“Help! I Needed Those Dance Costumes Yesterday”

Humans all make mistakes. And so do costume companies.

Photo by Jake Davis is licensed CC BY-ND 2.0

Photo by Jake Davis is licensed CC BY-ND 2.0


But what do you do when…  

  1. Time is of the essence and a costume company from which you have ordered performance or recital costumes has made a mistake,
  2. You’ve already tried everything with customer service (Dealing with Customer Service in a Costume Emergency),
  3. AND customer service has failed to recognize or meet your needs?
Here’s our best advice to deal with customer service in a crisis:

(And it comes from a Customer Service Relations Manager.)


Call the company and demand to speak with the manager (or higher). Do not hang up until your request is granted or, if you must end the call, be persistent and continue to call back.

Write a Letter

Clearly state your problem and overnight it to the attention of the company president. Be sure to keep a copy for yourself. Add photos of your students wearing the costumes if they don’t fit. You could probably also include photos of poorly constructed or damaged costumes if this suits your case.


Keep all documentation of the order, shipping details, and keep a record of each interaction with company representatives. Don’t forget to get names.

Threaten Legal Action

As a last resort, you can suggest that the company take care of your problem by the performance date or you will take legal action. Make sure you can and do follow through on any threats, however.

The Show Must Go On

Do what you have to make sure your dancers are costumed for their performance. If you need to have the costumes altered or if you’ve had to find replacements in a hurry, keep all receipts.

Go Public

Spread the word that you’ve had problems with this company, particularly if your issue is not resolved. Yes, you can take to social media. Yes, you can reach out to competitors. Yes, you can report them to the Better Business Bureau.

There’s no guarantee that all will work out in your favor, but if you stay organized, assertive, and keep your cool when following these steps, better results are more likely.

Have you had to deal with costume emergencies?

What did you do that worked?

Keep a Costume Scare from Turning into a Nightmare

Dealing with Costume Company Customer ServiceDuring the process of ordering, supplying, and receiving dance costumes, mistakes can happen. Costume company mistakes are a dance studio owner’s nightmare and, even if you haven’t lived through a big costume emergency, you’ve heard the horror stories.

Problems with your costume company order need to be dealt with in a hearbeat and that means working with customer service to get the best possible resolution and outcome.

Here are some tips on how you can get better customer service when calling a dance costume company:

Before An Emergency Exists

Most studios order from multiple companies. It is easy to make mistakes or misread catalogs, and information can get lost in the confusion of preparing other aspects of a performance.

Keep excellent records for each costume ordered.

Don’t wait until something goes wrong to make sure you have all the documentation needed to support your case.

Dealing With Customer Service

Gather your information and know what you need before you call.

Get your records together. Review the company’s policies on their website or in the catalog. Prepare your questions and think about what types of resolution you would be willing to accept. Do it before you dial.

Plan to take notes or even record the call (and let the rep know you are doing so).

Be casual about this. The call may be recorded by the company already, but reminding the representative that you are being thorough and keeping a record is likely to improve service. Plus, you’ll want to remember what is discussed in case the issue cannot be resolved immediately or if problems continue.

Repeat back what you hear.

To make sure there are no misunderstandings, use active listening skills and “reflect” what the representative is communicating. This means repeating and/or restating what the rep tells you in order to clarify their meaning or instructions. Customer service employees are often trained in these methods but it works both ways.

Be patient, calm, and polite.

It’s true that “the squeaky wheel gets the grease,” but there’s squeaky,  and then there’s downright unpleasant and offensive. Think about the times when someone, a parent perhaps, calls you spewing nothing but nastiness and negativity. With your defenses immediately up, would you do all you could to help this person? Probably not. You can be patient, calm, polite AND be firm in standing up for your case.

You may be stressed. Your own students and customers are counting on you to do everything you can to make things right. Having your students look their best at your show is important to you. Don’t take the mistake personally. But do get personal…

Operate on a first-name basis.

Use the customer service representative’s name. Write it down.

Call back.

Though it’s often better to stay on the line until the matter is resolved, if a costume company is large enough to have multiple representatives, occasionally you may have better luck with someone else.

Hit Reset.

If emotions are on the rise, plan something to say that will defuse the situation. I love this line from Boston.com: “I understand that’s your policy, but I still need your help. Let’s start over.”

Remind the rep you are human, too.

More great advice from Boston.com is to turn the tables and remind the rep of your humanity. “What would you do if you were in my shoes?”

Escalate to a higher authority.

Ask to talk to a supervisor, manager, or even higher on the chain of command if things are not being satisfactorily resolved.

Try multiple channels.

Calling is not your only option. When resolution isn’t happening down one route, try another. Perhaps the costume company website has a live chat. Write a letter to the owner. Reach out to the company via their social networking profiles. Maybe even chat up a competitor and ask what they would do in a similar situation – nothing like a little competitor pressure to get things done.

Reward Good Customer Service

When your problem is handled promptly and the costume company provides great customer service, don’t forget to thank them with your repeat business. In addition, use those same channels listed above to publicly acknowledge a job well done.

Though there are no guarantees in life or in dance, good customers do tend to receive good customer service.

Have you witnessed the turn-around of what could have been a scary costume experience?

We don’t need to name names, but we’d love to hear about how you dealt with customer service in the comments!


Photo “Groundlings Spooky Groombridge” by THOR s licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Surviving the Unexpected Fun of Being a Dance Studio Owner

Every year of my 37 years of life, I’ve been at the theater for a dance recital in June.

I grew up within the business of dance studio ownership and could describe the job in a variety of ways. But, when people ask what I do for a living, I keep it simple and say, “I run a dance studio and help others do the same.”

The typical response: “Oh, that sounds fun!”

You just chuckled to yourself, didn’t you? That’s because you’re familiar with the job of running a dance studio.

It is fun! But not always.

A woman with a headache

Photo by Jay Aremac

For those unfamiliar or new to running a dance studio, the job can be unexpectedly challenging, demanding, intense, emotional, and all-consuming. Dance studio veterans know, if there’s anything you can expect in the dance studio business, it is the unexpected:

Surprise! Your top teacher quit, is opening a studio across town, and just took twenty of your dance team kids.  

Guess what? The rent is increasing.

Oh no! Some high-maintenance (that’s putting it nicely) parents are making threats.  

Whaa?!? A competitor studio is recruiting students… in your own parking lot after class.

It happens.

All that unexpected “fun” can wear a dance studio owner down.

“The secret to success, my friends, is not to try to avoid or get rid of or shrink from your problems; the secret is to grow yourself so that you are bigger than your problems.”

~ T. Harv Eker

Here are four ways to stay empowered and run a successful dance studio business:

#1. Know how and where to find great dance teachers and staff.

Always be looking for exceptional talent – even if you don’t need a teacher today.

Feel like there aren’t any great teachers nearby? Bring in guest artists and network with them. They know people. Who do you know that knows someone else? Reach out to your local college and university for potential instructors or substitutes. This approach will have you consistently plugged in to the network of teachers in your area. You won’t spook your current teaching staff because you’ll always have a group of subs and guest artists on hand.

You can also train students from within. Now is a great time to start an assistant teacher training program. Even if you don’t have it all figured out today, you’ll be one step closer to building a team.

The same goes for great staff. Running your dance studio takes a team. From an office manager, to the person who cleans the studio (that shouldn’t be you). Know how to find, hire, and train the ideal office staff for your dance studio.

#2. Learn to identify a parent with a problem versus a problem parent.

A parent with a problem is someone who is advocating for their child. They ask for explanations or set up a meeting to discuss your policies or class placement. They bring an issue to your attention with respect and the intent to resolve it.

These parents can actually help to improve your dance studio when you take time to see the problem as an opportunity to grow.

A problem parent is someone who has unrealistic expectations and will never be satisfied with your decisions. They demand an exception to every rule and take up an unfair amount of your time and energy. They take their opinions and concerns to the waiting room or to your faculty, spreading gossip and negativity.

It can take time, and sometimes sleepless nights, as you learn the hard way to identify which parents have a problem, and which are a problem. I wish a warning light would flash as an indicator above a problem parent’s head because, no matter the excellence of your dance classes or efficiency of your studio staff, you will forever and always be problem solving with parents at your studio and nearly all problems start out looking like general parent concerns.

The best advice I have is to set boundaries. If you feel you are compromising your professional standards and bending to too many complaints to keep a parent happy, you have a problem parent. You will get to a point with this parent when you decide you are not going to take any more ‘tail wagging the dog’.

This scenario usually ends (not going to sugar coat it) with some sort of drama: a dancer is kicked off a team, or the parent is told they are not welcome back and rants on social media, or a balance is left unpaid, or a combination of all three.

Know the difference between a parent with a problem vs a problem parent, and swiftly take action to make sure whatever is going on doesn’t crush your spirit or passion.

#3. Make time for staying current with your dance studio marketing efforts.

You will never be done marketing your dance studio. The dance studio has been our business for 40 years and the environment gets more competitive every year. This is true for all successful businesses!

Like practicing plié and tendu, the fundamentals will never stop being important.

If you are trying to do everything and spending money as a knee jerk reaction, you are not in control of your studio marketing.  As Gary Vaynerchuck says so well:

“Don’t get nostalgic about your past successes.”

The way people do business is constantly evolving. Keep learning and growing and discovering new ways to connect with your current and potential customers. Use technology tools like your website, online registration, auto tuition billing, and online ticket sales, that work for you while you are sleeping. Leverage the essentials and make the most out of your low cost, high impact options.

Make the time to educate yourself on how to make your dance studio the best it can be. Then, take action little by little everyday.

#4. Get comfortable with the ups and downs of studio ownership.

Your dance studio is your livelihood. I get it.

ballet barre perspectiveAs I was growing up, new back to school clothes weren’t purchased until dance students started registering at my mom’s studio. I know exactly what it feels like to have a negative balance in a checking account during the depths of summer. I’ve been through the pleasure and pain of full-to-capacity dance classes that can only lead to the expense of studio expansion.

Success doesn’t happen overnight and it often does not occur in a straight line. The situations that feel and play out like failures are often the events that propel you forward, even if it’s in a new direction.

For that reason, perhaps the unexpected ups and downs and all-arounds really are what make running a dance studio, well… fun!

What are some of the headaches of running your dance studio?

Share your successes and ‘learning experiences’ below!

Better Group Communication: Dancers Have It All

We may not have it all together, but together we have it all.

This saying of unknown origin is particularly meaningful and relevant for dancers. On the one hand dancers must focus on the development of individual movement vocabularies, but they must also learn to explore forms and structures within an ensemble. Dancers have the luxury of being able to view things from unique perspectives, yet interdependence is woven deeply into their work as artists. All artists who understand the collaborative aspects of ensemble know they can often accomplish much more together than the group’s individual talented members could ever achieve on their own.

More Than One Voice Opens Up Possibilities

Teamwork Makes The Dream WorkWhile having more than one voice opens up possibilities, it can also be challenging. Life, like dance performance, is all about truthfully connecting with people around you whether you’re gathering as dancers, meeting in a group, or convening as a family. Just as dancers must engage with one another in an ensemble work, it is the connection with those around you that helps you shape and find the whole, regardless of the type of group. Artists learn to listen, they solve problems, and they recognize and use others’ strengths.

When we’re working together in other kinds of groups, we don’t often connect the tension-release-movement principle to those experiences. We instead strive to make decisions that are about ourselves as individuals rather than decisions that make it possible for the group to move forward. Tension in group settings comes from the same kind of delicate balance required in dance ensemble performance. It is spatial awareness on another level, but still the synthesis of collaborative effort with individual needs.
  • Dancers understand tension, release, and movement.
  • The tension-release-movement principle is intrinsic to dancers’ physical experiences—it’s personal.
  • In dance ensemble performance, that tension-release-movement principle is amplified with issues related to spatial awareness.

The only way to know the truth of a movement is to do it on your own body.
~ Twyla Tharp

Working Together When You Don’t See Eye to Eye

Here are some ideas about how passionate people can use the tension-release-movement principle to work together even when they don’t see eye to eye.

  • Move an issue forward in daily life by being sure the right ensemble is at the table. Dancers have skills that match the challenge of individual and group performance.
  • Whether choreographed or improvised, dancers know the goal of a specific ensemble performance. Move past the tension points of conflict or disagreement by establishing and continuously aiming for the ultimate purpose of the group’s discussions. Check in frequently to determine how close you are to achieving your goal.
  • Use dance improvisation techniques to generate movement past tension points; you can even actually dance your conversation. This is a wonderful way to move issues forward because the group has to find and define the problem as they’re solving it.
  • Nothing stops the flow of creativity more than ignoring one or more members of the group. Successful performers know that virtuosity will emerge from the group, not from any one member.
  • Dance ensemble performance requires that each person have individual control, but must at the same time be flexible enough to always move with the developing momentum of the group.
  • Ensemble dancers submerge their individual egos with a deep awareness of the bigger picture—the larger collective group mind.

Make a note of the tension points and how they are released. The release might be gradual, sudden, or sustained. Determine the overall shape of the ensemble performance at the conclusion of a discussion or series of dialogues. You will soon understand Helen Keller’s remark—“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.” You will then determine how you might do things differently in your next creative exchange.

Nothing is more revealing than movement.
~ Martha Graham

Whether you’re expanding communication skills within a group, unlocking their creative potential, or seeking innovative ways to reach a common goal, dance techniques can help you achieve your goals. People often view art and artistic expression as a solitary effort, but it is ensemble that nurtures the individual artist while providing extraordinary group results. Ensemble is teamwork—a collective skill that is essential in the rapidly changing world of the 21st century. It is the work of groups who come together with understanding of how to create momentum with deep awareness of both the individual and the whole that will thrive in this new millennium.

Dancers develop individual movement vocabularies.
Dancers explore ensemble forms and structures.
Dancers “Have it All.”

Dr. Patricia Hoy headshotDr. Patricia Hoy graduated from the University of Redlands with Bachelor and Master’s degrees in woodwind performance and from the University of Arizona with a Doctor of Musical Arts degree in conducting. She taught high school for eight years before moving to higher education. She moved quickly through the system to tenured professor, accepting several administrative assignments along the way, and finally assuming a role as a full-time higher education administrator. She is now the Dean of Academics at The Boston Conservatory, where she oversees the Dance, Music and Theater Divisions. Her upcoming book Arts Awareness outlines the basic concepts of her worldview perspective of the arts. The reader learns Dr. Hoy’s seven creative concepts that help synthesize the richness of creating art with teaching, leading, succeeding, and living a more fulfilling life.

Starting a Special Needs Dance Program

Have you thought about starting a dance program for those with special needs,

…and then become overwhelmed with questions?

  • Is there a big enough market for special needs dance classes?
  • What will I teach my special needs dancers?
  • How will I grow my special needs program?

Upon starting our special needs program, Super Stars, at my studio in Alaska we discovered a huge special needs community and received tremendous support for this venture. I’d like to help you on your way to creating the most special program at your studio.

Special needs dancers, the MVD Super Stars, in performance

Finding Potential Special Needs Students

We offered a workshop and advertised it through local Special Olympics activities and centers which offer respite services to people with developmental disabilities.

When the day of the workshop came, we began with a warm up and stretch, and then learned a simple dance. The workshop was 2 1/2 hours and all of our participants went home with a flyer for a regularly-scheduled dance class that would meet once a week.

What to Offer Your Special Needs Dancers

Your students may have a disability but they also have so much ability!

Your new students are people. Some may have the heart and mind of a child, but do not treat them as such. Treat them as you might treat others their age and as you would want someone to treat you. Do this, and you’ll be off to a great start.

Running a special needs dance class is similar to any other dance class with only a few slight differences.

We start with an uncomplicated series of stretches, warming up our head and arms, then sitting down in a straddle to reach for one side, then the other, to the middle, and then a pike stretch with pointed feet and flexed feet, and we finish with a butterfly stretch.

We do these in a circle so that we can all see each other on an equal level. Like King Arthur’s Round Table, we want to ensure our seating arrangement reinforces that all who are invited to sit are highly and equally favored.

We then form two lines (applying ‘window’ spacing) to work on a dance. You will need to help place everyone and help them find their spot for the first few weeks. After that, it will become a natural habit for everyone. Some weeks we practice some technique and steps before our dance: three-step turns, grapevines, jazz squares, pencil turns, chassé and even pirouettes. Other weeks we go straight into working on our dance.

Keep the music upbeat and fun but not too fast, the routines simple and the steps slow. Do not expect everyone to execute the moves perfectly and on time. Repeat the same thing you taught last week again, then add only a few eight counts (2-3). Follow this pattern each week.

Patience is key, but making sure they have fun is even more important. While you’re at it, have some fun yourself!

Bumps in the Road

MVD Super StarsWe have been lucky to have never faced anything but overwhelming positivity with respect to our program, but along the way there have been bumps in the road, both expected and not.

Special needs students, their providers, and parents all love consistency. Keeping your class at the same day and time will go a long way toward keeping your program growing. We learned the hard way that changing your class times once they are established will discourage even eager students from returning. Because of their increased need to plan rides and work around employment or provider schedules, it is especially difficult for members of the special needs community to adapt quickly to rearranged class times.

Another challenge we’ve encountered is getting release forms signed. Often our students do not have legal signatures and they do not always live with their parents or guardians. Therefore, getting the correct signature can be a challenge. For those who come to class via providers and don’t have a legal signature, sending it home with them after class will usually ensure your form will be returned by the next week.

Recently stairs have also become a big challenge for us. A second floor studio will discourage students in wheelchairs or with disability-related health problems of all kinds from participating. A ground-level or studio will make attending easier for your students.

A Growing Market

Even when plenty of activities for those with special needs are available, members of this community are always looking for new things to do.

Our Super Stars program has grown so popular that our big group can no longer fit in our little room. We’ve split our class into two, but this temporary solution hasn’t lasted long. Our performance groups have even outgrown some of our local stages!

Growing pains aren’t bad problems to have, still we weren’t necessarily as prepared for these as we hope you’ll be.

Kickstart the Super Stars

Unable to afford a move on our own, we have started a Kickstarter for our Super Stars program to fund the move to a new, larger, ground-level studio.

If you’d like to help, just visit the site to become a backer and donate to our cause. If we do not reach our goal, you are never charged. If we do, there are gifts for various donation levels. We hope to meet our goal so that we can get a bigger space and make handicap-friendly renovations.

We have a friend in a wheelchair Dillan who comes to all of our performances. He really wants to participate but since we are on the second floor, Dillan is unable to join us. Any support we can get to help grow the Super Stars and have Dillan join us would be greatly appreciated!

Ready to Begin Your Special Needs Dance Program?

Any small trouble you can think of is far outweighed by the benefits of having a special needs program.

We have so much fun in class. I get more hugs and high fives between 4 and 6 on Thursdays (my Super Stars class times) than the rest of the week combined. You may think you know unconditional love and friendship, but you do not until you have a friend with a special ability. My students (who all become my friends after just a single class) love me unconditionally and they make sure I know it every time I see them.

Our community and crowd support is amazing. Everyone loves to see our group perform and our group loves the spotlight!

Teaching a class for people with special abilities truly gives a sense of self worth and satisfaction that can’t be described. The only way to know for sure how wonderful and fulfilling it is, would be to give it a try yourself.

Best of luck to anyone bold enough to take on a program as wonderful as one for special needs dancers.

Shanelle GangstadShanelle Gangstad began her dancing career at Stars Dance Team in Eagle River at the age of 5 years old. She trained at Sonja’s Studio of Dance at the age of 8 years old in Tap, Ballet and Jazz. She was also on the Palmer High School dance tam her entire high school career and was captain two of those years. She has been an instructor at MVD since 2007 teaching a variety of classes including lyrical and dance to individuals with mild to moderate disabilities. Shanelle has won many state and national competitions both as an individual and in group dances she has choreographed. Shanelle is an avid volunteer for Special Olympics. She was also involved in starting up the Partners Clubs at her high school which involves main stream students with students with disabilities together in sports and social activities. The Palmer High Partner Club was so successful that Special Olympics flew Shanelle to Kansas City to speak along side Tim Shriver to 1400 student government representatives about the importance of inclusion and Clubs like the Partner’s Club.