As entrepreneurs and business owners, we often feel pulled in a million directions. You know the feeling. You’re doing one thing, and next thing you know someone else’s “urgent” matter gets thrown on your plate.
I’ve been dedicating a lot of time this year to truly focusing on business. How to improve, how to strategize, how to advertise, how to get more organized, etc. It can be tough. As artists and passionate people, we’re not always as strong in the financial/forecasting sector. Not to stereotype…you could be reading this and be thinking, “Lady, you don’t know me! I’m a total financial rock star.” If so, that’s amazing. For me, and I’m assuming a few other dance professionals, that isn’t the case. We have to work at it.
As a dancer I’m no stranger to hard work. I know you’re not either. So I haven’t shied away from that. I’ve spent hours upon hours listening to podcasts, reading articles, taking courses (I’ve spent a small fortune on them this year), etc. To be honest, I’ve learned A LOT. It’s been eye-opening and I truly feel like I could hold my own against others in the business world. I really, really enjoy this side of things. It’s become so interesting to me, and I’ve really embraced it.
Anyone know where I’m going with this? Well, I’ve embraced it so much that I realized I’ve neglected the whole reason that I originally got into this: Dance! Seriously. This was the driving force to me starting a business, and the thing that pays our bills, yet somehow, I neglected to spend enough time learning there a well.
Fast forward, and now I’ve found a new obsession that balances it out just a bit. Here it is:
I love being able to listen to fellow dancers open up. Granted, they might be in a totally different place in their lives and careers. After all, I’m a mom who owns an on-site studio and content business. I’m not exactly auditioning for anything anytime soon. However, I find these so inspirational. So touching. So real. To be a dancer is a huge honor and a huge sacrifice.
I’m all about finding balance in life, and to me this corner of the internet is a beautiful example of that. It hits on my constant desire to learn (business mindset) and my true love and passion (dance). I hope that it brings you joy as well!
The first season for a teacher on the instructional side of dance is stressful. You know you are headed for the final product, the dance recital. It is the obvious goal, but how in the world do we get there? The initial weeks of class are pretty easy. Get the kids acclimated to the space, inform the parents of policies and procedures, establish your classroom rules and nail the fundamental steps with a few fancy combos to boot. But, wait! We have to survive until MAY? Believe me, we have all been there.
Beyond advising you to select a seasoned dance instructor to be your mentor, we have a few tried and true tips. Worry not, my “Type-A creative” ballerina friends. We are in this together!
#1 “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” –Benjamin Franklin
Lesson plans are your friend. When you receive your studio’s calendar at the season kick-off meeting, grab one of those Hobby Lobby life-planners- you know, the super cute ones with the frilly attachments and do-dahs that you have been eyeing for weeks. Treat yourself!
Enter your days of instruction, noting the holidays and show schedule. Then, count up your weeks of actual, uninterrupted instructional time. Next, determine your goals. Most studios will tell you what your goals are, but if not, create them. Shameless plug: Studio To Go offers progressive yearly content that is distributed on a monthly basis. We have effectively eliminated this entire thought-process. So, why do another class without giving our program a try? See, I warned you it was shameless. 😉
#2 “Plans are of little importance, but planning is essential.” –Winston Churchill
Now, be prepared to abandon every.single.plan.you.made. This can be the absolute hardest part of learning how to teach itty-bitties. The undeniable truth is that sometimes a 3-year-old simply does not have the emotional capacity to follow your perfect game-plan. The wide open dance space can be extremely over-stimulating for her. She has missed her nap three days in a row and counting. Her family just welcomed a newborn, which is rocking her entire world. Tantrum number four of the day was settled in the van only moments before walking into dance (just a little pink-faced). She is still learning the dreaded word “no.” She received a flu shot 2 hours ago, which threw off the day’s routine and ruined their typical lunchtime. Even though she and Mom yelled at each other in “before-mentioned tantrum number four,” she is still experiencing some lingering separation anxiety. Annnnnd keep in mind she has only just recently accomplished potty-training. Whew. Life can be tough!
Give her a break, and BE FLEXIBLE! If something is not working in class, abandon it. Walk away. Change the song. Move on. I know we ballerinas want to complete the exercise to the bitter end, but save it for your middle and high schoolers.
Remember, while the individual plan for today may be of little importance in the execution, it is the big-picture strategy that will keep your classes on track for a successful year.
#3 Repetition Repetition Repetition
This one is easy. Kids this age thrive off repetition. Do not be afraid to repeat an activity or song week after week. Emily Worthington of Iowa State University states in her Graduate Theses and Dissertation: “The use of consistent routines… allows the children to prepare for the next activity (McCormick, Leob, & Schiefelbusch). Through consistent routines, the children are able to participate based solely on their knowledge of what the activity is about and what activity comes next, since they have experienced the activity and routine before in the previous days and months… A predictable daily schedule of activities has been recommended (Kostelnik, Soderman, & Whiren, 2007)… a predictable schedule helps with transitions from one activity to another and provides a sense of continuity from day to day. Any changes to the daily routine should be communicated to the children as a means of helping them prepare for the change.”
In my experience, when you find a particular song that “clicks” with the kids, play that puppy over and over. Obviously, parents do need to see growth and progress throughout the year to justify the expense of dance, and you have a recital to prepare for right? Definitely do not repeat an entire lesson plan for 4 months straight, but keep the general flow of class consistent, and repeat those “gems” that you find along the way, whether it is a warm-up with coordinating story-telling imagery or a stimulating release activity that they love!
#4 Keep it Movin’
Change up your formations… These kids need to be mentally engaged with the dance space! When creating lesson plans, include a column titled “formation.” Go ahead and plan where the students will be for each activity. They should be constantly moving. For example: start in a circle, move to 2 lines, to 1 line, back to a circle, to a “release” around the room, to across the floor, to moving downstage vs upstage, and then back to 2 lines. If I hear that a teacher is having behavioral issues in a preschool class, one of my first questions is, “Are they standing on one spot the entire class?” If the answer is yes, boom. There is your problem.
Minimize the length of transitions… Your class should be an effortlessly fluid experience. From the moment they walk in, you should sweep them away into a magical land of wonder. Transition your kids from activity to activity, limiting your verbal cues of “dead time” in between segments. Yes, there are definitely instructions that should be given in those moments of music-free silence; however, choose them wisely. We all know how Charlie Brown’s teacher sounded… Too many times I have seen a teacher lose her students’ rapt attention when a song ends and she turns her back to change music or stop and think. Even if I am mentally creating my following strategic move, I am setting them up for the next best thing, reviewing a classroom rule, asking them about front row vs back row, etc… Once you have worked to draw them in, keep them there!
#5 Time for a Music Binge
Friends, this is crucial. Gather a collection of your favorite, tried and true tunes. Organize your lessons with tracks already in order. In a perfect world, you would not even need the “pause” feature. Now, we all know that is an unattainable land full of fairies riding unicorns bareback with rainbow hair and ladybugs on leashes for pets, but we can dream right?
Give these tips a try and let us know how they work for you!
To be a dance teacher, you must be larger than life! You are the ring master, in what could very quickly become a 3-ring tragedy. All eyes are upon you. You must command the stage and make the experience like no other for those tiny little people. You are a performer as a dance teacher. I like to say it requires 90% performing and 10% teaching!
There are fundamentals your classes require and must contain in order to be successful. Structure, value in your content and FUN! The FUN part of class is my favorite thing about teaching. You have the ability to transport an impressionable being into a new adventure with a little character and magic. A dance teacher is like a rock star with people calling your name over and over, constantly pulling at your clothes, and some looking at you in utter disbelief. You must take advantage of this adoration and use the power of it from start to finish.
What adventure do you take them on: a tea party, an adventure under the sea, a trip to space or a spin through a land full of fairies? The possibilities are endless with a little imagination and planning. In taking them on these adventures, little ones do well when able to hold something in their busy little hands to promote self-control, create hand to eye coordination, develop gross motor skills and cultivate left and right skills. Some of my favorite props to add the FUN into class are scarves, beanbags, hula hoops, magic wands, stuffed animals and parachutes. Even using seasonal items are great too! Children love familiarity, so if you have a class mascot that appears every week, they can get in on the action too.
Music is going to drive the flow of the class. Again, the possibilities are endless when it comes to music. Classical music, songs from your childhood, songs from popular movies and radio, slow tracks, fast music, action songs and songs kids can sing are always some of the most popular. Incorporate the songs to fit the theme you are doing at that moment. It brings the whole class together! Make sure to have your playlists premade before you step into class. Fumbling for music while the natives get restless can be a recipe for disaster.
At Studio To Go we have done the work for you to bring the FUN into your classes. We provide progressive dance class content, along with creative choreography and preselected music choices to coordinate well with the exciting monthly themes. With over 40 years of experience collectively as dance teachers, we have packaged proven successful dance classes for our clients in a convenient and easy method, where we handle the planning for you. Now it’s up to you to become the ring master!
We’ve all been there. That moment where it dawns on you and you wonder, “How am I going to get through the next hour?” Maybe it’s because you’re a brand new teacher, or maybe it’s because you have a splitting headache. Chances are you might be here not because you have those thoughts, but you wonder what it is that your staff is doing in their classes. Are your students getting the dance education that you expect and demand?
Well, luckily, that’s why we’re here. In essence we created Studio To Go to take the doubt out of dance education. Much like you order food To Go when you’ve had a rough day, are in a hurry, or don’t feel like cooking. Our syllabi are packaged up for you and ready to implement, whether you’re looking for a cohesive syllabus for all of your staff, you are a new teacher who needs a little help with creative content and classroom management, or whether you’re simply looking to spice up your classes and add some fun to your repertoire. If any of these sound like you, we’ve got your back.
We’re a team of friends, dancers, and entrepreneurs who teamed up to create a pretty bad@ss product. Just like you, we’re dance educators. We’ve dedicated our lives to this. We’re passionate about the same things you are. We’ve not only walked in your shoes, we’ve danced in them.
We have sort of a six degrees of Kevin Bacon thing going on. Our lives and paths have crossed and divided and crossed again, and we’ve found ourselves at a wonderful intersection. A couple of years ago we all found ourselves working together again. The school year after that we implemented a monthly progressive syllabus for our classes. Instantly, we noticed a shift in the quality of our classes.
Not only were our teachers solid and their class content polished, but now we had a cohesive front and all students were on the same page. Communicating with parents became easier, expectations for our dancers became more well-defined, and our end product (recitals) became better. Overall, we overwhelmingly thought, “We’re onto something here.”
And here we are. Ready to share this research, hard work, and awesomeness with you. Most of all, we want for dancers everywhere to get an awesome dance education. It’s what we love! Secondly, we want to get to know you and we want you to know us. Seriously, y’all. Who else understands dance life other than dancers? We’re all in this together.
It is a scene every dance teacher has experienced countless times. Brand new ballet shoes display no signs of scuffs or sprints through a rainy parking lot, pink tights boast no rips or juice stains, and tutus are extra fluffy as they have yet to make their washing-machine debut. The excitement is palpable as parents and students navigate unfamiliar studio rooms and never-before-traversed opportunities. It is the start of a new year for a young, first-time ballerina!
Just what exactly is the value in a dance studio’s enthusiasm, year after year, for this fledgling dancer to make that first walk towards the ballet barre? Sharing this art form as our passion is the obvious first response. We dance professionals care deeply about keeping our art alive; however, I am talking about searching for the type of motivation required when a teacher has done this “song and dance” 10-25 years in a row in his or her career. I think I speak for all of us in stating that dance fuels our souls, and we love shaping the next generation, but there are definitely those days when we need a little nudge of encouragement. Let’s discuss!
Reasons for caring enough to invest more time, energy, (and yes) even money into young dance curriculum:
#1 Preschool dancers will carry on your legacy.
This one is easy. Dance babies are the future of your artistry. Providing a solid dance education with well-thought-out progression of content will enhance the dancers we are molding today for tomorrow. Leave your mark on the dance world. Do it right, and do it well!
#2 Begin creating an ingrained, voracious appetite for dance in your Preschool dancers.
Capturing a Preschooler’s imagination and excitement for dance early breeds a deep-seated love and emotional connection to movement. This is what cannot be taught to the most technically gifted dancer in the world. We need more performers out there who respond to their innate adoration of dance. In critiques of my own performance and competition endeavors, if I have heard it once, I have heard it 1,000 times… We have to feel your story, we have to feel your passion, and we have to feel your emotions when you dance in the upper echelon.
When I consider where my own love of dance was born, it was certainly in those early, formative years. I remember staring at satin pointe shoes with drool practically running down the corner of my mouth. Visions of falling snowflakes and dancing fairies in the journey through the pine forest of The Nutcracker soothed my dreams every night. I spent all of my free time crafting dances to perform during free-style when Miss Nancy, my dance teacher, would reward us with songs from the Lion King movie in class. These are the years for we dance educators to stoke the flames of interest, in hopes of one day harnessing that leaping, fiery blaze into a passionate, grown dancer!
#3 Preschool dancers are the most integral elements of a successful studio from a business perspective. Period.
Financially speaking, they are your lifeline. First, the length of business you will potentially retain from this aged child for years to come is an extremely valuable figure. If you have a two-year-old interested in dance, she or he is a potential client of 15+ years versus a middle schooler who may stick around for the next 5 years. That’s a huge difference in prospective business. (Note: Please do not misunderstand this statement. I am not against providing quality dance education for ALL dancers. I am only referring to the hard fact that a studio stands to gain many more years of instruction from a younger student.)
Secondly, many studios charge tuition based on an hourly range. A five-year-old dancing one hour per week pays a higher premium hourly than a high schooler who attends class for ten hours each week.
Next, it is important to cover the fact that the possibility for a fuller class is highest in this age bracket. How is that? Remember, ballet is a “rite of passage,” if you will. Parents are still helping kids find their way at this stage. What will be their “thing?” According to the 2014 United States Census Bureau, “nearly 6 out of 10 children participate in extracurricular activities.” A family will enroll a child for dance to equip them for all areas of life through the discipline that will be instilled. It is a no-brainer. Also, let’s face it. The tutus are stinkin’ adorable and utterly irresistible for a mommy of a 3 year-old little girl too! In my personal experience, there is more opportunity for dance enrollments at an age where parents are encouraging their children to experiment with various sports, hobbies, and talents. Make their time in this studio count: get them interested, help them fall in love with dance just like you did, keep them dancing, and keep them here!
#4 Preschool dancers are your easiest, most direct, and most effective form of marketing.
Happy moms are the best form of marketing for your studio, hands down. Word to the wise: happy moms are cultivated through happy students. We have all seen it before, y’all! As many times as possible, each student should leave your classes inspired, overjoyed and mentally stimulated by your thoughtful lesson plans. It is simple: happy student, happy mama, happy mama tells friend, friend enrolls Suzie, Suzie is happy, and the cycle begins anew.
#5 Implementing a guided program for Preschool dancers will increase faculty unity.
Give your teaching staff an agreed-upon set of concepts and goals and you will be blown away by the accord that will be fostered. It is natural for a professional instructor to flourish in an environment where he or she is part of a bigger, moving machine. Providing an instructor with a sense of direction for a unified goal will increase the sense of belonging and purpose in your teachers. Plus, it just makes good ole’ plain sense for a studio that is managing multiple teachers. View providing structured guidelines (with some flexibility for their style of implementation) as an investment in faculty resources! Keep in mind, the old adage is true: you have to spend some to make some. That applies to both money and time!
#6 Preschool dancers feed our necessity as artists to explore and discover new wonders through movement.
Joy. Pure joy. Watching an engaged 3-year-old dance with abandon in her pink, frilly costume for the very first time can only be described as magical. I have witnessed parent after parent sigh with tears glistening as he or she watches that baby step into class for the first time, accomplish a major dance milestone, learn a new step, or perform on stage like the big kids. See the world through their eyes and learn a small nuance of dance you never knew existed before!