During the pandemic, many dance studios closed their lobbies and found alternative ways to successfully execute administrative tasks and serve their populations.
This shift was a positive change for our dance studio locations. By repurposing our former lobbies, we now have more productive workspaces that serve a variety of functions. If you’re considering doing the same, here are a few tips for how we successfully maintain and manage this model:
1) Keep Parents Involved. Parents are an important part of the extracurricular experience, and I believe visibility and transparency are critical in youth extracurricular activities. You want parents on your team! Early in the pandemic, we purchased the SpotTV closed-circuit monitoring system, so families could watch their child in class at all times (with sound!) via their own personal devices. This year, we will return to scheduled, in-person observations as well as an optional social/networking club for families.
2) Educate, Respond, and Automate. Make sure your families understand the expectation in advance. All of our trial guides and welcome packets reiterate that we have no indoor waiting spaces for parents or loved ones. Because parents are not in the building, make sure there is someone actively checking phone lines, voicemails, emails, and any communication portal in a timely manner. If systems can be automated (e.g., tuition payments, trial scheduling), do it! This shift should not compromise your clients’ customer service experience.
3)Take Note of the Positive. Here are a few reasons we prefer this shift:
Safety: At any given time, we know exactly who is in the building.
Cleanliness: Our facilities (especially the bathrooms) are much cleaner with less foot traffic.
Focus: With a distraction-free interior environment, everyone can focus on their respective tasks.
Transparency: With the closed-circuit system, everyone operates at a high level of accountability: students, staff, and our entire team.
4) Constantly Tweak and Evaluate. If there’s anything we’ve learned, it is that anything can change in an instant. With each day, week, and session, we are continuing to evaluate what works best for our programming, vision, and needs. If you’ve discovered things that worked well for you, like closed lobbies, have the confidence to keep that change in place. Evaluate it regularly and tweak it as needed.
Ultimately, your leadership will guide you to what is best for your community. Be confident and empowered in your voice because that, in itself, is a form of freedom.
Happy Fourth of July!
Looking for more great ideas from Chasta? Check out the following articles:
Around May or June, if you’re in the dance industry, this phrase starts popping up on social media with the frequency of 2014’s Ice Bucket Challenge. But, for us, it happens like clockwork, every single year.
“Made it to the Done Club!”
“Meet the newest member of the Done Club!”
The “Done Club” represents the conclusion of the annual dance recital, a huge benchmark and a capstone to a dance studio’s annual dance season.
But, where did the phrase “the Done Club” originate? And what made people subscribe to it?
There’s nobody in business that is okay with just being done. You don’t see retailers stopping their hustle after a busy holiday season. You didn’t see Apple declaring themselves as in the “Done Club” with the release of the original iPhone. Yes, we all have big benchmarks, but these are stepping stones to our next greatest accomplishment. There’s nothing “done” about it.
Here are five reasons to shift your philosophy:
1) Your Recital Lays the Foundation for Your Future Success. Instead of winding down after your recital, I encourage you to rev up. Synthesize that energy into actualized goals.
2) Don’t Risk Losing Your Visibility. The recital is a powerful memory for your studio’s community. Don’t ghost your community once it is done. Continue the celebration via social media, emails, and programming.
3) Balance Your Budget. Check the profit-loss of your shows, events, and programming. If you do not know where you stand budget-wise, you have even bigger problems.
4) Innovate. Analyze what worked in your season, what didn’t, what could be improved, what should stay the same, and what should change. Then, make it happen.
5) We Deserve Respect and Reputability. For too long, dance education institutions have been seen as hobby businesses. As a female-dominated industry, we have the capability to shift that narrative, and now is the perfect time to make it happen.
Instead of the Done Club, I’ll be joining the Get It Done Club.
Consider joining me.
Looking for more great ideas from Chasta? Check out the following articles:
The flow of your show is key to keeping clients happy and pleased with your year-end performances. The goal should be a quick, seamless, and stress-free performance, which requires a significant amount of time and strategy on the back end.
The number one place where planning and flow can go awry is at the transition points. If you spend some time thinking them through, you will be rewarded with amazing memories, happy clients, a fast-paced show experience, and strong enrollment and retention.
1) Keep It Concise
Think about your audience’s attention spans:
Are your shows a reasonable length?
Do they contain variety?
Take the ego out of the mix and think about:
The audience member who may be a grandparent or parent of a dancer.
The performer who may only be in 1-2 dances.
Will they feel the value of their performance?
If you keep it concise, everyone will leave feeling upbeat, positive, and energized.
2) Pre-Show and Post-Show
You’ll want to have a clearly communicated game plan for:
Backstage Expectations and Behavior
Post-Show Exit Strategy
Family members are going to want to know their dancer is safe, happy, and engaged throughout the duration of the show. Communicate how you’ll make that happen and what role they’ll play in the process.
If a dancer is feeling stressed or anxious, make sure you have a plan for handling it.
For safety and organizational purposes, you’ll also want to have a system that accounts for everyone that is coming and going. Check In Pointe is a great tool to consider.
3) On-Stage Tips to Keep the Show Moving
“Deadtime” on a stage will steal the momentum, excitement, and energy of your show.
Make sure there’s a clear stage enter/exit strategy for each routine that alleviates traffic jams and congestion.
Set your program so costume changes can be executed in a timely manner. Identify quick changes ahead of time. If you need a filler, organize it in advance.
Keep three to four dances “on deck” so routines are continually moving on and off stage.
If you have an emcee or host, clearly detail your expectations, time constraints, etc., from the beginning.
With a little forethought and planning, these transitional moments that can trip up flow will be smooth, seamless, and will leave everyone gushing about your studio and show!
Looking for more great ideas from Chasta? Check out the following articles:
Recitals are back, baby! If you’re like me, you feel nothing but excitement for that familiar dusty, wooden smell of a theater.
Before you jump to the celebration, take some time to think about these five important tips for de-escalating stress and conflict.
1) This isn’t 2019.
Keep in mind this is a different world from 2019. We are still emerging from the pandemic, and people can be overwhelmed and stressed by the emergence of events and expectations. Be gentle with their questions, concerns, and anxieties.
Right now, you can’t communicate enough.
Create information hubs
Take it back to the basics
Make it easy to understand
Keep the information accessible
Make sure you’re hitting communication impressions in a variety of ways (e.g., email, social media, in-person)
3) Set Detailed Expectations.
Whatever you expect of someone right now, you need to communicate it in advance with clear, concrete, and tangible expectations and deadlines. If there are consequences for not complying, provide those details as well. Even if the expectation formerly existed, take time to re-establish these boundaries to avoid confusion and frustration.
4) Take the Lead.
People will follow your energy. If you are frazzled, stressed, and constantly complaining, your community will follow suit. Lead with love, and your community will do the same.
5) Be Present.
Your greatest tool for de-escalation is listening and addressing concerns in a timely manner. Whether involving clients or staff, do not allow your leadership fatigue to default to avoidance. Once you hear about the concerns, you can collaboratively and productively move forward.
Recitals are back, baby! While you may be bubbling with excitement for show days, others may need a reminder about WHY this is an exciting time.
Here are five ways to build the hype within your community, so everyone can share in the fun and celebration!
1) Make It Educational and Informative.
How can you turn your recital routines into engaging conversation points?
Maybe you’re discussing the music selection, the choreography inspiration, or the rationale behind the theme or choreography concept.
The more you can make the routine experience bigger than the dancers’ time within the studio, the more meaningful students will feel towards their performance.
2) Get the Parents Involved.
The strongest extracurricular programs celebrate the trifecta of parent, participant, and instructor.
To boost parent engagement:
Share the music link
Share a home practice video
Invite them to an in-studio sneak peek prior to the big performance day (this is a great way to distribute key information as well)
3) Keep the Stress to a Minimum.
Has something historically been high stress about your shows (e.g., ticketing, seating, backstage, or merchandise orders)?
Think of ways to make things as easy and fun as possible.
4) Embrace the Theme.
How can you infuse the excitement of the show into your studio’s culture?
Decorate the building
Discuss the benefits of performance
Celebrate the accomplishment!
5) Be Generous with Praise.
We’ve waited a long time for performances to return! Even if there are bumps and hiccups, don’t forget how important it is to spread joy through the process of performing. When dancers feel good about their performance, they’ll want to do it again. This is a win-win for our dance studios!
As we all finish our show seasons, we might have allowed ourselves a second of celebration before the reality of the challenges ahead fully set in.
While we are closing the chapter of the people that stood by us and cheered us on throughout an entire season of the pandemic, we are now facing the next phase of this weird grey space of normalization.
And, as a business, it is TOUGH.
If you are feeling tired, burned out, exhausted, or questioning your ability to operate in this environment, you aren’t alone.
In addition to recouping a year and a half of lower enrollment numbers and lost revenue, there are also the following internal business hurdles:
Chasta Hamilton is the Owner/Artistic Director of Stage Door Dance Productions in Raleigh, NC. She authored the best-selling book Trash The Trophies: How to Win Without Losing Your Soul. Later this summer, her TEDx talk “You Weren’t Built to Break” will debut, combining her passion for performance with the necessity of resilience.
As dance educators, we know how GOOD it feels when our students persevere. Whether it is the music cutting out during a performance or a brave recovery after an unexpected fall, we champion and encourage their resilience, in rehearsal and in performance.
In our industry, we’ve surpassed the year benchmark of COVID-19 shutdowns and challenges. As we continue to move into the future, we need to ensure we are championing ourselves and our teams as we continue to make decisions that will determine the future success of our studios.
STOP MAKING EXCUSES
During the pandemic, we’ve had a lot of things happen to our industry. In the beginning, it was scary, unsettling, and unknown. While it can be easy to feel victimized and vulnerable, NOW is the time to take control of your circumstances and set yourself up for future success.
Every day, we gain more knowledge. We have to use it to propel ourselves forward.
Keep in mind that the pandemic affected EVERYONE in different ways. Avoid making excuses and be empathetic in hearing others’ stories, as well.
Inventory your systems, protocols, and operations and make sure everything is operating at your expected level of excellence. If you disagree with something or it doesn’t fit or contribute to the growth and development of your business: Change it!
PICK UP THE PACE
As things slowly start to normalize, be prepared to pick up the pace.
Because there have been many months of atypical operations, prepare yourself, your team, and your students for the upcoming change of pace.
As we prepare for performances, be prepared to re-educate students, families, and staff on the expectations, especially since there may still be modifications in place. Communication is key.
Do not delay scheduling and enrollment cycles. Be ahead of the game.
PRACTICE GOOD HABITS
Over the past year, many people have formed new habits, some good and some bad. Offer training sessions to reinforce positive behavior within your community.
For Goals: Are you ahead, on time, or behind?
For Self-Awareness: Are people making positive contributions to getting your studio back on track or are they hindering the pace/ development of the brand?
For Health (Mental & Physical): Are you taking care of your mind and body? How are you supporting your return to performance?
Lead By Example: Let your actions positively motivate your people.
Keep in mind: the windshield of your car is bigger than the rear window of your car for a reason. Know what is behind you, but keep your focus forward!
Give yourself grace for the trips and stumbles of the past and invest your energy into doing what we do best: changing children’s lives through dance!
FALLING DOES NOT EQUAL FAILURE!
Looking for more great ideas from Chasta? Check out the following articles:
Chasta Hamilton is the Owner/Artistic Director of Stage Door Dance Productions in Raleigh, NC. She authored the best-selling book Trash The Trophies: How to Win Without Losing Your Soul. Later this spring, her TEDx talk “You Weren’t Built to Break” will debut, combining her passion for performance with the necessity of resilience.
We are still trucking through the COVID-19 crisis and salvaging our businesses. But we have more knowledge than ever and gain more with each and every day!
It’s 2021, and that means it is time to GET IT DONE.
One of my favorite quotes is:
“You can’t talk butterfly language with caterpillar people.”
This year, are you a butterfly, or are you a caterpillar? The choice is in your hands and will be based on the actions you take NOW.
The days of feeling defeated are over.
Now is the time to shift frustration, exhaustion, and discontent into strong and effective leadership tactics that will pay off in the long run. What contingencies are you setting in place to make sure your programs generate revenue and run creatively, safely, and in alignment with your brand?
Have you considered that:
Competitions may not happen
Recitals may not happen in their traditional sense
Travel opportunities may have to be postponed
Shipping and the supply chain may continue to face delays/disruptions (aka get those costume orders in ASAP!)
Instead of waiting and watching and having another off-the-rails spring semester, take this into your control, and create opportunities for your clientele to heighten the return on investment of your brand.
Prioritize YOU and align yourself with third-party vendors that help instead of hurt your cause.
It may be easy to say
“I don’t know what’s happening, so I can’t do that.”
“This is so out of my control.”
“I don’t have the energy to do what I used to do.”
These are all excuses, and they are excuses that will ultimately hurt your business.
Leave the excuses in 2020 and start figuring out how you CAN make things happen.
Set the Schedules
Use Project Timelines to Keep You On Track
Hit the Deadlines
Apply for the Funding
Meet With Your Staff
Keep Your Clients Looped In
Build Excitement for The Things That Are Coming
While it may not be identical to the way we’ve formerly operated, it is important to generate a confident, forward motion that embraces the resources and opportunities we have.
FIND YOUR MOTIVATION
If you’re feeling stuck in a rut, find some sources of inspiration.
We all know the song “Seasons of Love” from the musical RENT. It asks, “How do you measure, measure a year?” If you’re like me, many of my minutes in 2020 were measured through processing, applying, and mitigating public health information, applying for grants and funding, and spinning on the hamster wheel of the global pandemic while keeping my small businesses sustainable (hello, anxiety).
While a light switch isn’t going to make 2021 this immediate, magic wonderland of yesteryear, it gives us the opportunity to move ahead with insight, focus, and control over how we are spending our time and maximizing our productivity to guarantee our success into the next season and beyond!
INVENTORY YOUR TIME
We are closing out a year unlike any other. Like Elsa says, “the past is in the past—Let it GOOOOOOOO.” Whether you’re guilty of too much doom scrolling or simply feel paralyzed in the unpredictability of each moment, it is important to know how you are spending your time.
Time is your most valuable resource.
This is one of my favorite productivity exercises, which can also be shared with your staff and team.
Pick a day and set up a table in 15-minute increments.
Document the way you spend each 15-minute segment.
Review how you’re spending your time and consider ways you may be misusing your time (aka “trim the fat”).
MAKE A PLAN
It only takes 21 days to form a habit. Once your time inventory is complete, honestly ask yourself:
Is this time well-spent?
Does this make me feel good?
Could this be delegated?
Am I using my time in a way that motivates my personal and professional goal forward?
For items that need to be extracted from your daily routine, take action (this includes micromanaging, which is easy to revert to during a crisis). Lock your phone in a timed jar, set an intentional schedule for multitasking, and set aside time to make sure you are healthily recharging and energizing. Do what needs to be done to get YOU back on track.
STICK TO IT
Frequently revisit the way you are spending your minutes. This way, you’ll make sure you aren’t falling prey to former bad habits. If you find yourself feeling guilty that you’ve missed a journal entry or haven’t read as much as you’d like (I’m talking about myself here), make the moves to get it done.
Write it down: Keep your schedule in a planner, digital or electronic, and track your time.
Have an accountability buddy: Pick a team member or friend to help hold you accountable.
Celebrate: When you successfully acknowledge and make small changes, they can have a huge impact. Acknowledge them!
Remember, more minutes = more you can accomplish! As you move through 2021, this will be important as we continue to regain momentum and rebuild.
Looking for more great ideas from Chasta? Check out the following articles:
It’s the most wonderful time of the year? If you feel like you’re crawling into 2021, you aren’t alone. Crisis leadership is exhausting, and we haven’t had a break since March. With holidays feeling unusual amidst an escalating pandemic, the heaviness may continue to weigh on you during this festive season. Now is the time to take a breath, inventory where you stand, and prepare for the push forward. You’ve made it this far, and you can make it to 2021 and beyond!
TAKE A BREATH
Give yourself space. When the adrenaline and/or fear kicks in, it can be easy to feel reactionary, stressed, angry, out of control, and /or frustrated. Using the tips below, monitor your self-awareness and give yourself permission to breathe.
Monitor your health: exercise, stay hydrated, eat healthily, and sleep!
Have non-professional hobbies: find a new project, skill, or activity, and dig in!
Seek inspiration: make sure you aren’t becoming paralyzed to the new reality, seek inspirational sources.
Monitor your time: do you find yourself doomscrolling or plunging into the wasteland of social media? Be mindful of how you’re spending your time.
Reach out: talk to friends, other businesses, and maintain your connections.
Self-advocate: skip the gathering, decorate for Christmas early, do whatever you need to do to protect your well-being.
INVENTORY WHERE YOU STAND
Now is a great time to review the months behind us while looking forward to the future. Make sure you aren’t only looking to the immediate future. Continue your long-term strategy, as well.
Continue to mitigate: keep your studios and classrooms as safe as possible through consistent messaging, cohesive leadership, and standardized enforcement. Remind your community that it is a shared responsibility to keep the community safe.
Recognize your accomplishments: celebrate your pivots and recognize the fact that you have worked really hard to get to where you are today. Take a minute to reflect on what worked, what didn’t, and how you can learn/grow from this experience in the future.
Do the numbers: this may feel painful, but it is necessary for your financial planning and projections. What’s your percentage compared to past years? How long can you sustain?
PREPARE FOR THE PUSH FORWARD
While you may want to stop, don’t. Keep going, keep planning, and keep dreaming. Never lose sight that YOU create and inspire magic!
Create contingencies: There’s no need for surprises or panic-inducing situations at this point. Create contingencies and work smartly, so you do not have to rework strategies or plans.
Think beyond the pandemic: When this subsides, what do you want your business to look like? How will you continue to grow, scale, and serve your community?
Involve others in the conversations: Lean into your team, a mentor, a therapist, and/or a leadership coach to help you navigate the now and the future.
Stay optimistic: optimism isn’t the same as always being positive. Keep your outlook in check and remind yourself that you have the power to influence others.
Looking for more great ideas from Chasta? Check out the following articles:
Many dance studios choose to have a performance or competition team of some variety. Having a competition team allows students with a greater interest in dance or the performing arts an opportunity to explore their passion in a variety of performance and educational settings.
If your studio is considering starting a competition team, TutuTix and The Dance Exec have put together a Dance Competition Team Guide to get you started!
If your studio already has a competition team, our guide also goes through topics like:
Managing the logistics of the team
It also includes some links to articles about nutrition, choreography, competition stress, and more.
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:
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.
The experienced studio owner knows that putting on a great recital takes a lot of preparation, and a lot of quick thinking! Having the right supplies and tools on hand can make a tremendous difference for you and your staff. We’ve put together a list of (potentially) essential items that will help you have the best recital yet!
Oh before we get started, we’ll include a link to our Dance Competition Survival Kit. Reason being: think STORAGE. In the competition kit, we suggest bringing some kind of rolling container, bag, etc, that is easy to move around and easy to organize.
At the end of the night, you’ll want to be able to pick up all your supplies as quickly and neatly as possible. If you can opt for a few simple storage containers that are easy to move, it’ll save you so much time and energy at the end of an already-tiring evening.
Costume Fixes and Makeup Adjustments
It doesn’t get much more “last-minute” than backstage at the recital!! Having some tools to help you deal with last-minute makeup adjustment and costume fixes will help you do the best job you can before your dancers hit the stage.
Clean up kit (for any on-stage accidents…)
Body tape/butt glue
Nail polish remover
Hot glue gun
It’s so important to have clear communication with your studio staff, venue staff, and any volunteers who are helping to run the show. Clear signage, reliable ways to talk with one another, and lighting for a dark backstage are at the top of the list.
Headsets (instead of walkie talkies, so audience members don’t hear your chatter)
(Multiple) Printed Schedules
Signs for dressing rooms, age or class-specific rooms
Nametags / Buttons / Lanyards / Shirts for volunteers and staff to wear
There are a lot of moving parts (and moving people) at a dance recital. Thinking ahead and preparing to bring (or request that the venue provide) essential event items will keep you from those day-of “whoops” moments!
Fans (for a hot backstage full of moving people)
Extra Gaff tape (for when the first roll disappears somewhere)
Spike tape (to help dancers see their spots in the dark)
Fanny packs, aprons, or other extra-pocket items for your staff
Phone Charger (and outlet brick)
Extra Phone Charger (for when someone borrows the first and it never makes it back to you)
Backup sound system
Coloring books/crayons (for the little ones)
Binder clips (to close any curtains in a dressing area, etc)
Tables and tablecloths (for merchandise, studio marketing materials, admission)
Thank you list (so you don’t forget to thank anyone at the end of the night)
Everyone at the recital (yes, including yourself) needs to take care of themselves in the high-stress, fast-paced environment that is a dance recital. Snacks and beverages should be available for any dancers, as well as you and your staff. Plus, recognize that you and your staff will be moving around A LOT and should think about comfortable (but appropriate) attire for the night.
Presentation and speaking outfit
Water / Gatorade
Granola Bars* / Animal Crackers / Saltines
*Editor’s note: Several readers have mentioned their concern about bringing nuts due to possible peanut or tree nut allergies among the dancers. Be sure to consider any dancers or family members with nut allergies when deciding what to bring, and remember that some severe allergies can be triggered by contact with very small amounts of the allergen.
Are there any other items you’ve found that can really save the day at a dance recital? Let us know in the comments and we’ll add them to our list for other studio owners to see.
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