Dance Studio Owner The Buzz


Dance has twisted, shaken and hip hopped its way into mainstream pop culture. Popular TV shows such as So You Think You Can Dance and Dancing with the Stars have highlighted many different styles of dance and brought them into North America's homes.

If you're thinking of taking advantage of this trend and turning your love for dance into a self-employment opportunity, you're not alone. Dance studio openings have been on the rise.

But opening a dance studio takes more than a love of dance. It is a small business. Studio owners have to think of themselves as business people in addition to being dancers. As your own boss, you'll be in charge of market analysis, planning and advertising. You'll need some employees. You'll need to do accounting and bookkeeping and more.

Hustle up some market research

Before you two-step into a business, it's important to consider the market. This means finding out whether there is any demand for the service you are offering.

Marc-Andre Clement is a dance instructor and national executive director of a hip hop dance organization. He says that market research is the key before you jump in and open a dance studio. There is a lot of competition in big cities for the dance dollar.

He recommends future dance studio owners know exactly what their school will aim to do. That means deciding what styles of dance you're going to offer.

You will also need a target age group. Then your must determine whether the community has the demand for that service. He says discovering and catering to a niche market is a good way to go.

Put on a great show

One way to get experience and a taste of studio ownership is by putting together a full evening concert on your own, before you open a studio. Do all the work yourself including music, public relations, advertising, finding dancers and the choreography. This is a great learning experience.

You'll need these skills once you open your own studio. Putting on a performance is a great way to show off your studio and what your students can do.

"Enter competitions with your students. It will give them something to work up to and allow them to form a bond with the studio and other classmates because they experience struggle and triumph together," says Jennifer Abbey. Also known as J-Beautiful, she is primarily a hip hop dancer. She had a role in the 2007 movie Hairspray with John Travolta and Michelle Pfeiffer.

"Market your studio. Invite celebrities there to rehearse for their live performances, take pictures and do constant promoting," says Abbey.

Dave Watson agrees dance studios need to constantly advertise and bring in new students to replace students who leave the studio.

"They get sick, they move away, they have lives apart from you and their one hour a week they spend with you," he says. Watson is the owner and director of Ballroom Parkrose, his own dance studio. He has over 30 years of experience in teaching, coaching, competing and judging ballroom dancing.

Location, location, location

Choosing a location is a big decision for a dance studio. There are many things to consider before closing the deal.

"Always maintain very professional ethics. Do not open close to another studio and have respect for the businesses already in place. Build a strong reputation on your own good merits," says Donna Moreau. She is a dance instructor.

"Have a nice space! Clean and big. The bigger, the more students you can have, the more money you can make," says Abbey.

Clement's hip hop operation works out of different locations such as fitness clubs and other studios. It doesn't haves own studio. Clement explains that it takes a huge investment to open a studio. Think in the neighborhood of $500,000 to a million.

"You can do it for less, but people will not be attracted to go there and pay," he says. Many independent instructors rent studio space.

"In this scenario a young person can earn a pretty high per-hour income: around $75," says Watson. Although that sounds like you can get rich quick, you have to remember that expenses for dance instructors are high.

Account for your finances

Watson reminds young instructors there are many expenses to consider. First is the studio floor fee. Then there's insurance to protect you in case your students hurt themselves. You must pay royalties to regulatory agencies to use their music. That's in addition to the cost of buying the music. Then there are dance shoes and costumes, income taxes, health insurance and training.

"You'll need to stay current and on top of your game if you're going to keep attracting new students," Watson says. "Training costs a lot of money. Frequently you'll have to travel to where the coach is, or bring them to you."

As a businessperson, you should learn something formal about financial management. You don't need a degree, but some college accounting courses would put you on the right track. If you don't have these skills yourself, you will need a good accountant or bookkeeper on your payroll. You will also need financial support.

You should be prepared for your studio to make no profit for the first five years.

"It usually takes at least that long to show any kind of a profit. Try, if possible, to own your own building so you have control over how long you occupy the space. It would be ideal if the building had rental units to help you with your mortgage payments," says Moreau.

Prepare for tough times

"A full-time instructor learns to put money aside for training, retirement, taxes, insurance, costumes, travel, advertising, etc. He or she will need to make a lot of money because the expenses involved in this business are huge," says Watson. He says the hardest part of the job is having the discipline to invest in yourself and your business.

"It's too easy to just spend the money as it comes in." Abbey recommends having diverse ways to make money. She suggests merchandising, such as bottled water, sweaters, track pants, wrist bands and treats.

"A lot of money can be pulled in from the side just doing those little things. And never give up! Remember, it doesn't happen overnight. Contact schools in the area, offer free drop in classes, trial classes, keep it going and eventually it will catch on. Stay positive and keep an open mind," says Abbey.

Moreau agrees there is fierce competition out there and dance studio owners need to work hard. "Do it for yourself and let your love of dance come through your work," she says.

Get great teachers

Most people who open dance studios have a passion for dancing and plan to teach. If you aren't a dance instructor, you can hire professionals to teach at your studio. Even if you do teach, as your studio expands you will need help. The people at your studio are the key to good relationships with your students.

Make sure instructors teach what they know. If you teach a dance style you are not familiar with, you may damage your student's future. Not to mention the reputation of your studio. If you don't know ballet and there's a demand for it, hire a professional ballet teacher.

"Students want to grow with their favorite teachers," says Abbey. She says the right choreographers and teachers will directly relate to the longevity of your studio.

"I love being greeted by my 'kids' with a big hug. It makes me realize how important both teacher and student are in each others lives! We learn from each other," says Moreau.

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