Ask the Experts: How Do I Boost Enrollment as In-Person Dance Programs Return?

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The need to be socially distanced has led us to create virtual dance experiences, but it has also reinforced that online learning cannot replicate in-person education at the studio. As we welcome students back, it's a good time to emphasize the social-emotional health benefits of learning to dance, the joy of community and physical activity.

Take care to update your studio website with policies for student drop-off and waiting-room usage, plus health and safety information on facility cleaning and use procedures. While you may have had class-size limits set in the past, parents may now be pleased to see a student-to-teacher ratio found easily on your website. In the past, online registration agreements often focused on payment policies, photo/video release and liability agreements. The experiences of the recent past have shown that supplemental policies related to class cancellations, refunds and learning at home may need to be added.

Being transparent is important. You can help your business stay healthy by devising a flexible strategy to address student absences, makeup classes and illness. In particular, consider maintaining a selection of Zoom or prerecorded class options for those who must learn from home, if someone in their family has been ill or if they need to learn remotely. You may find that you can appeal to some new-to-dance customers by offering a series of digital classes as a free trial, so they can experience some of the fun virtually before they come to the studio. Together we can adapt to change and return to normal with a positive spirit and renewed enthusiasm.

Teachers Trending
Maks and Val Chmerkovskiy. Photo courtesy Dance With Me

Listening to Maks and Val Chmerkovskiy riff together makes it crystal-clear why each has mastered the art of partnering in the ballroom—they've long been doing this dance in real life as brothers and business partners.

Along with their "Dancing with the Stars" pedigree (and a combined three mirror-ball trophies between them), Maks and Val (and their father, Sasha) also run Dance With Me, a dance company hosting six ProAm Dancesport competitions annually and running 14 brick-and-mortar studio locations across the U.S.

Last year, the pair launched an online component, Dance & Co. The online video platform offers beginner through advanced instruction in not only ballroom but an array of other styles, as well as dance fitness classes from HIIT to yoga to strength training. "DWTS" fans will recognize such familiar faces as Peta Murgatroyd, Jenna Johnson, Sharna Burgess and Emma Slater, along with Maks and Val themselves.

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Teaching Tips
@jayplayimagery, courtesy Kerollis

In the spring of 2012, Barry Kerollis was abruptly forced into treating his career as a small business. Having just moved cross-country to join BalletX, he got injured and was soon let go.

"I'd only ever danced with big companies before," the now-freelance dance-teacher-choreographer-podcaster recalls. "That desperation factor drove me to approach freelancing with a business model and a business plan."

As Kerollis acknowledges, getting the business of you off the ground ("you" as a freelance dance educator, that is) can be filled with unexpected challenges—even for the most seasoned of gigging dancers. But becoming your own CEO can make your work–life balance more sustainable, help you make more money, keep you organized, and get potential employers to offer you more respect and improved working conditions. Here's how to get smart now about branding, finances and other crucial ways to tell the dance world that you mean business.

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Teachers Trending
Courtesy Oleson

American dance educator Shannon Oleson was teaching recreational ballet and street-dance classes in London when the pandemic hit. As she watched many of her fellow U.S. friends pack up and return home from their international adventures, she made the difficult choice to stick with her students (as well as her own training—she was midway through her MFA at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance).

Despite shutdowns and shelter-in-place orders, she was able to maintain a teaching schedule that kept her working with her dancers through Zoom, as well as lead some private, in-home acro classes following government guidelines. But keeping rec students interested in the face of pandemic fatigue hasn't been easy.

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