Last Thursday night, studio owner and author Chasta Hamilton posted the following message and accompanying screenshot in The New Dance Teacher Network Facebook group.
A screenshot from the World of Dance dance-studio franchise website, before it was deleted.
Chasta Hamilton's post in the New Dance Teacher Network Facebook group.
"That graphic struck this terrible chord with me," Hamilton said in an interview with Dance Teacher on Monday. "Because here we are in this industry that has been rising above time and time again saying we're not going to stop dancing. The dance industry has fueled the success of World of Dance, and now they are saying we have been shut down, which is just horribly inaccurate."
The post soon exploded with comments reacting to the many ways in which this marketing language for the World of Dance brand's new dance-studio franchise program misrepresented and insulted dance studios and their owners.
By the next morning, WOD had taken down this language, as well as a page on its site that listed the brand's franchise prices—which were up to half a million dollars for a new dance studio. And as WOD continues to backtrack—it'll be hosting a "community discussion" on Wednesday, February 10—many are calling for a boycott of the brand, which originated as the NBC television show and now has a tour, a record label and a dance fitness program in addition to the new franchise program.
Dance Teacher talked to Hamilton as well as studio owner and More Than Just Great Dancing founder Misty Lown about what happened and the lessons to be gained.
It pays to pause.
When Lown saw this conversation happening on Facebook, she had the same visceral reaction as many of the commenters. "But, if I've learned anything over 23 years of leading studios, it is to take time to gather more information," she says.
It took jumping through many hoops (she eventually had to proceed on the WOD website as if she were interested in franchising a studio), but Lown got in touch with the CEO, Matthew Everitt, for an hour-long phone call.
Though Lown didn't get all her questions answered, she was able to get more information about WOD's plans, share her concerns and request a formal apology. She was also able to determine that the franchising program is far from ready to launch, and that, when it does, it likely won't be a direct competitor with mom-and-pop local studios as it'll focus more on celebrity teachers, specialty styles and fitness classes.
Hamilton notes that as conversations developed on social media the story became distorted and conversations became less productive. "It hit a nerve with a lot of people," she says, "but the more proactive instead of reactive we can be, the better. The more pragmatic we can be, the better."
Be careful who you partner with.
Hamilton sees this incident as a cautionary tale for studio owners. "I'm always adamant when I'm speaking to business owners that we have to be cautious about what third-party vendors we trust," she says, "because the brand alignment is really important. With WOD, we saw a glimpse into who they are and the culture they represent, and it's something that as we move forward everyone will be mindful of."
This community shouldn't be underestimated.
"I think it's fair to say that WOD overestimated their readiness to enter this market and underestimated the strength and unity of the dance studio community," says Lown. As wild as the experience has been, she's glad it happened. "It showed the strength of the dance community. It showed how passionate we are after a really long, hard year, and how important the work we do in our local communities is."
Dance Teacher will share additional news on this topic as it develops.