Twitter is a great way to discover emerging websites, services, and businesses within the dance world. It was on Twitter that I first encountered DanceSignUp, a web-based application designed to bring together dance competition organizations and dance studios to simplify many of the tasks that are cumbersome when it comes to competitive events, like registration, scheduling, payments, and communication. (Click here to visit DanceSignUp on Twitter) A lot of work goes into preparing for competition season. So, with a sneaking suspicion that you might be interested in something that could help streamline the process, and because I see a lot of potential in this this newly developed site, I chatted recently with Bret Robertson. His design company, Honu Studios, is responsible for bringing DanceSignUp to life.
Bret, you are a web designer and developer. Do you dance, too?
I’m proud to say I don’t dance, and if you ever saw me try you would be proud that I don’t dance either. My wife does hula and my business partner Brian and his wife took a dance class over the summer. Overall, we enjoy watching much more than we actually participate. We have a respect and appreciation for those who dance and dedicate themselves to the craft.
What has been like to find yourself in the “world of dance?”
It really amazes us how large the dance community is. Whenever we mention DanceSignUp to someone we’re surprised how often the response is “Hey, I used to compete” or “I’m a teacher”. We think it’s great that many are so enthusiastic and willing to share their passion for the art form. We’ve met some really great people, thanks to social networking sites like Twitter, who have been really encouraging and helpful with great advice and a wonderful spirit. We look forward to meeting more, as we feel like we’ve just started to scratch the surface.
Even I feel sometimes that I’m scratching the surface of a very large community, one which I’ve observed has grown tremendously online since I began Dance Advantage a year and a half ago. The culture that surrounds dance training and education, in particular, is broad and varied. Competitions are currently a big part of that culture, which brings me to your project and how it serves the dance community.
In a nutshell, how might the competition registration process improve for dance teachers and studio owners who register for competitions through DanceSignUp?
The biggest improvement is centralized management, everything is in one place.
Studios maintain only one roster of students for all the competitions they want to sign up for. Age eligibility is automatically calculated as are routine prices, so there’s no math involved! All registrations, schedules, and payments for every dance competition are kept in one place. There’s no longer the need to copy or print off each registration form for each routine then try and remember where you put each one six months ago when you registered. We also make it easy to change a routine in case a dancer gets hurt or needs to be swapped out, there is no need to call or email the competition.
Finally, we make payments for studios, groups, individuals, and competitions really easy. We’re using Amazon’s Amazon Payments service. The great thing is that most people already have an Amazon account so there’s no need to open a new one. Plus, neither DanceSignUp or any competition sees your credit card information. Amazon is known and trusted and completely PCI compliant. If the issue of a refund does come up, they can be issued just as easily in full or in part by the competition back to the studio’s account.
Without actually exploring your application, it can all sound pretty complicated. Let’s see if I’ve got this right. Studio owners/teachers can add students to a single roster (complete with details on their age). Then when registering for whichever competitions are of interest, dancers can easily be pulled from the roster to routines which are then submitted for registration. And studios pay the competition’s fees through Amazon, all from DanceSignUp. You must be charging a service or convenience fee, right?
No, teachers/studios don’t pay anything to use DanceSignUp. They only pay competitions to register routines within the application.
We do charge the competitions a small fee for each transaction. A transaction can include one or more routines. We looked at two pricing models, subscription and pay-as-you-go. Ultimately since dance seasons don’t last the entire year the subscription model didn’t seem too practical being that there are months where registrations may not be submitted. With pay-as-you-go small or large competitions have a level playing field, neither pay anything until they have registrations coming in.
I have had the opportunity to explore the site, and one of my favorite features is the “Coming to Your Area” section which appears on a studio’s dashboard when they login. Can you tell me more about this?
Sure, the “Coming to Your Area” section shows a list of upcoming dance competitions that will be hosting events near you. This is a great way to learn about new competitions, maybe sign up a few small groups, and check them
The cool thing about this feature is that it levels the playing field, so to speak. It gives the smaller competitions a chance to compete with the larger ones. Now, we understand that there might competition and politics in the dance world. Naturally, you have large competitions and small competitions, large studios and small studios. It can seem like an uphill battle for smaller competitions to get their events out in front of studios and for smaller studios to make their mark at larger competitions. With “Coming to Your Area” there are no large or small competitions, just competitions.
We’ve talked about the advantages for studios but what are the benefits for competition organizations that get involved?
The benefits for competition organizers are numerous. The biggest of these are the savings of time and money. We eliminate the need for paper since everything is online. We’ve even done away with the need for Copy and Paste. On the registration side, you will no longer have to deal with illegible faxes, or attached email PDF’s coming in from all over the place.
Payments are handled securely and immediately online and give studios or individuals the option to pay with any credit card. No merchant account is needed, competitions only need an Amazon Business account. All payment records are kept for reference along with current event and season totals. Routine scheduling is quick and easy, routines can be sorted and ordered by any criteria. So if you want to view Small Group routines only, you can. Once scheduled and posted the schedule is completely online and available to studios, teachers, and parents. We’ve even formatted the schedule for mobile devices like the iPhone® so that it can be followed in real time during the event.
Finally, we understand that event programs are a fun keepsake but often are a pain to produce; especially when last minute changes come in and a deadline is looming. To remedy this, we’ve created the ability to export an event’s schedule that can easily be imported into your page layout application like Adobe InDesign or given to your graphics person.
For brevity’s sake we’ll just stick to these, but there are numerous small benefits and advantages, and many more in the works.
Speaking of what’s up your sleeve, I’ve got some other stuff going on at the site too. I’m pretty sure I saw that you are offering desktop wallpapers on your blog. What other fun things are you planning to add to the site?
“Fun” can be subjective; we find code fun, so for us it’s all fun. We do offer desktop wallpaper which is hopefully more fun than code; it’s just our way of expressing our creativeness and giving back to the dance community. We’re planning on offering a new wallpaper each month and would love to hear from the dance community through picture submissions. Otherwise we’ll have to resort to pictures of us dancing. Details can be found on our blog about how the images will be used, how credit will be given, as well as where to send them.
We’re also thinking about doing some giveaways, maybe something like a discounted fee event. And also bringing in some guest blog posters to write about what’s happening in the dance community.
Above all, I’ve found DanceSignUp easy to use. Like other familiar “Web 2.0” applications, there’s a drag and drop feature and cool little windows pop up. Studios can also subscribe to a competition’s season feed, which means they can sort of “follow” them to easily discover when new events are added. Plus studios and competitions have their own profiles. They can “see” each other in a way that perhaps isn’t possible when dealing with a paper trail or other online registrations. Do you envision this going further? Will studios and competitions be able to rate or talk about the different venues? Will there be opportunities for teachers to offer feedback regarding competitions? Interact profile to profile? Hmmm, am I getting ahead of myself here?
We absolutely envision DanceSignUp going further. It is a web application which means it’s web-based software so there’s no downloading or updating that needs to take place on the user’s end. Consequently, updates can happen frequently, at any time.
Without giving too much away about our future plans, I can say that venue comments or ratings has been discussed and has a good possibility of showing up in a future update. One upcoming feature that we’re excited about involves enhancements for the judging process itself (for example more immediate posting of scores, and the upload/download of judges notes, as opposed to the old cassette tape system). In an effort to keep the application focused and simple we don’t have any plans to integrate any “social” features. Mostly because there are sites that do that already.
The site is fully functional right now but just went live in September. I’m sure you are looking for feedback from studios as well as competitions. Sign up is free so it’s easy to go in and look around. Can folks contact you with feedback or get support?
Absolutely, we’re completely open to feedback and looking for companies to collaborate with on existing and potential features. We’re constantly tweaking and adding features which is why we look forward to hearing from our users. We want to talk with competitions and studios. We want to find out what they want and need and build off of that.
Support is offered in several ways. Once you have an account we have a support ticket system that allows users to submit requests directly. We also have a growing library of help articles and screencasts that will walk a user through step-by-step how to do something. Finally, we have a special Twitter account to announce software updates and system status.
As I mentioned, DanceSignUp is brand new. There are advantages for both competitions and dance studios to use the service but organizations from both sides have to come to the party. Currently, Bret and the folks at DanceSignUp are making connections and spreading the word. You can be a part of that by sharing the site with colleagues and competitions. I encourage you to visit DanceSignUp.com and have a look around. If you have thoughts or suggestions, you can contact Bret via the site or simply leave comments below.