sort out some issues she's been too busy to fix.

Her approach Throughout the 2017 competition season, Athridge will keep a notebook handy for a running list of things that go wrong—for example, if students were late for call times, missed important rehearsals or didn't make up classes in time for competitions. Then she'll update her team and employee handbooks accordingly, implementing appropriate changes—incentives and consequences—to ensure the team operates like a well-oiled machine in the future.

What to do about the demand for instant gratification? Suzanne Blake Gerety and her mother Kathy Blake have noticed a disturbing trend with parents new to dance at their Amherst, New Hampshire, studio—what Gerety calls the push-button mentality. “They think, 'If I can get Amazon to ship my package overnight, why can't I get my kid to take class just once a week and get them on pointe?'" she says.

Their approach It all comes to down to educating parents and sharing your studio policies. “It's communicating how it works at our studio, how you progress here and what the benefits of dance are," she says. Gerety likes to offer informational sessions on intensive- and competitive-track options, and info sessions at parent nights. She positions alumni well, too, to demonstrate what graduates of their studio look like. Gerety invites current dance majors/minors to help run recitals and assist and choreograph for summer intensives.

How can I make my studio more inclusive? When a number of parents approached her about teaching kids with special needs, owner Jennifer Turey took notice. “They'd ask, 'So-and-so's sister has autism—could she join a class?'" she says. “But I had no idea how to answer them—how to integrate those kids."

Her approach Turey heard about Tricia Gomez's Rhythm Works Integrative Dance, an adaptive dance certification program. She and one of her dance moms, a physical therapist, enrolled in similar programs last summer. Now, they co-teach a Saturday class at her Newtown, Connecticut, studio for two young boys with autism.

Turey invited one student's occupational therapists to observe the class, so they would know what he's working on with her. “They couldn't believe this little boy was dancing," she says. “It was nice to confirm what I was doing was working." Now that she's established the program, she hopes to expand it and attract more students. “It's great that I've started out slow, so I can get my feet wet," she says. “You just don't think you can do this, and then you see it happen, and it's really rewarding." DT

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