Starting a Dance Studio

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By Sara Willcutt

There are many new studios opening all the time. Talented people with a passion for dance want to share their vision with others. The competition between all the studios benefits the dance community by providing higher quality instruction. Unfortunately, many new studios close during the first year. Why? The first year of business is the hardest. During the first year, a business owner has to deal with insurance, taxes, accounting, advertising, hiring employees, renting or buying space, trying to recruit dancers to take their classes and running the business.

Are you ready to start? Write down a list of the pro’s and con’s.
Here is a list of things to consider:

•   Business licensing requirements
•   Sales and promotions
•   Legal responsibilities
•   Building client relationships
•   Taxation
•   Budgeting
•   Accounting
•   General ledgers
•   Business and marketing plans
•   Loans and financial obligations

The success of any business depends on planning and preparation. There are a lot of exciting decisions to make, such as designing flyers and choosing a syllabus to teach, but there is more.

It is equally important to think about the business side of things. This can be overwhelming, but allow time to research and study. Take business classes. Many community centers and local groups offer affordable classes. Look around to find one that fits. Some classes are one time only, while others are in a series. Information about starting a business can be found at the Internal Revenue Service website.

Information from the IRS: Small Business and Self-Employed One-Stop Resource.

Read! There are many great business books available. Try the library, bookstores and online sources.

Minnesota Women Venture has great resources and classes, as well as scholarships and savings programs to aid in success.

Another way to learn is from the experience of others. Find a mentor. A mentor is someone who has experience and success in business and is willing to commit long term to help guide you through the initial stages and on to your long-term goals.

Costs can vary. Some mentors will offer free services, while others charge up to $200 per hour. SCORE is a great resource where you can ask questions and get help free of charge. There are offices in many locations.

Mentors do not need to have experience in the dance industry. Basic business skills are much the same from industry to industry. You may know someone successful in business; consider asking him/her to be a mentor.

When making business decisions, remember to research, compare costs and ask questions.

Starting a business is a process. Stay dedicated and work hard, but give time to prepare before opening. Writing a business plan is a good place to start. You can find guidance on the SCORE website:

•   60-Second Guide to Writing a Business Plan
•   Resources That Give You a Head Start of Business Planning
•   5 Tips for Writing a Business Plan For a Loan
•   Top 5 Business Tips

A business plan should cover every aspect of your business and make sure you are ready to open your studio. Some of the things included in a business plan are:

•   Target market
•   Location for school
•   Planning for growth
•   Staff employment
•   Pricing
•   Cash flow
•   Overhead costs
•   Calculating break-even point
•   Promotions and marketing
•   Product or service description
•   Description of your position
•   Description of employment positions
•   Contingency plans
•   Accounting
•   Organization type: sole proprietor, partnership, corporation, limited liability corporation, non-profit

What are your strengths and weaknesses? How can you emphasize your strengths and compensate for your weaknesses? What opportunities and help are available to you?What is your competition? How would you fill a need in the community?

There are many great software programs designed to help organize and run businesses. Some are listed in the resources section under software for studios.

Also, try the message link boards to get ideas and answers to questions.

With research and planning, along with your passion and talent, you can succeed in business and create a wonderful learning environment for the community.

Rent or Buy? Consider your plans for the next five to ten years. Do you want to start small and save up to move into a larger space? Do you have the capital to start in your ideal space? As you start to look at options, remember to evaluate all the costs involved.

Renting a space that is already set up as a dance studio is good for a small business owner on a tight budget. Renting also provides more flexibility if the studio gains many students and needs to move to a larger space.

Plan Ahead: You need the ability to sublet some or all of the space. If student enrollment grows quickly, you may need to move to a larger space before the lease is up. Read the lease very carefully to make sure subletting will be an option.

Maintenance: When renting space, it is the landlord’s responsibility to provide building maintenance. Find a reliable landlord. Some may get around to fixing things fast, while others take a long time to respond and may be difficult to contact. Find a landlord that you feel comfortable with.

Remodeling: Some landlords will help with the cost of remodeling, especially if they believe it will make the space more profitable in the future or if they have a long term commitment from their renter. Some landlords, however, will not help with these costs.

When deciding about a space, consider how mush remodeling will need to be done immediately. Talk with the landlord to see if they are willing to help with any costs. It they say yes, get it in writing. Business owners should be prepared to modify the space themselves, or work with what is already there.

Rent Increases: One drawback of renting is the potential for rent increases. One option to protect yourself is to negotiate rent increases ahead of time.

Get Help: A commercial real estate lawyer can help you go over the leases and understand its implications. It is great to be excited about your plans and want to move forward. However, it is important to know exactly what you are getting into. There are several organizations that provide free or inexpensive counsel to the arts community.

Buying a Space: Buying is a big commitment. Many business owners start out renting, build up a student enrollment, save capital and then, expand to a larger space or to owning a space as a way to move forward.

Things to Consider: One benefit can be that payment will not increase over time. Also, if you want to sell your, space you can often do so at a profit.

The Capital Challenge: The amount of capital needed for a down payment coupled with remodeling costs can be a real challenge to come up with. Owning a space requires long term planning. Besides the initial investment, owners are responsible for maintenance and property taxes.

Help from the Government: To help small businesses succeed, the US government allows owners to write off the interest on a mortgage as a tax deduction. To find out more about deductions and help in planning your business, go to

The Benefits of Owning: The space you own is yours to change and remodel as you see fit for your establishment. Stable payment amounts help with long term planning for the school. Recognition in the community is very important. When you stay in one location and build a good reputation, you will have a steady enrollment of students.

It can be difficult to change spaces. If you move to a new location, you will probably lose some students just because of the move.

Zoning: Whether you are renting or buying space, you need to find a location that is zoned for a dance studio.

The Type of Space: Some industrial spaces work well for dance studios because they have large open spaces. You may need to take down walls to open up the area needed for classes. Industrial spaces may be available at lower cost simply because they lack the divided areas for office space.

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Self-Marketing for Dancers

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By Sara Willcutt

1) Start with a Dance Resume
Your dance resume should highlight your experiences and accomplishments in order to foster your current dance goals.

The resume will include a cover letter, photos, reviews if you have them, references and for some a video.

Your resume is your advertisement to choreographers or dance company directors.

Do not make your resume an autobiography or list every performance you have ever been in. Try to keep your resume to one page. This may mean that you can’t put down everything. This is where you need to make choices and think about what job you are auditioning or applying for.

Your resume is important and it can set you apart form others.

2) Take Your Time and Do Your Best
Your resume needs to be perfect; getting a job could depend on it. You should make sure your resume is updated and that you always have someone proofread it to check for any errors. If you resume is sloppy, full of errors or confusing, it might imply that you are not motivated to do your best.

A clean well-written resume can give potential employers confidence that you pay attention to details and are professional and serious about your dance career.

3) Do Your Research
Before you create or update your dance resume, be sure to research the company or groups that will be looking at it. This can allow you to personalize your resume and cover letter to be more effective. Make sure you spell the director’s name correctly. Find out where the director has danced and studied. Find out the name of the artistic director.

To Do Your Research:

  • Look in the ASD Dance Directory find links to dance company web sites.
  • Look at Dance Magazine and Dance Spirit magazine to find articles about particular companies.
  • Look for reviews done in the New York Times.
  • Search the company name on big search engines like Google and Bing to see what comes up. You can also search the director’s name.
  • Go to the library and look at Stern’s Performing Arts Directory, which is most likely in your local library. It lists every Dance Company, their addresses and phone number.
  • Look at Cyber Dancer Page which is linked to many dance sites.

4) Make Contact
Call your target companies and ask to talk with the person in charge of public relations. Tell them that you are a dancer that is interested in auditioning for the company. Ask for information on their repertoire for the past five years and the repertoire the company intends to dance this season. Ask where the company is planning to tour, for the director’s biography and to whom you should send your audition materials. Offer your e-mail address so that it might be easier for them to e-mail rather that mail you information.

Try to find a member or former member of your target companies to talk with. You might find them through a find or some contact information on the companies’ website. Ask them questions such as:

•   Who teaches at rehearsals?
•   What are the rehearsals like?
•   What is the director like?
•   How are the dancers treated?
•   What is the range of salaries?
•   What time of year do the dancers return their letters of intent?

A letter of intent is a letter from the artistic director indicating his intent to continue working with a dancer for the next season. The directors then know how many contracts must be filled.

The best time to send your resume to an artistic is when he or she learns that a new dancer or dancers are needed.

Doing research like this means that you are not only prepared to write your best and most targeted resume, but you will also learn about the companies you are
interested in. You may discover that you are excited about a company, or you may find that it wouldn’t the right place for you. You can save a lot of time and energy by only auditioning for companies that would work out for you if you become a part of them.

Doing your research shows how much you care about the audition and that you are serious. Finding connections with directors and artistic directors is priceless.

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