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!).
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.
Last year, we decided to adopt a “Studio Mascot” for our studio and competitive team. Since we were attending Nationals in New Orleans, we selected a fun-looking alligator, named her Louise, and dressed her in dance-like attire (yes, we actually went shopping for a stuffed alligator).
We introduced Louise to the studio with the following poem:
I am proud to say “Hi there,
my name is Louise.”
I am a pretty little dancer
from Stage Door, if you please.
I hail from a southern city.
You may know it as New Orleans,
A city with lots of culture
Known for its Mardi Gras scenes.
You may be thinking
You’ve seen me before in a bog
But you’re thinking of my brother
from Princess and the Frog
I was so busy dancing
While my brother played his trumpet
They wanted me in the movie,
But I had to dump it!
I love ballet, tap and jazz,
theatre, acro, and hip-hop!
I love every style of dance,
And I doubt I’ll ever stop!
I am thrilled to be a part
Of the family at Stage Door
I will be your mascot, your friend
and so much more!
I will travel to competitions
with the Stage Door Elite
I will cheer real loud,
and stamp my feet!
At the end of the season
In July of twenty thirteen,
My journey will continue at Nationals
down in New Orleans.
I’ll show you my stomping grounds
and we’ll have fun
Riding in swamp buggies
in the hot summer sun.
After the summer,
I might choose to stay
at the studio in Raleigh
to laugh, dance, sing, and play.
So let’s start this adventure
And become great friends
We’ll work hard, practice,
and be a team to the end!
Louise had such popularity that smaller mascots began popping up at competitions:
Our studio families and students LOVE Louise! The students enjoy seeing her at events, and they are always eager to sit beside her, hold her, and take pictures with her.
Louise even had a starring role in our Spring Recital:
So, how can you create dance studio mascots for your team/studio?
Select something that ties into the theme/mission/culture/events of your studio
Tailor the mascot’s presence to reflect your brand
Promote the dance studio mascots to your studio and students
Be imaginative! Creativity is what brings a mascot to life.
The mascot brought a great level of camaraderie to our team and studio last year, and we are excited to begin Louise’s adventures this year. Select your mascot, and join in on the fun! It will add a little magic to your season. 🙂
When going across the floor, it is important to practice the right and left iterations of skills.
A few weeks ago in a jazz class, my students were reversing an across the floor progression to the left side, and the groans immediately started. I stopped the music and explained that one-sided dancers are one-minded dancers.
If your students are of the mindset that certain skills can only be accomplished on one side, then that will likely be the case. But, if a dancer is willing to work the weaker side of the body to make it stronger, the results will be evident. It is all about mind power and the commitment to improve!
Training Both Sides Across the Floor
While dancers typically have a stronger and weaker side, it is important to train both sides of the body to make the dancer as strong, versatile, and successful as possible. At our studio, we teach everything on the right and left: flexibility training, balance work, acrobatic skills, extensions, leaps, turns, and more.
Once students are ready to layer more challenging sequences to their progressions, alternate sides within the progressions.
Here are some basic examples for alternating phrasing:
Chasse Step Right Grand Jete, Chasse Step Left Grand Jete
Chaine Right, Chaine Right, Chaine Left, Chaine Right
Right Double Pullback, Left Double Pullback
When introducing more complex across the floor patterns and sequencing, use movements and phrasing that work both sides of the body.
This enhances the students’ well rounded presence and improves their ability to sequence and shift direction/focus. It has made a noticeable difference in our dancers, and I am confident you will see results, too.
In competitive dance, performing a solo is a significant investment- it requires a lot of time and financial support for choreography, costuming, and private lessons. As teachers and choreographers, it is our responsibility to provide the appropriate framework for the right routine for the right dancer. Ask yourself the following to see if you are making sensible choices for your soloists when preparing solo dance choreography:
1. The Dancers
Are your dancers that perform solos technically, stylistically, and psychologically prepared to perform as a soloist? Will it enhance and develop their experience as a dancer for the year?
2. Unique Routines
Do you uniquely create a routine that will showcase the strengths and mask the weaknesses of each performer? Do you develop ideas regarding music and concept of each solo performer? In order to succeed, the solo must be the perfect match between the choreographer and the dancer.
3. Past Performance
When creating a solo, do you look at the dancer’s past journey to determine how they will continue evolving as a performer and dancer? What will this routine accomplish that will set it apart from other routines?
4. Creative Burnout
Do you know your creative breaking point? How many solos can you choreograph while maintaining a fresh, exciting perspective? Make sure you do not allow yourself to burn out.
5. Time is of the Essence
When working on solos, maximize the dancers’ time. Be efficient, tackle the choreography, and value their investment.
If you follow these suggestions, the solo will likely be a win-win for everyone involved!
Need some more ideas on creating choreography? Take a look at these other articles in the TutuTix blog:
If your studio competes, you have likely encountered the dilemma of determining what competitions/conventions your studio will attend in any given season. With new competitions and conventions arriving on the scene fairly regularly, there are many choices. As a Studio Owner or Competition Team Director, it is important you choose a well-rounded, seasonal experience that caters to the strengths and weaknesses of your dancers. And, it is important that you plan your entire season in advance and choose your dance competition dates carefully.
So, how do you determine what will work best for your team? As you consider options, you want to consider the following factors:
What did you enjoy doing as a dancer/performer?
What works best for the skill/ability levels of your competitive team?
Which events/activities has your studio enjoyed?
Parent feedback, concerns, complaints
Professionalism of the event
Location of the event and cost
Each factor is important and should be considered in determining the best options for you and your team. After all, you and your dancers’ parents are investing a lot of time, money, and energy into these events. The experience should be a win-win for everyone.
Must-Have Considerations When Selecting a Prospective Event
Educational Opportunity: What will your students learn at the event? How will it further progress their dance education?
Logistical Consideration: Is the event held at a nice facility? Will selecting this event be a good reflection on your brand?
Professionalism: Is the event professional? How long as the event been establishment? Will you receive professional critiques, instruction, or some type of feedback?
Piece of the Puzzle: How does this event fit into the yearlong plan of your training program? Is it well balanced with other options?
Teacher Incentive: What does the event offer to benefit the studio? Classes, tuition discounts, networking etc. are all factors to consider. After all, you want the experience to be great for your students, but you also want it to be great for yourself and your business. (As a side note, some competitions offer rebates, which are a nice incentive, but events should not be chosen based solely on rebate opportunity.)
Red Flags to Notice
Lack of Constructive Criticism
Whether it is through audio feedback at a competition or via instruction at a convention, the event should, in some way, inspire your students. If your students leave without inspiration, awareness, or reflection, the event has not accomplished its mission.
(For example, if a student receives a lower score at a competition but only receives the feedback “good job,” then the event has not helped your student.)
Is the facility run-down? Are your students dancing in areas that are less than ideal? If an event looks like it has cut corners in providing the experience, it probably has, which means you probably do not want to return.
Lack of Professionalism
At events, take note of everything that is happening around you. Are the staff members acting professional with all attendees, or does it feel as though favoritism is being shown?
Are the critiques appropriate?
Do the events run as though they are scripted, or does it feel like the event is “flying by the seat of its pants?”
Parents notice professionalism, and you should, too. If is an event is unprofessional, it may be time to explore other options.
Once you have decided to make your event selections, do a quick cost-benefit analysis and make sure your students will be receiving a return for their investment. Ask yourself if you would be willing to spend the same amount of money for the same experiences.
Avoid choosing less than stellar events for the wrong reasons. Many Studio Owners pick second-rate competitions to attend because they perceive that they can “win” more, or their students will do better because a powerhouse studio may not be present.
This notion is ludicrous! Challenge your students and expose them to the best.
At the end of the day, the events and dance competition dates you select for your students are a direct reflection on you and your business. If parents and students leave an event pleased, they will applaud your selection. However, if students and/or parents have a negative experience, they will address those concerns with you because you serve as the liaison to the event.
Take the time to plan, scope out, and determine events that your clients will appreciate and enjoy. Your students and parents will respect your careful selection and will see that you are picking events based on the students’ best interests. Who can argue with that?
Also remember: as dance competition dates get closer, make sure your dance parents are fully prepared for the event. Check out our Dance Parent Competition Survival Guide so that everyone arrives at the event ready for action!
For studio dancers, input typically comes in the form of dance practice (rehearsals, solo lessons, cleaning sessions, technique, conditioning, etc.).
Input = Output is an important concept to accept and embrace. When results are measured, it is important to consider this equation. Did you invest the work (input) that was required to produce the outcome (output) you desire?
Beyond taking the initiative to contribute input, you must also measure the productivity, quality, and value of the input.
The tips below encourage a productive practice environment:
1. Be Prepared
Students should prepare for dance practice sessions. Whether they are rehearsing a single piece or a repertoire of work, they should review the material and be mentally engaged and ready when they enter the rehearsal room. Students should: (a) know the music, (b) know the choreography, (c) know their formations and blocking, and (d) know their strengths and weaknesses.
2. Be Open to Honest Feedback
In the dance practice environment, students need to be physically and mentally prepared for constructive criticism. While sometimes it is difficult to hear, the feedback will make your routine as stage ready as possible. Keep in mind that you would rather receive the feedback in the comfort of your home studio versus from a judge in the competitive environment.
3. Be Ready for Repetition
You will likely practice your routines A LOT. Some days, you may practice certain segments or moves A LOT. Be ready for this level of repetition. It may be frustrating at times, but ultimately it will give your routine the polish and cleanliness it needs.
4. Every Person Counts
Know that every person in your routine is a contributing factor in the success, look, and polish of your overall performance. Be a leader and encourage others to step up. If every person is committed to the success of the routine, it will show.
5. Details Matter
Be serious about details. Precision, fluidity, timing, performance skills, and lines of the body are details that matter in the overall appearance of a routine. Do not underestimate their power.
6. Embrace Adjustments
Sometimes, choreography has to be tweaked and adjusted. Be open minded to these changes.
7. Take Technique Seriously
Your routines will be weak without technique and conditioning. Do your part to make yourself a strong, technically proficient dancer.
8. Show Up
Attend your classes. Attend your rehearsals. Be sure to attend everything you need to attend. Consistence attendance is a key factor in the success of dancers and their routines.
Remember your corrections in class. Retain corrections for choreography. Apply corrections from your performances.
10. Make It A Habit
Aristotle said, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” Make excellence your habit.
I often hear the debate of what age is acceptable for a child to begin performing. I firmly believe that the earlier young dancers can start performing, the more comfortable, self-confident, and present they will become as performers and artists.
At my studio, I am completely comfortable putting a 3-year old student onstage for the annual performance (taking show times and performance length into consideration, of course). I first performed at 3-years old, and I remember absolutely loving the experience. When I am feeling nostalgic, I will find the VHS (and the VHS player) and watch the playback (anyone remember toast shiny tights?).
Younger students are so capable and uninhibited, and I think too many instructors (and, perhaps, even some parents) underestimate their power to learn. If you instill disciplined habits and work ethics in students at a young age, they will really excel in their training dance training.
Obviously, there are proper teaching methods and philosophies for younger students that are developmentally in-line with their physical and psychological maturation. These students should be nurtured, loved, and taught in a way that will allow them to develop a proper passion for the art.
And, performing at a younger age can mean many different things. Obviously, the expectation is not that a young, 3-year old will perform double pirouettes, extensions, and aerials. Rather, the accomplishment lies in the completion of the task.
Some of a young student’s accomplishments may be: standing on stage and not crying, forming the circle in the routine, knowing where to stand, remembering to smile, finishing a routine, or feeling proud of themselves for accomplishing a goal.
With each opportunity, the child will feel more comfortable and progressive in his/her capabilities and performance. The growth is truly rewarding for everyone involved in the process.
Getting Older Students to Start Performing
As a counter observation, for students that begin performing in their pre-teen/adolescence, it is more difficult to instill performance qualities since they lack the extent of early exposure to the stage and performing. As students age, they become concerned about others’ opinions of their projection, which usually translates to being more nervous, apprehensive, and tense when asked to perform and project onstage.
Of course, students’ projections can be fostered and improved, regardless of age, but, for students that are truly interested in performing, the younger a student can start acquiring the culture of the performance environment, the better. Then, the act of performing becomes second nature.
Certainly, younger students’ performance capabilities are dependent upon maturity, personal readiness, and level of interest. This philosophy is not a blanket standard; rather, it is something to consider for students that are young and ready for the performance experience. Do not write off opportunities simply because of a child’s age; rather, see how you can further ignite their passion and interest in dance.
You have the power to offer students opportunities to grow and blossom, regardless of age, and that is a tremendous gift and reward of being a dance educator. Let’s use it!
(This is a recital picture in the dance scrapbook I created in high school. This pic is from my second recital; I was 4 years old.)
(This pic is of one of my students. He has been performing on stage since he was 2 years old. Now 6, he absolutely loves the performance experience. We are fortunate to have many students at our studio that feel the same way. Words cannot begin describe the pride we feel towards our young, tenacious, passionate performers!)
I truly believe dance is for everyone, and can move everyone in some capacity- as an observer, as a mover, or as a dancer. As dance educators, we have the opportunity to build programming that is accessible to everyone. Once students are a part of our programming, we have an obligation to serve them to the best of our ability.
When a studio culture transforms into statements of regularity such as “those kids aren’t good”, “he/she will never be an overall winner”, or “so-so refuses to dance with so-so”, it becomes a danger zone. It compromises our mission as educators to create a positive infrastructure that focuses on building the art of DANCE through technique, style, acceptance, and diversity.
As educators, we must take the lead. Our leadership is required to promote the accessibility of dance for everyone.
Our art is not elitist- it does not require Olympic level ability for success and impact. Rather, it requires time, patience, love, and nurturing.
Then, you create a dancer (in whatever capacity that may be), and you also build a relationship that will far outlast a student’s tenure at the dance studio. That’s impact.
Now that you’re about to get started opening a dance studio, you have to begin planning your initial marketing strategies to let the public know that you now exist. How will you get the word out? How will people know that you are a credible institute of dance? Before mentioning any detailed strategies, the most important thing to realize is that the more time you have for planning and marketing your opening timeline, the more successful your efforts will prove.
SECTION 1: Opening Strategies
Here are some strategies that worked well for The Dance Exec’s Studio during its opening:
“Coming Soon” Sign
Placing a “Coming Soon…” banner over the doors at the soon-to-be studio site (which stresses importance of location, visibility, and neighboring businesses)
Set Up Tables Around Town
Set up tables at nearby locations to promote your coming location. When The Dance Exec’s Studio was opening, tables were set-up at a fun park (putt-putt, go-karts, arcade games, etc), nearby preschools, local swim clubs, nearby churches and local country clubs on a regular basis. The studio set up at any and every community festival and event possible. These events are frequently free, and you can create an extensive prospective client database by gathering emails and phone numbers with a raffle or give away (e.g. enter for a chance to win a free month of classes, just give us your email!).
Some places that may not work well for setting up a table (local schools), may be willing to put out flyers or business cards advertising your services. Our philosophy is that it never hurts to ask.
Free Demo Classes
Be prepared to give lots of free demo classes! You must be so confident in your service that everyone wants to buy-in. Visit as many places as possible and show them what you have to offer. Very few places will refuse an offer for a free demo class. If you do not ask to offer a sample class, it is unlikely they will ask you. Do not be afraid to put yourself out there.
SECTION 2: Logistical Preparation
Any time you are in the public, you must be prepared. Before beginning your marketing, follow-up information should be ready.
Prior to beginning your marketing / grand opening announcement efforts, make sure the following are fully functional and ready to go:
Class offerings/schedule information to give to people
Flyers & Information Sheets
Studio T-Shirts with Logo (not required, but encouraged)
It is incredibly important to remember that if people are contacting you, you need to be ready to respond. Be prepared to answer the phone and respond to emails in a prompt, efficient manner. Show your prospective clients that your level of customer service is exceptional from their initial interaction with you.
SECTION 3: Grand Opening Event
We also recommend planning a large Grand Opening event, which can be the centralized theme of your early marketing efforts.
At your Grand Opening event, this is your first time officially introducing yourself as a business entity to your community and prospective clients. The studio should be as close to completion as possible and should be clean and in neat order. Show people how organized you are from the very first day.
The Grand Opening event should include any of the following options:
Complimentary Sample Classes for a variety of ages, featuring a variety of your instructors
Facility Tours (we recommend having a tour script that highlights the studio and its best features so that everyone visiting the studio receives the same, standardized information)
Face Painting/ Balloon Animals/ Craft Stations / etc.
Separate Registration area, so interested clients can be efficiently and sufficiently addressed
Separate Shoe Fitting/Merchandise Purchasing area
At the end of The Dance Exec’s Studio’s Grand Opening, we had over 100 students registered. This number will vary significantly based on where you are opening and your marketing efforts. When the studio began, it began from scratch. There was no taking of half of a student base of a nearby studio, or any of the “ick factor” stories you often hear associated with the opening of a new studio.
THE BOTTOM LINE
If students choose The Dance Exec’s Studio, it is because we are building a reputation and are providing the best possible experience for each and every one of our clientele. As a Studio Owner, you have a huge responsibility—in the world of dance studios, there is not a quality control department or corporate headquarters where we can send dissatisfied clients; rather, dance studio owners are all-encompassing title holders.
Be ready for every scenario possible. One of The Dance Exec’s Studio’s greatest mentors and advisers gave us this initial advice,
“You are now a business owner first, and an artist second.”
Take that advice, and enjoy the ride that is opening a dance studio!
Growing up, I trained in all styles of dance and played a musical instrument, the piano. I could easily and proficiently count music, read music, and identify an upbeat or downbeat. Now, as a teacher, I notice that many students, across varying ages and skill levels, struggle with the musical components of dance instruction. Phrasing, tempo, and rhythm are concepts that require detailed explanation and practice in execution and understanding in all styles of dance. Here are a couple of exercises I have integrated into my classes to work on teaching rhythm and helping our understanding of music:
Finding the 8-Count:
There are so many times that I’ve asked a student to find an 8 count. And, they struggled. The understanding of musicality and musical phrasing is an essential part of being a successful dancer, teacher, and educator. In dance, counts are the road map to success. Musicality strengthens a performance into an experience.
Take the time to review rhythm. Explain the different possibilities for timing and counting. This will make your students more adaptable as they work with other teachers and instructors.
Exercise: Round Robin Counts
We will open a class with round robin style counting exercises. Students will take turns finding an 8-count of phrasing in the music, and they will “pass” the phrase onto another dancer who will work to continue the phrasing and counting of the particular music. To notate the phrases, we clap or march and say the counts out loud. For this exercise, we vary types and tempos of music used.
Occasionally, I will stop the lesson of regular classes to “find the 8 count!” Students learn to be ready for it- which means they are diligently counting in warm-up, across the floor progressions, and in combinations. This skills transfers to shows, dance teams, and auditions. It is a valuable part of their dance education experience!
Activity: Teaching 8-Count in other Languages
Here’s a fun Classroom Activity- teaching your students to count to 8 in different languages!
SPANISH: Uno / Dos / Tres / Cuatro / Cinco / Seis / Siete / Ocho
FRENCH: Un / Deux / Trois / Quatre / Cinq / Six / Sept / Huit
ITALIAN: Uno / De / Tre / Quattro / Cinque / Sei / Sette / Otto
This is a fun, educational (and applicable!) activity for all ages/levels.
Teaching With Counts
When I teach choreography with counts, I like to have the students repeat the counting to reiterate the importance of phrasing and timing. I tell them we are using the counts as our road map, and to stay on the same journey, we must use the same map.
Phrasing, Tempo, & Rhythm
I will teach a brief segment of choreography (8 or 16 counts), and we will practice executing it at different speeds:
It is important that students understand the process of counts and the ability to manipulate speed and tempo.
With time and repetition, these exercises strengthen the dancers’ understanding of rhythm, musicality, and phrasing, improving their overall performance and understanding of dance.
If you choose to hire a person, it is important to bring them back to your studio to review your expectations and discuss details in a staff orientation session. In the orientation, you should discuss three things:
Expectations for Professionalism
Accountability & Preparedness
Details of the Working Agreement
Expectations for Professionalism
You must never assume that people will understand your standards for professionalism. Rather, you must detail a code of behavior and work ethics that specifically addresses your expectations and consequences for non-compliance. Our society is constantly evolving, and you must ensure that your code of ethics and professionalism evolves with the trends of society.
Each year, The Dance Exec’s Studio takes time to review the values, policies, and guidelines for our entire staff. Topics addressed range from curriculum to dress to behavior to attendance and more. Your expectations should be explicit and detailed. Consequences for non-compliance of expectations should be discussed, too.
As time evolves, your expectations for professionalism may evolve. You should constantly evaluate and update your expectations to make sure your studio complies with the highest standards of the dance industry.
For example, in the middle of the 2011-2012 season, the studio saw a need to implement a new social media policy to alleviate grievances that were arising from student/staff online “friendships” and interactions (the grievances were petty, but based on conversations in the academic environment, it seemed that the issue could further spiral out of control and needed to be addressed).
The studio spent a couple of weeks determining the best course of action and took staff opinions and feelings into consideration, too.
Ultimately, an email was sent out to the staff to address our new social media policy (which states that instructors will not “friend” students on social media sites). This new, professional policy was complimented with a follow-up email to the studio parents.
Both emails were very similar and described the benefits of the evolved policy to the respective targeted audience. The studio did not receive one complaint regarding the new policy. If you are consistently on the cutting-edge of business developments and you approach your choices as bettering the business, you will never go wrong.
Set your standards for professionalism and do not feel ashamed for what you deem appropriate/inappropriate. Be clear and concise in your expectations and you will succeed.
Accountability & Preparedness / Details of Working Agreement
In addition to professionalism within the workplace, high standards of accountability and preparedness are essential to creating a staffing model that contributes to the culture of your studio. Again, your accountability and preparedness expectations should be set forth prior to hiring and consequences should be standardized in case a staff member chooses to not follow your requirements.
How can you make sure that your staff members are consistently maintaining the standards set forth by your studio? At The Dance Exec’s Studio, a detailed, written working agreement (this is not a contract) is provided to all of our employees at the beginning of each season. It is imperative that you constantly renew your written material since new issues arise, improvements are made, etc. Never become complacent in your standards.
In your dance studio employee handbook, you should include expectations of staff during their employment term, their terms of employment (at-will employee, contract employee, etc.), consequences of breaking the terms of employment, and their pay for their agreement period. The staff member and the studio owner(s) should sign off on the agreement, and the staff member should initial each clause in the agreement.
Topics in your dance studio employee handbook should include:
An Employee Handbook Acknowledgement
Terms & Conditions of Employment
Studio Curriculums & Confidentiality
Pay Agreement & Procedure
Class Structure & Preparation
Rewards Systems/ Behavioral Protocol
Zero Tolerance Items
Yearly Calendar (with pay information re: holidays, etc.)
Special Events (expectations and compensation for recitals, competitions, etc.)
Professionalism & Workplace Values
Appropriate On & Off-Site Studio Affiliated Behavior
Expectations for Evaluation & Sample Evaluation Form
Detailed Information Regarding Performance Review
Yearly Calendar/Curriculum Guide
The Dance Exec also recommends consulting an attorney to make sure your terms of employment and rules are legal within the laws of your state.
In regards to legal advice and staff, within the dance studio industry, there is a lot of conversation and debate regarding labeling dance studio instructors as independent contractors versus employees. At The Dance Exec’s Studio, the regular, in-studio staff are labeled as employees since we dictate their schedules, classes, etc. If the studio brings in a guest artist, then he/she is considered an independent contractor.
Whatever you choose to do at your studio, make sure it fits within the bounds of the law. (Incorrectly labeling employees as contractors can lead to an IRS audit and back payment of payroll taxes.)
Ultimately, you have to view yourself as a business entity and you must approach every decision from that same perspective. Be sure to consult an attorney to make sure you are handling your staff’s finances properly. Do not cut payroll corners. If you handle everything the correct way, then you are laying the foundation to protect yourself and your business for years to come.
Systemizing Staffing Conflicts
In a perfect world, staffing conflicts, mishaps, and broken rules would not occur. Unfortunately, the world is not perfect and neither is human nature. At some point in the time, an incident will occur that will concern or involve a staff member, and the way you choose to handle it will make all the difference in the world to you, your professional relationships, and your business.
Your consequential/disciplinary plan for your staff should be so detailed that there are no surprises. If a staff member is not conforming to your written expectations, they should be reprimanded in an appropriate way.
This is not to say that all reprimands should be negative. Joining a studio’s culture is a learning process, and often times, you can turn a conflict into a learning experience. Most staff members will appreciate your guidance and will learn and develop from your feedback.
For each incident that occurs, you should have levels of consequence, documentation forms, and staff file folders to track any disciplinary actions. Please note that all forms must be signed and dated by the staff member and the studio owner(s). Implementing a standardized system alleviates the emotions involved with disciplinary action, and better protects you and your business.
Ready for the next step? You can see the third part of the Dance Studio Management Guide here:
Chasse is a basic, fundamental skill for dancers. Here are some tips for teaching the chasse step progression.
Chasse Step Progression
1) Younger dancers begin learning the chasse as a gallop. We pretend to ride our horses, placing one foot in front of the other and chasing it around the room. Even with my youngest students, I encourage them to practice changing the foot in front at varying moments throughout the exercise.
2) Once chasse moves into an across the floor progression, we begin with a side chasse and transfer into a right or left foot led chasse across the floor.
3) As students mature and their coordination develops, we transition to an alternating foot chasse- right foot goes, left foot goes, etc. I encourage the students to say “Step-Together-Step-CHANGE” as they execute the exercise.
4) Once students accomplish the alternating chasse, we add arms. For ballet, we will use a port de bras. For jazz, we position our arms in a “L” shape, boxing in the foot (opposite arm from leg- we call this “wrapping up our present”).
Things to Watch For
As students go through the varying stages of the progression, it is important to encourage them to:
(a) Be Aware of Their Hip Placement
(b) Connect Their Feet Through The Appropriate Position
(c) Lead with a Pretty Pointed Foot vs. the Heel
Of course, in teaching this move, pronunciation is equally important. 🙂