The Tolbert Yilmaz School of Dance in Roswell, Georgia, is entering its 35th year and still continues to grow and thrive under the leadership of Nancy Tolbert Yilmaz. If the school’s five start-of-the-art studios, changing rooms and closed-circuit monitoring weren’t impressive enough, the studio is planning to move to a new custom-designed facility in the coming years to offer the best possible experience to the young dancers it serves.
Starting Off with a Bang
The idea to open her own studio first came to Yilmaz when she was teaching and dancing professionally in Atlanta. She saw the lack of studios in Roswell, a town 30 miles north of downtown Atlanta, and jumped on the market opening. With the help of her now associate director, Yilmaz converted an old building into a dance studio, and the Tolbert Yilmaz School of Dance was off and running.
“I decided, along with our associate director, Mary Lynn Taylor, to offer a few classes,” Yilmaz explained. “So we put out the notice and anticipated maybe 75 kids tops on the day of the first open house. That day, 350 kids showed up.”
Since then, the school has only continued to grow as it teaches dancers of all ages the beautiful art form. Today, Yilmaz estimated that there are around 800 students in her open school, as well as 100 pre-professional dancers in the resident ballet company. The studio, which has moved to a larger location since its impressive kick off, caters to students ages 2 through adult and offers classes in ballet, tap, jazz, modern, hip hop, acrobatics, musical theater, Pilates and kinderdance. They also recently added an aerial silks course, which allows dancers to take their performances to new heights.
Staying ahead of the game
New dance studios have cropped up in Roswell over the course of 35 years, but Yilmaz has managed to keep her business ahead of the pack through a dedication to professionalism and quality instruction. The school’s resident performing dance company, the Roswell Dance Theatre, offers pre-professional instruction to young men and women ages 10 to 18.
“The kids in the ballet and modern companies are on a pre-professional track,” Yilmaz noted. “They’re looking not only to go to college for dance, but to go on a dance scholarship. I’ve got former students that are working all over the place: one with the New York City Ballet, one with Ballet Hispanico, a couple on Broadway.”
Over the years, the group has performed around the country and internationally, as well as in three Olympic ceremonies. However, among their various performances and competitions, the Roswell Theatre still finds time to give back to the community.
“We have an entire concert that’s held every year called ‘Hugs from Young Choreographers,’ which is a project conceived and run by Mary Lynn,” Yilmaz explained. “The oldest dancers from our company each choreograph a piece for the concert … All the money raised goes towards a charitable organization. [Over the years], we’ve given the funds to a shelter for homeless girls, a student here who needed a kidney transplant and an organization called Camp Sunshine.”
At the end of the day, Yilmaz realizes that to ensure the Tolbert Yilmaz School of Dance’s continued success, she has to always strive to provide new, exciting opportunities and keep up with industry trends.
Growing Sales with TutuTix
One of the ways that Yilmaz kept up with the growth of her studio is by switching to online ticketing. She looked into a number of different vendors, but ultimately decided that TutuTix would be the best fit for her business.
“What really brought me to TutuTix was the customer service,” Yilmaz said. “I’m not the Internet whiz that a lot of younger people are. I didn’t know how the service would work, and they were very patient. They took their time and answered all my crazy questions.”
The first year using the online ticketing service, the Tolbert Yilmaz School of Dance almost doubled their ticket sales. Increased profits from performances go a long way toward providing a better experience for students.
“It really helped our company get that much better overnight!” Yilmaz noted.
Chasta Hamilton Calhoun is the busy woman behind Stage Door Dance Productions in Raleigh, North Carolina. She oversees her studios and satellite programs, choreographs musical theater pieces and runs The Dance Exec blog and seminar series, yet still finds time to give back to the local community with the help of her students. Calhoun explained that her passion for the arts and dedication to service led her to where she is today.
The Story Behind Stage Door Dance Productions
When Calhoun was attending North Carolina State University, she planned to pursue a career as an attorney. Her aspirations were to become a successful businesswoman, and she thought that law was the way to go. However, throughout her time at school, she came to realize that it might be worthwhile to follow her true passion: dance.
“You can be a successful career person in the arts just as much as you can as an attorney, a doctor or an engineer – the other more ‘traditional’ paths,” Calhoun explained. “I stuck with my passion and it really paid off.”
With the help of her now husband, Calhoun opened the first Stage Door Dance Productions studio in 2009. Since then she’s expanded to a second location and also founded two satellite programs at the Carolina Country Club and the North Hills Club. Overall, she and her staff of 10 work with around 500 students between the ages of 2 and 18, teaching all genres of dance, from ballet to tap to acrobatics.
Becoming a Community Staple
Since day one, Calhoun has made community service an integral part of Stage Door Dance studios. In college, she founded the Sightless Rhythm Tap Project at The Governor Morehead School for the Blind. Calhoun tries to instill a spirit of giving in her students by organizing service projects at community events.
“It’s such an important part of a person’s character to recognize the value of service and giving back,” Calhoun explained. “That’s why we try to weave it into studio opportunities.”
Students from Stage Door Dance perform at community events such as the Relay For Life and the annual Raleigh Christmas Parade. They hold fundraisers and drives in the studio to support both local and national causes, as well as participate in numerous other outreach programs. Calhoun’s inspiring mission has caught the attention of a number of institutions, and she was awarded the Goodman Leadership Award for Excellence in the Arts in 2012 and the 40 Under 40 Award in 2014. She’s beyond grateful for the recognition, but even happier to see the arts take the spotlight.
“It was so exciting to see that kind of recognition being handed out in the area of the arts because a lot of times it gets pigeonholed to more ‘traditional’ career fields,” Calhoun said.
Working with TutuTix
One of Calhoun’s side projects – the Dance Exec blog – was the reason she discovered TutuTix’s online ticketing solutions. She originally used the service to sell seats for seminars hosted by The Dance Exec, but quickly decided it would be a worthwhile venture for Stage Door Dance’s recital ticketing as well.
“When we made that transition, I have to say that I would never in a million years go back to the way we were doing ticketing before,” Calhoun noted. “It’s progressive, it’s easy and their support is just unbelievable.”
Calhoun explained that when she uses TutuTix, it’s a serious burden off her shoulders when recital season arrives. She knows that her ticketing will be taken care of with TutuTix, so she can focus on the other aspects of planning and executing an amazing recital for her dancers.
There are lots of different reasons you may need to write a press release for your dance studio. It’s a great way to let local media know about a big up-and-coming performance, if your studio won an award or if your students are performing at a national competition. If you know how to write a compelling press release, you can get publicity for your studio and build company awareness. Use these tips for writing press releases to hone your skills and get a little bit of free advertising.
1. Research Proper Formatting
First thing’s first. If you’ve never written a formal press release before, get yourself a template. There are lots of rules and guidelines for these documents, and you’re hurting your chances of getting published if you deviate too much. Do your research! Here are a few common formatting errors to watch for:
Use third person only. Don’t use “I,” “my,” “we” or “you.”
Keep it to one page. No exceptions.
Explain who, what, when, where and why in the first paragraph.
Include your contact information at the top and bottom of the page.
Use standard document formatting. Stick to Times New Roman, 12-point font and double spacing.
If you’re sending this to a regional publication, include a dateline.
There are also guidelines for content organization, so stick to a standard format. During your research period, reach out to the media outlets you’re targeting and ask if they have any formatting preferences or specific contacts. This shows that you’re being considerate of their time and will give you a leg up. If you’re not sure where to send your press release, start by reading a local paper. See if they run articles on businesses or human interest pieces, as those are in line with the content you’re offering. You should also look at other local publications that target families, like parenting magazines, organization newsletters, community calendars and popular blogs. Don’t be afraid to reach out to different media outlets and ask if they’d be interested in receiving your news. An article about dance might be just the change of pace they’re looking for.
2. Try to Be Objective
It’s easy to get carried away with promotional language, but press releases are supposed to be informational. You should be writing about something that the general public would be interested in knowing, whether it’s the details of an event of the specifics of an award. Stay away from self-promotion. That means limiting adjectives like “great,” “wonderful,” “can’t miss” and the like. Stick to the facts and keep your release short and sweet.
3. Be Vigilant About Spelling and Grammar
Hopefully it goes without saying, but you should be double- and triple-checking your work. A sloppy press release won’t get published, no matter how compelling the content. Journalists have too much on their plates to take the time to edit your work for grammar and spelling. As soon as they see two or three errors, your document is probably headed to the circular file. Take your time when writing, and proofread often. You would probably benefit from having an extra pair of eyes look over the final product as well.
4. Include the Right Photo
Press releases don’t require a photo, but if you have one, go ahead and include it. When choosing a photo, make sure it’s fitting and formatted appropriately for the publication. Stick to .jpeg images and provide the highest quality you have. The Guardian offered tips for writing press releases, and explained that most publications prefer images that are over 500 kilobites and at least 300 dots per inch. You should also make sure the image fits with the content. If you’re writing about an award your student won, don’t choose a group shot from the last recital. You’re better off with a headshot or action shot of that particular dancer. Finally, always include images as an attachment. If you embed pictures in a document or PDF, you’re creating more work for the journalist and hurting your chances of publication.
5. Write an Awesome Subject
Once your document is flawless and your image is securely attached, the last step is to write an email subject to shame all others. The subject of your email will determine whether it gets opened or sent to the trash, so it needs to be good. It should be accurate, concise and engaging. You want to entice your reader without making any false claims of grandeur. Also, forego using the words “Press Release” in the subject – if you do a good job, this should be obvious. A mediocre subject line might read, “X Studio will host its 25th annual charity recital.” You want to jazz it up without going overboard. A better option might be, “Young dancers from X studio plan performance for local charity.” This adds a little more interest to the title because, in the mind of a journalist, it has the makings of a great human interest piece.
6. Follow Up
Once your press release is sent, wait a couple days, then follow up with the news station to confirm they received it. Thank the journalist for his or her time and ask if there’s anything else you can provide. If your email slipped the journalist’s mind, this is a polite way to remind him or her and boosts your chances of publication. Send a thank-you email or card to any organizations that run your story. Being polite and grateful will help you to build media relationships that will make the press release process easier in the future.
If you have a vision for your dance studio but are lacking the funds to see it realized, you might be looking at grants for dance programs. There are plenty of funding opportunities available for dance studios if you know where to look, but they’re not easy to lock down. If you’re serious about making your dream into a reality, brace yourself for months of preparation and piles of paperwork and get ready to compose some killer rhetoric.
Finding the Right Grant
The first thing you’ll need to consider when you’re applying for grants for dance programs is what makes your studio stand out. Right off the bat, know that nonprofit organizations generally have more funding opportunities. However, there are some grants available to profitable organizations, assuming they are special or exemplary. If your studio works with underprivileged youth, contributes to the community or provides artistic development for children who would otherwise go without, you’re a prime candidate for funding.
When you start searching for a grant or funding program, there are a few places you can look. Large domestic organizations like the National Endowment for the Arts generally have a few funding opportunities at any given time. The NEA give grants to organizations who run special projects that make a difference in their community or field.
You can also look on the websites of national dance organizations, such as Dance USA. They will often compile lists of funding opportunities specifically for studios. Finally, check out any regional dance and arts groups, whether you’re a member or not. Websites like the New England Foundation for the Arts have a variety of funding programs for different performing artists and organizations.
The Application Process
Applying for a grant is pretty similar to the college application process: lots of forms, lots of writing and lots of painting yourself in the best light possible. Every application will be a little different, but there are a couple aspects that will be pretty uniform.
First of all, there will be strict deadlines, especially for national grants. Many times there will be staggered due dates for various parts of the application, so get a calendar and write them down! If you miss one, you’re done. It’s likely that you’ll be required to fill out some sort of federal reporting form, like an SF-424 (Application for Federal Domestic Assistance) to ensure that you really do need the money.
Finally, once you’ve finished the initial paperwork and essays, you’ll need to provide samples of your work, biographies of important individuals and statements from your customers and community members. This will probably be one of the most time-consuming aspects of your application and doing a good job is crucial to attaining funding.
It can be hard to get word of your dance studio to the public without dishing out money for advertisements. However, the are lots of viable dance studio marketing options for small businesses that embrace creativity.
1. Make the most of social media
It’s not enough to simply have a Facebook page or Twitter account – they need to be complete and active. The first step is to fill out every aspect of your page. Include a detailed “About” section, your hours, location, phone number and email.
Post Planner suggested that you create a posting strategy for each social media platform. This will help you stay consistent with content and keep the page fresh for returning visitors. Outline what days you’ll post on – aim for a minimum of two or three posts each week – and what kind of content you’ll include. As you become a social media veteran, you’ll notice which types of content – text, pictures, videos, open questions – get the most feedback from fans.
2. Send monthly newsletters
Sending newsletters via email requires a little preparation, but the results are worth it. Entrepreneur explained that email marketing drives website traffic, so build email into your dance studio marketing plan! Email communication establishes your expertise and allows you to stay in contact with customers.
To start your own newsletter, you’ll need two things: email addresses and software. Thankfully, both of these things come free. You can only send emails to people who have knowingly given their contact information, so have your current customers sign up at your studio or on social media. Once you have your list, it’s easy to import that list into free newsletter software like MailChimp. Most platforms are user-friendly, even for technophobes. Just create an account, pick a template and you’re good to go.
3. Partner with other local businesses
Forming a partnership with local businesses is a great way to reach new customers. For example, your dance studio may want to hold joint promotions with a local costume shop. When parents buy an advertisement in your brochure, you can give them a coupon for new dance attire, and in return, your partner will promote your business.
This back-scratching technique doesn’t necessarily have to be between complementary businesses. If you cater your end-of-year showcase, ask the restaurant to hang a poster and have fliers available. The possibilities of cooperation between small businesses are endless.
4. Employ fun guerilla marketing techniques
More creatively inclined businesspeople can benefit from attention-catching guerilla marketing tactics. If you’re unfamiliar with the term, Entrepreneur explained guerilla marketing as any unconventional and unexpected method of advertising – think of yarn-bombing or cutouts people pose with. When done correctly, guerilla tactics are inexpensive and garner a lot of attention, but the tricky part is making sure your chosen methods are legal and don’t step on anyone’s toes.
For an upcoming show, dance studio marketing could mean drawing murals in sidewalk chalk to increase awareness. Ask permission from the city, then pick local places where parents are apt to be and create a colorful advertisement on the sidewalk. Another idea is to spell out words by sticking cups into a chain link fence – like high school sports teams do. Again, make sure you ask permission from the owner, but it’s a simple, eye-catching advertisement that will cost you pennies.
5. Volunteer in your community
Getting out into the community is an underrated way to meet people and build your fan base. It can be any type of involvement, from volunteering at a food kitchen to selling tickets for an art show. You don’t need to do anything except represent your brand (maybe wear a T-shirt with your logo) and be friendly. Be sure to carry business cards. The National Federation of Independent Business suggested that something as simple as joining clubs can be a great way to advertise via word of mouth.