Many a studio owner might agree that the idea of maternity leave is laughable. "So many people say, 'I was back after two weeks—we had a competition,'" says Meagan Ziebarth, a former owner who sold her studio two years ago. "If that works for you, and you feel great, wonderful. But I feel passionately that having a baby is one of the most transformational life events, and you don't need to put that kind of pressure on yourself and accept that that's the norm."
So how can you take the maternity leave you want and make sure your studio doesn't run itself into the ground? We asked three who did it for their best advice—including what they wish they'd done differently.
Be OK With Crazy
Suzana Stankovic and Natalia.
Suzana Stankovic Wild Heart Performing Arts Studio Astoria, New York Enrollment: 500 (drop-in) 2 years in business
Suzana Stankovic signed the lease on her New York studio a mere 10 days before she gave birth to her first child. The space she'd been renting hourly for private and group lessons unexpectedly became available for a lease takeover, and, despite the timing, it felt like the right decision. "I said, 'This is happening for a reason,'" she says.
For the first two months after her baby was born, Stankovic recovered (she'd had a C-section). She held a soft opening in mid-November (2 1/2 months postdelivery) for existing students and officially opened her studio—with a drop-in class format—to the public the following January (4 months postdelivery).
Figure out your childcare. "It's the most important thing. You've got to figure that out, whether that means visiting daycare centers and finding one you're comfortable with or involving your entire family," she says. Stankovic's parents are retired and live near her, luckily, so they became her nannies. "That's the major reason I was able to do this," she says.
Expect to feel different after giving birth. "When I had my baby, and it came time to leave her and go to work, it was very, very difficult," says Stankovic. "I wasn't prepared for that. I was texting my mother constantly: 'Is she OK? Did she have her milk? Is she colicky?' It was hard to be fully present, initially. Be prepared for the effects of sleep deprivation and not eating well and the postpartum blues."
Have a support system in place. That's how Stankovic got through the roughest times, postbirth. "Have a friend or your husband or partner," she says. "And know that the very difficult times are temporary. They do abate. And if they don't, there are resources. There's help out there."
Be OK with crazy. "I would plan my lesson and do my combos in the shower," she says. "On my way to the studio, I'd finish up my grand allégro in my head. I'd send e-mails in the middle of changing her diaper—I'd write two sentences, change the diaper, write two more, then hit send." The result of so much multitasking? "I realized, 'Wow, I can do so much more than I thought I could,'" says Stankovic. "I'm ready for anything."
In December I attended Ballet West's Nutcracker in Salt Lake City. The show started about 15 minutes late, and during intermission one of the company's PR reps came to apologize. He let me know that the backstage/stage area was too cold, based on the union's rights, and that it had to warm up before the dancers could perform.
This idea really struck me. I hadn't thought much about the rights dancers had to a backstage that was warm. Having spent most of my life as a comp kid performing on concrete floors, it never occurred to me that I should protect my body from an environment that might be harmful to it. We just danced wherever we were told to.
Ever since that performance last month, I haven't been able to get the idea of union rights and studio kids out of my head. Every dancer, professional or not, deserves a safe space to perform. I reviewed union benefits for the Screen Actors Guild—American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA), the American Guild of Musical Artists (AGMA) and the Actors' Equity Association (AEA), and determined a list of five rights I believe studio kids should be entitled to. I'm not advocating that they unionize, but, dance teachers, make sure you're taking care of your kiddos!!
Let us know in the comments on our Facebook page what you think about union rights and studio kids!
Travel has become a surprisingly important element of dance education. While the majority of studios provide comprehensive training in-house, along with bringing in an impressive roster of choreographers from around the globe, the studios that visit cities with major professional opportunities give their students a valuable bump in their educations.
Travel often instills a more ferocious desire to pursue a professional career. It gives dancers an up-close-and-personal look at the jobs they can expect to audition for in their post-studio life, and it gives them another chance to make connections with working choreographers.
Here are three cities you should consider taking your studio to this year. Your students will love you for it!
In the studio world, rifts can arise between studio owners and dance teachers. Teachers often feel that their concerns go unheard or uncared for, so here are four things they wish studio owners understood. Teachers, let us know if there's anything we missed! If you're a studio owner, check it out, and share on our Facebook page things you wish dance teachers also knew.
Q: I want to bring in a guest choreographer, but I'm worried about the cost. How can I keep things affordable and give dancers the best possible experience, both while the choreographer is here and after they leave?
Holiday shows are a stalwart in the dance community. Whether it's The Nutcracker,Nutcracker-inspired or simply a charity performance, studios across the country spend the month of December performing something that marks the season. So, the question is, should you join the ranks of studio owners who are running themselves to the breaking point?
It's all up to you! Here are some pros and cons to consider as you begin thinking about a potential holiday show for next year. Whether you're a studio owner who does or doesn't do a yearly holiday show, let us know why over on our Facebook page.
Fundraising for your studio—whether it's to raise money for your competition team dancers, fund a much-needed renovation or offer a family in need a scholarship—can feel like pulling teeth. You've done the bake sales, the car washes, the candy bars. Why not try something new? These four owners stepped up their fundraising game with fresh, fun and, most importantly, profitable ideas.
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.
Don't run everything full-out. Danie Beck's competitive dancers mark and space their routines and practice entrances and exits. "They've been dancing those numbers all season at competitions," she says. "But we do have to go through lighting and tech cues with them, since they don't have those in competition."
Give your babies longer tech slots. "Our preschoolers get 25 minutes on the stage during tech, no matter what," says Joe Naftal of Dance Connection in Islip, New York. "We think it's important for them to have that time—then they're much more comfortable onstage during the recital. Fewer will cry or not go on."
Let the cameras snap and videos roll Naftal allows parents to take photos and video during dress rehearsal, when students are in full hair, makeup and costume. (Neither are allowed at the performance.) For optimal digital viewpoints, he reserves the first 10 rows of the audience for parents of whatever number is onstage. "You're going to get a better photo and video during dress rehearsal that way," he says.
Students should practice entering and leaving in a blackout.
Run your dress rehearsal in the show's order to get the overall timing down pat.
If you're designing lighting or sound cues during a dress rehearsal, seat a dependable teacher in the audience to keep an eye on students' spacing, energy, timing and precision.
Assign a veteran backstage dresser to keep track and warn you of any surprisingly quick costume changes.