Friday, December 16, 2011

Holidays are here - give yourself a break and your staff too!

Hopefully, you have set some time aside in your calendar for the holidays. Perhaps you just finished your holiday performances or are just gearing up for the spring show. Either way, as dance teachers it's really tempting to move your "to do list" into that small class break timeframe.

I want to encourage all dance teachers to take a break! Even it it's just a day or two. Take a real break. Don't do paperwork, don't choreograph routines, don't run errands, don't order costumes. Just stop.

Stop and listen to your heart. Stop and spend time with family. Stop and do something fun for yourself. Heck, just sit on the couch and watch the fireplace flames dance if you can. Relax and disolve your thoughts of work. It will be hard to sit still at first, as teachers we are used to going a million miles a minute in two different directions.

Taking a break, even a brief one, will help you be more efficient later. So schedule a break, set the day - time for it, write it on the calendar, program it in your phone. Tell people you have the day off.

Whatever it takes do it and protect it.

Consider it a gift to yourself. The gift of time. Enjoy!

P.S. This is easier than it sounds. I dare you to try it :)

Thursday, December 8, 2011

It's the little girl in the back row, back corner that needs the most help

I've been teaching dance since I was in high school. I've observed a lot of recitals, classes, workshops in my time and it continually amazes me that teachers can do a few simple things in the studio that can make a huge difference to the quality of the dancer's learning experience.

Here are a few tips:

Watch for the student in the back row, in the corner... that will be the student who struggles the most. As a teacher it's imperative that you find away to get that student up front or to the middle of the room. If they are so shy they don't want to step up closer, you must at least move yourself closer to them - demo the steps twice - up front and then move yourself back to their "safe space".

Check for right handed - left handed students. As a teacher it's not always apparrent if a student favors a side. Normally, I always teach a combo to the right foot/side and then we reverse to left. Sometimes students need to learn it first on their strong side from a mental standpoint. Physically they are often balanced but "getting it right" might mean starting on the left for the left handed student. Teachers need to be aware and let the students show their strengths in the best way possible.

Welcome each student at the start with roll call process - make it fun. I like to have students state their name and tell me something else like their favorite color. Talking out loud is important and you can scout out the shy ones that will need more attention quickly with this technique.

Its imperative that you learn their names! Do whatever it takes to memorize the names yourself and make sure any class helpers do too. Avoid calling all of them "sweetie" or "honey" - force yourself to learn the name. If you can't then use name tags.

Repeat what they learned today at the end of class. Do a quick review.

These few teaching techniques will help you have a successful class!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Dance Mom has a new meaning

The term Dance Mom is often referred to as the Mom of a student, but what about when the dance teacher becomes a Mom for the first time? That term, Dance Mom, has a new meaning for our studio this year. I have one teacher who recently had her baby and has returned to teach. And another teacher with her first baby on the way who's on hiatis til next summer.

The role of Dance Teacher Mom is a tough gig. Often dance teachers are balancing a day job while teaching at night...throw a new baby in the mix and you have one tough assignment. Sleepless nights, nursing, lack of confidence, mom guilt --you name it and a new Mom has a lot on her plate.

As I watch them switch roles from teacher to mother it made me think about the advantages of being a Mom and a Teacher at the same time. Are young teachers without kids at a disadvanage with a lack of parental experience that is sometimes needed in the classroom? Or do dance teachers have some special skills they can bring to motherhood? Physical balance and flexibility will be an advantage during pregnancy, will patience and practice be an advantage in motherhood?

What do you think?

All I know for sure is that it is going to be fun to watch my teacher's grow in to their new roles as Dance Moms. And I certainly can't wait to get those new little feet dancing as soon as possible!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Do what you love! Connect the dots later.

With the passing of Steve Jobs I took some time to look back at his life via all the posts, tweets and stories now circulating. One of the most popular items I found was his commencement address at Stanford University. It was an amazing message to the young graduates. Bottomline: he tells them to do what they love and waste no time doing it because death comes to all. How prophetic that now is.

This week was our first week back in the studio for our Dance Academy. I'll admit every single year I ask myself, "Should I continue with this Academy or not?" Steve Jobs told a story that every day he looked in the mirror and asked himself if he was in the right place, doing the right things that made him feel good. He said that it's good to always question what we do and if it doesn't feel right to change it. Because afterall life is short and definate.

So, as I'm in the chaos of the first night, fitting shoes, getting children into the right studios and trying desparately to remember names of the new dancers it hits me...I love what I do! Passing along the art form of dance is a gift that I give and I'm actually quite good at it - despite the fact that I never danced professionally nor got a degree in it. I graduated from college with degrees in Journalism and Psychology - both of which I use on a daily basis in the studio and at my day job as a Public Relations person.

Jobs, in his Stanford address, also shared a story of how he dropped out of college but "dropped in" to the classes he found interesting like calligraphy. It is why the MAC has so many cool fonts. So, I can say that I've "dropped in" to dance since I was in college taking classes at school, going to seminars, getting motivated by Rhee Gold, getting advice from and attending Dance Master events to keep up my training. Recently, I purchased a set of CDs for teachers by Mary Lynn - it was a great refresher too.

When you do what you love you never stop learning simply because it's fun. And life after all should be fun. (Now I just need to remember that when I'm battling with a student who deparately wants to go on pointe or wants to move into another class with her friends)

In the end, year after year for the past 10 years, I've answered my own question of "Should I continue?" with a "Yes". Many times I tell myself that I do it for the kids, but the truth is it must be for me or I wouldn't keep working so hard to make it all happen. Dance makes me feel alive. Dance makes me happy.

So, do you LOVE what you do? If you do then celebrate the fact that you are one of the lucky people who get to do what they love and are good at it. If you don't, it's time to find a new direction because as we learned from Steve Jobs - life is short, don't waste it.

His advice in the closing quote of the address was to "Stay Hungry and Stay Foolish" -- now that's the best definition of a dance teacher I've ever heard.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Being flexible in the studio and in your business

I've learned this summer that you have to be flexible in more ways than just with your body. My business needs to be flexible too. In the Midwest good teachers are hard to find, especially in rural areas where our studio is in Brodhead, Wis. I've been really blessed in the 10 years we've been teaching to find excellent teachers, often getting only one applicant, but they've been well qualified so it didn't matter how many. My quality was exceptional.

And then this summer happened. In planning for our fall season I was faced with changes in staff due to new babies that arrived or are in process. And I simply could not find staff to fill in. I did many interviews, but none were qualifed. And we all know that a bad hire can break your business, so I'm playing it safe. I did what I had to do and decided to teach more nights myself. Since I could only teach two nights without impacting my own daughters' sporting events (which I will not miss) we went from 4 nights to 2. Doubling up the studio spaces - we have two rooms, but most of the time we only used the main studio. With three teachers on two nights, we are still serving more students than we did last year over 225. Every class is FULL! (but no more than 11 in a class)

Now we'll see how flexible the parents will be in crowded waiting areas, parking lots and visitor nights. I've communicated the situation very clearly, so I'm hoping they will understand! It's going to be an interesting year...hoping next year we can return to normal.

If anyone reads this who can teach ballet... CALL ME! I'd be happy to be flexible and let you join the team mid-stride. I know you are all saying, "it's only two nights", but my studio is my hobby. I work full time at another job, so adding l2 classes be a struggle. Actually, it will be choreographing all the dances that will put me over the edge. Thankfully, I've bartered for house cleaning - that oughta help! I'd rather dance than clean any day!

Friday, August 12, 2011

Don't worry Mom. I got this.

Each summer I hold a registration day, just like many dance schools do. But this year I had a scheduling problem, my youngest daughter was participating in a Miss American Coed pageant the same weekend.

Being the planner that I am -- I had everything under control and people set up to work at the registration, including my oldest daughter, the accountant, and 2 older students to handle shoe fittings. I was scheduled to leave the pageant at 7:30 a.m. to get back to the studio - only an hours drive.

The morning of the event the person I had arranged to do my daughters hair and get her to the pageant interviews drove to the wrong city to assist us. An hour the other direction. So no time for me to leave my daughter and get to the studio. I made the call to my 14 year old daughter (who is wise beyond her years) and her response was "Don't worry Mom. I got this." And she did.

I was so proud of her. She talked with parents, placed students and directed the workers. All at age 15! I always knew she was paying attention to me as I worked, but now I understand fully how much it all matters. And the feedback from parents was wonderful.

I've always said our Dance Academy is a family business. While I started it, it takes our whole family to work for it on occassion, give up time with Mom, and "to be nice to the customers" no matter what click they are in at school.

I'm not sure what our plan for the Academy is long term. But now at least I know that we could have a long future for more generations of dance studio owners in my family.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Dance Mom's TV Show - will it hurt or help your business?

The new reality TV show Dance Mom's has a lot of dance school owners up in arms or laughing, depending on which side of the fence they are sitting on. My Linked in dance studio owners group is a buzz with people saying this is bad for dance and that competition team focused studios are losing busines because of it. "Parents are afraid to get their kids involved..."

I should make a disclaimer that I'm a studio owner that has never, ever supported dance competitions. In fact, my brochures say we don't do competitions, period. When I first opened my studio ten years ago, some asked, why not? My response has always been the same. "It's not that we don't have the talent, we do. It's just that I want my kids to love to dance for the love of dance, not for a trophy." We do a recital instead. It like the art of dance, not the sport.

So, I sort of laughed when I first viewed the show, until I realized that at least 50% of this reality TV show is actually real. Then I get sad. If kids want to be professional dancers, dance on broadway and be big stars can't they can do that without all this fuss and drama of nasty competitions? Where are the exhibitions?

Don't even get me started on the inappropriate costumes, moves and music many choreographers choose for the students. I think the Dance Mom's on the show and around the country need to speak up for their little girls and boy's on what's appropriate for stage. I applaud this reality TV show for showing this, maybe it will help.

Reality TV shows are not real. Well, not totally. So, for that 50% of the show that is real - I see amazing dancers, a nice studio, a teacher that knows her stuff and has successful dancers to prove it. These Dance Mom's have sought out a teacher that they think will make their little dancer famous someday. That's good marketing. They are getting what they pay for, what they ask for. It is for them to decide what winning looks like.

Competitions are what create the difference between dance as art and dance as a sport. My own children compete in sporting tournaments (and yes even in rough sports there is drama.) It's the hair, costume and make up that throw you off at first with dance. This is dance for the sport. Hard core competitons to get your dancer noticed - get the scholarship -- same as a young basketball, fastpitch or volleyball stars. You wouldn't tell those kids in sports not to compete would you?

It's clear that these Dance Mom's who are on the show to be famous themselves. Have you seen their hair and make up, outfits...they are the true performers here. And what a performance it is. I think these Mom's will be embarrassed later in life for exploiting their dancers. Or maybe they will all be rich and famous...the world of reality TV is not rational.

As for competitions - there are good ones and bad ones - so if you are planning to have your dancers compete you may need to set the stage for your dance parents who have watched this show. Tell them why you are competing -- what's the goal? Why did you select this particular competition vs. others? What will be success for all of you?

The dance competition industry is huge. And the dance magazines that could talk about this show might not because much of their revenues are based on dance competiton full page ads.

Lifetime's Dance Mom's TV Show will either make competitions more popular or more scrutinized. Either way, I think all dance teachers will need to become very clear about WHY they do competitions.

So, WHY do you compete?

Friday, April 8, 2011

Anniversary Posters are Ready!

Remember I said I had a cool idea for my 10th anniversary show? Well I did it.

With the help of a parent with graphic design skills, we created a "Growing Up in Dance" poster for our students to customize with 3 photos of themselves growing up as dancers.

The theme of our recitial is of course "Growing up in Dance" with a garden backdrop from Backdrops Fantastic. (I can't wait to see it) So, in keeping with that theme we created a poster with three large flowers with the center of the flower blank (insert photo). When done the dancers will have a keepsake to hang in their bedrooms and remember how much they love to dance.

I wrote a cute little poem that runs up one of the flower stems. It says, "From my first little sprout to my long straight stem. I'm a dancer now and that will never end."

I hope they enjoy customizing their posters. We are going to display all 220 of them at the show in the entrance. I'll take a picture and post when I can.

Feel free to use this idea in your own studio. I'll let you know how it's received by the parents and students. Keep your fingers crossed for me.

If you need a printer/designer my friends at Kramer Printing in Madison, Wis. can work with you from anywhere in the USA.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Are you on hold with the costume company?

If you've been on hold more than 20 minutes with a costume company this season raise your eyebrows!

I thought so. It's frustrating that after all these years some companies with a long history of costuming still can't get enough people on the phones during recital season. I'm not naming names because I do respect the companies that help us dress our dazzling dancers, but I do hope they read this post!

Being on hold is managable, you put it on speakerphone and do some other work while you wait, but it's really not a great way to do business. There are many phone companies that could work with costume makers to route calls, staff up and give them some advice. So, to all those costume companies reading this --- please call your local phone system provider and get some free advice!

There is a lesson here for all of us business owners. Understand what the phone experience is like from your customers point of view. Do your phones get answerered on time? How does your on hold music sound? What does your voice mail message say? How do people answer the phone? Call yourself and check it out.

Take some time and work with your local phone provider to find out if there are new technologies you can use as a small business owner. There are many new solutions such as VoIP that are affordable and flexible -- call the local phone company for help and free advice.

Getting ready for the big show. Recital time.

It's recital time. Dance teachers across the country are working hard this time of year making sure their year-end recital keeps students (and parents) coming back for more. I know you are all old pro's at this, but it's important to remember to work ahead so you have time at the end for the "little extras" that make the recital work as a marketing tool for you.

Don't forget to do some PR:

Send out a press release to your local paper(s) and local radio station if you have one.

Schedule "Break a Leg" posts on your Facebook page.

Consider inviting media to attend picture night or dress rehearsal to get some good pictures for that press release.

Radio stations are often forgotten, but a pair of tap shoes can make a create audio story. Think about it! Call the station and offer to do an interview about Dance. (National Dance Week makes a good reason as well, but tie in your own show too.)

Take out an ad for special anniversary years to recognize your staff/students/community for their support. Remind your local Chamber of Commerce (hope you are a member) that your event is coming up and to add it to their newsletter.

Write up your comments now, so you don't forget to say all the right things at your show.

Pick out your own outfits/shoes etc. You don't want to look like a tired out dance teacher at the performance. Dress up! Market yourself. (At my school I've made a tradition of getting some "cool shoes" the girls all wait to see which high heels I will wear. )

It's important to remember that the entire recital experience is your opportunity to "sell" your program to your existing parents and also to new ones. That critical word of mouth marketing can only happen if you give them something great to TALK about!

Break a Leg!

Releve' Dance Poster sample

Releve' Dance Poster sample
sample of poster