Studio Admin – Dance Advantage Solutions For All Stages Of Your Dance Life Fri, 12 Jan 2018 12:02:25 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Making Gender-Diverse Students Feel Welcome In Dance Class Mon, 05 Dec 2016 15:46:41 +0000 Ballet is highly gendered. But making gender diverse students feel welcomed at your dance studio is possible. Tips from a transgender dancer.]]>

I got back into ballet thanks to my friend’s son Matt. About a year ago, aged four, Matt desperately wanted to learn ballet. Unfortunately, the local ballet class wasn’t suitable for him – and small-town New Zealand doesn’t have a lot of options in that area.

My friend was heartbroken when she realised this. “He’s so keen to learn ballet,” she told me. “You should see him Jonty, he watches YouTube clips and tries to copy along every day.”

“I could teach him a bit,” I said, “I did ballet for nine years as a kid.”

There was no way I could teach Matt anything structured. But I could do the absolute basics. I remembered, viscerally, the intense desire to do ballet when I was a little boy.

Only, back then, I had been a girl.


My experience as a transgender dancer


I was a tomboy girl, and a ballerina. I rushed to classes with knees muddied from playing rugby, and did a quick change into my leotard. There were no boys in my class, but there were two in the grade below. I was so jealous of them. They got to wear shorts. Their shoes weren’t pink. No one gave them bother for wearing socks instead of tights.

In fact, I only changed from socks to tights when they did, a full year after the girls in my class. Far and away the tallest, I gleefully danced the “boy part” whenever we had partnered dances. And in all my years of ballet I never had a “ballet bun” – I kept my hair cut short, like all the other boys.

I stopped doing ballet after RAD grade 6, for a few reasons – but mainly because I wasn’t actually very good at it. My feet are probably the worst possible shape for doing pointe, and a rapid growth spurt made dancing painful. So I quit, and focused on rugby.


But doing the very basics with Matt brought it all back – and reminded me how much I love to dance. After two visits, I set about finding an adult ballet class to join.

I transitioned – went from living as a woman to living as a man – at 20, seven years ago. These days everyone reads me as a man (a particularly youthful and slightly effeminate-looking man, but whatever) and unlike some trans* people, I’m not very open about my gender history. So when I went back to ballet I went as a man, and have not told any of my teachers that I’d ever been different.

Immediate bonus – shorts and a sleeveless t-shirt are appropriate attire.

However, when I moved from casual classes to a school teaching a syllabus, there have been a few awkward moments. I’m able to brush away many of them thanks to the RAD changing their entire programme in 2011, but there’s a few sticking points.


…I don’t know how to bow.

Well, of course I know how to bow, but I don’t know how to do it properly. I spent a lot of time trying to make my curtsey as graceful as possible. And while I studied the boy’s reverence with a longing that, looking back, now seems rather sad – I didn’t practice it.

When the women and girls in my classes swept their leg behind to curtsey to the teacher, I would sort of awkwardly slide my feet into fifth, then bow at the waist. This is fine for a casual class, but in a formal class I’m supposed to do something involving bending a knee and dropping one arm, and my teacher never tells me what I should be doing (even though I’m doing it wrong) because… I did ballet for years. Surely I know how to bow.

You don’t realise how ingrained something is until you try to change it. All the little flourishes which boys do and girls don’t – I don’t know them. For weeks I kept accidentally standing in classical pose rather than degage derriere.


My jumps are not what you would expect from a male dancer. Rather than learning tours en l’air and the other more masculine jumps and turns, I was instead doing my disastrous Year of Pointe. I’ve never done partner lifts, and like many transgender men, I’m weaker through the upper body than the lower.

Plus, while shorts and a tee have been fine up until now, I am soon going to have to venture into the murky world of dance belts, tights, and suspenders.

Still, these are small quibbles. I have always loved to dance. I love it even more now I am doing it in a body which feels like my own, like I belong in it. I can engage in the necessary focus on my body and movement without the dysphoric disconnect which I didn’t understand as a child, and I move with confidence. In short – I’m a much better dancer.


Photo by Ted Eytan is licensed CC BY-SA 2.0
Photo by Ted Eytan is licensed CC BY-SA 2.0


How teachers and dance studio owners can make their classes more welcoming for trans* and gender-diverse students.


Ballet is highly gendered. But it’s still possible for teachers to make transgender and gender diverse students feel welcomed.

For Adults:

●      If an adult student comes to you and says they would like to start dancing in “the other role”, don’t freak out. Talk to your student about how they would like to proceed, and discuss options going forward.


●      Don’t ask inappropriate questions. Surgeries, hormones, and what’s beneath their leotard are not discussion topics.


●      Good questions to ask – What they would like to be called, what attire would make them feel most comfortable, how they would like to manage changing rooms, and how they would like the rest of the class to be informed (or not informed).


●      Speaking of attire, you may have to bend your rules a bit. Trans women may want to wear a wrap skirt over their leotard, and trans men may want to wear a looser t-shirt than usual. You should also be aware that many trans men wear a binder over their chests. This is usually an extremely tight undershirt, which may inhibit some of the dancer’s movement, and occasionally causes fainting if worn while engaging in strenuous activity.


●      Make a point of teaching the basics the dancer may have missed out on. Arm positions, starting poses, and yes – curtsies or bows.


●      If either you, or the style of ballet you teach, will not accept transgender dancers, be upfront but compassionate. Your student will be going through a very intense and difficult time – don’t be adding to it.

Ballet is highly gendered. But making gender diverse students feel welcomed is possible.
Click To Tweet

Creating a safe dance class for kids of all genders:

●      Particularly for very young children, allow boys and girls to all wear whichever uniform they feel most comfortable in – leotards, skirts, shorts, t-shirts, tights or socks. Of course you will have a standard uniform, but don’t segregate it by gender. All kids love dressing up, and there’s really no reason a five-year-old boy shouldn’t wear a skirt to dance in. Most of the time children will end up wearing the typical uniform within a couple of years.


●      If your skirt-wearing boy, or shorts-wearing girl, has to wear a certain outfit for an exam or performance, speak to the child’s parents and then speak to the child together. Most children will eventually understand and be willing to compromise, but they may be very upset. If they are particularly upset, you might go out of your way to contact the examiners and ask if the child can wear the “other gender’s” uniform.


●      From my experience ballet schools have a lot of points where “boys do this and girls do that” – and nary the twain shall meet. If you have a mixed class, teach all dancers both variations. It makes for a more well-rounded dancer overall. If the class only has girls or boys in it, try to include bits from the other role. I know as a child I would have loved to learn the “boys’ arms” – even if it was only for practice.


●      If a child or their parent comes to you and tells you the child is transgender, again, don’t freak out. There’s no difference between teaching a trans* student and any other student. Talk to the parents about uniform, changing rooms, and dealing with other parents. Ask your student what they would like to be called in class, and what they would like their classmates to know.


●      Often you will have more pushback from other parents than from the other children – particularly if they’re quite young. Kids are remarkably accepting of news like “Jake is now called Amy, and she will be doing dance B along with the second group.” If other parents complain, discuss their concerns and see if you can address them – this will most likely be around changing rooms. Ideally, all girls (including transgender girls) should use the girls’ room and all boys (including transgender boys) should use the boys’ room. In practice you may have to figure out a gender-neutral space for the transgender student.


●      If either you, or the style of ballet you teach, will not accept transgender dancers, again, be upfront but compassionate. Speak to the parents rather than the child, and avoid being confrontational.


●      If you make a point of running a dance school which is accepting of gender variance – don’t be afraid to talk about it! There are parents who would love their kids to learn ballet, but know the uniform and strict ‘girls versus boys’ dichotomy would be intolerable for their child. Plus, there are plenty of adults like me, who want to reconnect with ballet in the role that they have always felt they should be dancing.


And about those lifts? I’m going to have to learn fast. My school’s end-of-year production is The Nutcracker, and I have somehow been cast as the Prince. (I suspect this is mostly to do with a limited selection pool.) I’ll be dancing my first pas-de-deux, with a girl ten years younger than me and about 100 times better at ballet. Lifts will be involved. Steps which I don’t know, but that I should have learned, will be included.

Though by the time the curtain falls, I hope to have finally mastered taking a bow.


Jonty is a born-again ballet dancer in New Zealand, whose passion for dance isn’t hampered by his loathing of tights. By day he works as a copywriter, yells at sport on the TV, and has a sideline in four-page comic book scripts. By night, he is asleep.

]]> 3
10 Things To Do Before You Even Think About Selling Your Studio Sat, 27 Feb 2016 16:00:22 +0000 Your dance studio isn't "just a business" but if you're even thinking about selling, you have to be prepared to look at it as one. Here's what you'll need for a quicker, easier sale.]]>


Sometimes in our dance studio careers things change.  We realize for whatever reason, we need to shut up shop and move on. Over the years I’ve spoken to many teachers and studio directors who at some point felt they needed to sell their studio and quite often didn’t know how to go about it.


A few years ago I decided to design my own preschool dance program. Fortunately for me, it was successful and within a few months I had full classes, two teachers and 2 studio locations. I operated the business from the opposite side of the country and handled the enquiries and the marketing. It was run as a very tight ship. After a couple of years a few new opportunities arose for me and I decided I needed to sell the studio.

The studio was located in a medium-sized country town with a smaller studio in a small country town, I knew I needed to sell quickly (within 6 weeks) otherwise the school would lose momentum and dwindle away.

I knew it would be hard to find a buyer and after a fair bit of outreach, a lovely mother who already ran a children’s business decided to buy it. Luckily, I had created such a well run business the transaction was smooth, the buyer paid in full, we had a chat over the phone for a couple of hours about the running of the business and I emailed her all the relevant documentation she would need to hit the ground running.

It was one of the easiest sales transactions I’d ever done and I believe this is because I’d drawn all my business and marketing skills together and created a very ‘sellable’ business.


little dancers stretching
“Stretch” by chrisada is licensed CC BY 2.0 – tint added


The Top 10 Things You Need to Make the Sale Quick & Easy:

1. Systems – Every piece of your studio needs to be arranged with systems. Imagine your dance studio has all these different departments – staff, finances, marketing, customers, students, etc. and then systemize each process you carry out within those departments.

2. Legal – Is all your insurance, superannuation and workers compensation in order?

3. Accounts – Is your business profitable? Ensure your P/L statements and income and outgoings are all accounted for, written up and well organized.

4. Studio Director – Some studio directors are ‘the business’ by that I mean the studio is built around them and their name. Whereas some studios have a range of teachers and the studio director is one of them and is not as front and center. So, how separate are you from the business versus how integral are you, personally, to the business’ success? Potential buyers will want to know this as it plays a key part in the ongoing success of the school.

5. Market Share – Knowing how much of the market you hold within your area is important. Are you a newly established school so, therefore, not well-known? Or are you the most well-known in the area? This will have some impact on the ‘value’ that is perceived by a potential buyer.

6. Marketing/Branding Collateral – Do you have a strong name and logo and can the new owners buy it? Do you have it trademarked? If a potential buyer wants to buy your branding ensure you are upfront with them and tell them the full story regarding the IP and how much they may need to pay to buy the trademark as well as the logos.

7. Attraction Strategy – How much marketing are you doing? What are all your marketing plans and funnels and what aspects of your marketing output attracts the most students? Having a strong idea of what strategies are the most successful is critical.

You want to also have an understanding of the financial analysis regarding marketing and student acquisition. How much does it cost you to get a new student? This is based on how much marketing you have to do and then the conversion rate of that marketing into a paying student.

8. New Owner Acceptance – Sitting down and assessing how you think your teachers, students and parents will react to a new owner is important.  This will ensure you’re sensitive with the handover process and you approach the sale with respect and humility. People do get upset and they do get disappointed but being upfront and honest is key, so explaining that this sale is something you really have to do will, over time, be understood.

9. Business valuation – Businesses are generally valued on their profit, so what’s the turnover and then what’s the net profit? Some value is placed on original IP, goodwill, reputation and brand but not very much. The main focus for any buyer or accountant who is looking through figures is the dollars. At the end of the day your studio is a business and people want to know it is robust and strong.

10. Student Value – Every person I spoke to asked me the value per student meaning, how much did a single student bring into the studio in a term and a year? It’s difficult when students do all sorts of classes and programs but it’s important to sit down and nut out as best as possible the overall idea of what a student brings into the studio in terms of revenue.

Don’t include any additional things like costume fees, merchandise or anything like that, that’s cream. Just strip it back to the term and yearly fees and try to gain a good idea of what each student brings in.

People will also want to know the lifecycle of a student – how long does a student tend to stay? 6 months, 2 years? This can be found out by looking at new year’s enrollments and then seeing who has dropped off by the end of the year and calculating some ratios around numbers of people who stay a term, a year, 2 years and more.

(Bonus Point) Comparable Sales – One of the other things to do is to look at other studios that have sold within your area. Although every school is very different, it will give you an idea of the price people may pay. You can assess all the things they’re offering from classes to facilities and assess how your school stacks up.

I would only look at sales as far back as about 18 months because economies and values change very quickly. Gain an understanding of where your school fits and then think about what you would put forward as an asking price.

You may decide to go with a business broker depending on the size of your studio or you may not. They take a fee and you want someone who has a good idea of dance studios, likes them, and is going to do their best to sell it for you.


preschool dancers
Photo by KCBalletMedia is licensed CC BY 2.0 – tint added


Just Business? Maybe not.

You may also find you’re a bit picky with who you want to sell your studio to and that’s completely understandable as it is something you’ve built and created and you want to pass it on to someone you believe will make it flourish. I chatted to several interested people and I knew some of them wouldn’t have the skills to make it work.

They do say there shouldn’t be any emotion in business and to just go with the best price and that may be best for you, but if you feel there will be a twinge of emotion still attached to it, you may want to think about who you sell it to.

At the end of the day, selling your studio may be a need or it may be a want and whatever happens you want to feel comfortable and positive about it. In rounding up, most buyers will only be focused on and interested in the figures so make sure your financials are tight.


Selling my studio was the right move for me at the right time and it felt good so make sure you’ve fully assessed your life, your plans and your focus moving forward so it’s a great move in the future direction of your career and life.



Emma Franklin Bell

Emma Franklin Bell is an entrepreneur, author and mentor. In 2014 she sold 2 small businesses in the children’s entertainment space, wrote and published a book and mentors dance teachers on the strategic direction of their business. The book ‘How to Run a Preschool Dance Studio’ The 7 Step System to Create, Grow and Expand Your Preschool Classes can be bought at or the paperback version can be bought at Amazon.



]]> 1
Christmas Tree Ideas For Your Dance Studio Wed, 23 Dec 2015 15:30:12 +0000 Inspired by the variety of festive ways we've seen dance studio owners and management decorating trees for their lobbies at Christmastime, here's a collection of ideas we think you'll love.]]>

Is there anything more fun than decorating for the holidays?

Twinkling lights, snow-dusted windowsills, and evergreen branches are staples of the season. Tutus and nutcrackers make decorating dance studios almost tutu easy! But, there are also ways to stay true to your school and your branding if you get a little creative.

Inspired by the variety of festive ways we’ve seen dance studio owners and management decorating trees for their lobbies at Christmastime, here’s a collection of ideas we think you’ll love.


A Tree With Heart

Dance Du Coeur in Sugar Land, Texas (near Houston) strives to inspire students to “Dance From the Heart” and to connect to their audience through the emotion of their art. So, even though it might be a little non-traditional, their studio tree is decorated with heart ornaments.


Dance from the heart - Christmas Tree


This Tree Won’t Expire

You may have seen an image of the English National Ballet’s pointe shoe tree floating around on Facebook. It’s being displayed at the London Coliseum and it even has its own hashtag, #ENBTree!

Well, Misty‘s Dance Unlimited in Onalaska, WI, doesn’t feature quite that many pointe shoes on their studio tree but we think it’s equally dazzling. The studio’s ballet director got the idea because their store had 18 pairs of shoes that had expired and couldn’t be sold (yes, pointe shoes expire — the glue and other construction materials break down over time). So, armed with matching tulle and poinsettias, a bit of glue, and fishing wire, she created a pointe shoe tree for the studio that everyone loves. “I think I may keep it up all year,” says Misty Lown, who is the owner of Misty’s Dance Unlimited, More Than Just Great Dancing Affiliated Studios, and More Than Dancers, an online lifestyle magazine for dancers.

Pointe shoe christmas tree


Say Yes To The Dress

Dress form trees are a terrific twist on the classic Christmas tree. Typically a dress bodice is created with fabrics and branches of greenery are added to the dress form or mannequin to form a skirt. Here’s a video if you need some guidance:

Of course a tutu of pine needles is even better for a dance studio. Our favorite is this romantic silver and pink dress form creation from My Thrift Store Addiction – perfectly dreamy.



If you’re not feeling crafty, you might take this rotating ballerina tree for a spin. She’d look great in a window display, don’t you think?



Hands Down

Your studio is filled with lots of little hands (and feet). You could have each dance student in your studio lend their hands to make your studio’s hand print tree something really special.


Tutu Much

Tulle Christmas trees in a dance studio just make sense. If you need some help, here’s a tututorial:


Space-Saving Holiday Trees

No room for a giant Christmas tree in your studio lobby? Not a problem. These tree ideas will make your season bright without taking over your dance space.

Photographs (framed or unframed) can be placed in the shape of a tree on your wall. You might even try taking one photograph (a photo of students in action, or your school logo perhaps), splitting it into multiple posters, and hanging them in a triangular tree design. Use the free web app at to split your image and then print the individual panels yourself, or take it to a local print shop for help.



How about using old dance recital programs or posters to create a tree collage? Photos of your students would work too.



Strings of lights are a surefire solution. Place a strand of lights in a zig-zag pattern and you’ve got yourself a minimalist tree. A tree outlined with lights requires a little more precision but looks great on a wall.


And if you want something a little more intricate (but still super easy), try this version:


Chalkboard wall paint is a popular canvas for all kinds of creations, including Christmas trees. Though your studio may not be equipped with a chalkboard wall, mirrors are usually a given. Use dry erase markers instead of chalk to sketch a holiday scene or Christmas tree.


Speaking of mirrors… wouldn’t a Post-it note tree make a statement?



Does your dance studio have  a Christmas tree that spreads the joy of the season within your studio family?

Tell us what makes your tree special in the comments!


]]> 0
“Help! I Needed Those Dance Costumes Yesterday” Mon, 12 Jan 2015 16:00:38 +0000 You're out of time. You've already tried everything. But the costume company is failing to make up for their mistake. Keep your cool and take these next steps to get results from their customer service department.]]>

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?

]]> 0
Keep a Costume Scare from Turning into a Nightmare Thu, 30 Oct 2014 14:20:58 +0000 The words 'costume season' can send chills down a studio owner's spine. If (or when) something goes wrong with your dance costume order, follow these tips when dealing with a costume company's customer service department. ]]>

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 “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 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 Thu, 12 Jun 2014 14:18:53 +0000 Owning a dance studio isn't always fun. Suzanne Blake Gerety shares four ways you can weather the unexpected ups and downs of studio ownership and stay successful in your dance studio business.]]>

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!

]]> 20
Better Group Communication: Dancers Have It All Tue, 20 May 2014 14:15:36 +0000 Passionate people can work together even when they don’t see eye to eye. Dean of Academics at The Boston Conservatory, Dr. Patricia Hoy, shares how ensemble dancers hold the keys to better communication; nurturing the individual artist while providing extraordinary group results with the tension-release-movement principle.]]>

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 Fri, 28 Feb 2014 19:03:15 +0000 Are you curious about starting dance classes for special needs dancers? MVD Super Stars organizer, Shanelle Gangstad, talks about what they teach the positives and the pains of growing a successful 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.

]]> 15
Tips on Making a Video to Market Your Studio Thu, 14 Nov 2013 14:45:00 +0000 Covenant Ballet Artistic Director, Marla Hirokawa joins videographer Nel Shelby to answer a few questions about the making of their promotional video. so studio owners can see how to make this kind of video work for their business.]]>

Dance video has been an important (and often, required) part of the performance world for quite some time.

Filming a dance documents choreography for a dance-maker’s archives, offers clips for a company to show their repertoire to presenters, foundations and individual donors, and lately, making promotional films, documentaries and intriguing video series can create excitement and anticipation for an upcoming show and share a different side of the company to fans and followers.

Nel Shelby shooting at a dance studio
Photo courtesy Christopher Duggan

Dance studios often hire videographers to record recitals and student showcases, but how often do they consider the advantage of having a promotional film to highlight their classes, teachers, studio atmosphere and accomplishments?

As owner and dance filmmaker at Nel Shelby Productions in New York City, Nel has created promotional videos for a variety of dance companies and schools like the one shown below about Covenant Ballet Theatre in Brooklyn.

Covenant Ballet Promo FINAL from Marla Hirokawa on Vimeo.

Covenant Ballet Artistic Director, Marla Hirokawa joins Nel to answer a few questions about their process to give dance studio owners a glimpse at how to make this kind of video work for their business.

Dance Advantage: How much and what kind of preparation is involved in getting a great product which really tells a dance studio’s story?

Nel Shelby: With this specific video, Covenant Ballet Theatre had a very quick need. They had a board member that was prepared to fund our work together on this film, and they had an event in January of 2013 that they needed it for. We literally decided to begin at the end of December. So, with this one there was only a few weeks of prep time. When projects move quickly like this, you need everyone on board: you need the head of the studio or artistic director to be there ready to plan, the studio manager ready to help schedule and a willing staff ready to be filmed. It is also very important to choose dancers, students and teachers who speak well and can answer questions, but most importantly, they need to be passionate about the studio.

DA: How do I identify the right people for testimonials/talking heads?

Nel: This is always tricky. My rule of thumb is thinking about conversations you have had with teachers, parents and students in the past. If they are outgoing and share their views in a positive way, they are usually perfect for interviews.

DA: How much is scripted vs. story-boarded vs. impromptu in the content?

Nel: The way that we work at Nel Shelby Productions is often impromptu. We like to leave the story room to unfold. We do plan and schedule interviews and consider all the b-roll footage we’ll need, but we do not often create a strict story board. As an editor and artist I feel more confined by story boards, so I use my instincts and I listen a lot to what people say. That said, you should definitely know (a) who you’re trying to reach with this film and (b) what the main message is before you begin filming.

DA: Why is a professional videographer/editor worth it?

Marla: The reason we chose a professional videographer and editor for our company’s promo video should be obvious—the need to convey professionalism and showcase a high quality organization was imperative and only possible with a professional. Having worked with Nel Shelby productions on previous projects, I knew I could count on obtaining a high quality product. I also knew how personable and wonderful it was to work with Nel, and therefore, she would be able to understand and capture who and what our organization was all about. And, they did! And they did it in a very short span of time.

DA: Will any videographer (or video-whiz volunteer) do?

Nel: Their past work will really tell you if they are right for you. You also want someone who is passionate about you and your studio and specifically dance.

DA: How much or little are studio heads involved throughout the process?

Nel: If the studio head has a wonderful studio manager that understands their vision then they do not have to be as involved, but if they do not they will be quite involved in the process.

DA: When the video is complete, how does the studio make the most of it?

Marla: The video was originally created to use for an important cultivation event but since has been used for numerous promotional opportunities. We have been told that the video was instrumental in families registering their children at our school. Daily, the video appears and is set up to play at the front of our website.

Nel Shelby ProductionsLearn more about Nel Shelby Productions and get occasional video tips by signing up for her newsletter. See Covenant Ballet Theatre in action by visiting their website, And be sure to leave us a comment with other questions and thoughts!

How to Find, Hire, and Train The Ideal Office Staff For Your Dance Studio Tue, 14 May 2013 13:45:12 +0000 When your office runs smoothly, your dance studio is poised for success and growth. But because demands on your time and attention are already intense, it is key to hire staff who are effective and efficient. Suzanne Gerety's tips help you find and hire the ideal office staff so you can focus on what you do best. ]]>

I need more help!

This plea often comes from a studio owner when the work to be done exceeds hours in a day.

Now more than ever as the demands on your time and the cost of owning your studio increase it is key to hire staff who are effective and efficient at getting the job done. When your office runs smoothly, it gives your studio space to be successful and grow.

The front desk and friendly face at a dance studio

Here are some tips to help you find and hire the ideal office staff who to help free up your time so you can focus on what you do best. In doing so, you’ll find you have the money to pay your staff to work on what they do best, too.

#1. Determine the type of office help you really need.

If your passion and talent ultimately lies in artistic direction, you may want to stay in that role and find the right office staff to help you manage the day-to-day business.

You can stay involved, informed, and be the manager without having to do each task yourself.

This important step is often overlooked or rushed when the perceived need is general office help:

Before you begin a search, take time to write down a specific list of the tasks and responsibilities for which you need the most help in managing your studio.

Do you need someone who has more of a bookkeeping and accounting focus and will post fees for tuition and costumes, register students, handle all accounts receivable and payable? Does this person need to have dance studio management software skills or experience?

Or, do you need someone who will interact with students and faculty, answer questions about class placement, coordinate meetings, and deliver all studio communications? Are you looking for someone who is more of a project manager to keep the events such as your recital, dance competitions, or performances organized and on schedule? Is it imperative that someone have an understanding of how a dance studio works and runs?

When you take time to get a clear understanding of the skills and experience needed to carry out those duties you will be more effective in searching, screening, and hiring the right office staff.

#2. Take inventory on your unique skills to determine what to automate or outsource.
Synonyms for expertise

Only you can be you. It is important to determine your core strengths and interests and assess where your time and talent best serve your business.

Once you are clear on the top three to five core areas in which you excel and enjoy doing you can then look for ways to automate and simplify the way you are running your office.

During this step, studio owners often discover that they don’t necessarily need a person sitting at a desk for 40 hours a week, but instead must streamline office processes or leverage technology to their advantage.

Are you maximizing your registration and billing process with tools such as online registration or automated billing software? If you have been the friendly face collecting tuition, it might be time to make the transition and position it as an exciting improvement that will benefit students and parents. This allows your students to do business with you while you sleep and your commitment to providing quality dance education builds trust in your judgment.

Consider outsourcing tasks that may not be the best use of your time such as bookkeeping, graphic design, costume management, music editing, and facility management/cleaning, to name a few. These tasks can all be done at a competitive affordable rate when you take time to match your specific needs to the work at hand.

#3. Find the right person for the job

Hire slowly, fire quickly is a phrase often used in business. It is also relevant for how to approach finding the right, trustworthy, reliable person to help run your dance studio office.

In any scenario a proficiency in word processing, attention to detail, customer-service focus, and strong computer/technical skills are paramount today.

Where to find potential candidates
  • Ask for referrals from current parents, teachers, or alumni who may know someone who could be a good fit.
  • Your local chamber of commerce has a business directory of members who offer bookkeeping, accounting, and small business services.
  • An employment agency will pre-screen candidates for you with secretarial or office management skills. The benefit to fee-based services is the freedom of bringing someone in on a trial basis or temp to hire.
  • If you need bookkeeping help specifically, search for a Certified QuickBooks ProAdvisor in your area via their database.

If through referrals and networking you don’t find the right person, you can also place an ad on your website, in your local paper, or for free on Craigslist.

How you write your ad can help you uncover someone with attention to detail, an important trait in an office staff person.

We’ve found that putting various questions in our job postings to be very helpful in our hiring process.

“Tell me why working at a dance studio is your ideal job.“ or “When replying with your interest tell us your favorite color.”

Embed this type of question within the ad. If they fail to answer, it will help you immediately weed out the people who did not take the time to thoroughly read your post.

#4. Be prepared to train and lead your office staff

Taking time with employees may save you timeDance studio owners often get frustrated by their staff’s inability to just ‘know-what-to-do’.

This is usually a result of a lack of written policies, procedures, or systems in place.

As the owner and leader of your business it is important to always be training your staff as there is no substitute for the experience of doing the job within the culture of any given studio. No two directors run a school exactly the same.

Take inventory of what tasks, roles, and responsibilities are the right match for a staff person’s unique skills and talents.

Once you have that clear list you can truly maximize their time on the job.

If your personal unique talent and skill is in resolving problems that arise with students and parents then that’s what you should be doing, don’t delegate that to someone else.

If posting updates on Facebook, collecting overdue accounts, or organizing is your office staff person’s strength that’s what they should focus on.

Your office staff will shine when they are well trained and given the responsibilities they are best qualified to manage.

Leverage everyone’s skill set will help your office staff put their best foot forward, meanwhile bringing your dance studio to the next level.

What are your challenges in the office staffing process?
What’s To Love About Dance Competition Drama? Sat, 16 Feb 2013 15:37:51 +0000 We have drama at our dance studio.

Maybe not the Lifetime network level of drama but we have the par-for-the-course level of intensity that comes with having multiple dance teams. For many, many years we avoided the ‘scene.’ We actually thought that by not having a competitive dance program we’d have fewer “dance moms” and diva syndrome. It turns out we were wrong!

As long as a studio is serving parents, their children, and all their expectations, dance drama happens.

Competition will test you, though.

You’ll occasionally sigh an internal, “why-do-I-do-this?” when you have a program for dancers who are on the competitive track.

The good news is that those “can-you-believe-this-mother?” moments and the “shake-your-head” problems with students you have to solve are great opportunities to make positive improvements to your studio.

We’ve come to love participating in dance competitions and the positive impact it’s had on our business. If you’re struggling with drama at your studio, I want to help you find the silver lining.

Star award against curtain background#1. Drama proves that teamwork is essential for staff, too.

Parents naturally want their children to be successful and happy. There are some, though, who will do anything for their children, including asking you to bend your rules or make an exception for them. The ones that always get our emotions running high are the parents who give us the “I’m-paying-for-this-so-I-should-get-what-I-want” attitude. Cue the drama.

This phenomenon is usually a symptom of unmet expectations. Whether it’s a comment seen on another person’s Facebook feed, waiting room gossip overheard by a teacher, or the parent who comes to speak ‘on behalf of a lot of the other upset moms,’ you cannot control people’s reactions. 

You CAN control your reaction, which is one of the biggest tests we endure as studio owners and teachers.

At our studio, we know now that we can’t manage our dance teams successfully on the dance floor without a team of our own off the floor.

Our motto is ‘teamwork makes the dream work,’ aptly said by John Maxwell. This doesn’t mean you have to go out and hire more staff or incur any extra costs. It does mean you need to make time to communicate regularly with the people that bring out your greatness, help you re-focus when you are down, and allow you to fully share when things are going great – and when they’re not.

Our team meets regularly, either in person at the studio or by conference call (free conference calls are possible via to problem-solve, delegate the to-do list, plus celebrate little victories. If you’re a one-person studio, you can still create a team through the power of networking and technology available today. We make sure to always wait 24 hrs before a reaction. Your team can help you take your customer service to a higher level – which will make your studio stand out and be the talk of the town for the right reasons.

Gold Trophy#2. Drama revitalizes your role as policymaker and enforcer

I do not wake up in the morning looking forward to the tears from a teenage girl when I veto the Justin Beiber solo music choice, or the insulted look on a parent’s face when I suggest Intermediate contemporary instead of Advanced, but it’s part of the job sometimes.

It is often in those moments of frustration, when you realize you cannot put up with certain behavior anymore, that a new appreciation and commitment to your studio policies arises.

The power to say “No” with grace and professionalism is one of the greatest assets you have as a studio owner and teacher.

Thanks to our participation in dance competitions we have had many chances to swiftly put policies in place. These make it clear what our expectations will be on everything from costume and music choices for solos, to behavior that will get you removed from our teams. Even though a policy around costume choice may seem like over-managing or stating the obvious, it sets the expectations in advance.

In our Competition Choreography Agreement for solos, duos, and trios it states for participation: “You will discuss costume choice(s) with studio director, student, parent and choreographer. You may use old recital costumes, rent archived studio costumes, self-costume, or purchase new from a catalog. All costume choices must be approved. A shipping, handling & processing fee will be added to any new costume ordered.”

Each year we review our policies to make sure they reflect what we’re committed to and sometimes they get revised based on what worked and didn’t work. This process triggers a new appreciation for and commitment to the policies that absolutely need to be in place.

changenew#3. Drama highlights potential income opportunities for you and your teachers.

Studios set up their dance teams in a multitude of different ways. I’m convinced there is no ‘right way’ to do it, except that it will be the approach that builds your business, not the one that tears it down.

It was this principle that prompted us, personally, at our studio to open up competition to every student who wished to compete. Before you say, ‘whoa’, that’s crazy, let me explain. We have four teams set up in what most people would call a traditional model. But, we have some really great dancers at our studio who play soccer, cheer, or participate in theater who could not meet the requirements to be on a team.

The kids and parents were frustrated! They were asking for private lessons, they wanted our teachers to set choreography, and they were happy to pay the entry and costume fees plus follow our policies surrounding participation.

We were worried opening this up for them would undermine the success of our teams but, guess what, it had the opposite effect!

Now might be a great time for you to create some new or improved offerings for private lessons.

Your teachers may be thrilled about the chance to earn extra income while helping students reach for their goals and parents will be happy to see their children succeeding. Thanks to Alli Thornton, the co-owner of the Dance Club of Utah, who created Rehearse With Me, you have a very cool way to manage all the private lessons, rehearsals and payments.

Dramatic Rewards

In intense situations like performing, we teach our kids to dance their heart out and go for it. Likewise, for you, intense situations (drama) is your chance to better your best and feel the joy and excitement of managing your dance studio.

When you know you’re taking it to the next level you just might fall in love with your business all over again!

Have you experienced other silver linings to the drama at your dance studio?

Tell us about them in the comments!

]]> 6
How To Inspire, Build Trust, And Lead From The Inside-Out Thu, 05 Jul 2012 13:43:38 +0000 How do you turn followers into fans? What does it take to be a leader that inspires action or influences behavior? How do you build a customer base or group that is loyal and enthusiastic? How do you make the right decisions or choose next-steps for your organization or business? How will you know when things go off the rails? The answer, according to Simon Sinek, keynote speaker for the Dance/USA conference 2012, is to Start With Why.]]>

To be a leader requires one thing.


– Simon Sinek

When author and thought-leader, Simon Sinek, gave his keynote at the Dance/USA Annual Conference in San Francisco, he was addressing professional dance artists, organizations, and administrators in attendance but, the way he addresses leadership is far more universal and can apply to you as an individual.

If you are a studio owner, a teacher, a choreographer, or if you want to be…

You are a leader! Questions are…

  • What does it take to be a leader that inspires action or influences behavior?
  • How do you build a following or group that is loyal and enthusiastic?
  • How do you make the right decisions or choose next-steps for your organization or business?
  • How will you know when things go off the rails?
Simon Sinek at Dance/USA conference 2012
©Runaway Productions LLC

Sinek has solutions that I’ll share with you.

Inspire Action and Influence Behavior

According to Sinek, leaders who inspire are set apart by their ability to communicate from the inside-out.

Using his “golden circle” visual, he illustrates that many organizations can and already do communicate HOW and WHAT they do. Fewer communicate WHY they do it, making it difficult to inspire people to “buy”.

“People don’t buy WHAT you do. They buy WHY you do it.”


Interestingly, he also notes that the part of our brain that controls emotion, feeling, and behavior does not control language. This is why it’s difficult to put IT into words.

Correspondingly, the part of our brain that is analytical and controls language does not drive behavior.

Therefore, when we find a way to communicate on an emotional level and convey our WHY, we are speaking directly to that inner layer of the brain that controls decision-making.

“MLK gave the I Have A Dream speech, not the I Have A Plan speech.”

More on these concepts can be found in Sinek’s popular TED talk:

Build Loyalty and Enthusiasm.

Sinek, who frequently works with arts and dance organizations and non-profits, is inspired by people who are willing to sacrifice greatly for the things about which they are passionate. He emphasizes that even these individuals and groups struggle to articulate their passions (their WHY) in everything they do.

By the way, dance is never the WHY, but the product of the WHY!

Communicating your WHY can turn followers into fans, but how do you do it?

Just as important as where you’re going, is where you’ve been.

“Every great organization was born out of personal struggle and opportunity.”

Sinek asserts that it is important to celebrate your origin story because it best illustrates your WHY.

At Dance/USA, Sinek made an excellent point; dance is a language that may only translate within dance world. To reach those outside, you must, at the very least, tell your story.

A megaphonic vision

Organizations have a hierarchy with a visionary (or occasionally visionaries of like mind) at the top, clearly pointing the way and communicating the mission, or BELIEFS. This person directs everyone’s focus to the WHY.

“We are inspired by the destination. Absent the destination we walk in circles.”

Directly in partnership with this visionary, is an individual or individuals in the background whose function is to oversee the building of that vision – the HOW.

Contributors or employees amplify the ‘why’ with the product or services  – the WHAT.

Leaders draw to themselves people of similar beliefs by clearly communicating their WHY.

“When people believe what you believe they’re willing to give back in blood, sweat and tears.”

When leaders make their vision clear, they invite individuals who want to live in that world, too. They show up for themselves, not for the fearless leader. They show up because they share a BELIEF.

Leaders encourage self-value.

Sinek shares a study that finds people will not work together until they have confidence in themselves. Only then will they serve the group.

When individuals are encouraged to value the self, they put the group (and the WHY) first – a one-for-all instead of all-for-one.

Leaders focus on what they DO have.

The strength of an organization or a leader depends on that leader’s ability to trust others where he/she falls short.

Sinek recognizes a common weakness in arts leadership — the tendency to define ourselves by what we’re not (non-profits) or by what’s not working (poor economy, lack of funding).

Lead! Make Decisions.

Leaders are consistent in honoring their WHY.

Why? Because it builds TRUST.

Building confidence builds an audience.

To support decision-making, Sinek suggests The Celery Test.

Celery is a metaphor. When selecting for your ‘shopping cart’ only the items that are healthy for you or your organization, you’d choose the celery. Choosing the Cake may be okay in moderation, but know that you’ll have to make up for it later with additional healthy choices.

As a leader or organization or business, your healthiest options always support your WHY. If a piece of advice or course of action is consistent with your WHY, it makes sense to follow it.

Sinek cautions that too many organizations put everything in their shopping cart.

“No one can see what you believe cause you bought everything.” Only buy what supports your why.

In a Dance/USA breakout session called #EverythingIsGoingToBeOK, a panelist, speaking about marketing dance in the digital age, referred to this by another name: Strategic Filtering.

  • Do we need it (central to your why)?
  • Do we have the resources?
  • Does it enhance relationships?
  • Do we need it now?

May Day, May Day

When WHAT you do becomes disconnected from your WHY, people begin to notice. Sinek calls this The Split.

Things don’t feel the same to “old-timers,” stress goes up and passion goes down, you start obsessing about what your competition is doing or how they might respond to your actions and decisions.

What’s the remedy? It’s returning to the WHY. Not a new WHY, the original. This is not always easy, especially if the split is wide, but according to Sinek, it’s the cure.

“Say and do what you believe. They’re either drawn to you or they’re not.”
Photo by Katie Sayer

Know Your Why

Start With Why by Simon Sinek
Purchase Simon Sinek’s “Start With Why” on Amazon

If I could sum up Sinek’s keynote in less than 140 characters…

Oh, wait. I did.

Actually, most of my notes were in Twitter format, using the #DUSAconf hashtag and this one hit a chord with quite a few people:

Don’t obsess about the route. Get clear on where you’re going. Plus take time to honor and celebrate where you’ve been!

And remember,”People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.”

There is discipline in making choices about WHAT you do and HOW you do it based on what you believe (your WHY).
When you are consistent, TRUST emerges.

For extra credit, read these: (Psst!, companies and artists can benefit from these ideas, too!)

…and, if you are inspired by what I’ve attempted to accurately paraphrase from Simon Sinek’s ideas and presentation above, read everything at

Do you know your WHY?

What kinds of choices have you made lately that speak volumes about your dance organization or business?

]]> 7
Less Email, More Dancing: 4 Ways to Tame Your Inbox Fri, 13 Apr 2012 13:20:01 +0000 Manage your dance studio inbox with time-saving tips that strengthen your communication with parents and streamline your business, leaving more time for the things you love (like dancing and teaching).]]>

Email. Love it or dread it… it gives you the ability to instantly communicate with your students, parents, and potential customers.

The trouble is that your email about classes, performances, and registration deadlines are just a few of the hundreds that your customers receive on a weekly basis.  As valuable as email can be, if you are not careful it can also be a constant demand on your time and attention taking away from the most important tasks required in running a successful studio.

What can you do as a busy owner or teacher to do to master this communication tool so that the messages you send get read and you get back more time?

Here are some tips to help you become more effective and in-control of your email inbox.

IMAGE A woman checks her iPhone  IMAGE#1. Guard your time: What’s urgent for one parent or student may not necessarily be urgent on your end.

While we often feel like we need to be accessible and available for our students and families during most waking hours of the day, I could literally sit at my computer and on my iPhone all day and field inbound requests.

Resist the temptation to play ping-pong with your inbox!  Now is the time to establish some parameters around when you will respond to emails.

If you have staff working for you in your office it is also key to establish a general response time for emails, ideally in 24 hours or less, excluding weekends or holidays. If you can’t take the time for a thorough reply in that time frame, just let the person on the other end of your email know that you received their message and give them an idea of when they can expect either a phone call or an email reply. It closes the loop and prevents that ‘did they get my message’ uncertainty.

Useful Tip: There is a difference between checking in to know what is going on versus being in the mode of reacting and responding to every inbound request throughout the day.  When you schedule time to reply, you’ll be much more effective when you do.  You’ll find that this focused effort makes you much quicker at getting the important messages handled.

#2.  Don’t reinvent the wheel: Use frequently asked questions and similar info web pages to reduce your email time.

Have you noticed that many parents just don’t read notices?  I’m convinced that even if we stapled memos and announcements to the dance bags of some of our students that the parents would still call on the day of the recital wondering if they needed to buy tickets.

The good news, you can leverage your important information and announcements that you give out in class and send by email by creating a Frequently Asked Questions page on your website.  FAQ pages are handy for general information or even a Recital FAQ.

Wondering what to include?  Go back into your sent mail and notice some of the repetitive replies you send.

Do the questions include:

  • “My child has ever danced before what class should they take?”
  • “Do you send bills for tuition?”
  • “When is the recital again?”
  • “When do I need to buy tickets”
  • “Is the studio open during xyz week/holiday” the list goes on and on.

IMAGE A girl in a blue shirt holds a blue question mark. IMAGEBy having these kind of questions answered on your website you can confidently hand out memos while also letting parents and students know that the most important information they will need to know is always posted on your website.

Useful Tip: When we began online registration we noticed we were getting a lot of emails from parents who were unsure of what class would be best for their dancer in regard to style and level.  For years these questions were answered by phone or in person.  To increase our customer service and assistance we took these emails and created a “how to choose the proper class” page on our website. Not only has this page helped people make the right choice, but it has increased registrations into our beginner programs and we reduce redundant emails.

#3. Make it easy for people: Write subject lines and messages that are specific.

If you need someone to remember an important date or deadline, lead with that info!  For a busy mom like myself with two school-aged kids in dance, karate, gymnastics, piano, and more just managing their schedules feels like a full time job.  Many of your parents and students are likely the same and the recital details are just one of hundreds pinned to their calendar.

When it comes to crafting emails, be specific with your subject lines.  Nothing is more frustrating than an email subject such as: Subject: Important info for you.  Ok, important info for what?!?!  More specific is much better: Subject: Important details for 1:00 PM Matinee on Sat. June 24th. 

Write the details of your emails with the perspective of someone who has never experienced this event before.  What could you explain more clearly?  Where could you cut out any unnecessary info?  You’ll be well on your way to emails that get read and understood.

Useful tip: When we write our studio emails we run them through a who, what, when, where, why, and how test.  If our email answers all of those questions then we send it!  If anything is missing we go back and clarify before emailing hundreds of our families.  It makes life so much easier and while it can seem like you are stating the obvious at times, these steps help to reduce possible confusion in an email message.

#4. Take time before you hit send. Never respond to an email when you’re angry or frustrated.

We’ve gotten our fair share of email from upset parents even when it feels as if we have gone above and beyond to make things easy and enjoyable for them. Trust me, it’s tempting to reply with a not so nice response to a hurtful message. But it’s better to just walk away from the computer and take some time to process what has happened.

The trouble with email is that the emotion or tone cannot be fully interpreted. In that moment it can be difficult to know whether you’re dealing with an unreasonable parent or a student with a legitimate concern or complaint.

Save yourself the regret and upset by not responding right away, but instead give yourself at least 24 hours to process your own range of emotions.

Useful tip:  When it comes to replying to a less than pleasant email, ask someone on your staff or a close family member to read it out loud to you to see if what you wrote comes across the way you intended. Circumstances vary and the sting of complaints can hurt. Only put in writing information and communications that maintain the same level of professionalism you are committed to upholding.

Email can be one of your best tools in running and growing your studio.  But just like you schedule your classes, meetings, and daily appointments, it helps to take back control over your inbox.

I encourage you to take on one or more of the above strategies so you can get more focused work done on email to be more efficient during times of intense demands and also when it’s slow.  You just might find you’ll have more time to spend with family, friends, and dancing!

What have you found to be most effective when it comes to managing your email?

Keep The Passion For Dance Alive As You Grow Your Business Wed, 15 Feb 2012 13:00:47 +0000 Enter to win a One-Year Membership to Get the latest information to help save time, become more profitable, and grow your business both financially and artistically. Giveaway ends Feb 19, 2012.]]>
IMAGE banner IMAGE is an online membership resource for owners and directors worldwide to start, grow, or take their studio business to the next level.

For nearly forty years Kathy Blake has found positive and effective ways to overcome obstacles and challenges at her performing arts studio while expanding the vibrant dance community in her local area, as well as nationally. With over 900 students, Kathy Blake Studios exemplifies the highest standards in the industry, thriving in a suburban area of southern New Hampshire.

IMAGE Kathy Blake and Suzanne Blake Gerety in the studio IMAGE
Suzanne Blake Gerety and Kathy Blake

Kathy’s daughter, Suzanne Blake Gerety, witnessed the ups and downs of dance studio ownership her entire life. In 2006, she realized that if she were to lose her mom, suddenly the wealth of knowledge and information on how Kathy maintained consistent growth in the face of changing trends, personal losses, studio splits, and financial hardships would be lost.

So together they created as a resource for new and experienced studio owners all over the world to access the latest information to help save time, become more profitable, and grow their businesses both financially and artistically.

Dance Advantage has been happy to present helpful tips and insight in a regular column by Suzanne Gerety. We are also very proud to be part of the community and of our long-standing affiliate relationship. We’ve been referring many happy customers to this smart, useful, and business-enhancing resource for nearly 4 years.

The Giveaway would like to give away a One-Year Membership to TWO Dance Advantage readers.

The quickest route to long-lasting success as a dance studio owner isn’t about figuring it out yourself. This unique learning environment is a place where each member can ask for advice and feedback and get it from other studio owners experiencing tangible success in their own businesses and who are willing to share how they’re doing it.

As a member of you’ll get to know Kathy and Suzanne personally. They are real, down to earth, people who deal with all of the non-glamorous side of studio ownership, just like you. Yet, they still hold on to their dreams. is here to support you because they know it’s never worth giving up on your dream.

They’ll be your cheerleaders and your greatest resource.

The retail value of a one-year membership is $187. Current members may still enter to win — your account will be credited.

The giveaway is open worldwide to those 18 and up and closes at Midnight EST on Sunday, February 19.

How To Enter

This giveaway is closed but learn how to become a member of this fabulous resource for studio administrators at

Sign-in with the Rafflecopter form below using Facebook or your name and email. The widget will reveal multiple ways to earn entries.

The first, commenting on this post, is mandatory for entry (as always).

In this case, you’ll be asked to comment, and share:

What’s the biggest challenge you face today when it comes to running your dance studio?

Sign in, and click on Do It and you’ll see.

Upon entering, optional tasks for earning up to 10 additional entries will be revealed.

Complete as many as you like. Come back and Tweet once every day of the Dance Studio Owner giveaway.

Just make sure after each task you return and let us know you DID IT in the Rafflecopter form (don’t worry, it’ll save your other entries).

a Rafflecopter giveaway

If you’re having trouble seeing the form, I suggest updating or trying another browser.

Winners will be announced within days of the giveaway’s close and will be contacted directly.

Please read our Giveaway Policy.

Tomorrow’s Giveaway:

Something for the hungry in all of us by Barre, the real food bar developed by professional dancers.

IMAGE Feb 12-18: LOVE Our Readers Giveaway 2012 IMAGE
More giveaways - CLICK HERE!
]]> 32
5 Tools That Streamline Your Dance Studio’s Office Management Sat, 28 Jan 2012 14:26:12 +0000 There’s no doubt about it – the front office at a dance studio is a busy place.

On any given day the desk is covered with messages, notebooks, attendance sheets, clip boards, and the occasional missing tap shoe. Whether the day-to-day swirl of demands are managed by you alone or by a variety of staff and faculty, there will always be a mish-mash of projects in motion and to-do lists that need action.

Below is a list of tools that make managing the office easier and how we use them to priceless advantage at our studio, where an office staff of five helps us serve hundreds of families and manages the details of over 100 weekly classes, taught by a faculty of 20 teachers.

These are tools that have made it possible to manage our office remotely, when our staff are on the run to events and traveling with smart phones or either PC and Mac laptops, improve intercommunication, process tuition, gather feedback, and market our dance studio.

If you use some of these tools already I hope to give you new ideas on how to extend their usefulness.

IMAGE Picture of an online survery. IMAGE
1. Gathering Feedback with Surveys 

Constructive feedback can be your studio’s greatest access to growth. Yet seeking it out is one of the things we resist the most. Hearing how things could get better or where your programs could be improved can be hard, especially since you put your heart and soul into your studio. You can easily, and for free, collect information from a weblink, in email, a post on Facebook, or an embedded form on your website using Survey Monkey. The free version allows you to create 10 questions per survey and gather 100 responses per survey.

Twice a year – in October and March – we ask our current students to provide feedback on how things are going. When a student drops from our studio, we also send a quick exit survey. Here are just a few questions we ask:

  • What could we add or provide that would make your participation at our studio even better?
  • Was proper guidance for class placement given and is it appropriate for student’s age and ability?
  • What do you like most about being a student here?
  • How would you rate the value of our dance education in relation to our tuition rates?
  • If considering dance in the future, would you return to or recommend our studio?

Once you have data you can download it to easily review and take note of any trends or areas of concern.  You may find you get some great testimonials from your students and parents as well!

2. File Sharing and Editing with Google Docs

You can accomplish a lot in less time at your studio with Google docs. Our management team shares information and each of us can edit, add, and update from our home or any web browser.  You can:

  • Save time and headaches wondering what version of a policy update or website edit is in progress.
  • Get important work done without having to always meet in-person.
  • If you are traveling you don’t have to worry about a hard drive crash or even having access to a personal computer – everything is stored in the cloud. If you have access to the Internet you can login and access all data and docs.
  • No worries if someone on staff doesn’t have Word, Excel or Powerpoint – opening the information as a google doc means there is no excuse not to read the information!

Examples of the types of docs we share: recital debriefing, faculty/staff phone and contact info, newsletter content, press releases in progress, policy updates, to-do lists, and much more.  If you’ve ever found yourself frustrated by the limitations of technology or lost time trying to figure out what version of a file was last saved – give Google docs a try.

3. An Easy-to-Update Website

There were many years when we used to have to go through a webmaster to make even the slightest update to our website. Those days are over!

Thankfully there are many options available to have a nice, professional looking website that requires barely any technical ability to manage. If you can update a word processing document – then you can have an easy-to-update website.   No one wants to lose a potential student who visits their website and then leaves due to a lack of up to date information or missing schedule.  With an easy to update website your office staff can instantly:

  • Add a revised class schedule
  • Post photos
  • Change text on a class description
  • Link to an event
  • Announce important news

Your studio website is such a key part of your marketing and communications.  It is more important than ever to have the ability to easily update your website. While there are many great services out there for you to explore. You can begin for free with a WordPress or site or ask for a referral from a business owner or colleague.

4. Auto Billing for Tuition

We press a button and voila!, hundreds of credit cards are processed and we have tuition money in our account. Not only is this is a time saver for our accounts receivable staff member but many parents love it too.

One of the most common responses I hear from studio owners when it comes to credit card process is, “but the fees are too high”. I invite you to consider the upside:

  • You have instant tuition collected and you don’t have to pay someone to tediously post checks and make lengthy deposits.
  • Plus, if you use online registration in conjunction with auto billing, it’s like having an employee working for you while you sleep.
  • Shop around for a competitive rate with the banks.
  • If you already use a studio management software you can check with them on a preferred merchant account and gateway in terms of compatibility with the program.

If it’s been a while since you raised your tuition rates to reflect the current cost of doing business, this might be the perfect time to do so and start accepting credit cards with the option to auto bill your students.

5. Phone Conference Calls with Faculty and Staff 

Have you noticed how it’s nearly impossible to get a group of faculty or staff together for a face to face meeting?

We’ve given up on the idea of getting in person regularly. Yet there is important information that we need to discuss live with our teachers and staff that just can’t be done via email.  Phone calls are the next best thing! Our favorite, free tool is

  • Simply sign up with your email address and you receive a call-in phone number and access code to send to your group.
  • There is also a handy feature to record your call. Send the replay to those who couldn’t make it, and they’re easily caught up on what was discussed.
  • Another upside to using this service is that, unlike a three-way call on a cell phone, you eliminate the risk of dropping a call or losing someone’s cell signal.
  • If finding a time for everyone to get together is holding you back, consider which face-to-face meeting could be accomplished with a conference call instead. You might be surprised by the efficiency of a 45-minute conference call!

What tools have you found helps your office staff shine?

In what other ways have you used the tools in our list?

]]> 3