Growing Pains: How to Build Enrollment with School-Aged Dancers

A Dance Advantage reader asked specifically how to attract more senior level dance students to her school, which has been open for three years. She said she has success with younger ages but “it’s a real problem filling classes above age 8”.

Can you relate to any of these statements?
  • “We live in a sports town, so once the kids are in school, they lose interest and pick soccer over dance”
  • “We’re not a competition studio, so our kids just take dance for fun and they lose interest and don’t stick with it.”
  • “Our students’ schedules are packed with activities Monday through Friday and on weekends, there’s just no time for dance.”

Here are some ways to kick those issues to the curb and grow enrollment with dancers aged 8-18.

#1. Get them excited about something beyond their weekly dance class. Bring in a master class, guest instructor or choreographer more than once a year.

In addition to knowing what age group you want to build enrollment, it’s important to know what style of dance you want to encourage more participation around. Focus on that style when planning your guest instructor’s visit. Target beginners and dancers of all ages. You can break up a day to have classes for 6-8 year olds, 8-12 year olds, teen/adult, and more.

School-aged dancers thrive on new challenges and crave inspiration. Share the benefits with parents of having their children exposed to a variety of teaching methods and styles. Master class opportunities energize and encourage dancers to stay motivated and committed to their dance training.

From a marketing perspective, it’s easy to promote on social media, your website, and within your current student base. You can also reach out to other area studios and invite them to come or bring some students (we do this every time we bring in a master teacher!) Doing so gets your name out in the community as a resource who brings in programs beyond your own.

Bringing in a guest instructor or master class teacher really doesn’t have to cost you an arm and a leg. Investing $300 – $500 into a guest teacher for a day can pay off well in returns measured by students choosing to further their dance training in a particular style or trying a new class from that inspiration.

We just held a master class at Kathy Blake Dance Studios. Everyone had a great time and two other studios came with dancers! How cool is that?

Here are a few resources for booking a guest teacher or master class(es).

www.shoskillz.com
www.broadwayconnection.net
tapontour.com
flow40dance.com

#2.  Give them something to strive for. Provide a schedule that has depth and variety.

If a young dancer doesn’t have a path to follow or something to aim for, they may not try harder or aspire to the next level in their training.

Notice where you lack the most students at a particular age.  If they are dancers that came out of your tap and ballet combo classes at age 6-8 it may be that you need to focus on expanding your ballet track while delicately balancing your offerings that allow for a diverse student body to keep your studio running.

If you’re having trouble getting younger dancers  from point A to B, make sure your childrens classes are developmentally appropriate. Kids under 8 get bored or burned out if they have to stand or sit or stay in lines too long, if their imaginations aren’t engaged, and if learning doesn’t feel a lot like playing. Be sure you’re not losing them before they really get started.

This may be a good time to hire another faculty member to take on teaching classes of another style so you can focus on one important area you are trying to grow. It may require a creative schedule or use of your floor space.

As dance educators or studio owners, we often assume that parents know the logical progression for dance training. Very few do. Make sure your communications are showing the path that students can follow either as recreational or pre-professional students.

#3. If you can’t beat them, join them.  Give your dancers a chance to be a part of a team or outside performance beyond a year end recital.

What do kids love about organized sports so much that they pick soccer over dance? For many, it’s the fun of being a part of a team, having a schedule of games to strive toward, and the thrill of performance on the field.

I’m not suggesting you become a competitive studio, especially if that is not in alignment with your studio mission and goals. However, I am suggesting that there is something very fun and compelling for dancers when they can be a part of a team, company, cast or performance group. You may choose a production number, an in-studio special performance, or perhaps you do want to try an outside competition to encourage your dancers to better themselves.

It’s a long time from September all the way to June to keep your once-a-week students interested and focused on their dance education if they are only given one performing opportunity ten months after they start classes.

It doesn’t have to be a holiday production.  Look at some new creative ways that break the mold and gives your dancers a chance to do what they love, which is to dance and perform! This will encourage students to stay with dance no matter what their age or level of experience.

Give yourself time to grow and develop a positive reputation in your community. Know your studio mission and how you will align your programs around it. Doing so will give you the foundation for growth.

When I was discussing this topic with Nichelle, she and I had a chance to talk about some of her experiences and what she’s found effective. Below are some of the additional points that came out of that discussion.

#4 See professional or semi-professional performances.

Like master classes, performances can be great motivators, showing students what they’re ultimately striving for and inspiring them to look beyond even their own school or competitors when setting goals. Performance video and documentaries are valuable tools for discovering works, artists, and histories normally out of reach. Take advantage of these when you can but realize that it is an immersive experience to attend live performance. Among other benefits, group outings to performances can be a thrilling event for students to get excited about. Seize this opportunity. Encourage students to bond and talk about what they did and saw.

#5 Celebrate your studio and give teens time to be social.

Maybe you remember how important just talking or hanging out was to you as a teen. Teens, like all people, want to feel like they belong to a group and providing opportunities for your students to be social outside of class is a way to help root this kind of connection at your studio. You might experiment with pizza parties or hosting a for-fun mixed-age classes. Try something out of the ordinary like Zumba or invite multi-talented teachers to offer something new for a night. Follow with refreshments and take lots of pictures. Small and relatively inexpensive studio events like this don’t have to be limited to teens. Your adults or families will appreciate getting together to celebrate being part of your studio.

#6 Make your studio accessible/hospitable to teen beginners.

It can be hard for a new studio to attract enough advanced dancers to fill classes but don’t waste a second wishing you had what established studios have. Instead turn your ‘disadvantage’ into an opportunity to set yourself apart and appeal to willing students often neglected at other studios – namely older beginners (including adults). While appealing to beginner dancers of all ages, continue to expand the depth of your offerings, especially for the ages and levels you wish to grow enrollment. As your younger ones progress, you’ll have your advanced dancers and be recognized for your less-traditional programming as well.

What have you done at your studio that has helped conquer the “soccer effect?”

Suzanne Gerety
Suzanne Blake Gerety is not only the very busy mom of two young children but is the owner and co-founder of DanceStudioOwner.com, and the Vice President of Kathy Blake Dance Studios. She is a regularly featured contributor in various pieces for Dance Teacher Magazine including, "Ask the Experts", business articles, and has presented live workshops at Dance Media's Dance Teacher Summit New York City. Suzanne experiences the ups and downs of studio ownership too, which is what inspires her to help studio owners and teachers keep their passion for dance alive as they grow their business. You can connect with Suzanne on Twitter @SuzanneGerety and at DanceStudioOwner.com.
Suzanne Gerety

Comments

  1. Hi, I am starting a new Dance Studio, and all of the information I’m reading is so helpful to me. For one reason, I have not a clue as to what to do, or where to begin. I am so grateful you have taken the time to give of yourself to those of us who live to dance.

    Adrienne Stewart

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