Chasta is the artistic director and owner of Stage Door Dance Productions in Raleigh, North Carolina. She is also the founder of The Dance Exec, a website and organization that provided resources and training for dance studio owners. The resources from The Dance Exec have a new home on the TutuTix blog, giving dance studio owners an even more in-depth library of free tools and information with which to grow their business. Chasta contributes to the TutuTix blog from time to time, offering her perspective as a studio owner (and TutuTix client!).
Recently, we did a small dance survey and asked for your thoughts about trends on the competitive circuit. Instead of small concerns or observations, the responses were overall negative and centered around:
Inappropriate Costuming & Movement
Too Many Props
An Abundance of Guest Choreographers
Lack of Technique
Level Confusion/ Inconsistency
As I thought about the feedback from the dance survey and shared it with my friends, it seems that some of these complaints could be improved or solved with greater accountability- on behalf of the studios and the competitions.
(1) Owners, Directors, and Teachers have to set the tone for appropriateness and take accountability for what they choose to put onstage. Is anyone going to argue with wanting to maintain a child’s class and innocence?
These same individuals must also strive to provide their dancers with a solid, technical foundation and artistic, creative, and original choreography. When it comes to levels, they also must be honest in registering their dancers for varying divisions.
(2) Competitions must stand by their rules and beliefs. If a routine can only have so many tricks in a particular category, it should be upheld. If the competition promotes appropriateness as a value, it should be upheld (even though it can be understandably subjective).
Regardless, in dealing with an unregulated industry (for the studios and competitions), it is important that we all do our part to make it a positive, beneficial experience for all dancers. Ultimately, we all want it be an educational tool that improves our dancing, our industry, and its artistry.
Are you looking for more articles to make this year’s competition season as productive as possible?
We go to great lengths to be as prepared and organized as possible at every single event, but there are a few items we ALWAYS forget for conventions. As you’re packing up, make sure you include these last minute convention supplies!
Every time we arrive at a convention and are distributing wristbands, we always forget to have scissors on hand to cut the extra band. I have scissors in the spare sewing kit, but they will not work on most wristband materials.
Some conventions or competitions give out scissors as part of registration. Ask and see if the one you’re attending does! If not, make sure to grab that pair of scissors on the way out the door.
There is another item that is great to have on hand for travel and community/competitive performances: a SHARPIE!
This comes in handy for labeling music, forms, costumes, etc. Add it to your must-bring list!
(P.S. Make that TWO Sharpies. Someone will absolutely ask you to borrow one, and you will absolutely never get it back.)
On long weekends of competition, performance, and convention classes, it is really easy to drain the power on your device(s).
Recently, we purchased a portable battery. This device is amazing for charging on the go!
It eliminates the necessity of dragging cords, finding outlets, etc.
There are many different brands, styles, and price points available- but definitely look into it! It will make your life much more convenient!
You can also take a look at our more complete checklists and packing tips as you head to convention or competition:
After we return from each competition, we take the scores and feedback, transcribe the information into a document, and distribute it to our studio families. Many times, the results of the dance competition scoring reiterate information we’ve been communicating, and it serves as reinforcement for areas of improvement.
From the perspective of a teacher/competition judge, I’ve realized that critiques can be critical to dancers’ development. So, it’s important for studios to leave competitions with constructive feedback.
Sharing Dance Competition Scoring and Critiques
I have spoken to many Studio Directors, Owners, and Instructors that choose not to use their competition critiques in any way, shape, or form. If you’re selecting events with quality critiques (something that should be a critically important factor in competition selection), you should pass the information to your students and/or their parents.
Sharing this information increases the value of the competitive experience for your studio families. If you’re using competition as an educational experience, this reiterates your mission and stance. Your studio families will appreciate it!
How Judges Need to Offer Critiques
While using competition critiques back home is important, it is even more important that the critiques be thoughtful, informative, positive, encouraging, and constructive.
The standards for critiques has to be higher. How many times have we heard of feedback that consists of a judge singing the song lyrics? Or, what about the routine that doesn’t perform well that contains audio with no feedback and only a “good job” at the end? Unfortunately, this happens too often.
The process is multi-tiered:
(1) Competitions have to demand excellence of their judges.
(2) Studios have to expect a high standard when attending events.
(3) Studios have to use the materials provided by a competition.
This morning, I am traveling back from a judging weekend. As I was flying out on Friday morning, I committed myself to offering critiques that were meaningful and thoughtful. Those kinds of critiques can potentially make the difference in the life of a dancer.
The gestures are small, but maybe offering a student a tip on prepping for a turn sequence or expanding their movement on the stage could motivate a child to the next level.
As teachers and judges (and for many of us that serve as both), let’s continue working on increasing the value of the dance competition industry. We all know the experience is about more than a placement or a trophy; it is about personal success, improvement, and accomplishment.
Bullying seems so senseless and unnecessary. And yet, it still occurs in seemingly all environments. It happens at school, extracurricular activities, via social media, and, yes, even from members of the dance team at competitions. Social media outlets has removed accountability and personal connectivity from today’s youth, allowing them an impersonal way of criticizing and degrading others in a very passive manner.
I have heard stories of bullying occurring at dance competitions for the past few years. But, it wasn’t until recently that I actually observed negativity at an event.
Via social media, an older student from one studio’s dance team was blatantly criticizing much younger students from another studio. Using that message, the older student had other dancers joining in the conversation, and it felt so unnecessary and inappropriate.
What do you think made this student feel as though this was an okay choice?
Respect and Appreciation at Competition
As instructors, we have to instill values of respect in our students. These values should transcend the studio classroom and reach other studios, peers, and life endeavors. Our values become our lifestyle, and I would like to think that studios would never condone this kind of behavior.
Most competitions and conventions encourage appropriate behavior. I appreciate and applaud the steps they’ve taken to guarantee students are learning and growing in a nurturing, supportive environment. Studio owners, parents, instructors, students, and peers have to support and encourage that mission, too.
Ultimately, we are all in this together. And, personally, I know that I want every dance experience to be positive, meaningful, and productive for each and every one of our students.
Dance Spirit featured an article in 2011 entitled Beat Bullying, which discusses the issue from an in-studio perspective. It’s just as relevant to think about bullying in regards to outside events and encountering other studios.
At the end of the day, we have to lead by example. That way, we make sure our students are aware of their choices, actions, and consequences. We are all working hard, striving to do our best, and encouraging our students to grow. Each individual is on his/her own dance journey, and we have to be respectful and supportive of each dancer’s work and achievement.
As J.K. Rowling said: “It is our choices…that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”
Let’s make the choice to be kind. After all, we’re all in this together.
Check out these wonderful classroom partner stretches and stretching exercises from Magical Kingdom of Dance! Our goal for February is to teach our students to build bridges instead of walls. The focus is Teamwork!
“Togetherness is learning to work, play and dance together, for it’s far more fun to share our satisfactions with others. Great things happen when there is TEAMWORK in dance class.”
Partner Exercises for Elementary and/or Pre-Ballet Classes:
Princess Rise – A teacher or “Prince Charming” can help each student rise by offering his or her hand to the “ballerina” princess sitting on the floor with straight backs and one knee up. Each student gracefully stands to execute a beautiful curtsey. (Pre-Ballet)
Hook elbows back to back and sit down together, pushing against partner’s back. Stand up by pushing against partner’s back. (This is good for 5 ages and up.)
See Saw – Face your partner holding hands and pull away from each other. Gently bend knees while gently pulling away from each other to sit on the floor. This is good for ages 5 and up.
Middle School/High School Partner Stretches
Sit back to back – #1 partner sits with the bottoms of feet together and lowers head over to feet. #2 Partner – presses her back with her own back letting her body weight gently hold the stretch. Also, you may use hands to gently press out the knees of #1. (#2’s chest is facing the ceiling) (For Middle school age and high school)
Partners sit facing each other with legs straight and the bottom of feet together. Hold hands. #1 leans back and pulls arms of the #2 partner and vise versa. On all stretches, remember to hold the stretch for 30 seconds. (For middle school age and high school)
Hold hands – facing your partner. Partner #1 puts R foot gently on Partner’s #2 shoulder. Partner #1 leans into a back bend while partner #2 holds her forearms firmly. Switch legs and then switch roles. (This is an advanced stretch)
The dance convention environment is an important component in building strong, confident, adaptable, and resilient dancers. The experience is unique, challenging, and, when approached (and presented) correctly, highly effective and beneficial as a supplemental training opportunity.
Here are 10 Tips for making each dance convention a successful experience for your dancers!
1. Dress to Flatter
Yes, it is important to stand out, but convention attire has become so over the top trendy, that the art of classic, flattering apparel is almost a rarity.
What looks best on you? Are you prepared with attire that matches every style of dance offered?
For hip-hop, do you look like a hip-hop dancer? For ballet, do you look like a ballet dancer? Know your styles and dress appropriately (and professionally).
2. Physically Perform, Mentally Engage
Dance convention classes require physical exertion for performance, but they also require an equal amount of mental engagement and focus.
3. Be Prepared
Arrive early, be well rested, hydrated, and have a plan in place for healthy meals and snacks throughout the workshop. Take care of your body!
4. Remove Yourself from Distraction
Remove yourself from your in-class friends and parents (if they are observing). Find your own spot in the room where you can focus and absorb the information. Leave your cell phones and iPods outside.
When you are in the dance room, you have to be in the zone.
When you are in class, be focused, engaged, and connected with the material being taught. If you disengage at any point, you will likely fall behind in the choreography/instruction.
If you fall behind, do not give up. Work hard to catch up, and keep trying! If you have a thoughtful, relevant question, do not be afraid to ask it.
6. Be Respectful & Kind
Treat ALL dancers, instructors, and attendees with the utmost amount of respect.
Think about how your words, actions, and gestures may be interpreted. Do not leave or sit down in the middle of a class. Stay throughout the entirety of a workshop.
7. Push Yourself Beyond Familiarity
Use the convention environment as an opportunity to explore and attempt new styles. Take EVERY class. Do not sit out.
You will strengthen yourself as a dancer and may realize a new interest or love for a particular style.
8. Thank Your Instructors
Take the time to thank your master teachers. It is a great showing of respect and a resourceful networking tool.
Also, take the time to thank your in-studio teachers and parents for providing you with this wonderful opportunity.
9. Do It for the Right Reasons
Attend workshops for the right reasons– i.e. receiving a scholarship should not be your motivation to attend. Go in with the mentality that you there to work hard, learn, and improve yourself as a dancer.
10. Apply the Lessons & Skills Beyond the Day
Retain the information, tips, and techniques shared at the workshop. Apply it to your everyday dancing and make the experience last far beyond the weekend.
The hair and make-up process for dancers, especially competitive dancers, can be daunting. To help parents and dancers understand the process of creating a particular hair and make-up “look”, host a hair and makeup seminar where parents and children can go through the process.
That way, they can go through the motions step-by-step, in a practice environment.
We host our seminar in mid-to-late January. Before the seminar, we email out a list that includes all of the supplies required for hair, make-up, tights, and shoes.
At the seminar, we go through the process of:
Styling Hair (detailed to the location of the part)
Applying Make-Up Properly (and using the proper colors, and in what order)
Applying False Eyelashes
Checking for Correct Colors of Tights/Shoes, to match with the rest of the costume
This makes EVERYONE feel more prepared for the dress rehearsal prior to the first competition, and, at competition, everyone feels more at ease and prepared.
For some help on explaining important makeup tips, check out our articles on dance competition makeup:
Many dance studios choose to have a performance or competition team of some variety. Having a competition team allows students with a greater interest in dance or the performing arts an opportunity to explore their passion in a variety of performance and educational settings.
If your studio is considering starting a competition team, TutuTix and The Dance Exec have put together a Dance Competition Team Guide to get you started!
If your studio already has a competition team, our guide also goes through topics like:
Managing the logistics of the team
It also includes some links to articles about nutrition, choreography, competition stress, and more.
You can download the free Dance Competition Team Guide below!
After you’ve downloaded the Guide, check out these other ideas to add your competition team this year!
The choreography is prepared, your technique is strong, and you have been rehearsing in preparation for your upcoming performance/competition. Go through this checklist and make sure you are applying the following ways to improve your dance routine(s).
Dance Routine Checklist
Perform! Have a backstory, and use your movement to convey a story.
Let your energy flow all the waythrough your fingers and toes. Don’t let your energy stop at your wrists or ankles.
Connect your transitions. Keep the “in-between” moments fluid and purposeful, as you transition from one important sequence to another.
Stretch, and elongate your lines to their fullest. Relax the shoulders, and don’t let yourself get tense!
Let your timing and musicality be second nature. Play your music on repeat until you know it by heart.
Keep the eyes up! Recognize when you have opportunities to connect with the audience, and use them to enhance your performance.
Strengthen your arms. Let them have as much purpose as your feet!
Confidently execute the movement. Know your weak sections and adjust/rehearse until they are no longer weak.
Perfect your turn preparation, execution, and landing.
Prior to competing or performing, dancers should understand the importance of fully warming up their bodies. We spend a lot of time discussing this with our dancers, and we provide a checklist of proper pre-performance dance warm up exercises (FYI, sitting in a straddle is not a proper warm-up!).
This way, if we are busy or unable to lead a warm-up onsite at a performance or competition, students (and, sometimes, knowledgeable parents) can independently guarantee that they are prepared for their stage performance.
Recommended dance warm up exercises
Cardiovascular Exercise (Ex: Jumping Jacks, Runs in Place)
Ballet Work (Ex: Plies, Tendus, Degages, Battements)
Standing Stretches (Ex: Lunges, Flat Back)
Sitting Stretches (Ex: Second Position/Straddle, Splits)
Back Stretches (Ex: Cobra Stretch, Back Lifts)
Wall Stretches (Ex: Resistance Flexibility)
Core Stabilization (Ex: Plank, Hold & Balance in Retire)
After the body is warm, dancers can review or execute certain skills within their routines.
It is important to reiterate that once the body is warm, it should stay warm until performance time. If a dancer is idle, it is important to repeat the entire warm-up.
Communicate this information with your dancers and their parents, and you will be impressed with the level of autonomy and focus it instills on performance days.
Also, don’t forget that it’s equally important for dancers to be eating healthy foods in the days and hours before a performance! Take a look at these articles and make sure dancers are eating well so they can get through a big performance:
It’s important to be teaching respect in dance, and instilling a sense of reverence in our students. By definition, reverence means “deep respect for someone or something,” and we should be building that mentality in all of our dancers.
By adding a small ritual of respect into our lessons, we can ensure our dancers grow up with a love for the art and an admiration for its teaching. Here are some examples of classical and contemporary ways to end a class:
Traditional Curtsy, or Bow in Ballet
Goodbye Circle: Younger dancers hold hands in a circle to curtsy/bow and applaud for the class.
Tap Break: Create a signature rhythm for students to execute at the end of class. After the rhythm, they will clap their hands and say “Break!”
Take a Bow: For contemporary classes (jazz, hip-hop, contemporary, etc.), it is important to have the students demonstrate a gesture of respect. Whether through a bow or a fun, whimsical movement, they should signal the end of the class and applaud.
As a part of reverence, I also like to encourage my dancers to learn the importance of thanking your teachers.
Whether it is the teacher you see every day, a guest artist, or in a convention environment, it matters for students to show respect and gratitude to their instructors.
Looking for more dance class culture development? Check out these articles:
Over the years, I have bought a couple of businesses and I recently even looked into buying a national franchise and negotiated for close to a month before I decided not to buy. But it wasn’t until last year, when I decided to offer my dance studio for sale, that I realized how many questions get fired at you when you’re in the selling seat.
Even though I had been a buyer and had asked a bunch of questions, when the tables were reversed I was sometimes rather taken aback by what was asked!
In a nutshell, I started a preschool dance school and built it to a couple of locations, had a solid, loyal student base and after nearly 2 years decided I needed to sell it for a range of reasons, primarily because I had competing opportunities and limited time. Luckily, I had approached my dance studio from the outset in a very organized and systemized fashion.
Questions Potential Buyers Asked Me
Are the venues locked in place and secured for the next 6-12 months?
What are the rentals, and where’s the paperwork outlining the agreement that the set days and times are secured for this dance studio?
Have you told your teachers that you’re selling?
If yes, how did they react? If not, why and when will you?
Have your teachers asked you if they can buy the studio?
Why don’t they want to buy it?
My note on this: I decided to tell my teachers as soon as I’d made the decision to sell and I offered them the business. They weren’t in a position to buy it, so, after they were made aware but declined, I looked further afield.
I waited a few days to see if the teachers changed their minds. Then, I approached other dance schools and dance teachers to see if they might like to buy the business.
How many students are there?
What is the life cycle of a student?
What profit is made per class per student less costs?
What is the gross and net profit per year per student?
What is the detailed P/L (profit and loss statement)?
Is this studio profitable? Is this studio in the red?
What’s the largest cost/s?
What are the fixed costs and variable costs?
Does this business have any outstanding debts/liabilities?
About Parents and Students
Do they know you’re selling?
Have you told them?
How have they responded?
If you haven’t told them when are you planning to?
About Other Dance Schools
What other dance schools are offering similar classes?
What price are they charging per term for similar classes?
Money seems to be the focus
Interestingly, I noticed that most of the questions related to money – profit, turnover, price per student, profit per student and all the financials. People also wanted to know about the staff and whether they would stay on. The teachers in my business were a critical piece of the puzzle since I myself wasn’t teaching in the studio; in some studios this might not be so important.
What I found amazing was that no one was really that interested in the brand, the goodwill, the dance programs I’d created or the social media following. The main value they saw in the business was in the monetary side of things, student numbers and staff retention.
What the selling experience taught me was that unless your business systems are tight and your financials are solid it will be very hard to sell a business based on reputation, name or quality programs alone. That being said, those aspects are really important to the success of the studio and therefore the profitability, so they are still important.
I have attributed this to the fact that a lot of dance teachers who acquire other dance schools will make the assumption, rightly or wrongly, that they already have their own programs, reputation, and branding. Therefore, they don’t need to worry about yours as they will just bring the acquisition under their already existing umbrella.
At the end of the day, selling a dance studio is the same as selling any business and a buyer, like a property buyer, wants to know that what they are buying has value and profit.
Ensuring that your business systems, financials and all fees are paid is going to be key when and if you need to sell your dance studio.
Emma Franklin Bell is an entrepreneur, author and mentor. In 2014, she sold 2 small businesses in the children’s entertainment space. She has written and published a book, and mentors dance teachers on the strategic direction of their business. She is based in Australia.
Think about your dance studio front desk person(s). Is he/she friendly? Is he/she focused? Is he/she committed to the success of your business?
If your answer is:
(1) I don’t have a front desk person.
(2) My front desk person is not friendly.
(3) My front desk person is not focused.
(4) My front desk person is not invested in the success of my business.
Then, STOP. Houston, we have a problem.
Why You Need a Front Desk Person
Your front desk person is your gatekeeper, your pulse, and your frontline of battle. All of those roles are considered mission: critical to the success of any operation. Your front desk person is no exception.
This person represents your studio, and generally, makes the first impression a client experiences when entering your facility.
The front desk person should know the ins/out of your studio and its operation, and if a tricky question arises, he/she should know the proper communication procedures for finding the answer. He/she should be friendly, eager, enthusiastic, and happy to be a part of your organization.
The front desk person should never gossip or show preferential treatment to particular clients.
Of course, like any other staff member, the front desk representative should be trained, evaluated, and supported within the infrastructure of your business. After all, the front desk person can make or break a prospective client’s interest in your facility and/or a current client’s experience with your facility.
Choose someone that will make a positive, lasting impression!
Substitute Dance Teachers. Even the very mention of the words can put one in an anxious, uncomfortable state. After all, it directly impacts your daily operations and disrupts your studio’s organizational flow.
How can you make the substitute process easier?
(1) Handle all substitutions through your main office. Do not have instructors individually manage their substitute assignments.
(2) Have a systemic, documented request system and communication infrastructure for absences.
(3) Encourage teachers to have curriculum notes and music playlists prepared for substitute instructors.
(4) Know your substitutes’ areas of strengths/weaknesses, schedule availability, and preferred contact information (email, text, phone call, etc.).
(5) Have some additional substitute dance teachers on your list that are not part of your regular staff. Make sure they are familiar with your studio’s culture and expectations.
(6) Prepare the substitute with proper teaching materials and a class roster/attendance sheet.
Pre-Planned Absences offer the opportunity for more advanced planning, but you should try to apply the same approach to emergency/unexpected absences, too. Stay calm, procedural, and professional, and people will appreciate your systemic approach.