Friday, October 22, 2010

"Us And Them"

So, I know I've blogged about this in the past, but I have to again!

I have never bothered to make myself an account on the Dance Mom website, first of all since I'm not a mom, but secondly because I would write some pretty rude comments of these people regarding their ridiculous comments. A few parents at my studio that I know of go on there and email me over links to funny posts, or topics they think I would get a good laugh out of. Now, of course I find most of this hilarious and a big waste of time, however, there is a wide variety of topics on there that really just make me angry as a studio owner.

Besides the fact that they have created their own language and lingo on there, I think the fact that dance parents are getting together to discuss dance is completely relevant. People on there become friends and meet up at competitions, and that is all fine and dandy. It doesn't even bother me that they post how their kids do at competitions or things about their studios that they enjoy. There is minimal studio bashing between the 'moms', however, they have no issue bashing numbers they see at competitions from other studios not present or every studio owner on the planet!

One of my favorite previous topics they have discussed was the 'what type of car does your s.o. drive?' post. Let me translate for you quickly - clearly your studio charges too much money if your studio owner drives a fancy car! I personally drive a Toyota Matrix, but now that I think about it, a BMW convertible would be a nice upgrade! Costume fees have suddenly just increased this year!

Today I decided in my boredom at the chiropractor's office to browse on the community board to see what's "happening" in the dance industry! Clearly these moms are more in the know that I am! I came across a topic in the Competitions board that was titled competition entry fees in Ontario. I actually thought this might have something to do with new HST tax applicable to Ontario based competitions, and I was hoping to find some enlightening information. I should have known better than to assume there was an educated conversation going on about it!

Instead, I come to find posts from many parents about what their studios charge for entry fees, and which studio is obviously banking the most cash off of over charging for these entry fees! One poster even asked 'why don't the competitions post the fees on their website?' I think in posting on this website she kind of answered her own question! Competitions don't post their fees on their website for many reasons. One, being that of course dance studios are going to up the fees. Are you really surprised? We run businesses! I spend many of endless days at competitions, as do my staff, and you think we're going to do this pro-bono? I wonder if the lady who complained about her studio making a few dollar off of each of her kid's group entry fees does her job for free?!?!?!

One trending idea on this board is very clear to me, parents have forgotten that dance studios are also businesses. Sure I can teach dance, but I am also a business owner. I do endless amounts of paper work every day, I pay bills, I pay staff, I maintain my facilities and I manage all of my clients. Then on top of that, I cut music, I design costumes, I plan Recitals, I design advertising, I work on choreography... oh and I eat in between some of those things!

I am honest with all the parents at my studio about costs and fees for all parts of dance and competitions up front. I show them approximate entry fees costs for each event for specific dances and I don't try to hide extra expenses or fees, as that would be a poor business decision. However, it's also not really the business of the parents at my studio to know how much I pay my staff to come to competitions, how much money it takes to get all of the money orders prepared to send to the competitions, and all those types of things associated with the extra money I might be charging. That's part of my business structure that is a personal choice and every studio has a different approach to that. Some studios charge a lot extra per routine to go to competitions, but that's at your studio owner's discretion, and also your choice to dance at that studio. There are no regulations for fees in regards to dance, so we are all flying solo in making the best decisions for our businesses.

What parents really need to understand about the dance studio business is that all of those demands you tend to make come at a price. If parents expect that their studio staff all be present at competitions, then realize that those people need to be paid to do that. My staff don't work for free... and frankly neither do I! As much as I love dance, and teaching dance, my passion does not pay the rent every month. My landlord doesn't care that we won Overalls at our last competition, he wants his cheque to clear! I always say that if I won the lottery I would still continue to teach at my studio. That is of course true, but it doesn't mean dancing at my studio would suddenly be free!

I'd like to challenge all these parents making assumptions and rude comments about their studio owner's making money to think about it in the same relative terms as you do your own job. I'll bet this parent who started this specific topic on the message board is also the same mom who buys her daughter $128.00 sweaters at Lulu Lemon! You're paying that company what they feel their product is worth. At my studio, I feel my product is of a certain value and I will charge accordingly. The dance competitions we attend charge what they think is appropriate for a soloist to compete, and then it is my job to charge my clients that price plus my time.

The same is true when it comes to costumes and Recital tickets, and the list goes on and on. Clearly some parents are under the assumption that running dance studios is just a hobby and our "real" day jobs pay all of our bills.

I would always encourage parents from all studios to talk to other dance parents and have educated discussions about anything dance related. I think message boards are a great way to share information and they can be a great advertising tool as well (that's my business owner side talking there!). However, I don't think the intentions of were to created a place for parents to continually complain about everything their studio owner does or charges for. If you hate your studio that much... then go somewhere else and shut up about it! If you really have concerns about fees or you don't understand what you're being charged for, then go and speak to your studio owner. Highgolddancemom45 doesn't have the answers for you!

So tomorrow when I'm at my "real" job, at the hospital, performing brain surgery, I'll get my personal assistant to create an account for me on so I can help enlighten parents on such topics. I might even start writing a dance mom handbook to help you all out! Anyone know of a publisher who would print it for free? Cause, obviously I couldn't charge for the book!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

"Everything Old Is New Again"

I'm back!
I have actually really missed having an outlet for all of my issues/questions/insights. I am having a little bit of a dilemma lately and I figured writing about it would help me talk it out, get some advice, or just satisfy my eagerly waiting fans for more dance industry shenanigans!

What are your thoughts about "recycling" numbers for competition at your studio? I'm starting to have very mixed feelings about it, but also very strong opinions about it either way.

If you would have asked me a year ago what I thought about a studio re-doing a group for competition that they had previously done I would have immediately told you I thought it was a cop-out as a choreographer. Lately I'm starting to sway a little to the left!

As a teacher/choreographer sometimes you can really just hit the mark with a group, and it's a combination of the music, choreography and the dancers that really brings it all together. You then try to duplicate it the following year by doing something similar, but it just isn't the same. So why not re-do the exact same number on new students? I know of a lot of studios who do the same groups two years in a row, especially if they are going to different competitions. If that group was really successful the first year, they will just do it again. Maybe keep the same students in it, or add a few new ones. Maybe even change the costume. I don't have a big issue with all of this in general, but my major concerns come up as a business owner. Can you really charge students two years in a row for the same choreography? Is it really fair to make them buy a new costume for a dance they were already in? What must that feel like for a new student to just be put in a group the rest of the students have already done as basically a filler? Are your students really learning anything or growing as a dancer from doing the same choreography again for another year?

So many questions, and really no direct answers that everyone will agree on. As a teacher, choreographer and dance studio owner I could never justify to parents at my studio charging them for a group for two consecutive years. It means to me that not only are their children now growing by learning new things, but it also tells me that I'm relying on my previous success as a teacher/choreographer and not growing myself. However... can I re-do a group for competition and make it fair for everyone involved?

This year I'm taking this "reuse & recycle" concept in two different directions to see how successful I can be with something I was previously successful with. Last year I choreographed a Contemporary Small Group that a group of Inters/Seniors only did at our National Competition. Now, I'm sure this is against all of the rules of Regionals and qualifying for Nationals and blah blah blah, but that's besides the point! The group turned out to be really exceptional and the girls won 2nd Overall Teen Groups for the effort. Now, a part of the success of this group in my opinion comes from the fact that this group reflected the growth my students had during the year, as well as my own as a choreographer. So, I decided that I'd like to 'recycle' this group again this year. I have kept the four remaining members of this group in tact, and have also added a few more students to replace those who are no longer at the studio. I have not charged any of the students who were previously in this group for the choreography time, but they will need to purchase a new costume this year and of course pay for competition entry fees for it.

In the same breathe, I plan on changing the majority of this group piece to now reflect even more growth and new skills from everyone. The dance left how it was in July would probably be stale by March for competition, so I will virtually start all over again in terms of choreography. Same song, same concept, same basic conclusion... but different. Truthfully, if it wasn't different, I would just be bored working on it again!

Now, along the same line, I choreographed an amazing tap group about five years ago that I have never quite been able to top. It was done with a bunch of 10-12 year old students, and ever since I have tried to replicate the success of that group, but I have never quite gotten there. So, this year I have a group of students, ages 8-10, whom I have decided will be the lucky recipients of my past moment of genius! Of course, I have to take into consideration the obvious age different in this situation, but I feel as though these younger students have the talent now that this piece warrants. I don't remember the exact choreography for the entire routine, and I have stopped myself several times from popping in the DVD to remind myself, mostly so that my approach can be fresh this time around. Same song, same concept, same brilliant sections, but an entirely new group of dancers this time around.

I'm not trying to justify my decision to do this, but I don't want to do wrong by my students either. I want them to be excited about new pieces of choreography for the year, keep the parents excited to watch them, and keep myself excited to work on it as well. Heck, I'm not even trying to pretend that I'm not doing it! But, how many teachers can honestly say that they've never re-used a piece of music and approached it with a mindset of doing things that maybe worked previously with that song... I'll bet no one!

I'm sure every dance teacher could talk themselves in circles around reasons for re-doing certain numbers, and maybe that's all I'm doing. But, this is my blog, so I'll justify whatever I want to myself! I will honestly say in regards to this issue that I don't think any piece of choreography is ever as good the second time around. I went to watch another competition last year, as I heard that a studio was going to re-do one of my favorite group pieces I had ever seen at a competition from two years ago. However, much to my disappointment, I did not like it the second time around. The concept and the song were the same, but there was just something magical missing in all aspects that made the dance have less impact and be less memorable. Maybe it was the new group of dancers they had performing it, or maybe even it was because I knew what was going to happen. The group was still fantastic as a whole and they did really well at competition, but I'm going to say not as well as it had previously done.

I don't think the general idea here is any different then what I'm planning on doing, but my intentions in doing so are not to try and match the success of any groups previously. I don't want to re-do that tap group to help myself win more choreography awards, or so the kids win more Overall Awards with it. I don't even really want people to be able to recognize that the group is the same, but maybe that's unavoidable! There are some competitions that have rules about winning Overalls at their competition with the same routine two years in a row, and that I fully respect. Luckily for me that's not an issue, but I'm sure it can be for some people.

At least if I'm going to win another Choreography Award for one of these groups it will still be my choreography that's awarded. If you're going to 'recycle' a group that you saw another studio do last year... well, that's a whole other pile of garbage!