As a dance parent, you know that dance training can get expensive—and classes are only one piece of the pie. Factor in a pandemic, and an economy that has consistently seen about a million Americans filing for first-time unemployment benefits each week, and the financial burden can be entirely overwhelming.
Whether a member of your household has lost income, or your dancer's training and performing is just adding up, what are your options? And should you involve your child in talks about money?
Making It Work
Talking about money is never easy, but Lindy Fabyanic, owner of Dance Conservatory of Charleston in South Carolina, encourages parents to first discuss their situation with their school or studio before making any decisions. Don't assume that you'll immediately have to pull your child out if you're unable to afford tuition. Instead, says Fabyanic, there may be some options.
Instead of writing a check for the full semester's tuition, can you pay the amount over time in smaller increments? Setting up a payment plan is often Fabyanic's go-to solution. "Other times I'll ask a parent what they are able to pay, so then I know what the next steps may be, or what I can offer back," she says.
Studio owners may be willing to barter for classes—for example, contributing cleaning services or working as the studio's receptionist. Make sure that you and the studio owner are clear on terms; assign values to your services and put in writing what those services will cover.
A recent class at Dance Conservatory of Charleston. Photo courtesy Fabyanic
Scholarships or sponsorships
At big schools—especially those within a professional company or institution—scholarships, and how to apply for them, are often public information. "But those institutions tend to have major endowments and funds subsidizing the scholarships," says Fabyanic. "Remember that they're not giving out free training."
Private studios or smaller schools may have scholarship funds, but if you're not sure, talking to your studio owner may reveal special opportunities. "Some families who are able to give more have approached me about covering some tuition payments for other families in need." Similarly, Fabyanic has also worked with community organizations—for instance, her city's performing arts venue—to help sponsor dancers' summer sessions. And for families in need who wish to remain anonymous, Fabyanic stresses that any asks she makes can be confidential.
Applying to large, nationally recognized programs—like Nigel Lythgoe and Adam Shankman's American Dance Movement's Scholarship Awards—is an option, but there are many more regional nonprofit organizations that offer both merit- and need-based scholarships to artists who fit their requirements. Cases in point: Angel Shine Foundation, based in New York City, provides scholarships to dance students of all ages, while Arts for Life! focuses on graduating high school seniors in Florida. But remember: Don't rely on Google searches alone as your studio owner may know of foundations specific to your area. "In North Carolina, for instance, there's a nonprofit called Dancing Angels Foundation that has awarded more than $140,000 in scholarships for summer intensives," says Fabyanic.
Performing arts schools
If your dancer is in middle or high school, they may be able to apply to public performing arts high schools, or charter or magnet schools that specialize in the arts. Make sure to check application processes and residency requirements. Baltimore School for the Arts in Maryland, for instance, one of the top five public performing arts high schools in the U.S., notes that while most students live in Baltimore City (tuition is free for residents), they do accept students from surrounding counties (who pay tuition).
From Dance Conservatory of Charleston's Nutcracker. Katie Ging Photography, courtesy Fabyanic
Involving Your Kids—or Not
Danielle Zar, LPC, a child psychotherapist in Chicago who specializes in parent education, admits that money can be a tricky subject. "Money is something people talk about very differently in different families," she says. "Some families feel it's not a child's place or responsibility to know their family's financial standing, while others want their children to have a sense of what it means to manage finances or how to budget."
However you decide to talk about finances, it's absolutely crucial to be honest. "How you share and what you share depends on your child and your family. You know your child best—give appropriate information for their age, maturity and personality. But that information should be true." For example: If you're not sure when you might be able to afford dance classes again, don't offer false hope that the situation will improve in a few months to avoid a bigger reaction.
Zar also stresses the importance of not brushing off questions your dancer may have. "That can make it a lot worse, because kids will think you're not telling them something, which can spiral into more worries." As with any hard conversation, "it's imperative to acknowledge their feelings and empathize," she says. Would a cutback on classes affect their career ambitions, or is the activity more recreational? "Address the loss in a way that's specific to and honors what it is that your child will be missing, whether that's the social piece or the career trajectory." Know that feelings may be big, and grieving may take some time. While there aren't any absolutes when it comes to money talks, it's crucial to listen, to express empathy, and to be patient.