Dance Teacher Tips
From The Rock School 2019 Showcase. Photo by Catherine Park, courtesy of The Rock School

Your year-end recital is your studio's pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Not only is it the time for your dancers to celebrate what they've accomplished during the year, it's your opportunity to demonstrate to parents firsthand the value of a dance education. A successful recital can also grant your school an influential role in the local community. Whether a prominent conservatory or a small-town studio, and whether your dancers win competitions or take classes once a week, your year-end recital is the chance for your dancers—and your program—to shine.

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Dance Teacher Tips
Jessica Kubat (center) with her studio staff. Photo by Vincent Alongi, courtesy of Kubat

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."

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Dance Teacher Tips
Father-daughter dance. Photo by Lisa Lee, courtesy of Dance Academy USA

Your year-end recital is your studio's pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Not only is it the time for your dancers to celebrate what they've accomplished during the year, it's your opportunity to demonstrate to parents firsthand the value of a dance education. A successful recital can also grant your school an influential role in the local community. Whether a prominent conservatory or a small-town studio, and whether your dancers win competitions or take classes once a week, your year-end recital is the chance for your dancers—and your program—to shine.

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Studio Owners
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You've got the teaching talent, the years of experience, the space and the passion—now all you need are some students!

Here are six ideas for getting the word out about your fabulous, up-and-coming program! We simply can't wait to see all the talent you produce with it!

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Q: What policies do you put in place to encourage parents of competition dancers to pay their bills in a timely manner?

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Studio Owners
Gina Gibney in rehearsal. Photo courtesy of Gibney Dance

Gibney Dance Center, one of New York City's thriving dance hubs, has announced plans to expand its home at 280 Broadway. With eight studios already, the $2.5 million capital campaign running through 2016 will fund the building of seven new studios.

Gibney Dance Company was founded by choreographer and dance activist Gina Gibney in 1991. In 2014, she acquired the studio and performance space at 280 Broadway, formerly the home of Dance New Amsterdam. At both 280 Broadway and Gibney's other location at 890 Broadway, students can take classes, rent studio space and participate in Gibney Dance's frequent workshop offerings.

Studio Owners
Your studio website: It's probably not the first thing on your mind, right? You're probably spread thin enough managing the artistic component of studio ownership. But your website is often the first thing potential students (and their parents) see when making a decision about where to enroll—and you want that first impression to be a good one. The good news is that optimizing your website isn't as complicated as you might imagine: We've narrowed it down to 5 ways you can fine-tune your web presence to make it effective, accessible and competitive.

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Studio Owners
Photo by Jim Carmody

Nicole Lucia leans against her desk in Danceology, the 14,000-square-foot performing arts campus she owns north of San Diego, and stretches her arms. She pulls the sleeves of her stylish athletic shirt down over her hands. Her neon-orange nail polish perfectly matches a tank top that peeks out at her hips. Over her head, a monitor displays a closed-circuit video of dance rooms, and behind her is a poster-size image of a glamorous cheerleader.

“Yes, that's me as a Charger Girl, right out of Academy of Our Lady of Peace," she says with a smile. “And now I'm in charge of all this," gesturing to indicate the studio that she founded in 2002. She raises her voice to be heard over the rumbling sound of dancing feet and looks up to the ceiling. “It's noisy like this all the time. It's a happy sound—glad we have solid floors."

Lucia often talks about the floors in her two-story space, and with good reason. She has invested between $15,000 and $20,000 in equipment for each of the seven dance rooms that comprise Danceology: sprung flooring covered with marley or wood, mirrors, viewing glass and state-of-the-art sound and video systems.

During the tour, we pass two maintenance men. “They wash the glass and floors every day," Lucia says. “We keep this place spotless. Tap dancing is hard on floors. We have those done in regular rotation, that's about $1,500 every year or two. Gouging is worst near the stairs where little dancers stand."

The Danceology logo is large in the lobby. Receptionists sign people in and out. Some dancers arrive after school every day and stay until 9 pm. Those who dance on the competition team train 25 to 30 hours a week and rehearse or travel to competitions on weekends.

Lucia employs 26 instructors, four program directors, an operations manager and six administrative people. Photo by Jim Carmody.

Hallways painted purple are lined with photographs of master teachers and star students. Each image is wrapped on a frame like a painting. The tiny-tot areas have painted murals and one-way mirrored glass. There are shelves for bags and books, desks and Wi-Fi, multiple restrooms and a shower.

Students and parents can watch closed-circuit dance action on flat-screen TVs in the Snack Barre lounge. Parents help serve food and drinks from a simple kitchen, but Lucia says all other operations are done by paid staff.

After Lucia outgrew her first 2,000-square-foot studio, she partnered with her mother, Jeanne Lucia, to build a modern campus in a plain industrial park. “It was an empty warehouse," she says, “which was terrifying and exciting at the same time. We wanted spacious dance rooms and modern common areas. We were in a new area full of growing families. Fourteen years later I teach some of the same dancers who were in my first tiny-tot class.

“We've had some tough years. We finished our build-out in 2008 as the economy dived. The toll was devastating in 2010 because families were scaling back.

“We recovered. It's invaluable to have a strong program for ages 3 to 8 because they train and develop through the years. Balancing the budget isn't easy. We operate on a tight margin, but I'm committed to paying my staff and giving clients value. I want this to be open and affordable to everyone."

"We have some tough years. We finished our build-out in 2008 as the economy dived. The toll was devastating." Photo by Jim Carmody.

TEAM EFFORT

Lucia says she was always athletic, and she danced growing up. She auditioned for the San Diego Chargers cheerleaders on a whim and stayed for three seasons.

“I worked up to captain and was chosen to be the Charger rep at the Pro Bowl," she says. “I learned leadership skills and how to interact with many types of people. I am grateful."

Now she has a team of 26 instructors on staff. She also has four program directors, one operations manager and six administrative employees. A color-coded schedule shows classes: all levels of ballet, tap, technique, jazz/lyrical, acrobatics, contemporary, hip hop, stretch turns and leaps, legs and feet. There is also an adaptive dance program for dancers with special needs, ages 4 to 8. It introduces ballet, tap and creative movement and offers performance opportunities.

“Total enrollment is 800, and about 180 students are in competition," she says. “Annual revenue is about $1.2 million. We have many programs to support that enrollment: a holiday show, a full Nutcracker and a showcase for every dancer in June. We have more than 100 classes per week, not including rehearsals or private lessons. Multiple times a year, I fly in guests for master classes and workshops."

ALWAYS PROFESSIONAL

It's a balance of “discipline and nurture, and some fun," Lucia says, as groups of students hop out of her way in a corridor. During a dance demonstration, she divides students into groups. The waiting group scrambles to the side and hugs the wall to make more room.

Natural light shines through big windows on the second floor, and Lucia takes a seat on a black leather sofa near a line of desks that she calls the homework area. We can hear muffled sounds from a class down the hall. Three mothers waiting outside a studio comfort a young girl who has a broken toe and needs help taping it.

Coaching dancers is Lucia's passion. To get results, she uses discipline tempered with inspiration. “I am not interested in being their friend," she says. “There is time to laugh, but there are boundaries. Kids listen and do as I say because they understand what is expected of them. Expectations are set and never change."

“We are a professional team, not volunteers," says Lucia. “We coach minds and teach bodies. We support dance competition, and we prepare young people for success on a stage and in life, the wins and losses. There's discipline and team bonding, and we help with scholarships and college. There are many opportunities, and we work as a team to find the right chemistry for a college education or other direction."

Photo by Jim Carmody

Emma York, 13, trains in multiple styles at Danceology six days a week. Wearing a sky-blue leotard and winning smile, she takes a break to talk about competition and TV appearances. She attended the Joffrey Ballet School Summer Intensive in San Francisco on scholarship and performed on “Dancing with the Stars." “You can find us on YouTube," York says of her duet with dance partner Joey German. “We danced the younger roles of Julianne and Derek Hough. I hope to attend Juilliard."

Sophia Lucia, Nicole Lucia's young cousin, also trained here. She has danced on television and holds the Guinness World Record for 55 consecutive pirouettes.

Competing in a sport is expensive, and Lucia says it's the same for dance. Classes, conventions, hotels, flights, costumes and entry fees add up.

“We know it's tough to participate at that level," Lucia says. “That's why we offer a program for dancers who want a smaller commitment. It's less rigorous and more feasible for families. We welcome any dancer, beginner or advanced. Anyone can take a technique class for $20. We're inclusive."

“In 14 years I've used skills from working with the NFL and smart professional teachers, and my family," Lucia says. “I don't ask people to work for free. I try to hire the best and provide a nurturing environment here."

She pulls out drawers filled with pink ballet shoes, tap shoes and clothes. “This is our lost-and-found," she says, laughing. “I could open a store. Some kids come back for them, but most are left here. Kids who do the trial week can use these shoes if they need to. Shoes are expensive."

Dance Teacher Tips
JP Tenuta with Monika Knickrehm in a Level 6 class at The Academy of Movement and Music. Photo by Mike Dutka, courtesy of The AMM

The culture of your dance studio should be a major consideration when it comes to hiring new instructors. After all, teaching experience isn't the only thing that matters! You'll also want to make sure an interviewee fits with your overall philosophy when it comes to interacting with students (and parents!) and teaching dance. Here are some great tips that can help you find the right match.

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Studio Owners
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Any savvy studio owner knows that bringing in guest artists is a good idea, whether for a two-hour master class or a weekend spent choreographing recital or competition routines. Your students learn new styles, get exposed to different teaching approaches and have the chance to network with professionals. But it can be a challenge to bring in the guest you want—paying for airfare, lodging, meals, hourly teaching rates, choreography fees—while keeping your bottom line in the black. And you want to keep master class fees reasonable for your dancers. But there are ways to economize, if you're willing to think outside the box.

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Studio Owners
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Dance teachers aren't dummies. As in every other industry, the importance of social media for growing a business is not lost on any of us. It's in knowing exactly how to use it effectively that's the challenge. For a group of artists who work within the confines of centuries-old techniques, it's no wonder we start shaking in our boots the second we hear words like "algorithm" and "digital strategy." What's more, the Wild West of Instagram, Twitter and Facebook is constantly changing. How are any of us supposed to feel like we have a handle on things?

Don't worry—we've got you covered. We caught up with an expert, Brigham Young University School of Communications faculty member Adam Durfee. Named Social Media Innovator of the Year for 2019 by The Social Shake-Up conference, he's spilling on the do's and don'ts that will make all the difference in engaging your audience and growing your dance studio business.

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Q: Our recitals are too long when we have both competition and recreational dancers performing, so I'm considering having two separate performances. Do you have any advice on how to do this without creating drama?

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Dance Teacher Tips
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Do you have new preschool students enrolling in your upcoming dance year? These tiny dancers just beginning their movement journey are poised to become part of your studio community for the next decade or more.

Keep in mind that dance class may be one of the first times a child under age 5 has been separated from their parents. Dance class can be exciting and full of anxiety for both the parent and the child. As their first teacher, you need to set the stage for an easy, happy and memorable first experience. Here's how—with four studio rules for parents—to create an environment where preschoolers can thrive.

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