The importance of establishing good habits at the start of the dance season

 

The beginning of a new dance season is full of possibility … but it can also be nerve-wracking for studio owners! Will your clients return? Will new students enroll? Will teachers meet your expectations? Will your team of teachers gel? Will parents be satisfied? The uncertainty can be overwhelming!

But even if you are feeling less than confident about this new season, one thing is for sure: it’s a fresh start. The “clean slate” of the new season provides an opportunity to start great new habits that will help things run more smoothly in your studio this year.  In this blog post, I’ll share four important habits that dance studio owners should start in the first six weeks of the season.

These habits might seem simple, but you shouldn’t overlook their importance. Implementing them early will not only help you get your season off to a great start, but they will also make your studio life much easier during the entire year. It is important as dance studio owners that we set healthy boundaries, lay out expectations, and develop good relationships with our students, families, and teachers. When these become habits – especially habits established at the beginning of the season – they become second nature for us and our students.

A quick note: The advice in this blog post comes from my experience working in dance studios as a teacher, social media coordinator, and administrator, as well as in a national non-profit dance organization, as the director of a small professional dance company, and as the owner of my own business. I think it is important that I be upfront that I have never owned my own dance studio – however, sometimes a fresh perspective can be helpful!

 

Why the first six weeks of dance class matter

 

What’s with the first six weeks? In the Responsive Classroom methodology, the first six weeks of school are considered crucial. Teachers who adopt the Responsive Classroom methodology follow specific steps to ensure that their students start the year in a way that sets them up for engaged and productive learning. As described on the Responsive Classroom website, “The early weeks of each new school year offer teachers distinct opportunities and challenges. It is during this time—when expectations and routines are established, rules generated, and goals articulated—that the foundation is laid for a productive and cooperative year of learning.” Dance studio owners can apply a similar mindset during the first six weeks of the season to create good habits for themselves and their faculty, which will ultimately set their students and their business up for success throughout the year.

Here are four key habits that dance studio owners should establish in the first six weeks of class to ensure a successful dance season – for their students, faculty, and themselves!

 

1.) Put your mission and values at the heart of all that you do 

 

It can be hard to stick to your values in the dance industry. It can be tempting to change who you (at least just a little bit), to try to stay competitive. But staying true to who you are will take you a lot further in the long run – and make you a lot happier, too! Having a clear mission statement and defined values helps to shape the culture of your studio, allowing you to build the kind of community that you desire. The most successful studios I’ve worked at have been the ones with a strong sense of who they are and why they do what they do. As a teacher, I felt like I was a part of something much bigger than myself when the studio had a clear mission that was consistently present throughout their programming. These studios also seemed to attract the right kind of students – maybe not the most students, but the ones who stuck around and were loyal because they also believed in the studio’s mission.

As you get ready to start the new dance season, here are some ways you can put your mission and values at the heart of all that you do throughout the year:

  • Review your mission statement and values. (Don’t have them crafted yet? Find advice here.) Do they still reflect what you envision for your studio? Make any necessary changes. Before the season starts, make sure that your updated mission and values can be found on your website, and in your student and faculty handbooks. Promote these materials throughout the first six weeks, making sure that teachers and clients know how to access them.
  • Curate your social media accounts and marketing materials so that they reflect your mission and values. Make who you are, what you do, and why you do it clear to anyone who finds your studio through these channels. Schedule a special series of posts during the first six weeks that re-introduces your mission and values to your current and prospective clients.
  • Review your classes and programs with your mission and values in mind. Does what you offer reflect who you want to be as an organization? Or are you offering classes that don’t mesh with what you value, because you feel compelled to keep up with other studios in your area. Do the classes and programs you offer attract the students you want? For example, if your mission is to create a strong competitive program with dedicated full-time dancers, then a series of short-term recreational classes might not be the best fit for your studio.
  • Review your policies in light of your mission and values. Do your studio expectations and consequences reflect who you want to be as an organization? For example, if your mission is to be an inclusive studio and you value students’ emotional well-being, then a strict attendance policy that doesn’t allow for time off for mental health days may not be a good fit.

 

2.) Get your faculty on the same page – and keep them there! 

 

Consistency is crucial for kids, and creating a consistent experience throughout your studio can go a long way in keeping your clients happy and building the studio culture that you want. But ensuring that consistency can be difficult when you have multiple teachers on staff. Getting your faculty on the same page at the start of the year is critical. Before the season starts, conduct a staff meeting in which you outline all of the information they should know.  Plan a follow up for sometime during the first month to review key information, check in on how things are going, and answer any questions that arise.

Things you should review with your staff at the beginning of the year include:

  • Employment policies, including payroll, what to do if you need time off, and expectations around recitals, competitions, and special events.
  • Emergency procedures, including sudden illness, injury, disruptive students or families, natural disasters, and more.
  • Expectations for student behavior, including dress code, drop off and pickup procedures, studio rules, and consequences for violating the rules. Teachers should be directed to enforce these expectations consistently in their classes, so that students have the same rules and consequences in all of their classes.
  • Curriculum notes and how to assess students, so that student get a consistent experience regardless of their teachers, and progress through the curriculum smoothly.

All of this information should be included in a dance teacher handbook that your staff can refer to throughout the year.  You should also make it a habit to communicate your expectations of staff frequently throughout the year, and especially during the first six weeks of this season. You can use a text service, email, staff newsletter, or regular meetings to keep in frequent touch with your teachers and keep them on the same page throughout the year.

 

3.) Make evaluation routine throughout your studio

 

The best way to ensure that things are running smoothly throughout the year is to make a habit of evaluating both your students and teachers. By having comprehensive evaluation processes in place, you can ensure that your teachers are at their best, and that your students are continually learning, improving, and working toward their goals. Evaluation of students and staff is another way that you can keep your team – and your clients – on the same page. It can lead to the a healthy, positive studio culture, in which students grow in technique, artistry, and overall well-being, where families feel welcomed and valued, and teachers are encouraged and supported. Plan to informally review your staff and check in on your students’ progress during the sixth week of class.

  • A thorough and transparent student evaluation process can help make leveling easier, by setting clearcut expectations for what students need to accomplish in order to move up. It can help students understand how they are progressing, help them set appropriate goals for themselves, and motivate them to give their best in classes and rehearsals. It can help reduce the appearance of bias or favoritism when it comes to level placement. You may even have fewer parents who challenge you on level placement!
  • A consistent dance teacher evaluation practice can remind teachers of their strengths, help them discover new areas for growth, prevent burnout, reinvigorate their love for teaching, and encourage them to best support your students. As a dance educator, I appreciate getting feedback on my teaching methods, class management, choreography, and more. I know how easy it is to get stuck in a rut as a teacher, and when I’ve been fortunate to be evaluated, it always helps refresh my approach. When things are not going well with a teacher, evaluation can be even more important. Evaluation provides you with a record of issues or concerns that can be used if you need to take disciplinary action.
  • You can also consider a full studio audit of your programs, services, or business practices. There are many organizations and coaches who can facilitate this process.

If you are reading all of this and thinking, that sounds like too much work – know that it doesn’t have to be! Dance teacher evaluation can be as simple as popping into classes every quarter and having a quick conversation after. You can also involve others in the process to take some of the work off of your plate: teachers can evaluate one another, students and parents can fill out evaluation surveys, teachers can complete self-evaluations, or you can bring in outside evaluators (like myself!). Dance students can complete self-evaluations, their parents can complete satisfaction surveys, or they can be evaluated by their own teachers, other faculty at the studio, or an outside evaluator. Whatever evaluation looks like at your studio, making it a regular habit is most important!

 

4.) Stop putting yourself last

 

As a business owner, it may feel like there is always something that needs your attention: students, parents, faculty, the building, marketing, the books … not to mention your own families and friends! It can be easy to put everything else first, and neglect your own health and well-being. Doing so can have long-term negative affects on your physical and mental health, lead to burnout, and ultimately have repercussions for your business. Make a plan to make self-care a habit, and start it within the first six weeks – if not today!

Now, if you are like me, you’re reading this and saying “Blah, blah … this all sounds nice, but it doesn’t work in the real world.” And I’ll admit, it’s not easy. But there are some practical ways that you can make a habit of putting your own well-being first:

  • Maintain business hours by setting an out-of-office on your email, phone, and social media messaging platforms. Do not respond to communications during your out-of-office times.  Avoid giving out your personal phone number or email, and consider limiting social media connections with your clients.
  • Invest in help when you need it, whether it is a studio management platform, a virtual assistant, an office manager, or a cleaning service. If you can’t find room in the budget for help right now, consider offering partial scholarships to trusted students or families who can assist with things like cleaning the studio, organizing costumes, or managing your website or social media. For more sensitive areas like bookkeeping, you may be able to barter with members of the community, offering studio space or private lessons in exchange for assistance.
  • Take a break. Schedule a yearly vacation where you step away from the studio entirely. Whether or not you actually go away on a trip, taking a break is the best way to fight burnout and preserve your well-being. Close the studio entirely during this time or put a trusted colleague in charge. Don’t check your studio email, voicemail, or social media. Rediscover who you are as a person, first and foremost, and not just a business owner.
  • Take care of your body. Whether you are an owner-teacher running all the classes yourself, or find yourself at a desk most of the day, this job can be hard on your body. if you want a long and healthy career, you need to do all you can to prevent wear and tear.
    • When teaching: If you are able, give yourself a good warm-up before your classes start – or at least participate in your students’ warm-up as much as you can. Use your best dance technique when you demonstrate, and try to alternate which side of a combination you show most often so you don’t get imbalance injuries. If you have several classes in a row, give yourself some downtime by planning time for your students to improvise or do a creative activity that doesn’t involve demonstrating. (You may like these improv activities, choreography prompts, dance history activities, and dance games.) Cool down at the end of your teaching block – its tempting to run right out of the studio, but even a short cool down goes a long way!
    • When doing administrative work: Mind your posture as you sit at your desk or run around the studio tending to things. Step away from the desk occasionally to give your eyes a break from the computer. Build movement into your daily routine, whether it is a stretching break every few hours, a yoga class on your lunch break, or taking phone meeting while walking around the block.

 

More back-to-dance resources

 

Get organized and prepared for your studio’s best year yet with The Dance Studio Owner/Program Director Bundle. This collection of ready-to-use resources for studio management includes the following tools, all at a discounted price:

My favorite tips and strategies for getting your year off to a great start can be found in this blog post: 8 Easy Ways to Make the Most of Back-to-Dance Season

Start the year of with by starting great habits:

For great games to help you get to know your students and create a strong class community, check out these blog posts:

Get all the dance teacher resources you need to get to know your dance students and create a strong class community – all at a great price – with the Back-to-Dance Bundle!

Want resources and inspiration to last the whole season long? Visit my Resources page, and join me on Facebook at The Holistic Dance Teacher and sign up for my  newsletter!