Costumes are such a special part of the dance business for me.
Some of my favorite childhood memories are of recital season when my mom had me sewing with her. I got pretty good at attaching the fringe from one shoulder of a leotard across to the other hip. It was so exciting to tear the little string off the fringe and see the costume come to life.
Without knowing that story, you might think we’re crazy to have a full time costume manager on staff coordinating our average order of 3,000 costumes from about twelve different manufacturers each season. If you come to visit me at our studio, I’ll even show you our special area of our studio we’ve lovingly named ‘sewing world’. We’ve come a long way since solid colored leotards and bolts of fringe!
Whether you like sparkling tulle, stretch velvet, or the full glitz of rhinestones, costuming is a special part of your artistic expression. Costumes are also an important part of your business.
At the Weissman’s Costume Open House this fall, I had a chance to speak to the teachers and studio owners on ways to stand out with their marketing efforts, plus preview the 2012 line. It is a fun event because you get to tour where the costume design process happens, step onto the floor where the material is cut, and see exactly where the costumes are sewn.
It’s fun to listen to people share what they look for in a costume from the style, color, texture, and how it will look onstage. Although each of us have varied preferences for what we like in a costume, we share the common goal of wanting to have our dancers look their best for performance or competition.
Whether you aspire to boost your competition team’s success or to have this be your most memorable year yet for recitals, I’d love to share some tips for a drama-free costume experience this season.
People will have an opinion about everything you do. Trust and rely on your experience to offer and present the best costume for your classes.
I cringe when I hear reports of the fallout after a studio owner or teacher brings costume books into classes for dancers or their parents to choose a costume. While I’m all for choice and input from a group, costuming is your area of expertise!
If you absolutely must, present two choices. For example, “We have made a decision to go with costume A, but the event that our first choice is unavailable we will go with choice B.” Again, be sure that both choices are comparable in design, price and are age-appropriate for your students.
In the event that you are met with unanimous disgust or hatred of a costume, take time to listen to concerns, process it, and then evaluate what might be an alternative. There are plenty of options both in terms of variety and vendors to pick from today. Trust your expertise and confidently present the costume.
You can learn something from the recent TV series “Dance Moms” which highlighted the potential drama that can occur when it comes to solos and other performances beyond your regular classes. Be sure to establish a policy detailing how the costumes will be selected. Do it before you get started so that you can avoid this type of disturbance. You will be glad you set up guidelines both in terms of budget, expectations, and input on the decision.
Show the value you bring to the costuming experience, it helps reduce price resistance.
The economic conditions have had a definite impact on so many families. So how can you strike a balance between setting your studio and dancers apart at competitions or performances, yet keep the costs reasonable?
An effective way we have found is presenting our costumes and their prices with a ‘perfect fit guarantee’.
In addition to giving people a few payment plan options, they are shown, in writing, that the perfect fit guarantee includes: proper measuring, sizing, fitting, altering if necessary, steaming/pressing, hanging in plastic or garment bag, a headpiece, and any other accessory necessary such as tap ribbons or a prop.
You may be reading this and say, well I do that anyway. Yes, you probably do! And it’s possible that the companies you order from are adding value to the process. Have you taken the time to emphasize that value rather than just show a picture of a costume with a price?
We find that instead of hearing things like, “WHAT! $65 for a tutu and leotard?!?!” we get, “Wow, only $65 for all of that!”. There are only 24 hours in a day. The parents of our dancers are so very busy, their time is limited, and they appreciate the added value that the price includes.
Meanwhile, dance studio owners and teachers have a tendency to undervalue their time.
I’m not suggesting that you tack on all sorts of extra costs that are excessive. Not at all! However it’s essential to your business health that you properly price your costumes to cover the cost of all of the things it takes to get your dancers on stage looking great!
If you commit to simple, keep it simple!
The urge to go the self-costumed route is often driven by a desire to keep performing affordable and costuming less complicated, both in style and process. That is the theory at least!
Once, we agreed to let a class of our hip-hop teen-adult dancers self-costume their piece because they did not want to pay $60-$70 for our all-inclusive, perfect-fit guarantee, costume price. In this case, we agreed based on the dance genre and their age, but the final costume required approval from their teacher.
It turns out that this concession caused more headaches, running around, and time spent searching, and ultimately. the self-costumed price came out to $45 per person! Was a $15 savings really worth it? No, not at all, in this case. The teacher was inconvenienced and the students spent an unnecessary amount of time and energy looking for the very items that could have been ordered through the costume manufacturers.
Contrast this with one of the best costuming decisions we made last season: outfitting our junior dance team in simple black stretch leggings and a $15 top we bought at Target. They were a standout on the competition floor – winning platinum – the simplicity and power of the costume enhanced the authenticity of the choreography and made the dance different from all of the glitz and glamour of the other teams.
How to ensure the self-costumed approach is a win-win?
Make sure you have a plan AND a budget in mind that makes the do-it-yourself costume truly less expensive than the alternative.
To save money on paper but to waste an incredible amount of time and energy does not. If you can stand out with simple – be sure to keep it simple!
Use technology to give you more time to focus on what you love to do.
You know that sorting through the costume catalogs, finding the size charts, and locating the pricing is time consuming. Add to that the time it takes to select, size, price, order, sort, fit, deliver and collect on orders and you have another full time job! Most dance studio owners and teachers don’t have the budget or qualified help to have a part or full-time costume manager on staff.
This is the very problem that Paul Henderson solved with CostumeManager.com.
In addition to owning seven
dance studios of his own, he created a solution so that dance studio owners and teachers can dance more and work less. Just this year Paul helped us add our entire dance shop online so that our students can order their dance wear from our dress code lists.
I’d highly recommend you connect with Paul over on his Facebook Page, he’s often gives away great costumes and shares ways you can reduce stress when it comes to costume time.
No matter what the season holds, from the styles you pick to the songs you set for your pieces, you can be confident that you are creating moments of magic and joy for your dancers and their families!
How do you reduce costume drama at your school? Tell us in the comments!
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.