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!).
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. 🙂
An important method of keeping your staff on track is evaluating their teaching methods in class via announced and unannounced observations. Using a systematic evaluation system, constructive critiques can be beneficial in the following ways:
Helping staff members grow as teachers
Creating consistency within the classroom, and
Providing tips for professional improvement
At The Dance Exec’s Studio, each staff member has a folder with an evaluation sheet for each pay period. Some topics addressed include:
If classes are starting/ending on time
If classes are following the curriculums and guidelines set forth by the studio
If in-class questions are being addressed in an appropriate manner
If instructors are showing equal treatment to all students in class
Any other policy issues and requested days off are documented, too.
Prior to receiving a check for the pay period, the staff member and owner sign off on the evaluations.
This tracking system is advantageous in several ways:
It holds staff members accountable for their actions.
It serves as a coaching system and notates improvement or regression in patterns of behavior.
It can be used to reward staff members that are on task.
It serves as documentation for potential cases of staff dismissal.
Every studio should maintain some regular system of documentation and evaluation. Your staff is integral to the success of your business, and employees that are committed to fulfilling your vision will be respectful, sensitive, and open to the constructive coaching. At the end of the day, it will ultimately improve your business and will eliminate staff members that are not invested in your culture and business.
In addition to evaluations, in-service opportunities are valuable to staff, too. You may choose to take staff to conventions, or you may go to conventions, offer the staff notes and have them take a brief quiz for a reward (gift card, etc.), or bring knowledgeable guest artists into your studio. With any career, continuing education is integral in maintaining current standards within a respective industry.
As a studio owner, you must ensure that you are on the cutting edge trends of the industry, and in turn, it is your responsibility to keep your staff informed while giving them opportunities to learn and grow.
Replacing a Dance Teacher
Please remember that everyone is replaceable. The idea has been reiterated numerous times, but it cannot be reiterated enough.
At The Dance Exec’s Studio, eight staff members were dismissed within the first three seasons. While that number may seem relatively high, the bottom line is that the studio has high expectations that are non-negotiable. Before opening the dance studio, it was decided that the studio would operate by the philosophy that “every single person is replaceable.” A person would only remain on staff if they bought into the culture the studio aimed to create.
Along the way, the studio has learned to spot red flags that indicate whether a person may or may not be a great candidate for the studio. The studio has also implemented standardized interviewing procedures and strategies that generally work in identifying employees that are optimal for the studio.
Based on prior experience in studios, the workplace atmosphere often becomes too friendly, too personal, and too casual. Often, this can result in hanging on to “dead weight”, or employees that are no longer interested or invested in your business. Studio owners refuse to fire the dead weight because of fear of repercussion or fear of detriment to the personal relationship, and the cycle becomes deadly to your business.
If you take nothing else away from these recommendations, please understand that keeping toxic employees as part of your staff is detrimental to your business. This vicious cycle can affect student retention, new student registration, and the overall well-being of your dance studio.
There is a lot of interest surrounding firings because it is never an ideal situation. Ultimately, every decision you make should be in the best interest of your business. Below are some case studies that detail The Dance Exec’s choice to let employees go:
Case Study #1
The Dance Exec’s Studio hired an instructor for the first summer session, and, as a result, the instructor was asked to teach at our Grand Opening celebration. The instructor arrived 30 minutes late to the Grand Opening (without any legitimate reason), and as a result, was dismissed. First impressions are a time when an employee is trying their hardest to impress you, and as demonstrated by the employee’s lack of regard to timeliness, it was evident that this employee would not be an optimal fit for the studio’s culture.
Case Study #2
The Dance Exec’s Studio had an instructor that over-shared personal details and announced inappropriate comments in the lobby. For example, she announced that our 6 and 7-year-old competitive team needed to be dressed in “sexier” costumes. This instructor also took choreography from conventions and competitions and claimed it as her own. Since this did not fit into the culture of the studio, she was not rehired for the following session.
Case Study #3
The Dance Exec’s Studio had an instructor that decided she finished teaching class ten minutes prior to the actual end of class (and, this was the last class of the night and the instructor had closing responsibilities). The instructor left the studio, leaving her students under the supervision of another instructor. Since negligence is a zero tolerance issue, the instructor was contacted for dismissal. The instructor said she was “over” teaching and quit.
Case Study #4
This case study was undoubtedly the most difficult dismissal because the employee was a personal friend. Over several months, the employee’s energy had dwindled. Her attitude was affecting the business and its clientele. Students were quitting because of this teacher. The first inclination was to fire her nine months before the actual firing occurred, but the Business Manager advocated her loyalty and kept encouraging additional chances.
As the months passed, the detriment of having her on staff was evident. The dismissal was difficult, but, ultimately, it was worth it. In the weeks following this dismissal, several parents came forward and stated their children’s love for dance had been rejuvenated; in fact, many of these parents mentioned that they were going to pull their students from the program because the students had lost their passion. Because of this experience, the importance of trusting your first instincts was learned; it is important to take action sooner rather than later.
Letting Staff Go
Of course, along the way, there have been many wonderful instructors that have chosen to venture on to other endeavors. (We also have some instructors that have been with us from the very beginning.) As a business, you have to respect and encourage people’s personal development and realize that if they do not want to be a part of your business (or cannot continue to be a part of your business), you should not force them.
You must reiterate and live by the philosophy that “everyone is replaceable.” At the end of the day, over reliance on one person or feeling inoperable without a person can lead to situations that will harm your business. This is your business, and you are the only person it needs to operate successfully. You must take every measure possible to protect yourself and your investment.
When a staff member is no longer an asset to your business, you must remove them from your staff roster. If you have a staffing conflict disciplinary system in place, you will likely see indicators that a staff member is no longer contributing to your business. When the time comes to release a staff member from his/her duties, it is important that you handle the process in a professional manner. Remember, at the end of day, this is your business and your livelihood and you must protect those interests before anything else.
Make sure that you call the staff into the studio for their dismissal (if permissible) and be prepared to present them with a letter stating their termination. For meetings like this, it is helpful to have a non-partisan witness in the room.
Thus far, firing has been discussed as fairly commonplace; however, it certainly is not meant to detract from the seriousness of the issue. Letting a staff member go is not easy, but once the “letting go” has occurred, there have repeatedly been noticeable, positive changes in the studio.
Of course, the other side of firing personnel, especially in the dance studio business, is being prepared to handle the backlash. You have to explain the change to students and parents and must be prepared for any negative publicity/stories that the disgruntled employee spreads. One suggestion to make the process easier is to have a qualified, likable replacement ready to step into the vacant role (preferably immediately).
In addition to staff members being replaceable, it is also important to remember that studios and studio owners are replaceable, too. A client can choose to leave for another studio or another extracurricular. It is your responsibility to make sure you are doing everything in your power to run the best business possible.
Need to Review?
You can find the other two parts of the Dance Staff Management Guide here:
One element of the dance studio that can make or break your business is your dance staff. From executive roles to administration to instructors, every piece of the dance staff puzzle must fit perfectly to implement a smooth operation that reflects your culture, mission, and brand. This begins with the hiring process and leads into detailing roles, responsibilities, and expectations.
In order to keep your studio running the way you would like, you must consistently:
Offer feedback and training sessions
Know when it is time for a staff member to move on to another venture.
Undoubtedly, staff management is one of the most challenging components of owning a business. You are bringing together an assortment of people with entirely different backgrounds. That group is then supposed to maintain and uphold the values and beliefs of your entire business environment.
Additionally, you are not dealing with employees in a competitive academic market (like, technology companies, for example). Most of the time, you are dealing with artists that may underestimate the underlying business strategies required for dance studios. Creating and maintaining a “dream team” staff takes time, energy, commitment, and frequently, mistakes, to ultimately create a team that pushes your business towards greater success.
STEP 1: Defining Leadership Roles
Within your business, it is absolutely essential that you have explicitly detailed and defined roles of who is in charge of each facet of the business. At The Dance Exec’s Studio, the executive role is broken down into two divisions: Business Manager & Artistic Director.
The breakdown of your executive duties may differ (as may task assignments), but the duties required will be similar for all studios. This insures completion of tasks and organizational efficiency.
The Business Manager oversees the logistical and financial operations of the business. This includes: accounting, payroll, building maintenance and repair, cleaning of the facility, registration and enrollment, and all financial transactions. If a particular item is beyond the Business Manager’s skill set, it is their responsibility to arrange and oversee its completion (i.e. tax preparation or serious repairs). The Business Manager is the only person at The Dance Exec’s Studio that handles money.
The Artistic Director oversees class scheduling and curriculums, staffing, parent and student issues, the competition team, the work-study program, recital planning, community partnerships, and marketing. The Artistic Director also oversees the Business Manager’s transactions.
In reading these descriptions, you can see that each role is detailed. If you attempt to manage all of these tasks independently, it is very likely that something will get “lost in the shuffle”. You should never let one area of your business suffer because it becomes “too much” work.
Running a dance studio is a very involved process, and you must guarantee that you have the help needed to make your business a true success. (Please note that help does not have to be employees. It can be an accountant, maintenance person, cleaning service, etc.)
Additionally, it is important to note that “too many hands in the pot” can be just as frustrating as not having enough hands. The executive roles and responsibilities are critical to the success of your business, and you should avoid carelessly distributing the roles to multiple staff that may not have accountability or investment in your brand. At the end of the day, studio owners cannot independently accomplish everything that is required of their business, so it is important to delegate tasks to people you trust.
STEP 2: Finding the Perfect Cast
When you are venturing into the hiring process, think of the procedure as casting a show. Each role needs just the right person. If you cast the tenth best person for a part, your ticket sales and show reviews will not soar. The same goes for your in-studio hiring considerations. If you miscast a role with the wrong instructor, it will lead to more headaches for you and your business.
Take the time to make the right choices, but do not be afraid to correct an incorrect choice. Everyone makes mistakes, and this is certainly a learning process.
How do you go about finding your instructors? Many studios rely on online postings, local college programs, or former students.
Whatever search techniques you utilize, it is imperative that your ad postings be reflective regarding the quality of instructor you are seeking for your business.
What character traits do you value? For The Dance Exec’s Studio, we reiterate that prospective employees must be motivated, enthusiastic, professional, punctual, and organized. We also value educational and instructional experience, especially with children.
In our posting, we ask that interested candidates provide a cover letter, resume, and headshot. This request alone will assist in weeding through candidates that are not detail oriented enough to be a part of our business.
In candidates’ responses to your posting, you should look for the following:
The prospective instructor should include a resume, headshot, and cover letter (per your request). If anything is missing from their response, you should immediately eliminate them from your search because it shows they cannot follow very basic instructions.
The resume should be properly formatted and condensed to one page. The experiences listed on each person’s resume should be checked for accuracy (internet searches greatly help with this process). If a person lies or exaggerates on their resume, you should eliminate them from your list of potential candidates.
In the cover letter and resume, check for use of proper grammar and formality as indicators of professionalism and attention to correctness. Since professionalism is a character trait valued at The Dance Exec, it is imperative in making it to the interview process. This also indicates levels of a candidate’s seriousness and shows a glimpse into their personality.
Use the candidate’s headshot to determine if the request was taken seriously. Is the photo a professional headshot, or is it a snapshot or something pulled from Facebook? If a candidate sends in a snapshot from Facebook of him/her partying, he/she is likely not a good candidate for your business.
Remember, whatever the prospective candidates have sent you, they are putting their best foot forward in their initial interaction.
If this does not appeal to what you want, then you should follow-up with a response that indicates that the candidate is not best suited for the position. If you find the applicant to be a decent but not great candidate, you can always state that your staff positions are currently filled. But, let them know that you will keep their resume on file for future openings.
If their resume is appealing to you, then you should promptly follow-up with an interview request. Offer a list of times that would work for you (obviously, offering a variety of times, if possible). If the candidate is interested, they will find time to meet with you. State in this email that if the interview goes well, the candidate may be asked to teach a demo class. Keep in mind that this is the candidate’s opportunity and attempt to put their best foot forward. Consider anything less than impressive as a red flag.
When the candidate attends their interview, there are several observations you should note:
How early does the interviewee arrive for the interview? Did he/she take the time to find your location in advance? If an interviewee arrives late, they should not be interviewed or considered for the position. This shows a less than exemplary work ethic and poor planning.
What is the interviewee wearing? Even though this is the dance industry, The Dance Exec’s Studio likes to see potential candidates taking the interview seriously. As such, expect candidates to dress in business casual attire.
How is the initial interaction with the candidate? Is the candidate gracious and mature? If the candidate’s behavior would not work in a corporate interview, then it should be noted as a “red flag”.
During the interview process, The Dance Exec’s Studio prefers to ask standardized interview questions. This allows all candidates an equal option to answer, but, often the questions will distinguish the higher qualified candidates from the mediocre or weaker candidates.
Some examples of questions include:
If you had a choice between seeking and avoiding challenges in the performance industry, where would you place yourself? Please give an example to support your choice.
This type of question asks the candidate to place him/herself on an industry-related spectrum while also showing levels of ambition and motivation. Ideally, the candidate will back-up their ranking with a legitimate example that supports his/her self-perception.
What is the name of one of your close friends? What did (your close friend) think you would grow up to be? Tell us what you may have done to make him/her feel this way.
This type of question allows the person to give a personal reference. The story he/she chooses will give you insight to his/her personality as well as a back story. If the candidate struggles to think of anyone, it could be indicative of a weaker candidate.
Please tell us about a time you dealt with a challenging child in the classroom environment. Justify your rationale for handling the situation in such a way.
This type of question allows insight into how the candidate would handle conflict. Through their answer, you will gain insight to their thought process, diplomacy, regard to instruction, etc. Based on their answer, you will know if their method of conflict management ties into your culture and brand.
Based on these questions and questions you create on your own, you should gain a lot of insight into the interviewee’s personality and thinking process. With open-ended questions, you are allowing the candidate the opportunity to tell stories and engage you via examples and observances throughout their life. Such questions can make some interviewees feel uncomfortable.
Use this exercise to observe a candidate’s communication skills, thinking strategies, and behavioral gestures. Through this process, you should be able to identify confident, well-spoken, thoughtful instructors that could be an asset to your business.
In your interview, avoid asking “yes” or “no” questions. Try to steer the candidate towards open-ended questions so that the candidate has time to provide more details. Questions that can be answered with “yes” or “no” are often the easy way out and do not give you a complete representation of a candidate’s personality.
In your interviewing, make sure that you never ask questions concerning protected classes as defined by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
If a candidate succeeds in the interview, invite him/her to teach a demo class with students. The Dance Exec’s Studio always pays teachers for instructing demo classes. The studio wants there to be an understanding from the beginning that this is a strictly professional work environment.
Ultimately, there is no greater way to judge a candidate’s qualifications than putting him/her directly in the classroom environment. During the demo class, make sure you observe the teacher’s preparedness, confidence, teaching style, charisma, and enthusiasm. After the class, ask for students’ opinions, and more importantly, value your instincts. After the demo, do not feel obligated to immediately let the instructor know your decision. Thank him/her for teaching the class and take the time to truly consider if this person is right for you and your business.
Whatever your decision, you must let the person know. A prompt response shows professionalism on your part, and people will have greater respect for you (even with a “no” answer) than they will if you neglect to respond. Through experience with dance studios, some owners do not place enough value on communication. With so many readily available communication devices (email, cell phones, etc.), there is no excuse for not responding to prospective candidates.
Paying staff is also a hot topic of discussion for dance studios. There are the questions of dance teacher salaries versus hourly rates, and how much for each?
At The Dance Exec’s Studio, there are two salaried employees (the Business Manager and the Artistic Director). The remainder of the staff are paid on an hourly basis.
Our hourly employee rate begins at the baseline of what is commonly paid within our region. To increase pay from the baseline, we consider the following factors:
Commitment to the art of dance and teaching dance
Loyalty/time with the studio
Yearly reviews are performed for staff members each season, and based on performance, staff members may be eligible for raises and/or bonuses.
Your studio should have a set pay schedule/calendar, and you should make sure checks are distributed in a timely, professional manner. If you are having employees submit time sheets, inform them of the expectations upfront and be prompt in delivering their paychecks.
Keeping Staff Engaged
Aside from regular pay, you must determine a way to keep your staff fresh, excited, and committed to your vision. To do this, we encourage employers to reward their staff members with things like:
Gifts of appreciation
Annual opportunities for pay increase (if deserved)
Recognition within the studio
Inclusion to studio events/conventions/trips
Based on your budget, you may do one, some, or all of these, or you may choose a more homemade approach. Regardless of your approach, taking the time to say “thank you” goes long way in keeping your staff aligned with the culture of your dance studio.