Tips on how studio owners can attract and retain students this fall
by Katie Dravenstott
Dance studio owners in North Texas have a lot on their plates this time of year. In addition to competitions, recitals and summer classes, studio owners also have to find time to plan out their 2010 fall season. And when it comes to fall registration the No. 1 questions on many studio owners’minds every year is, “How can I increase registration and retain students?” Fortunately, many local studio owners have found creative ways to attract new students and keep their old students coming back for more.
Maintain Community Connections. Community connections play an integral role in a studio’s registration process. For example, Janie Christy, owner and director of Janie Christy’s School of Dance in Dallas, says she attributes most of her school’s growth over the last 17 years to her involvement in the community. “I concentrate all year long on ways to get myself out into the public,” Christy says. This includes supporting local school and church functions such as auctions and craft fairs through donations. “I especially try to get my information out to the preschoolers, since they are the ones that feed my studio and are the most likely to stick with me,” Christy adds. Ericka Dove, owner and director of Dove Academy of Dance Arts, Garland, Texas, also understands the importance of knowing the community. “How I teach in Dallas is different from how I teach here in Garland,” Dove says. “You can’t bring a NYC attitude into a family orientated community. That’s not what their interested in.” Dove adds, “That’s why it important for you to know what kind of clientele you will be having.”
Find Your Identity. This tip is especially relevant for owners of newer studios. “Creating your own identity is important for survival in this marketplace,” says Cindi Lawrence Hanson, owner and director of Gotta Dance, Plano, Texas. When Hanson opened her studio 17 years ago she says she spent the first couple of years figuring out what did and didn’t work for her business. “We don’t do competitions and our ballet company is a fundamental part of the school,”Hanson says. Her advice for new studio owners: “You can’t do everything. Find your niche and exploit it to the best of your abilities.” Yet Dove, whose studio is entering its second season, believes that students like to have access to a variety of dance styles. In addition to ballet, tap and jazz, Dove offers hip-hop, lyrical, drill team prep and musical theater. Dove also oversees a competition team. “In order to survive in business you have to be well rounded,” Dove says.
Keep Up With Trends. The dance world is constantly changing and studio owners must change with it if they want to keep their registration numbers up. “Going to conventions is a great way for studio owners to meet other teachers and see the latest trends,” says Kitty Carter, owner and director of Kitty Carter’s Dance Factory in Dallas. Carter and her students attend many conventions throughout the year, including West Coast Dance Explosion, Co. Dance and New York City Dance Alliance. Master classes are another great way for studios owners to stay on top of trends. Over the last 30 years a variety of locally and nationally known choreographers have taught master classes at Carter’s studio. “Recently,we’ve had Millicent Johnnie from the SMU dance department come teach reggae hip-hop and Peter Kasule’s company from Uganda teach East African style dance,” Carter says. “Over the last couple of years we have also had Tyce Diorio and Mia Michaels from SYTYCD, Jeff Lapes, Nancy O’Mear, Nick Florez, Katie Schaar, Michelle Larkin and Tamara Morrow.” It’s also important for studio owners to be aware of the local dance trends. Here in North Texas drill team is a big draw for high school students and many studios are now offering drill team prep classes.
Make Dance Rewarding. “In order to bring in new students and keep your students from last year you have to make dance fun and rewarding,”Hanson says. Studio owners can do this in a couple of ways. They can offer incentives such as discount classes, free t-shirts and studio raffles. Hanson says “bring a friend to dance week” has become popular and has helped increase her registration numbers. Studio owners can also share with their students the long term benefits of dancing. “Students are beginning to realize that if they stay in dance, they’re more likely to audition and make it onto the high school drill teams and dance teams,” Christy says. She adds that what students learn in their ballet and technique classes will also make them stronger dancers in the long run. When it comes to retaining high school dancers Dove says studio owners have to be willing to let their older students do other things. “You can’t tell them that they can’t try out for drill team or they can’t do the high school play,” Dove says. “You have to be willing to work with them and there has to be dialogue between you, the child and the parent,” Dove adds.
Katie Dravenstott is a freelance writer and dance teacher in Dallas, TX.
This article was first seen in the Aug-Oct 2010 issue of DANCE by the Dance Council of North Texas.