Surviving the Unexpected Fun of Being a Dance Studio Owner

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

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

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

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

It is fun! But not always.

A woman with a headache

Photo by Jay Aremac

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

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

Guess what? The rent is increasing.

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

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

It happens.

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

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

~ T. Harv Eker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Your dance studio is your livelihood. I get it.

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

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

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

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

Share your successes and ‘learning experiences’ below!

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

Comments

  1. Bernard Holmes says:

    Hello I am a fairly new dance studio owner but have been a hip hop dance instructor for many years. As a dance studio owner now, i find it difficult to increase my clientele, i’ve been promoting like crazy but it seems like that is just not working all that great. I just need some tips on how to build the clientele at my dance studio.

  2. I am a dance studio co-owner, and last year our studio was managing to pay for itself. This year, however, our student base decreased and we are struggling hard core again. We think that part of the reason is that we had some troubles with our theater for recital last year (though we kept calling to confirm, the school theater ended up falling through, and we had to find a replacement studio the week of recital!). Two of our older girls left for another studio at the beginning of the season as well (I think because the other studio had more girls their age, and perform holiday shows and such). Do you have tips on how to re-build a student base and how to keep them coming? I’m devastated by the fact that if we can’t fix this somehow, we’ll be forced to close our doors!

    • Hi Beth,
      Thank you for your courageous reply and comments. It sounds like you handled the recital venue situation to the best of your ability…what a tough thing to have to scramble to fix the week of. Wow!

      The truth is, there is a natural amount of attrition – losing students – each year that you have to be prepared for as a dance studio owner no matter how awesome and successful your programs may be. For many studios this means turning over 20-30% of the student base every year! Children lose interest in activities when they are young and older dancers may leave for various reasons as you suggested.

      My best advice is to be sure you know what you are really good at and what you want to be known for. If it’s your younger dancer program, focus on marketing that and getting new students in the door year round. If it’s new beginners at any age, make sure you are really emphasizing this and showing that they can try your programs. Likewise if you are growing your advanced dancer options and performing or competitive dancer programs…make sure you have a strong curriculum in place to support the dancers who wish to advance.

      Take time to do some strategic planning with your co-owner so you can be sure that you have a plan in place to market your studio programs year-round.

      Also, have you had a chance to look at this column we wrote for Dance Teacher Magazine? There are some tips on how to know what the minimum number of students should be per class for profitability.
      http://www.dance-teacher.com/2014/05/ask-the-experts-minimum-number-of-students-for-profitability/

      It’s possible that you can tweak a few things to bring your studio back to operating in a place where the natural flux of students won’t break your business. It takes a lot of careful watching over numbers to become successful. You may want to seek professional advice from a CPA regarding the overall financial health of your business and expenses for a more detailed plan to continue moving forward. Wishing you the very best!

  3. Hello! I have had a competition dance team for 8 years! Over the years my organization has gotten more popular and my team is expanding every year! We’ve booked more performances and currently my team is a high demand! I think maybe it’s time to open a dance team studio! The thing is…. My team is growing to about 40 plus girls and it forces me to start off in a bigger venue! I’m going to be honest I’m kind of nervous about that! The studio won’t just be for My dance team, but for anyone who wants to take classes as well! I’m starting off only offering maybe ballet, jazz, and strengthening and flexibility to start off! Since my team caters to high school girls I’m opening my studio up for all ages and genders!

    I have found a space that can accommodate 2 dance Rooms which will be better for scheduling and potentially renting out one room for an event and anything that can accommodate it. Is a big venue, but it also comes with a prices! This will be my first studio! Any advice?

    • Hi Angel, congratulations on the success of your program. That’s great that you have been building up your reputation for 8 years. Doing your research in advance is key so that you know what the demographics in your area are like as well as other factors. Starting a dance studio is a big decision. Make sure you meet with your accountant or tax advisor as well as an attorney so that you can properly set up your business structure to protect yourself/liability. Also, do your homework and write a solid business plan so that you can be sure you’ve addressed the many costs, expenses, and projected revenue. My best advice would be to refer to the SBA – https://www.sba.gov/ and if it’s right for you – we have many resources on our website for those who are in start up mode at DanceStudioOwner.com – http://www.dancestudioowner.com/public/What-You-Get.cfm
      We also have a lot of sample content you can read too http://www.dancestudioowner.com/public/department42.cfm
      I’m sure that once you do your thorough planning and combine that with your enthusiasm and passion for dance you will be off to a great start. Best of luck!

    • Hello Angel! I have to agree with Suzanne starting an actual studio is a very big decision. I found myself in the same kind of situation 2 years ago and I am about to sign my second lease. I have a ballroom dance studio but I also offer group classes, have renters, and provide space for special events. I would strongly recommend you educate yourself in the technology part of getting new clients. If you can do most of this work, you will save a bunch of money. If you can figure out a way to have a consistent wave of new interested clients or renters it will certainly take some pressure away. Best of Luck!

  4. We are a loose collective of ballet enthusiasts based in The Gambia in West Africa. We started out as a social group that used to meet to discuss ballet and to swap and watch DVDs and we have gained momentum to the extent that we now run ballet workshops and training sessions at a number of local schools and community centres.

    We are attracting young and enthusiastic ballet students from all levels of society and survive on donations and local fundraising events.We now plan to raise funding to find a permanent home from where we can develop things further.

    We are planning a crowdfunding appeal and are negotiating with dance groups in Senegal, Nigeria, Guinea, England, Holland and Germany for a 7 day ballet and dance festival to be held at The Ebunjan Theatre In The Gambia. http://www.ebunjan.com/

    We would be thrilled if you could offer us any support or guidance on the best way forward?

    Yours faithfully,
    Fatou Ceesay
    http://gambia-ballet-school.com/

  5. Hi everyone,
    I am from Australia and i have just opened a cheer and dance studio this year.
    I am struggling to bring in decent numbers , my biggest class is a class of 9. My smallest is 2.

    I have done letterbox drops , handing out flyers at fairs, we had an open day.. nothing seems to be working. I am doubting myself and i dont know if i can do it.

    Is this the case for all new owners or is it just me.

    Alot of tears have been had over the last couple of weeks.

    • Hi Kirsty,

      Please know that you are not alone in your efforts to build enrollment. It does take time and it can be full of discouraging moments, especially when it sounds like you are making strides with your marketing efforts.

      I’m not familiar with your demographic necessarily, but here in the states, especially in our area where there are a lot of dance studios and schools for people to choose from, these are the most important things we do to keep our enrollment up:
      1. Have a great website that is easy to view on desktop and mobile devices. It should be easy for potential students to view your class schedule and other important information to make a decision
      2. Try a class options. Be sure you make it easy for people to try a class at your studio.
      3. Online registration. Parents are busy! They need an easy way to sign up for a class
      4. Social media presence, full of engagement and peeks into what it’s like to be a student at your studio. Make sure your information is up to date and is fun and engaging for people to see.

      Have you tried any paid social media ads? Facebook can be a great way to target your audience and find potential students with an invitation to try a class at your school.

      This is a very popular piece of content we share – it was curated by hundreds of our members:
      http://www.dancestudioowner.com/public/67_Ways_Register_for_Class.cfm

      There may be some additional creative ways for you to explore growing your enrollment.

      It does take time, consistent effort, and an ongoing commitment to attracting, retaining and growing your student base. I’m hoping you can use this information to feel energized and empowered.

      Good luck!
      Best, Suzanne

    • The free tools are sometimes the best, just make your best to be discover-able over the internet. Create a facebook page, because nothing moves today without it. Run some promotion campaign if you have some extra 50$ for a new dance class, make a proper targeting and you’ll have a full class in 2-3 weeks.
      Or as I said, you can use some free listing tools like craigslist or whatever works best for you in Australia or some dance related free listing hub like http://www.dancelifemap.com
      We post info about our studio on every single website that we can find for free. And it’s not that hard as it may sound. Just make sure your future students can find you when they look for you. That’s it.

  6. I have lived breathed dancing since I was born my mother taught me I eventually took over became principle. I love dance always have the past few years I’ve have many problem parents ! And some medical complications of my own , lost almost half of my school gradually the past 4 years its been tough I don’t want to lose it all i love what I do unfortunately. The students I lost I taught for 10years+ I found myself bending too much obviously I tried to lay ground rules knowing it would result in a loss and it affected my emotionally. I need to get out of this rut im happy most when in dancing

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