Friday, January 29, 2010

"Labels or Love"

I have been a negligent blogger for the past few days... but I have a really good excuse!  I have been finishing competitive costumes and making Costume Bills.  I just heard a collective gasp from every dance parent reading this!

I will officially become the least popular person at my own studio for a few weeks while parents grit their teeth and write me cheques.  I will be feeling no love!  However, in my defence, and every other studio owner out there, they know it's coming!  I even sent an email this week to let the parents know that their Costume Bills will be ready for pick up early next week.  That way they get a little warning about it, and then the sticker shock won't hurt so much.

I think it's probably a mutual feeling, regardless of what activity/sport you're doing where there are competitive costs.  Parents know it costs money, and as long as you're honest upfront about what those costs will be, then it is their choice.  If a family cannot afford something, at least they can make that decision upfront.  I always lay out all the costs for my competitive parents way back in August in our Company Handbook, so they can't say I didn't tell them!  I break down every cost, for instance, of doing a solo.  The choreography fee, the approximate costume price for a new costume, and how much the entry fees are for each competition.  Then they can make an educated decision about it based on the facts.  I've found that most parents will never say no to their kid when it comes to competitive dance and what they are allowed to do in terms of routines.  If a kid has earned a solo at my studio, even if the parent cannot afford it, they find a way to pay for it.

Of course, I do have a heart, and I know the reality for some families does not leave them as financially stable as others.  I always write on every bill that if they cannot meet a payment deadline they are welcome to come and meet with me to make arrangements.  But to be truthful, that normally does not happen when I first send it home.  Normally parents will wait until the day something is due to send me an email about their situation.  At that point I'm not as sympathetic as I would have been had they come to me weeks earlier about it.  I appreciate and respect those parents who are right up front about finances with me, as it make it easier and less uncomfortable to deal with.  The reality is that I'm running a business here, and money part of the equation.

Now, I can appreciate how expensive competitive dance can be, especially when you're dealing with large quantities of costumes and other expenses.  At my studio I do try my very best to give parents value for their dollar when it comes to basically everything, but especially costumes.  I don't pay others to rhinestone things, as I will do it myself, or even give it to that particular parent to do.  However, some costs are unavoidable, and it is hard to put a dollar value on your time as the person who organized it all.  The reality is that every thing you do for your business costs time and money, and it has to be paid back to you in some respect.

At a studio owner's conference I attended a big topic of conversation was how much money every one was making.  I don't think it's fair to compare what I make, versus an American studio in a large city where the dollar is worth more.  It's probably not even a good comparison to reflect on what a studio down the street from me charges.  I think every studio owner has to feel satisfied at the end of the day with what you are taking home.  AND if you feel your studio offers more than Studio "X" down the street, then charge more.  Parents can chose where they want to go take classes based on what's cheapest if they want, but in echoing one of my earlier blogs, that is not the kind of client I am looking for.

People can always spot value for their dollar. You don't go into Gap and tell them their price is too high for that tank top... you pay for it there because you love it or appreciate its quality... or you go buy it at Old Navy!

I know a lot of studios in my areas whose costume prices start at almost double my lower end prices.  I'm not saying that makes my studio better, but there are probably several factors that go into these realities.  As a studio owner, we all at some point want to shout "don't you know how great you have it at my studio... Studio "X" would have charged you $400 for that same costume!"... but you can't!  You can just let people figure it out on their own, and then just appreciate even more when they come to you and tell you how thankful they are that your costumes are so reasonably priced.

The grass isn't always greener on the other side... and the same can be said for that green fabric I bought at half price from the clearance store!  It sparkles just as bright as yours does on stage!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

"Respect"

As a fellow dance teacher and choreographer I feel that I need to give props to others when I am moved or in awe of their work.

I don't think we do that enough as teachers, to each other I mean, give each other words of praise or encouragement.  If I see a dance at a competition from another studio that I really enjoyed, I will make a point of approaching that teacher and telling them.  Normally other dancers/teachers will do it to your students, which I think is wonderful.  However, I just want to give a little respect to other teachers/choreographers sometimes... cause we all could use a little more love!

Most "in-the-know" teachers or dancers have heard of Kate Jablonski.  It has really only been about a year since I first saw her work on the internet, but it spoke to me immediately.  I feel what she tries to emulate in her work is exactly what I am trying to speak to as a choreographer as well.  I appreciate the simplicity of the dance she is telling, yet the parallels of her creativity and advanced movements.

I was searching through YouTube today and came across one of her videos that I have never seen before, and I have watched it about 17 times in the past hour.  I do love me a good Dave Matthews Band  song, but my love for this routine goes to a whole other level!  Please check out the video of her Lie In Our Graves piece.  I have seen many routines over the years with ropes, but nothing compares.

I personally don't know Kate, but I feel it is my duty to introduce her work to other people in the dance industry who might not have never heard of her before who are reading this.  I would be willing to bet she'll be making incredible work for many years to come, so you better familiarize yourself with her!

I'll bet there are hundreds of talented choreographers like her who need to be given a chance to showcase their work to a wider audience.  Maybe SYTYCD should hire her to do a piece and see what the response is.  They should probably do that with more up and coming choreographers so that the show has more variety and depth on a weekly basis.  Hopefully I just got you a job Kate!

So shouts out to you Kate Jablonski, and your dancers at Beyond Words Dance Company!

Much R-E-S-P-E-C-T!

Monday, January 25, 2010

"Video Killed The Radio Star"

Does anyone else remember not that many years ago when we used to go to competitions and our teachers had to cue our cassette tapes for each of our dances?

Well I want this CD burning thing to officially become something of the past as well!  I don't know if I'm alone here, but I do not like burning 100 CD's for competition every year, then labelling them, and putting them in order for every competition.  I don't even teach with CD's anymore to be honest. 

Were living in a world of such advanced technology and yet I have to bring CD's to competition for each routine.  You'd think that with all these other advancements that competitions have made, like Video Judge, computer scoring systems, and flashy stages/lights, they could purchase an iPod cord for their sound system!

I have heard of a few American Competitions doing online music downloading prior to your competition weekend, or other mp3 player options, and I think that's really great.  Not only is it saving me a lot of time before and during competitions from organizing all that music, but it would probably help the competition to run smoother.  I know that at American Dance Awards for their National Title Competitions we have to hand in their music a few days earlier so that they can download all of it onto their computer and put it in order.  It helps the evening run professionally, and then someone doesn't have to sit and leaf through CD binders looking for the next piece of music.

Now, there is no technology that is fool proof and you're running your risks either way.  CD players are starting to become really sensitive to reading burned CD's, which is a major problem if you're a dance teacher.  CD's get scratched really easily and then they're virtually garbage.  However, iPods can also be considered a gamble, as they do have problems if you mis-treat them.  But if I had to pick one for ease of use, my iPod will win out every time.

When I'm planning my classes now I can organize a playlist for each class that changes on a weekly basis.  I have several songs ready in order for warm up, across the floor and then their routine.  It has saved me time in classes searching through CD's for appropriate music and then putting them all away after.

Instead this year I am investing $200 into purchasing a shiny little red iPod that is specifically for competitions only.  It will have all our music on it, and then for each weekend I will be able to put them in order with their category number listed.  It doesn't need to be a fancy 85GB one... I will not be having 16,000 competition routines anytime soon!  They even have a fun little engraving feature on the Apple website now, so I can proudly put my studio name on the back of it. 

I am officially making a stand that I will not be burning CD's this year for competition.  I think it's about time that I have the option of simplifying my life a little bit for competitions.  I will be showing up with my iPod Nano thrown in my purse, as my coffee will be in one hand, and my program will be in the other.  I'll even bring my own iPod cord in case the Theatre you rented, or the state of the art sound system you provide doesn't have one!

"Old Friends"

So I guess my blog yesterday created some stir... great!  I've had that issue on my mind for a long time, and I figured it was time to write how I felt about it... cause that's what I do in my blog!

It also struck up some nice emails and messages from some of my former students and parents who have passed through my studio in the past 6 years.   Mostly from students who danced for me and then graduated high school and moved on, or even just stopped dancing to pursue other things.

I think it must be hard for teenagers when they get old enough to know that they don't want to pursue dance in their lives, or just can't any more, but they still love it.  A lot of students walk away from dance and maybe are too scared to tell their teachers in fear or resentment or anger.  That has happened to me in the past, but I am also proud to be able to say that I have great relationships with some of my former students, even if it took them a few years to know that they could always come back to my studio.  Some of them stopped dancing and I didn't hear right away from them, but I never stopped trying to stay connected with them and was always very open to them coming to visit or even returning.

I learned once at a teachers conference that I should be more prone to advertising to my the clients what these former students are doing.  Setting up a board in your lobby with pictures and little bios of what some of your former students are up to, even if it's non-dance related.  You can post kind letters or cards you receive from them, or even ask them to write a little bit about their experience at your studio.  Even if they don't pursue dance for their career, they are probably keeping some aspect of what you taught them in their lives. Sure we could all post all over our studio walls the list of music videos our students have been in, or prestigious dance programs they now attend, but was that your only goal as their teacher/mentor?

I have one former Senior student, Meghan, who is now at Western University and is part of their International Championship Cheerleading Team.  It makes me proud to know that she is keeping active at University, and has continued with something competitive that fulfills her in a way that maybe just reading text books does not.  I went and watched her cheer at a game her first year, and she was as happy to see me there as I was to see her.  Another one of my former Senior students, Gabby, is always back at my studio, sub-teaching when needed, and staying active in the dance community.  She takes classes when she can, and goes to as many shows as possible downtown, and she even at one time was running her own dance Company.  She contacted me to rent studio time/space in the summer, and I was more than happy to let her use the studio at will without charge, so that she could pursue something she loved.

I have a small Lyrical group this year for competition that is performing to the Simon & Garfunkel classic "Old Friends".  I set up the dance around a park bench on stage, and the 6 girls each represent their older selves looking back at the memories they had with their friends when they were younger.  The dance is actually very touching, which wasn't my original intent.  I was trying to be creative and it turned into something more than even I had anticipated.  These six young students probably won't get as emotionally  attached to this piece as others might watching it, but hopefully they will one day.  Maybe at our 25th Anniversary Show they will look back at this dance as one of the wonderful memories they had at the studio and with each other.  Kind of a full circle moment there!  I hope this year when any of my former students come and watch our Recital or a competition, they feel that this dance encompasses all those same feelings they have towards dance, their dance studio and the memories we all shared.

The reality is that all of our students will eventually grow up and leave our studios.  It is way too easy to assume that we will stay in contact with all of them and have them be as big a part of our lives as they were while they were at our studio.  I know now as an adult that I have a lot of fond memories of my "dance days" and all the teachers I had along the way.  I remember fun times at the studio, sleepovers, travelling together... and none of those memories are attached to the trophies I won back then, that are now in a dumpster somewhere!

Your studio history should be a big deal to you, and you should always be proud of it.  I never take down old pictures at the studio or on my website, as I don't ever want to erase those memories for myself or those kids.  We just keep adding new pictures and new memories!

As great as it is to have a former student in a movie, I really hope that one of them becomes a chiropractor soon... so that I can get cheap adjustments!  That's the least you could do for your 'old' teacher!!!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

"Hometown Glory"

This blog today might strike a nerve with some people... but I generally don't let that stop me from saying anything!

I was working on an incredible solo today with Savanah, and at one point I looked at her and had a major flash back to when she was 6 years old doing her first solo (even though she's only 13 now!).  There is something very nostalgic and rewarding about being part of a student's dance career from the very beginning.  I feel a deep sense of pride when I watch her dance and grow up as a person, knowing that I am helping to shape her life in so many ways.

She also is just one of those kids who is very loyal to her studio and to me, and also takes a lot of pride in where she comes from as a dancer.  I know when she is old enough to go to University or start her professional dance career she will be very proud to acknowledge my studio, my work with her and all those years we shared.  Even if she ever left my studio to go to another studio, she would always give me credit for helping make her the dancer she is today.

For the first time in my teaching career I lost a competitive student to another studio this year.  She was very talented and was an important member of my Company since almost the very beginning.  As much as I had a lot of hurt feelings when I found how she was at another studio, I got over it quickly for the sake of my teaching.  However, what bothers me about the situation is the lack of respect she showed to my studio after she left.  A card, or a phone call, or even an email from the student herself thanking me for all the years of training, dedication and love I showed her would have meant a lot.

It's kind of ironic that she went to a studio where I am very good friends with the studio owner.  He called me himself to let me know that she was coming to his studio and he wanted to make sure I was okay with that.  Mostly because he knew I had poured my heart into this kid and didn't want me to think that he had coerced her into coming to his studio.  I knew the truth behind the situation so I was at ease with her going there, knowing that she would at least be continuing with strong training.  The rest of the conversation about this student will remain between the two of us (lol), but I have to say that the respect he showed me as her former teacher is something to marvel.

I know it happens to every studio, almost annually, and in return students come to me as well from other studios... so it kind of all equals out in the end.  However, I wish these students changing studios would never so easily dismiss and forget what their former teachers have done for them.  When another studio gets to take credit for all those years of your work, it can really send a knife through your heart.  But maybe we need to just remember that if they go on to have a successful dance career, we do get to own a part of that.

Dance studios are like any other business, where clients can come to you if they want to, but also go somewhere else if they want.  There is no contract of loyalty you can account your students for, but you'd like to think that it's an unspoken bond you have with them.  When they leave, for whatever reason, it stings, but c'est la vie!  With recreational students it is a lot more open to your interpretation of loyalty, as they don't generally have many other reasons besides convenience of choosing to come to you.  But when it comes to competitive students, there is a greater sense of bonding and dedication that comes with those relationships.

My new thing with competitive students coming to me from another studio is that I make sure they send at least a card to their old studio.  The card is to acknowledge the part those teachers plaed in their life, but also to let them know that they have decided to go somewhere else.  Let's face reality here... you're probably going to run into your old studio at some point at a competition, or along your dance travels, and why would you want it be awkward?  After the student sends the card, if the old studio still has hard feelings about it, then that's their issue.  Teachers/studios need to get over it an move on so that they can concentrate on what they still have at their studio.  Kids are free to go wherever they want for dance training, but I just want to help them be honest about where they come from and who they have to thank for playing a part in them loving dance.

Sure, it would be wonderful to watch my former student as a professional dancer and read in her bio that she was proud to list my name as a mentor... and who knows, maybe when she grows up she'll surprise me and do so!  But even if she doesn't, I won't lose any sleep over it.  I'm going to continue down my own path, and work on creating excellence with the students I do have.  I'm always going to feel a sense of pride for any former student when I watch them dance, but it will never equal that feeling I get when I watch the kids at my own studio.

It's not that I object to students changing studios, if they feel it is the best choice for them... just don't forget that your dance teachers have feelings to!

Friday, January 22, 2010

"Details In The Fabric"

Today I did my first recorded telephone interview for DanceStudioOwner.com and I made some statements that I really have had time to think about now!

I don't even remember the exact question, or how the topic came up, but I was discussing the standards I like to set and maintain at my studio.  Right down to the details of what my lobby looks like when you walk in, or how clean the bathrooms are, etc.  It got me thinking for the rest of the day about the details every time I walked in somewhere.

We all have those special restaurants or stores that we love, and also those places that we go into once and are turned off by immediately.  The minute I walk into a dirty bathroom at a restaurant I know that I more than likely will not go back.  If I am treated rudely in a store, I won't return and give them my business.  The same is probably true with dance studios!  If I was a parent and I walked into dirty dance studio that was not maintained I might be reluctant to return.  Same with customer service at a studio, you go where you feel comfortable.

So, I made an extra effort tonight to organize the lobby and make sure everything was clean... kind of to practise what I preached!  We offer quality classes at our studio, and a great learning environment, but for the majority of parents they don't know any better when it comes to dance classes and skill.  They are likely to be happy at your studio for a variety of reasons, which may or may not include if you had taken out the garbage that night.

When it comes to small businesses I think that people take a lot more pride in the details, as it is all a reflection on them.  I like to support small businesses for that reason among others.  Tim Hortons doesn't care how dirty their bathrooms are, as people are likely to return for coffee regardless.  That little ma and pa cafe down the street sells a great cup of a coffee as well, just without the flashy drive thru sign.  Dance studios function in similar ways, and therefore it gives all studio owners the opportunity to attract the kind of client they want to have.  The details that make your studio different, and what you offer to your clients is what will attract people to you, make them stay, or even send them running out the door.

I'm not saying that you'll lose your faithful clientele if you forgot to vacuum the lobby furniture this week, but it might just be one more thing for someone to complain about.

On my way to work tonight I stopped off at my favorite hole-in-the-wall sushi restaurant and ordered take out.  I got to the studio and was really excited to eat before classes started, and then my heart sank... they had forgotten to give me chopsticks and wasabe to eat my sushi with = dinner ruined.

They quickly dropped to number 2 on my favorite sushi take out restaurant list... I'm just sayin'!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

"Melt My Heart To Stone"

I'm pulling a really selfish move tonight and just writing a short blog, that will sound more like bragging!

Tonight my evening ended with my 7 Senior Company members having a group hug in the middle of the studio, and I heard one of them say quietly "I love you guys!"

It wasn't one of those moments where I wanted to cry or anything, but it did touch my heart.  It really sealed the deal for me this year that I'd rather have a smaller, but nice group of Senior students around as role models for the rest of my studio.  They don't stir up drama, they are supportive of the younger students, and they are enthusiastic about dance in general.

I'm used to having a bigger Senior Company every year, that generally has multiple "stars" in it.  There's always a lot of competitiveness and with that comes a lot of teenage drama.  There's something very rewarding about working with that kind of big group... if winning trophies is all you care about!  However, there's also something special about a great group of kids doing something they love together.  These 7 girls are really supportive of not only other students at our studio, but each other.  They encourage each other, they push one another, and they care about the outcome as a group.

These girls are not necessarily all best friends outside the studio, but that's not a major concern.  They all go to separate schools, they vary in age quite a bit, and they have completely different groups of friends. However, when they are in the studio they respect each other's role in the group, and just as people.  I'm excited for them to go to competition together this year, as I know they will enjoy it more without all the group dynamics drama.

Sounds kind of great right?  It is!  Don't be jealous... I too have gone through years of being in denial about my Company kids all being "friends" and supportive of each other.  Maybe just change the stereotype in your studio about who the role models are.  The best dancer might not always be the best role model, and vice versa.  What do you want the dynamic of your studio to be represented by?  Do you care as long as you're winning?  You should... think long term!

I just have this sense that no matter who in this group might win at competition for a solo, or any other number, that they will celebrate as a group, knowing they all played a role in each other's successes.  And maybe that is the true meaning of "studio" I have been trying to teach and thrive upon for years!  

"Please Don't Stop The Music"

Tonight during Yoga class I let my mind wander  away from my practise and started thinking about non-sense... so I must share!

I generally have 3 main things that drive me crazy at dance competitions, in terms of being a fellow teacher and an adjudicator.  Each reason is deserving of it's own blog, so today we will start with #1... prompted by one of my teachers tonight!

I walked in to Mitchell's last choreography class tonight to peak in on a Jazz Duet he did for two of my Senior girls.  Instantly upon entering the room I thought I heard the music skip, but then I realized it wasn't... it was his music cut.  I immediately questioned him on whether or not he was going to fix that, or actually I just told him he needed to fix it.  He assured me it was just a rough cut to get them through the night, and I clearly scared him enough to know that he will make sure he fixes it!

My biggest issue at competitions is bad music quality and splicing.  This great routine could be on stage and they're about to go into a big turn section, and the music cuts to the next chorus of the song which is not in the same key and the riff doesn't match.  It make me cringe and I have to turn away from the routine for a moment to collect myself before I look back.  As a seasoned adjudicator I will admit that I always comment on adjudication tapes/CD's about bad music edits.  I'm not talking about poor music choices for your students, that's a whole other blog!

As a dance teacher I know that most songs aren't written to be within the three minute time limit competitions set, so therefore they require editing.  From my random attendance in my University Music & Society Class I came to gain some knowledge about song writing and editing.  I know that songs are all written in the same format; A, B, A, B, C, B.  So obvious solution here right, cut from a B to another B section to make the song the appropriate length.

I can see how music editing is a daunting task every year for dance teachers and studio owners, but it goes hand in hand with spending a lot of time on a great routine and a great costume.  I know of a lot of teachers who go to music studios and pay professionals to cut their music.  If that's the right choice for you then great, but I don't like to pay for unnecessary expenses and spend that kind of time at a music studio.  I found a downloadable program that works great for me.  It was free to try, and then once I decided I couldn't live without it, I dished out $30 so I could own it forever.  In fact, I'd put my program and my music editing skills up against any professional studio editing machine and technician.

Now that I am familiar with my program it normally does not take me very long to achieve what I want with each song.  I adjust the sound quality of each song to be similar and then I transfer them to my iPod and CD's for competition.  And once a year I always find that one song that I cannot cut to perfection, but I will stay up all night to fix it if needed... every song I use for every dance deserves to be the best I can make it.

Part of the issue here is that teachers will choreograph a dance before even cutting a piece of music.  This year I cut all of my music in September so that I had a clear direction for each routine.  But the main reason was because then I knew where the song was going to steer me in terms of choreography and I knew how it was going to end.  Music is one of the most important elements to me when it comes to dancing and choreography, as it internally drives my feelings and my movements.  Musicality is a major topic in all my classes, and I focus a lot of my choreography based on what the music tells me to do.  I talk to the kids in depth about their songs before we start dancing to it, and I want them to know every word and every note.

A fellow studio owner I am close with has a very intimate relationship with all his music, and he generally refuses to edit it at all.  Most of his groups are over the time limits, but he isn't too concerned about it.  He feels that the song was written with integrity and he wants to treat it as such, along with his routine.  I guess competitions are making a lot of money off of him paying for all the Extended Group categories!  I can appreciate a full length song when it's a really great routine, which thankfully his are, but it is not something I am preaching for everyone to consider.

Most importantly here when it comes to music editing, is that a fade out is not always the answer!  I do not understand why teachers don't cut their music before going to a competition and then proceed to tell the music table when to fade a song, based on when the kid finishes their dance on stage.  I always know when a group hits their ending pose and then the song starts to fade slowly while they hold their pose.  It says to me, our teacher didn't care enough to cut our song so that the ending put a real exclamation point on our piece.  Do you think nobody notices, especially the adjudicators?

So, for all you dance teachers up tonight trying to cut all your competition music... don't stop to read my blog!  Cut your music with the same integrity you would want your teacher to do for you.  Cut your music so that it helps to showcase this piece that does reflect on you as a teacher.  Maybe it's not for your most advanced kids, or your cleanest routine, but at least no one will be able to comment that your music edits sounded like a cat being stepped on.

I just thought of a great money making plan... I'm going to make a compilation CD of pre-edited music that all studios should use.  The CD will include versions of "Orange Colored Sky", "Popular" and special for this year, every Michael Jackson song.

Unfortunately, those of you who buy this CD obviously did not receive a copy of the list I have compiled, as an adjudicator, of the banned from competition music.  Or even if you did, and you're still rocking that Musical Theatre Solo to "Popular", at least cut the damn thing so that Kristin Chenoweth forms complete sentences!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

"Medicate The Kids"

Just wanted to give a shout out tonight to one of my kids who deserves a little bit of recognition!

One of my Intermediate students, Breanna, had oral surgery yesterday where she had several front teeth removed.  She now has an entirely swollen face, cannot open her mouth and her nose is the size of her fist.  I knew she was having the surgery for a while now and I was concerned about her not being able to eat or function properly for a while, especially at this time of year.  However, she completely proved me wrong tonight!

Her mom brought her in to watch classes and I figured she'd be in too much pain to get up off the floor all evening.  Instead, she went and changed and got ready for class and spent the entire 3 hours tonight at the studio being proactive in her classes.  She did not dance with the kids or anything, but she kept talking to me about corrections she was noticing and things she felt needed to be addressed when it came to their numbers.

I personally know the pain of having teeth pulled in recent years, and I myself chose to lay on a couch for 3 days and was happy being waited on.  This 11 year old put me to shame tonight as she stepped up and was an active member of their group.  She eagerly helped clean up sections of the dance and was happy to help in any way she could.

At our studio we have a lot of "policies" laid out about our competitive students and their attendance in classes.  We want them to identify the difference between being "sick" and just feeling icky.  We suggest they come to class and sweat out that icky feeling, or if they are feeling well enough to come and observe we strongly encourage them to do so.  If they are in bed and cannot get up, we don't want to see them.  However, if you're feeling well enough to sit and talk on MSN, then you're well enough to come at least watch your choreography class!  I don't want to determine whether a kid is legitimately sick or not, so I let them make their own decisions.  If I see a pattern of absences in competitive classes I will address it, but aside from that I am a true believer of letting them chose their path.  Showing up to class, even if you are not 100%, means you are still working, learning and improving.

Most parents don't see the necessity of their kids watching a class or even coming in at all when they're sick.  They think that one night isn't a big deal, but then that night becomes a bi-weekly occurrence, and before you know it they're not progressing and missing important information in classes.  I deal with a lot of illnesses and injuries every year, and parents are generally put off by my lack of compassion.  Like I've never been sick, or had a sore foot before!  I have compassion... I just don't overreact!  Part of my job is to help kids with over coming injuries, illness and other problems in relation to their dancing.

It was to my surprise that I even saw Breanna at all tonight, but I hope that is was an eye opener for a lot of other students.  She has been working extremely hard in the past year to move up in to a higher Company, which she did this year, and she has continued to push herself weekly to become one of the leaders of this group.  She consistently yearns to improve and wants to be pushed to her limits so she can reach her potential.  In other words... she gets it and wants it.  Just because she wasn't blessed with perfectly aligned teeth wasn't stopping her from reaching her potential this year!

She learned a lot by watching tonight, and I know next week she will have gone over the choreography and taken note of all the corrections the rest of the class was given.  It will not be time wasted for her or the rest of the class, and that in itself is a pleasure to know as a dance teacher.  Maybe she will be less a few teeth, and hopefully lacking the skills to talk as much as she normally does for a while, but I'm sure she won't have missed a step!

So kudos to you Breanna, even if you never read this!  You should be proud of yourself and your dedication to every one in your group.  I told her to stay home tomorrow night, as she wouldn't be missing any choreography classes, but she assured me she'd be in back taking class.  I won't hold her to it, but I also wouldn't be shocked if she was.

Super proud teacher here tonight... I'm gonna go add a few extra rhinestones on her costume free of charge!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

"Save The Best For Last"

I feel like it's becoming crunch time here... Competitions start for us in less than 2 months and there is so much to do besides just choreography.  Costumes, Competition entry lists, entry fees, schedules, extra rehearsals dress rehearsal, and the list goes on and on.

For me and many other studios I find really hard to not want to jump right into choreography every Fall in anticipation of competitions.  The kids are all excited for the year ahead and I'm just bubbling over with ideas.  I do start our Production right away, as it takes 6 months to get done, but I try to hold off on as many other numbers as I can.  The major reason being that the kids learn and grow so much between August and now that it doesn't make any sense for me to choreography numbers too early.

This year has been moving along nicely for me, and I have finished every number I've started very quickly.   Sometimes in only one or two classes and I have all the choreography done.  I'm letting my work be a lot more organic this year instead of focusing on unnecessary clutter in my routines and it makes them flow a lot smoother.  The kids are working harder in class this year and we spent a lot of time earlier in the year doing combos in class, so now their skills at picking up choreography have improved and we can move on quicker.  Maybe my scenario sounds too good to be true, but I've put a lot of work into my teaching this year so that my students and my choreography can all be better.

In the past month I have completed laying out almost all my choreography, so now I have time to fine tune and clean them up.  However, until today I one last solo left to even start.  This student is in a lot of groups and had other solos to work on as well, so I left this one on the back burner.  We met up at the studio for an hour session today and I probably could have stayed there all afternoon just doing it.  The  choreography flowed out of me and into her body and it just came together the way I had imagined it would.  It's one of those haunting songs that stays with you after you hear it, and I have had many dreams about new choreography and tricks for the piece.  It's not quite done... but I'm already going out on a limb here and saying it's some of my best work this year!

I guess what I keep re-learning every year is that I don't need to rush into choreography for competition season.  Part of the game plan for the year is bringing the kids up to a new level and then choreographing them a dance to fit that.  Normally by the time you get to a competition the dance might be way below where a student's abilities are at that point.  I want to push my students choreographically to the limits of their talents, so I have to time working with them just perfectly.  It is something I have not mastered yet with every student, but I think I got it right today.

Next year at this point when I'm looking back and reading my own blog I'm going to be able to remind myself to hold off doing some choreography with those students I know can handle it later on in the year.  I want to give them plenty of time to grow into the piece and really get it, but I also want to be able to give them something fresh.

I can always tell at competition the numbers that have been cleaned for 3 months straight in anticipation of performance, because the dance just looks stale.  It's even true with some of my own numbers, so in the next month I'm going to go back and make some major changes to kind of wake up the kids and liven up the dances.  I have new ideas about each piece I've choreographed and I think it's fair to incorporate them now instead of waiting until next year to do something new.

You can't make every piece you do the last one... but maybe just leave something special for the end that makes you really excited to go into the studio, even on a cold Sunday afternoon.  I am a self proclaimed master-procrastinator, but maybe for the first time in my life it works to my advantage.

Oh crap... now this routine needs a costume too!

Friday, January 15, 2010

"Feedback"

So in listening to Janet Jackson on repeat today on my iPod I was reminded of my love for her music!  Mostly her older stuff, but I do have strong sentimental attachments to some of her newer music as well.

I didn't try to break down the words of this song and figure out how it applies to my life... but it made me think about how I get and take feedback for the studio.

Do you ask parents for feedback as a studio owner?  How do you do it?  Is it important to do at all?

Another teacher shared once at a conference that she has sit down appointment at the end of every year that she lets parents sign up for 10 minutes of time to come in and give her feedback.  She doesn't respond to any of it, she just listens and takes notes.  She then continued to say that at the end of all the meetings she threw out all the sheets of paper she had taken notes on!  She could remember herself what was a few things she agreed with and would improve on those, but didn't let the rest of it bother her.

I actually think this is a great idea, but I don't think I would be very good at it.  I get overly sensitive about things when it comes to my studio and decisions I make that I think are best for everyone.  I find that most parents are speaking from a selfish place when it concerns their kids, and they forget I do try to look out for the best interest of everyone at the studio.  But I guess that's to be expected.  I'm a very defensive person, especially when it comes to my studio and something I am very passionate about.  But on the other hand I am also a business owner and I make decisions based on my business needs/demands.  It's not like you walk into The Gap and give them feedback on how to set up their store or sell their merchandise.  But we are dealing with people's children here, and every parent always thinks they know best!

I guess maybe the reason this has been successful at this other studio is because it gives parents the chance to be heard and then they feel important.  I want my clients to feel important at my studio, and that they can always come to me with and talk.  From experience I know that parents come to you with ideas of how they think something would be better, or an idea that they think would be good for the whole studio.  My initial reaction is to say, "then open your own studio and do that!" but I bite my tongue most of the time and try to hear them out. I want to be able to take their ideas without them feeling like they are in control of the studio, because when you give an inch you have to give a mile!

My favorite line ever from a parent goes something like this, "well, at out old studio we used to do it like this!"  Great... then go back to your old studio if it was so wonderful!  Every studio does have it's unique differences and business plans and I respect that as a studio owner.  I guess some parents do think that all dance studios are sanctioned by some big dance studio guru who tells us how to do things.  However, we are all navigating every detail as we go.

I guess once you get set in a way that works for you tend to never want to receive feedback on how you can change it.  But in doing so we might be missing out on a great opportunity to make things easier for ourselves or more efficient for our studios.  I don't know if parents are the best group of people to ask for feedback from on your business, but on a daily basis we don't get too many other opinions.  It's why I love dance teacher conferences or just sharing ideas with other teachers through writing or on the internet.  I want to hear feedback from other studios and know what works for them, so I can at least try them.  I don't want to make a point that my way is the best way and the only way it will ever work, because then I would stop learning, growing and improving!

More immediate forms of feedback, like anonymous comment boxes, feel to me like a way for just direct negative feedback.  If you do have parent meetings, at least it gives them an opportunity to not just focus on the negative to your face.  I'm sure they are prompted to feel the need to tell you how great things are as well, and that would make it all seem worth it to me.

I don't right now openly ask for any feedback as a business owner, but maybe I will try something this year that allows parents to make some comments.  I have to figure out which method will bruise my ego the least, but also I realize that I need to learn to accept feedback in order to help my studio grow.  It also allows me the chance to have a reason to drink more wine when I get home... not that I really need to add to that list!  I'm working on the poster now...


Parent Feedback Opportunities at Dance Fusion
-10 minute one-on-one meeting with the Director
-Sign up below for a time
-$15 or free admission with a donation of a bottle of Merlot

Thursday, January 14, 2010

"On The Sunny Side Of The Street"




I'm blogging nice and early today, because I woke up so early that now it's only noon and I have done everything I need to before I head to the studio.  It's kind of blah outside but I'm not going to let that determine how I feel today.

I actually wouldn't mind seeing some rain today... to wash away all this dirty snow that is currently sitting in my driveway.

I've been sensing a lot of 'down-ness' at the studio lately, mostly due to the weather and just this time of year.  People are tired, it's dark out really early, and there is more traffic due to the driving conditions so parents are more irritable and ready to just get home.  Everything is wet and dirty and bundling up in big coats is more of an inconvenience for everyone than it is enjoyable.

So change of game plan for next weekends classes... I'm going to turn the studio into a beach for the day!  Bathing suits, sand toys, water guns, you name it!  Maybe the sun will even show itself outside for a few hours so the studio will be brighter and more warmer.  I guess it's kind of nice to do something exciting for the Recreational students for the day and make everyone feel better about their day in general.  I guess I'll spend this afternoon making handouts and emails ready to send home to inform everyone of the occasion.  I should do things like this more often, to help keep everyone motivated!


It's also going to help me keep looking ahead to my favorite time of year which is Spring, especially at the studio.  It means Competition season is in full swing which eases my mind, and everyone is just happier in general.  We can then utilize outside around our studio as well, as I like to take the kids running and do conditioning outside.  Most of them would say it's torturous, but they do appreciate the change of pace.

I know beach day at the studio won't bring me any closer to that feeling of my feet being in the sand on the beach, but maybe I'll hire a cabana boy and he can serve the parents and staff Mojitos.  Do I need a liquor license for that?  I'll have to go look into the legality of this one, so my day just got a lot busier!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

"Sugar"

We have this tradition at our studio when it comes to our Competitive student's birthdays.  The kids get to bring in cake on their birthday for all the Company students that are there at the time, which is usually all of them by coincidence I'm sure.

Now I have no issues with this tradition, as the kids enjoy it and so do all the teaching staff.  We get to have great cake and that generally satisfies my need for food for the evening!  However, I forgot that January is jam packed with birthdays, like every other day, and my glucose levels are definitely on the rise.

Letting them eat cake at the studio basically goes against a lot of standards we set for them when it comes to the time they're at the studio for classes.  They are not allowed soda drinks in my studio at any time, and they are only to bring healthy meals and snacks with them to eat.  It's not that I'm trying to put them on diets, but it goes along with that my last blog, that it's important to know what they're fuelling their bodies with if they want to perform well in class.

I don't want to start telling them to bring in fruit instead of cake, because after all we all celebrate birthdays with cake.  Thick white cake with about 5 inches of icing and colored sugar flowers on top!  They don't really sell cakes in the grocery store that are low in fat, or have smaller portions of icing on them, so we'll just have to deal with what they produce in large enough quantities for our studio.

But good news, I have found a new recipe that will elude all guilt when it comes to eating cake.  Vegan Chocolate Cake!  Sounds gross right?  It is so not!  I use a regular chocolate cake mix out of a box and then instead of adding all the extra ingredients like eggs, water and oil, I add one special ingredient... pumpkin puree!

Who knew they sold pumpkin in cans?  Well the Hungry Girl website told me so!  It takes longer to bake then the box indicates, but it is moister, tastier and stays fresher longer in my pantry.  And the best part about them is that I don't feel guilty eating it.

Hungry Girl has a lot of great tips for replacing things in your food to make them healthier but just as tasty.  It comforts my need for eating yummy things, and relieves my need for unhealthy treats sometimes.  I don't think anyone should every feel guilty about eating things that they enjoy... I just don't want to hear them bitch later how about none of their clothes fit!

So because the kids got measured in December for their costumes, it is too late now to let all that cake go straight to their centers... we will have to work that much harder this entire month so that we can keep the tradition alive!

Actually, I'm going to go research on the internet now to see if anyone has done a study to prove that the effects of drinking wine with cake virtually eliminates any fat... or I'll just do the study myself.
Results to follow later this month!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

"Kisses & Cake"

I do love Tuesday evenings for several reasons... the major one being the fantastic classes I always have that night. I have my competitive kids for technique classes and I always leave the studio feeling very fulfilled and energized.

The second reason is because The Biggest Loser is on! I watch it on satellite at 11:00pm when I get home, and I am up until 1:00am glued to my television. I adore Jillian Michaels screaming at people who cannot run on treadmills, and I love when Bob Harper eventually cracks and tells people why they're overweight. I don't take pleasure in their pain or their obesity issues for that matter, but it is good entertainment. It's one of the only shows I can name you that has a 2 hour episode on every week... so I guess I'm not the only person who loves it!

The oxymoron of my life is that I sit and watch The Biggest Loser every week while I scarf down whatever junk food I can assemble in my house. One of the hardest things about being a studio owner/dance teacher, is that we have to sort of skip dinner every night at work. I work from about 5:00-10:00pm every night and dinner should normally fall right in the middle of that. I'm not good at chewing and choreographing, so I just don't do it. Then I get home and I'm starving and thus I'm breaking a major rule about eating before bed.

So I am sharing a tip tonight that has worked for me when it comes to "studio owner late night dining"! I'm no Jillian Michaels or anything here, but I've watched this show enough to pick up some tips! I have discovered flavoured teas and apple cider really do fill me up. I find that something thick and hot with a strong natural flavour satisfies my hunger very quickly and I forgot that I left the studio craving nachos. I really try to avoid the snacks, but I do fail once in a while, so I've stocked my pantry with nuts and popcorn. I fill a small bowl with it and then I don't go back for more when I'm finished. That way I'm limiting my late night snacking, or eating something that is filling and satisfying.

I'm not going to write a novel here on my eating habits and Grocery Store route, but I do have the food issue in my life under control. My magic bullet has now become a staple in my every day life, and frozen fruits/veggies fill my freezer rather than frozen dinners and pizza. Wine is another story for me... but I think alcohol is an official food group for studio owners, so I'm covered there!

I try to share healthy eating tips with my dancers and I am always on them about what they eat at competition weekends. Let's just be honest here, I'm dealing in an industry where healthy and body matters. How you look plays a major role in your career, and taking care of yourself/your body helps you to train better, work better, and perform better. My major theory... what you put in your body = what you get out of it!

Short blog tonight, as I'm just writing a bit during the commercial breaks! Jillian is about to give this poor woman a serious beating in the gym until cries... gotta love quality television!

Monday, January 11, 2010

"All Dressed Up In Love"

So I spent a good portion of today, and a good portion of my credit card limit, on the Etsy website.

My friend Alison used it quite a bit when it came to her wedding last year and has since become obsessed with felt hair pins and buttons!  I decided today that it was time to broaden my horizons of costumes and was looking for inspiration from other places rather than my usual dance costume websites.

I like to do costumes a lot differently than most other studios, and I spend a lot of time making sure it's exaclty what I was thinking of for each dance.  I know in the US that dance costume catalogues are a huge industry, and most studios order from them.  Here in Canada we are starting to have more options in terms of catalogues when it comes to competitive routines, but to be honest, I don't like most of them.  (That's not an invitation for more people to send me their catalogues, because believe me I get them all already!)

I don't like the limited selection and quality that most of the catalogues offer, and that does come from personal experience.  I have a local Company who only caters Recital costumes to studios and it works out great for me.  They are close by and really good about changing sizes if needed, and offer good quality at a price point I think it fair.

For my competitive costumes I tend to go any route that I need to, in order to find the costume I invisioned for that piece.  If you're trying to be unique with a competitive routine, I don't know if a catalogue costume if really going to offer you what you're looking for to compliment your work.  My studio has become a lot more contemporary over the years, and thus our costumes have become a lot less fussy, and more simple and wearable after.

Lulu Lemon offers great dance quality products, like their black booty shorts that all my Intermediate/Senior Company students have for many of their groups.  We buy different tops for lyrical/contemporary numbers to go with them and it looks simple but really fantastic on stage.  I have lately become obsessed with hair pieces that spice up the costume a bit more, but even sometimes I just like plain black on stage.  Recently I have also started using American Apparel for a lot of basic items that I am looking for if it fits what I need.

These companies don't always offer me the inspiration I am looking for when finishing a routine off with that phenomenal costume, but that's where you have to get creative.  Enter Etsy.com into my life!  A website of all custom clothes makers who are willing to work with you on any type of order.  I emailed a bunch of sellers today whose designs interested me and we came up with colors/styles that I was looking for to suit each dancer.  I emailed them back with the kids sizes and now within a few weeks I will have everything delivered to my house.

I know it seems like a lot of work when you could just pick an already done costume out of a catalogue, but there's a big difference to me between really making the effort to get that special costume for those routines you've put so much effort into.  Can't you just imagine one of your students on stage in this gorgeous tutu!
This website has so many great designs that I never would have been able to think of on my own and now I can utilize the talents of other people that I don't even know.




I don't think I recommend this custom ordering business for every body for every dance, as I can see becoming overwhelmed in keeping everything organized if you're not used to doing it this way.  I personally like to have my hands on every costume coming out of my studio, and thus get enjoyment out of shopping for things... and who doesn't like shopping for spectacular things! 

Make an effort this year to maybe even chose one routine who needs that custom costume and get really creative with where you get it from.  On a price point level, I can find anything that is of equal and generally better quality and just what I need for the same price as I can buy it in bulk out of a catalogue.  You charge your parents for your time and travel to get these costumes and in return they'll get something unique and fabulous.  Parents at my studio especially like the Lulu Lemon clothes I get my students as they can wear them the year after for their classes. 

And then when you're out shopping or browsing on Etsy for that perfect costume piece you can always pick yourself up something nice... hence why I now own this fabulous dress!  Because of course I have to make sure I'm always looking great as well!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

"If I Were A Boy"

Today's blog is in honor of two of my friends Jeremy & Scott Kelly... who hesitantly admitted that they read my blog!  I don't know why I find this so shocking, but regardless boys, I am happy that you read it!

I haven't figured out the real reason yet, but Scott and Jeremy have both sat through many Dance Fusion Recitals over the years.  I even give credit my father who is able to sit through an entire Recital that I am not dancing in.  Trust me, I do notice that it's always the men who are going out for breaks in the lobby during our Recital.  I think maybe next year I won't put an order in the Program, so every dad has to stay and watch the whole show since they don't know when their kid will be on!

I've only ever brought one boyfriend to a dance competition in the past, because I thought it was important for him to see what I did with  my life.  He came after I was already there and sat in the audience for about an hour before I even remembered to go and find him to check in!  I am really preoccupied at competitions, and luckily he was very patient and understanding about that.  He didn't stay long, but he made the effort and that made me happy.  I would never suggest that any boyfriend come for an entire weekend to just watch dance, as even I can't watch dance for 3 days straight without needing a break!

I have always had guys helping out with our Recitals and they don't seem to mind for the one day.  They do lighting, screen cues or music and they are really good at those types of things, so I am grateful for their help.  I don't think they necessarily watch every routine with matching enthusiasm, but they do pay attention to what's going on for the entire three and a half hours... so what more can I ask for!

In talking to the guys over the years, who have observed dance, there seems to be only 2 things they have figured out... they can identify what's really good, and they can identify what's really bad.  The in between all looks the same and that's where they lose interest and patience with watching!  I can't really blame them, as I feel the same way about watching things that I'm not that interested in as well.  The really good is great to watch, and yet equally enjoyable is the bad!

So I am going to make sure this year that I have a few routines that will really impress and entertain all the men who come to watch my studio.  I unfortunately have steered away from corsets and lingerie type costumes this year, which might deter any younger guys from being enthused about it... but I promise that you will at least catch some talent!

Now I just need to explain to them what the hell the difference is between a High Gold and a Diamond Award!

{image via cbathyy on etsy}

Saturday, January 9, 2010

"My Life Would Suck Without You"

Who doesn't love a good Kelly Clarkson song? 

In honor of my friend, David Norsworthy, coming in to teach today I am going to write about about it!  Well actually I want to share how important I think it is to have guest teachers and choreographers in your studio on a regular basis for your competitive kids, but we can say it's about David personally!

I might not have a marketing budget, but I surely do have a monthly allowance for guest teachers... 

From the very first year of the studio we offered a summer dance intensive with all guest teachers.  I don't run one of those competitive level summer camps where only my regular staff teaches the kids the same things they do all year long.  We have guest teachers all day for the entire week.  I might charge a bit more than some other studios for the Intensive, but in comparison to a weekend convention, I'm offering more classes with more teachers at the same price.  Then I saw the growth and development in the kids so I decided that we better utilize guest teachers as part of our monthly classes to help enhance their training.

When I was growing up we used to have to attend a minimum amount of weekend conventions every year for training purposes.  Not only do I find the conventions themselves pricy, but then there are travelling costs, hotel costs, food costs, and of course you're in a room with 500 other dancers so there isn't any personal attention involved.  I figured I could bring the same concept of convention training into my own studio so that my students could continue to grow as dancers in a more intimate and relaxed setting.  I don't even think the parent's at my studio realize that I do this so often, and am saving them thousands of dollars by not making conventions mandatory.  They pay for it with their monthly fees and intensive costs, and I know they appreciate the dollar value that they're getting at my studio.  My competitive students do attend outside Workshops/Conventions as well, but they go on their own, because they have realized the importance of it!

I'm lucky that I have affiliated myself with a local group of choreographers through David's Company, Fresh Dance Intensive, who contracts out young up and coming choreographers.  They are really affordable for studios to have in on a regular basis, as oppose to flying out some big name person for a one time deal.  This way I'm always throwing a learning curve at them, as every teacher they have comes from a different studio, with a different style of teaching and choreography.

The greatest lesson I think my students have learned from having so many different teachers over the years, is that class work is about how much they put into it.  They gain out of it as much as they put into it.  Maybe the open type of classes don't focus on technique as much as some other teacher's think kids need, but that's the major difference between the level/ages of the students I hire guest teachers for.  My Intermediate & Senior Competitive level students have enough solid technical training behind them that they can apply it themselves in other classes.  My Junior Competitive kids do also get guest teachers, but maybe not as often, and I am more careful in letting the teacher coming in know what the expectations are.  It's not in replacement of technique classes, it's to compliment them!

It's all about making these guest teachers work within the bigger picture of what you're trying to achieve as a competitive studio.  Are you just concentrating on cleaning up competitive routines in every class from now until March rolls around?  Or are you continuing to train your kids in all facets of dance so that they are continually growing and improving all year?  I am training my students to be in the best condition and at the highest level of training they can be when we go to competition... it's not just about the 14 groups they're in.  I can see straight through a super-clean but basic jazz routine to the fact that those kids could never go take a workshop class and keep up.  I am training them for long term, because let's face it, competition season ends at some point, but the growth in their dancing should have never stopped!

Also, knowing my kids are comfortable with so many styles of movement and choreography allows me to be more creative with all their competitive routines.  Don't you just hate when a studio has 5 lyrical groups that all look the same?  It's probably because same teacher did all of them!  Why not have one of these guest teachers choreograph a group for you that challenges your kids?  I wouldn't take any personal strikes if a routine from my studio won something that another choreographer did.  I would take personal gratification in knowing that this group was from my studio, and it was my choices as a dance educator that helped them succeed!  The cheque they win is still being written out to Dance Fusion, and I still get to be the one to dust the trophy!!

I had the brilliant idea in the summer of doing a studio swap with a colleague who owns a studio a few hours away.  She would come down to my studio for a day of my summer intensive, and then I would go down to her studio for a day in exchange.  That way we are not only saving the expense of having guest teachers in, but we are enhancing each other's students and also sharing what we both love to do.  My ideal situation would be to do that once a month with a different teacher from a different studio.  Imagine how much we could all share and the skills we would be offering to our students.

Personally I have learned a lot of things from even the younger guest teachers coming in to my studio.  I am not self motivated about being the only one who knows everything about teaching my students... they can eventually all see right through that one! 

I better end this blog now for today... I'm hearing loud cheering coming from the room where David is teaching the Intermediates and I better go see what all the excitement is about.  Or maybe I should be content enough sitting here knowing they're that excited about being in class and having him here!

Friday, January 8, 2010

"My Philosophy"

This blog today has been prompted by my good friend Shelby, who shared with me an Improv video a friend of her posted from a University in Vancouver.  My initial thought was too tell you how much I disliked it, considering their age and assumed abilities, but instead I am going to use this as a starting point for this blog and a chance to share my philosophy on improvisation.

I personally am a big fan of improv exercises in all levels of dance classes.  I use them right from the get go with my 3 year olds in class, basically letting them do free movement as different animals or fish to the music with freezes.  Then it continues right on through with my Senior Competitive students, who do it as part of their regular class work.

Growing up within competitive dance studios I was never introduced to improvisation in any form of dance.  Then at my University dance audition we spent about half an hour breaking down structured improv sessions and I detested every moment of it.  It was not until my very first audition for a professional dance job that I really knew I was lacking a skill required to be a professional dancer.  It was a jazz audition and I was through about 3 rounds of cuts before they told us to improv for the first 30 seconds of the song before the combo.  So I did a pirouette and a kick some sassy walks and then worked into the combo.  I didn't even know there were other options of things to do besides my "tricks"!

I literally can't think of a tool I have used in my classes since that has helped my kids advance to where they are today in terms of style and movement choices.  It's not about how many pirouettes they do in the improv, in fact sometimes I restrict them from doing "tricks" at all.  It's about total body awareness in movement, taking risks and moving with what comes out of it.  It's the most rewarding performance time for them, and I get to be their audience every class.

Last year I even had a structured improvisation group as a Competitive routine.  We rehearsed spacing changes, and structured stops in the music when the rhythm and movement needed to change, but that's about it.  Every competition the dance was different, and it made it so much more enjoyable to watch as a teacher.  I also learned so much about these kids as real dancers in the process.  This group was with four of my most advanced students, as I think improv is a skill like any other form of dance that needs to be cultivated in class before sharing it.  However, I don't discriminate who get's to do improv in classes regardless of their technical abilities.  Sometimes I find that different kids shine in improv with their free movement and stylistic choices, and I focus on their strengths as dancers from then on.
Improv has helped me to identify what my students are good at, and also what they need to improve on, and thus I can choreograph routines accordingly for them = makes me a better teacher!

We even attended a competition last year that offered an improvisation solo category.  They got to hear a piece of music twice before just going on stage and performing to it.  I only had two students do it last year, but this year I have entered 7 of my kids in this category who I think could gain a lot of confidence from this kind of opportunity at a competition.

I would actually like to challenge other competitions, especially in Canada, to offer a category like this so we can actually give kids more of an opportunity to have experience doing things they will have to do as a professional dancer at auditions.  We need to train our dancers to be better prepared for what the dance world will actually require of them.  It's not always about just doing split jumps across the room, it's also about the "dancing"!

I would also like to challenge more studio teachers to try using improvisation as part of their daily teaching practise for their students.  I feel it has given my kids an unmatched confidence when it comes to contemporary choreography work, taking classes with other teachers, and in general just with their dancing.  I'm not talking improv exercises about being a tree, but letting them explore contemporary movements without the grilling of just the tricks you think make them better dancers.

I want to share a video of one of my student's, Savanah, from last year when she competed in the contemporary improv solo category at a competition.  She was 12 years old at the time, which seems young for such mature movement, but I find it a real compliment that everyone comments on the way she moves already at her age.  She really focused on musicality and listening to what the words were telling her to do and going from there.

Savanah of course has grown in all aspects of her dancing and improv skills since then, but it's definitely not a bad starting point!

Savanah's Competition Improv Solo

Thursday, January 7, 2010

"Don't Cry Out Loud"

I'm on an old school song throw back lately, so this title seemed fitting!

I think today I want to share some advice that I got from a non-dance related friend.  I know you're shocked I have non-dance friends, but truthfully, some of the best people I have to talk to are the ones who don't know a pirouette from an arebesque.  I wasn't really having a great day before I went into the studio, and then when I got there I had to do a lot of cleaning before classes began.  I figured I was going to be in such an edgy mood come 5:00pm and I was not looking forward to the Production class later on and dealing with all those competitive kids.  However, I thought back to what Dave had told me once about my attitude going into work.

I used to just warn the kids before class started if I was in a mood or really irritable that day, so that they would at least know before I yelled at them.  In looking back I guess that really set the tone for the whole class, and that's not really fair to my students or myself.  So I am taking steps to improve the way I approach all my classes, even when I am definitely not in the mood to deal with anyone but my cats!

What I learned from Dave was that regardless of my mood, fatigue or feelings that day I had to go into the studio the same way every day.  The kids don't really care if I'm having a bad day, they deserve a good class either way.

Tonight was our first Production class since before the Holidays and I had been anticipating it since I woke up this morning.  I figured it would be a disaster and I would be really upset that no one remembered all the choreography we did before the break.  So I decided to logistically plan the entire class and what we needed to accomplish.  I wrote out all the choreography that needed to be reviewed in the first half hour, and divided up the groups so Shelby and myself could divide and conquer.  Then for the second half hour I made up all the remaining choreography for the majority of the kids, and broke down the music into counts for Shelby to work with the other group.  It instantly eased my mind for the afternoon and I felt very confident going into work.

I don't normally plan out every detail of every class to this extent, but Production class seems to ignite my stress levels in a way that smaller groups of kids just can't.  I decided ahead of time not to get upset when a kid didn't know their choreography and to stay calm and focused on what I had set out to do.  The night went by a lot quicker and everyone, including myself, was really content.

So I guess Dave was right, but don't tell him I said that!  The kids don't deserve the throw-backs of my mood that day, as I don't like to receive it from other people either.  Next time I'm having an off day I'm going to plan out my classes for that evening so I don't let my emotions take over what were doing.  I will have something to focus on and I will be busy completing tasks I had set, which will satisfy me instantly.

At the end of tonight I had already forgotten that I didn't have a great day, because I had a wonderful night at the studio.  It's not always going to be that easy to get over feeling tired, or sick, but heading into each class with a neutral work-hard attitude already makes me a better teacher then I would have been.  It's not about pretending to be happy when you're not, but maybe it's about using your feelings in a productive way.  If you're really upset about something, create a combo for a class that will help lift your spirits.

So "don't cry out loud" to the kids is my advice tonight!  They don't want to hear about your problems, even if they say they do.  They want to dance... and luckily I want to teach dance.

The inevitable is that some days of my are going to be great, and some are going to be crappy, and I have to go to the studio regardless!  Might as well make the most out of it.  Tonight I could have just been sitting at home watching stupid tv re-runs eating an entire carton of ice cream alone.  Instead I went into work and made choreographic magic... coming soon to a theatre near you!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

"This Woman's Work"

Probably on the top 10 list of my favorite songs of all time.  The original is good, however, I had a friend introduce me to Greg Laswell recently, and he has my new favorite version.  So you guessed it, I used it for a dance this year!

I'm actually using it for a trio that I finished tonight, for Savanah, Shevya and Courtney.  I had never planned for them to do a trio together, but fate has a way of stepping in some times and now I am thrilled with the result.  Savanah made me a promise this evening that they would do it so well at one competition this year that I will cry!

If you spend time with me during competition season you'll know that I am generally so stressed that I cannot feel most of my body... never mind my emotions.  I told the kids once that I had didn't have tear ducts so I would never cry after one of their dances.  It's not that I'm not moved or they don't dance well, but I'm too busy thinking about the next thing to remember to cry!

I know a teacher at a local studio who cries at competition after every lyrical dance her kids do.  I'm not saying she can't be moved by them... but every time???   Save it for when it's really legitimate... that way it will have more impact.  Now, I don't want to brag or anything tonight, but I actually have several numbers this year that have the potential to make me grow tear ducts.  Stay tuned!

I picked up a copy of the latest O magazine today, as I needed to spend $4 more at Shoppers to get a reward thing.  Oprah is one woman who knows how to wuuuuuuuuuurk!  Imagine, having a magazine named after you, or an entire empire for that matter.  Not that I would want to trade places with Oprah, or any celebrity for that matter, as you'd be too busy to enjoy the great life you appear to have.  I wouldn't mind unlimited access to Miss O's bank account though!

It kind of makes me wonder where you draw the line between too much work, versus the other stuff.  Does someone else need to help you draw that line because you're so wrapped up in your own life to notice when you've gone too far?  How much money is enough money for you to have currently and saved up before you really enjoy life?  Are you successful only when you have a lot of money?

Why am I asking questions to my own blog?  Trust me, if I knew the answers to any of life's deepest questions I would share them with you... but for now I'll stick to telling you how awful I find dance catalogue costumes!

This woman here has had a long day and needs to get some rest... at least I've figured out that balance in my life.  Good thing I find my job fun, and the daily work that I do rewarding and meaningful... like tonight I taught a kid how to tuck her sweat pants into her Uggs and avoid bunching.
How much more great work can one woman accomplish in a day!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

"The Space Between"

So it is only day 6 or so of this daily blogging thing, and I failed!  I came home last night fairly exhausted from my first night back at the studio and I just crashed.  Epic failure!  So today, 2 shorter blogs to make up for my lack of deep thinking yesterday.

Last night we had a silent Yoga class and we played the Dave Matthews Band CD, that was so old it was skipping, but regardless, AMAZING!

I guess I stirred up a bit of interest with my last blog about dance studio marketing, which for better or worse is still interest!  Then last night I had another quick thought about it...

I was scanning through an old issue of Dance Canada Quarterly, which is a Canadian produced dance magazine that gets distributed 4 times a year... in case the name wasn't clear!  I do subscribe to several American Dance Magazines as well, but this one is all about things close to home for me so I always renew with them.

Now this magazine isn't functionally geared towards one group or another, like our American friends have the luxury of.  They have Dance Teacher Magazine, and then separate ones for dancers and teachers a like.  Dance Canada Quarterly really doesn't gear towards one side of the dance spectrum, which makes is accessible to everyone I guess.

The majority of dance magazines are filled with advertising, for competitions, costume companies, teacher's seminars and so on, but I noticed that this issue had a lot of advertising for dance studios in it.  I was very perplexed at first as it didn't make sense to me.  Why are they advertising for their studio when I'm a teacher with my own studio?  Do they think I'll be so overwhelmed with how great their ad was in the magazine I'd shut my studio down?

I know there are probably more dancers than studio owners who subscribe to the magazine, but I had never thought of marketing in there as a way to get new clients.  One of the bigger ads was actually for a studio right down the street from mine.  They have recently opened a new "state-of-the-art" facility and felt the need to push this as their marketing campaign.  The ad talked about how big and fabulous their new studio was and they now had massage therapists on hand for parents waiting, and a snack bar to boot.

I stared at the ad for a long time before realizing that as a parent I might be very intrigued by this studio.  But then as a dance educator I laughed out loud!  No where on the entire full page ad did they mention anything about their teaching staff and the quality of training they give their students.  But the parents could get a massage!

This studio just proved my exact point about dance studio marketing and what is effective for what you want to attract in terms of clients.  Maybe if you look a little closer at that studio, you'd realize that their just not advertising about their teachers/classes because it's not the highest selling point of their studio.  The $7.00 cafe lattes in the lobby are!

I creased the magazine permanently open to this page and put it back in our lounge magazine rack, hoping that someone would pick it up and read it.  But no such luck... my parents were too busy enjoying watching their kid's classes on our television circuit!

Sunday, January 3, 2010

"Wasted Time"

I noticed today that my friend Alison had posted an article on Twitter.  Normally I never click on her links cause they're generally about wedding planning or some other garbage to do with weddings/marriage that I only roll my eyes at, but the title of this one caught my attention.

Brian McGovern wrote an article about how crappy he finds event blogs... which I only determined because it was titled "Why Your Event Blog Is Crap".  So I read the article in it's entirety, and thus I have decided to write a blog in return!  Well actually, I'm following a bit of his advice and writing a useful blog today, that maybe if another studio owner reads they can learn something from.

Now I don't run an event business, or write an event planning blog for that matter, so I don't take too much of what he says personally.  However, I'm not sure who crowned him the 'knower-of-all-things' when it comes to blogging.  I don't necessarily disagree with everything that he's saying, but there is one thing that I need to speak up for myself about.

Brian makes a statement about people who own small business (which I fall in this category) being afraid of marketing.  This may be true for some people, but I know as a dance studio owner that the marketing he is referring to is not always effective or attracts the types of clients that I want.  Advertising space or flyers are definitely not cheap, and in the past I have kept track of how many students I have gained out of marketing campaigns to see if their return value is worth my money.  Nine times out of ten for me, it never brought in enough money to bother doing it again.

What I have learned from many successful studio owners and even through my few years of experience is that there are really only 3 main forms of marketing that a dance studio needs to be concerned about.  The first is really only geared towards dance studios, and other businesses like it, but never the less it might make sense to some other people.  My Recital Program at the end of the year is one of my best forms of marketing.  It has all the details about my studio in it, as well as pictures of happy kids, competition results, plus advertising for my summer camps and upcoming registration dates.  Over 600 people attended my Recital last year, so that means that around 600 programs left the Theatre that day and went to many different households.  Then when those people have friends over and they see my program on their coffee table it automatically starts a conversation about my business.  And generally when it comes to my Recital people are always willing to tell everyone how wonderful it was, how great their kid looked on stage, and so on, which creates an excitement... which makes their friend come and register.

I never understand when I go to other Recitals why their programs are just printed in black ink on a pastel piece of paper folded in half and stapled together.  It speaks volumes of the effort you put into details of your show and your studio.  Plus something that cheap is not a souvenir of your Recital that people will be proud to keep and show off to other potential clients.  On the flip side I went to a Recital a few years ago where the studio prints up yearbooks that double as their Recital Program, however, they cost $20 to buy a the door ($15 if you were lucky enough to order in advance!).  Now I already paid for a $40 ticket, and drove to the Theatre, so I was not paying money to buy a book to be able to follow along with your show.

The second marketing tool that is essential to any business in these times is a good website.  I always keep my website updated, and recently added an interactive Google calendar on it so that my clients are kept in the loop with what's going on.  Make it attractive for your current client base, and easy to use. I can't stand that some studios have their teachers from two years ago listed that don't even work at their studio anymore.  Maybe the majority of clients don't know the difference, but if someone is coming to your studio because they want to work with a teacher that you advertised you had, but you really don't = bad marketing!

The third thing, which I think is the most important, is simply word of mouth.  If a parent and their child are happy at my studio, they will always go out of their way to tell someone else that they are.  Let's face it, there are a dozen dance studios in my area and all these kids go to school together. When one parent is complaining about their studio, and the parent from my studio is saying how happy they are with me... do I need to state the obvious here!  I even reward families at my studio when they refer a friend to come and they register for the year.

There are several studios around me that have weekly newspaper ads, and the biggest ad they can buy in the phone book, but I'm not interested in necessarily attracting those types of people.  They run coupons for free classes, or a half price month, in order to attract a mass amount of kids at their Registration.  Which is fine at first, but what happens after that?  Those people who are just coming for free classes, cause they're free, are not the people who are interested in their kid taking dance long term.  I want to attract the long term clients, who have an understanding that quality training at a dance studio is not free.

I even heard from a friend the other day that they only wanted to compete around their area so they could attract kids from other local studios to switch over to his.  Are you serious?  That is the last type of parent I want at my studio!  If a parent is happy at my studio with the weekly classes their child receives, the prices are fair, and the fact that I do my best to make their kid look great on stage, then they won't switch studios.  It's simple; make your current clients happy... they'll bring you more clients!

I have a marketing plan that works for my business, in my area, and for my clients.  I am successful at marketing, and in business, because I have taken these things into consideration and use it to my advantage.  There is no black and white list for marketing... but maybe this Brian McGovern guy will come up with one quickly for all of us!

I'm sure Mr. McGovern will never read this, because he has clearly wasted enough time on useless blogs... but maybe I just saved someone else the time of creating a "Free Trial Class" coupon tonight!

Saturday, January 2, 2010

"Crazy In Love"

As much as I love the original Beyonce song, I am a sucker for covers, and Anthony & The Johnsons version generally gets to me every time. So of course I decided to use it for a dance this year!

I spent today at the studio for the first time in 2 weeks. I had even forgotten what a mess I had left it in! I cleaned for a bit while my friend from Vlad's Dance Company, Jordan Clark, was down working on a solo for one of my students, Savanah. Jordan is Savanah's idol and we surprised her with a solo choreographed by Jordan this year, so needless to say she was elated and fought through a 4 hour solo class today to finish the entire thing. I can always tell early on with a number whether or not it's going to be successful at competition, and the combination of everything to do with this solo screams winner to me!

So in honor or Savanah today and one of my favorite cover finds of 2009 I need to share this short little video. It's a clip of the start of one of Savanah's other solos that I'm working on. About a month back I was taping her running through the beginning for the first time and she had a little mishap! One of the many things I love about this kid is her ability to work through pain and generally push through anything...

video
It gets me every time that she just keeps going! She held her head for quite a while after that, but that was a fully developed 13 year old body's weight landing on that head, so you have to feel for her!

Yes I said 13, she's just a baby, so her head will probably heal quickly!

I couldn't think of a better way to kick off what will be a fabulous year at DF then being at the studio today with Jordan and Sav. We share a passion for dance that enables us communicate with each other in a language of movement that touches right to my soul.

I have in the past declared myself "crazy in love" with many things, like my Christian Louboutin boots, or that Oscar de la Renta dress I'm waiting for a sale to buy! But I officially declare 2010 the year I will breathe nothing but passion and love into my studio and my choreography.

Out with the frivolous things in my life... and in with giving more kids concussion symptoms!