Studio Owners
The Dance Concept staff in the midst of their costume pickup event. Photo courtesy of Dance Concept

Year-end recitals are an important milestone for dancers to demonstrate what they've learned throughout the year. Not to mention the revenue boost they bring—often 15 to 20 percent of a studio's yearly budget. But how do you hold a spring recital when you're not able to rehearse in person, much less gather en masse at a theater?

"I struggled with the decision for a month, but it hit me that a virtual recital was the one thing that would give our kids a sense of closure and happiness after a few months on Zoom," says Lisa Kaplan Barbash, owner of TDS Dance Company in Stoughton, MA. She's one of countless studio owners who faced the challenges of social distancing while needing to provide some sort of end-of-year performance experience that had already been paid for through tuition and costume fees.

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Studio Owners
Genevieve Weeks, founder of Tutu School. Courtesy of Tutu School

As the founder of Tutu School, a dance studio business with a successful franchise model that has grown to 37 locations throughout the United States, Genevieve Weeks was in a unique position for a studio owner at the start of COVID-19. Not only did she have to make sure her own, original Tutu School locations weathered the virus' storm, she also felt a duty to guide her franchisees through the tumult.

Though she admits it was a particularly grueling experience for her at the start—her husband at one point was bringing all of her meals to her at her laptop, so she could continue working without pause—the appreciation she's felt from her franchisees is palpable. "What I've heard from the Tutu School owners is that they're grateful to be part of a franchise system right now," says Weeks.

So how does a franchise survive something like COVID-19? Here's what got Weeks—and her franchisees—through the first few months of the pandemic.

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Studio Owners
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The first e-mail that we sent out talked about how the studio would be closed for two weeks and everyone should be practicing social distancing and staying healthy and well. We recorded some YouTube classes for all the recreational levels as well as some "boot camp" and warm-up classes for our full-time and part-time comp teams to stay in shape.

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Studio Owners
A Boca Dance Studio student takes virtual class. Photo courtesy of Gibbs

As August swiftly approaches, you're likely fine-tuning the details of what your fall schedule will look like. More than ever, much of your decision-making will have to be tailored to studio parents—some of whom may be eager to return to in-person instruction, and some of whom may be understandably scared.

"Having three studios across two counties in the midst of this crisis, we're really seeing the full spectrum," says Melanie Gibbs, owner of Boca Dance Studio, ProAm Dance Studio and Weston Dance Academy, all in Florida. "We have people who are firmly in the camp of, 'Get these kids out of my house—they're climbing the walls, and they want to get back into the studio with their friends.' We have other clients already telling us they won't be back to in-person classes this season—even if the school districts reopen—though they're happy to continue virtual training."

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Studio Owners
Melanie Gibbs mailed her students "love packages" with items like bean bags. Photo courtesy Gibbs

There's no question that dance studios have adapted their in-person classes to online in creative and business-savvy ways. In the past months, we've learned that online classes are a necessary and valuable way to keep students dancing and studios running. Many studios may choose to continue online learning even as they are allowed to reopen in-person, either as a supplement or a plan B.

But Zoom fatigue is real. If your area is highly impacted by the virus and you are unable to reopen anytime soon, you'll need to find other ways to engage your students that don't involve staring at a screen. Offering offscreen activities can demonstrate to your studio families that the value you provide can't be contained by an electronic device—and ensure that your students are having a dynamic and meaningful dance experience.

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