Studio Directors Weigh in on How to Adapt and Retain Revenue as COVID-19 Closures Continue

One benefit you now provide dance students is a sense of normalcy and positive interaction. Here’s how four studios demonstrate to their customers why this is worth paying for.  

Young girl, in dance pose, facing a computer with an online dance class on screen.
A student of Academy for the Performing Arts takes class at home. Photo courtesy of APA

With May tuition payments due at dance studios everywhere, owners must address a new level of urgency for their businesses. The key is to show parents how you’re bringing normalcy and positivity to their children’s lives—even when studio doors are closed.

Self-quarantining as an adult is difficult enough, but it’s even more so for children and young adults who thrive on schedules and spending time with their friends. “Our message through all of this is: ‘We are here to offer some much-needed normalcy,'” says Dana Adames, co-owner and artistic director of The Talent Factory, a Rhode Island studio with two locations and about 550 students. The studio created individual Zoom accounts for its 20 staff members so they could continue teaching their regular classes. “We thought live classes were the best way to go to continue the live interaction with students,” co-owner and general manager Hugo Adames says. “We believe this was a much-needed element to give parents what they are paying for.”

Joy Weisbord has a 13-year-old daughter enrolled at The Talent Factory, and she appreciated how quickly the studio adapted to virtual learning. “Just days into this whole new reality, students are thrilled to be interacting virtually with their teachers and peers again and getting back to their training,” Weisbord says. “Dana herself joined in to greet the kids online, welcoming them and overseeing that everything went smoothly.”

So, if you can help remind parents that you are helping their children maintain some structure and balance while helping them stay physically fit during this unprecedented period, you’re continuing to illustrate the value that you bring as a business that truly cares about its clients. “We’re reminding them how important it is to stay active while at home, and how seeing classmates can be really beneficial to their mood and emotional well-being,” says Hillary Parnell, owner of the Academy for the Performing Arts in Apex, North Carolina. “Of course we are going to do our very best to offer as much critique and technique as possible, but at this point, I think normalcy and sense of community are more important. I would consider it a win if everyone was able to simply maintain their skills and stay fit until we are back in the classroom.”

Reorienting Your Faculty

Without question, it’s difficult teaching dance classes online: space constraints, sound and lighting issues, random pets or family members wandering by, even a lack of motivation from frustrated students who just want things to be “normal.” Studio owners have invested time and energy into helping their faculty to adapt. Patience and planning ahead are key—this is new for everyone involved.

The biggest learning curve for most instructors has been discovering that classroom time management is completely different for virtual lessons. “Parents are expecting a full class, but that requires a lot more preparation and actual content when you are not with the students physically,” says Parnell, whose 800-student studio is focusing on a consolidated class schedule delivered via Zoom. “Navigating how to give feedback and corrections also has been a little tricky, but it’s become easier as the teachers and the students are getting more comfortable with the technology.”

Adam Holms, co-founder and artistic director of the Norwalk Metropolitan Youth Ballet in Connecticut, has 150 students, and he has opted to do limited classes weekly through social-media livestreaming (some from the roof of his Queens apartment), prerecorded classes housed on YouTube and live classes on Zoom. His dancers can film themselves performing specific combinations and he will provide individualized feedback, and he shares newly discovered resources with his advanced students. “We’re encouraging them to take advantage of all these amazing opportunities of taking a free class with a principal dancer with The Royal Ballet or classes from Youth America Grand Prix,” he says.

Tech and Practical Tips

• If you haven’t checked with your insurance provider yet about whether you are covered for virtual classes, make that call first on your to-do list.

• Password-protect any classes you offer if the platform allows for it. You don’t want hackers or predators to affect your operations right now.

• Know your audio settings! “Background noise reduction is not your friend,” says Hugo Adames of The Talent Factory. “Your voice and your music are two different noises. You need them both to run a class. Reducing one would be counterproductive, so you want to disable those settings.”

Staying Upbeat and Having a Little Fun

Try to focus on the positive and the opportunities this situation is bringing dance studios right now. “As the studio owner, everyone is looking to see what your attitude is about the whole situation,” Parnell says. “Your staff, your parents, your dancers will take your lead, so if you are upbeat, optimistic and enthusiastic, that energy will come back to you.”

Be creative and show your dance family how excited you are to continue to offer classes. Washington, DC’s Joy of Motion Dance Center, for example, embraced the launch into virtual learning and created a permanent business model within nine days by launching its Joy Online Learning Library. Enrolled students have immediate access to pre-recorded, password-protected lessons, and the studio has also added on-demand classes the public can rent for $7 for a 24-hour period through Vimeo, with the instructors receiving some of the proceeds from each rental.

It’s also the perfect time to have a little extra fun with social media or other digital platforms.

• Recreational students at Academy for the Performing Arts are participating in fun photo/video challenges and bonus classes like yoga, fitness and arts & crafts. The littlest dancers are tuning in for daily story time or sing-alongs. The company dancers are getting one-on-one goal-setting meetings, journaling sessions, group hangouts and CLI Studios classes.

• The Talent Factory is offering classes to siblings, parents and alumni, including yoga, hip hop and cooking classes.

• Norwalk Metropolitan Youth Ballet has several photo/video challenges for its dancers, including first arabesque in your home, dance with your pet and plank during the length of your favorite pas de deux.

• Joy of Motion Dance Center created a Slack channel just for parents and its adult students: a whole new way to communicate, build community and provide information. About 100 people have joined and are paying a $10 monthly fee. So far there has been a coffee chat, a happy hour and a Netflix movie night to watch Center Stage, and there are plans to have faculty Q&A sessions.

“Everyone is seeking that connection that they normally feel, so there is a sense of loss right now,” says Mary Chase, executive director of Joy of Motion Dance Center. “So we’re really trying to bridge that and find the best ways to meet people where they are right now.”

Hannah Maria Hayes is a freelance journalist who writes frequently for Dance Teacher and Dance Business Weekly.