Studio Owners

Small businesses across the U.S. are keeping careful tabs on their states' reopening schedules and making changes to their business models accordingly. As pandemic-related guidelines and timelines evolve, it's important that you have a multilayered plan for the gradual reopening of your studio—one that prioritizes your dancers' and staff's health, reassures families that it's safe to return and allows you to operate your business to the fullest extent. Keep in mind that flexibility will be key: It's possible your state may experience a spike in new cases of COVID-19, requiring your studio's plan to take a step or two backward before it moves forward again.

Here are four crucial steps to preparing your studio for a flexible, responsive and well-considered reopening.

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Studio Owners
Talent Factory dancers performed The Clarity of Being Alive by Tara Iacobucci for NYCDA Foundation. Photo by Chris Coates-Mitchell, courtesy of NYCDA

Talk about being close: Dana and Hugo Adames have been together 18 years and have two kids who love to dance—and the couple owns The Talent Factory Performing Arts Centre, with two locations, 550 students and a third site in the works. Dana, artistic director, and Hugo, general manager, have a method for how they handle everything from parenting to business decisions: "We work as partners. We look at the pros and cons together before making any decisions," Dana says. "We have a mutual respect for each other and really talk about everything, all the time."

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Studio Owners
Sacramento Ballet began offering online classes to its SB School students on April 1. Photo by Scott Beckner, courtesy of Sacramento Ballet

On Wednesday, March 11—two weeks ahead of a statewide stay-at-home mandate—Colorado Conservatory of Dance executive director Richard Cowden and artistic director Julia Wilkinson Manley made the difficult decision to take all of CCD's classes online. As you'd expect, it wasn't easy. "This chapter in our future book will be called 'The 96 Hours From Hell,'" says Cowden, laughing, who joined the Broomfield-based nonprofit and its conservatory program of 200 students in 2018. "Over four days, we got together with our staff and faculty, all hands on deck, and launched our entire conservatory of classes online." You've probably done something similar at your own studio, scrambling to orient yourself and your staff with a video-conferencing platform (like Zoom, a popular choice among owners) for classes, as sweeping stay-at-home orders preclude in-person instruction.

COVID-19 continues to disrupt daily life as we know it, which means the state of your studio has been evolving often and rapidly. But regardless of what lies ahead, the skills you're learning as you pivot your business from in-person to online will come in handy again, no matter the crisis you're facing. We've compiled COVID-19-specific advice from the leadership of four studios and schools, in an effort to help you communicate and operate as effectively—and thriftily, and smoothly, and normally—as possible.

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Studio Owners
Pam Simpson of Forte Arts Center. Photo courtesy of Forte Arts Center

As COVID-19 forced state after state into some form of lockdown this spring, most studio owners realized right away that they needed to evolve quickly—or else watch their enrollment plummet. Online classes became the key to business continuity, but with so little time to adapt material to remote learning and train faculty members on new technology, there was little room for finesse. But that's what Pam Simpson focused on first with her 600-student studio, Forte Arts Center, in Morris and Channahon, IL. She knew she needed to predict pedagogical issues that might crop up with Zoom dance education before they happened and offer solutions to keep students happy—and enrolled. And she knew the key to that was to invest in training her staff.

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Studio Owners
Shanna Kirkpatrick. Photo by Meghan McCluskey, courtesy of Chara Christian Dance Academy

For Shanna Kirkpatrick, owner of Chara Christian Dance Academy, the key to retaining 96.5 percent of her 1,000-student enrollment through COVID-19 has been communication: regular e-mail updates, mass studio text messages, personal phone calls and—perhaps most significantly—following up with Zoom no-shows.

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