“Make it Work”

My community dance classes have been going well since I last updated you on day one. I consistently have about 6 kids in my younger class and I have had a least one person in my Thursday class (these kids are a little older) every week. Attendance is down this week, likely due to the holiday. Unfortunately, my adult fitness class has yet to have any students, but I knew that one was a bit iffy from the beginning.

The place mats that I used the first class to mark kids’ spots have continued to be of great help each week. Everyone gets a green dot in our warm up circle, everyone knows where to sit and wait their turn when we go across the floor, and spaced out in a line they make great props to leap over or stop and practice poses. Those green dots are like a teacher’s aid really.

Unfortunately, they have one major flaw. They slide all over the place. I didn’t notice it the first class because we danced on a wooden deck outside, but once we got on the laminate floor the next week, these pace mats would not stay still. While out running errands today, I looked for a replacement spot for each child in the way of a rubber bottom mat, but was not able to find any.

So, I got creative.  I decided that as I had already re-purposed the place mats for dance class, I would no longer use them on a table as intended.  They were leftover from our wedding decorations, so it was something I had on hand already. Today, I spent a few bucks on non slip shelf liner and glued a square of it to the back of each place mat. Voila. A non slip mat that will continue to be useful for as long as I teach classes in this setting.

The Before and After.

While I was unable to fully test them tonight- no attendance today, sadly- I did try them out on my kitchen floor and briefly in the neighborhood clubhouse where I teach. They stayed put!

It was such a small little project to complete, but I feel like it represents the entrepreneurial spirit of finding a solution to a problem with limited resources. I know that in the future as my studio comes together, there will be many more of these moments. As Tim Gunn from Project Runway would say about most problems, “Make it work”.

 

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A New Adventure

This evening started a new teaching opportunity for me. I wrote a few weeks ago about taking a brave step and reaching out to my community and offering dance classes and today was the first one.

As there was no sign up and no commitment, I was unsure of how many preschool aged dancers I would have for my Creative Movement class this evening. I was pleasantly surprised to see 6 or 7 young kids -including two boys!- come to dance with me. There was a small hiccup with the doors to the neighborhood clubhouse not being open, but we embraced the summer evening and danced on the deck.

I was hesitant to invest much money in my own preschool dance supplies- floor markers, props, stickers, etc until I knew the interest level and grabbed a few things around the house before headed off for a short walk to the clubhouse. The round outdoor place mats that I had grabbed just minutes before class ended up being a stroke of genius- everyone had a place to dance, a place to sit while they waited to dance across the floor, and two of them together made a perfect “puddle” for leaps. I will definitely be using them moving forward, and will probably hang on to them for as long as they last into my future studio.

I am excited and optimistic about this new adventure. I am set up to teach three classes a week at the clubhouse on top of my regular studio hours. This means I get more teaching time, an opportunity to be a part of the neighborhood, and some extra cash to start putting away money in a savings account for my studio.

My dream studio is beginning to seem very reachable!

Taking a Leap of Faith

I want to continue my serious of performance memories, especially since the next in the series is about my favorite performances, but today I took a leap of faith with teaching.

This morning, I made a few cold calls to places in my community that could benefit from offering dance lessons. I am hoping to get my foot in the door at a few places this summer and slowly built my teaching hours. I also applied to an open position at a studio that is a ways away from my house, but could be totally worth it.

Cold calls are always hard, especially when it comes to selling your own services- dance lessons. I wasn’t expecting to hear back from one place, especially not right away, but I have an interview set up to speak with them next week. I am not sure if anything will come of it, but a meet-up is certainly a step forward towards my goals.

One of the entrepreneurial puzzles that I have been trying to solve lately is how to build clients and find a space to teach lessons without having the large overhead of renting a space when I don’t yet have students. I am hoping that by teaching my dance lessons at local community centers that I can do exactly that- build a student base and earn some extra cash that I can eventually put towards my start-up costs.

Sending out my resume is a huge leap of faith right now as I navigate multiple schedules and busy season at my full-time job. It’s messy waters at the moment figuring out ways to add more teaching opportunities without loosing the needed stability of my day job. I have made a huge and hard step with reaching out and offering my services, but I have a long way to go.

I am asking for positive thoughts, prayers, vibes, whatever you’ve got to help me through this messy phase of pre-start up and work towards my goals of studio ownership. And of course, I will continue to chronicle the highs and lows.

Performance Memories Part II: Stage Troubles

Performing in the community is important- which is why its one of my core studio fundamentals. Not only does it spread the art form to those who may not otherwise have access, but it helps dancers adapt to different performance conditions with grace and fluidity.

Continuing my theme of performance memories, I will share a few stories of performance conditions that were less than ideal but helped me grow as a dancer and a performer because of them.

  • One of my first community performances was when I was about 8 years old. We were dancing at an outdoor festival and it was unseasonably cold out and it started snowing shortly before we were supposed to dance. Our costumes were just our studio leotards and tights, but fortunately we were able to wear a studio sweatshirt if we had one with us. While the sweatshirt helped, our legs were still barely covered and kneeling on the ground as part of our piece was unpleasant. Luckily the dance was short and there wasn’t much snow (less than an inch), it was still one of the first times I had to really adapt to my dance space.

 

  • When I was a little bit older, my studio was doing an American themed spring recital. My tap number was to the Harlem Globetrotters theme song, which sounds like fun, until you factor in a dozen 10 year olds on stage, each with their own basketball. Now, we practiced how to plie and not how to dribble in our after school hours and even by recital time, most of us couldn’t keep control of the balls. The choreography included us dribbling our basketballs while tapping – hard enough for an adult, let alone a kid- and then passing the balls back and forth. It was definitely a struggle to maintain composure, keep control of the ball, and of course tap all at the same time. I don’t remember much about this piece other than it was a disaster.

 

  • I had the opportunity from late elementary school to early high school to perform in The Nutcracker every December.  I’ll probably do a whole post on all these stories one day but I slipped on soapy “snow”, put out a fire onstage, improvised half a battle with the Nutcracker as the Mouse King, and danced two performances sick as a dog. Lots of quick thinking and adapting there!

There were also times that the given performance space could have hardly been called a “stage”:

  • In high school, we danced at a craft fair that my family’s church was hosting. I’m not sure the fair coordinators were fully aware of the details of our performance or just didn’t think things through completely. So the eight or so of us dancers ended up performing in the middle of the main walkway, at the base of the staircase 90% of people had to use. The space was skinny and not conducive to the circles in the folk dances were showcasing.

 

  • It was with this same studio that we danced at the twice yearly street fair that the studio’s city held. It seemed like each time we performed, the stage got more and more warped and splintery. It was nice to know the size of the stage and to expect worsening conditions each time though.
  • During my senior year of high school, I had the opportunity to dance in the community many times and luckily I had encountered enough unpredictable situations at that point to be able to quickly work with what I was given. During National Dance Week we decided to perform in two local public libraries. I can say that I have never encountered a performance space as small as one of these libraries. Instead of allowing us to use their children’s story time room (which wasn’t large but feasible), we danced in between bookshelves. I’m sure the audience felt like they were watching a tennis match instead of a ballet variation with the way I went back and forth across a short, narrow space that was barely to ADA regulations for patrons with wheelchairs. My variation was meant to take up space and fill a large stage with a number of traveling movements and all of sudden I had to make everything stationary.

 

  • I think the most memorable performance set up was because it was the most bizarre, not because it was the worst. Over the summer after high school graduation, we performed the same pieces (a few folk dances and a few ballet variations) from the library at an even crazier space- in the middle of a grocery store! My variation started with a number of curtsies, and I still joke about bowing to the cheese, the nuts, and the wine. The space was small, but after dancing at the library just a few weeks prior, we felt like we had a ton of space. However, everyone- the customers, our parents, and us dancers- were confused as to why our director had chosen for us to dance in the middle of a Whole Foods. I’m all for performance opportunities at no cost to the audience, but there is a time and a place and a grocery store in the middle of summer is not really the place.

 

Stay tuned- next week I will share the stories of my favorite performances and the week after will focus on my choreography projects of the past.

Getting Organized

One piece of starting your own business that you don’t normally think about is having a space to work. Due to space constraints, I haven’t had a place that I could set up a desk, spread out, and easily work with computer and books since college. Yes, a kitchen table or couch will get the job done, but its important to have a dedicated space to sit down and work.

Now, I’m obviously still very much in the pre-planning stages of entrepreneurship. I’m still working on the research for what it takes to start your own business- how to create a business plan, market research, and even as basic as determining my fundamental values. I had grand plans at the beginning of the year to commit to researching and planning every day, but that’s been very much unrealistic. My new goal is closer to once  a week, though at times that doesn’t seem quite doable. I feel though if I push myself to take deliberate steps towards my goal of dance studio ownership at least once a week, actually working minimum of every two weeks is very manageable.

My husband and I bought our first home this past fall, about six months ago. We have a spare room that we have intentions on turning into a guest bedroom. Right now, though, getting a second bed for this room isn’t doable, but there is no sense in wasting this great space. My mom gave me a table that she and my dad made for my sister and I when we were very young now that I have space for it. This table is now my desk and I have more space than I’ve had in a long time and to top it off, I have a great view of our backyard.

With my new space, an organized bookshelf within easy reach, and a renewed motivation after speaking to my boss at my full time (non dance related) job, I feel like I am set up for productivity. Now, I just need to invest in a new computer in the not too distant future….

How useful is my senior Capstone project really?

In order to finish my B.A. in Dance, I had to complete a capstone project that represented both a culmination of my college experiences and a look into the future. For my project, I chose to create a curriculum guide for the dance studio that I envisioned owning at the time.

My focus in the project was to create a guide for a future dance studio that creates a well rounded in dancer in six key areas that I felt were essential to any dancer’s training

  1. Ballet and Contemporary Technique (teaching the movement)
  2. Artistry, Creativity, and Composition (creating the artist)
  3. Dance History (with a focus on that of ballet and contemporary)
  4. Dance Diversity (anything other than ballet and contemporary/modern)
  5. Health and Nutrition (taking care of one’s body)
  6. Career Opportunities (turning your passion into a career)

Although I trained extensively (see my post A Personal Dance History), I felt like I lacked a comprehensive education for many years. My goal with the curriculum guide was to ensure that my students did not have gaps in their dance education while training in a pre-professional atmosphere. I split my students up into a few skill levels – Creative Movement (3-5 year olds), Pre-Technique (6-8 year olds), and Beginning, Intermediate, and Advanced levels based on skill- and described out each of the 6 areas of education would be addressed.

I completed this project several years ago and with only a little bit of teaching experience. Needless to say, my perspective has changed a bit.

After distilling the four core values of the dance studio that I am now working towards (see Return to Blogging/ Core Studio Values), I went back to my capstone project with a more objective eye. Is this curriculum guide actually useful?

Come to find out that although age and experience have made me wiser, there are many parts of my college project that are usable and perhaps even practical for the future. My core values of a healthy dancer, a ballet focus, a supportive atmosphere, and a community-centered artist are represented throughout the curriculum guide without me even realizing that’s what my fundamental studio values were. Basically, my identity as a dance instructor has only become more solidified as the years have passed.

However, this project does have some serious flaws that I will have to overcome.

  1. The guide assumes a pre-professional conservatory style atmosphere with a schedule full of daily classes and weekly/monthly seminars and workshops. It does not take into account a dancer’s academic schedule.
  2. The guide does not give any hints as to the best way to build a dance studio from nothing and build to the point where all the classes mentioned are possible.
  3.  The guide only focuses on students who are serious about pursuing a career in a dance-related field. It does not provide guidance for recreational dancers who are present at any dance studio, especially one that is just beginning.

I do believe I can use my capstone project in conjunction with my four core  values to create the dance studio that I envision. I do, however, have to be conscious that I will have to build up to the point where I can use it as intended and to always be open minded enough to adjust as necessary.

Return to Blogging/Core Studio Values

It’s unfortunate that I have allowed life to get in the way of me pursuing my professional dreams. Fortunately, in my absence from the blog, my husband and I have been able to fulfill one of our personal goals. This fall, we purchased our first home and have been working to get settled over the last few months. So between a longer commute, working two jobs, attempting to unpack from the move, and life in general, my blog and studio planning have had to move to the back burner.

However, as my full-time job becomes more and more hectic, I find myself more and more determined to take real, concrete steps towards studio ownership. A while ago, I purchased a few books on business start ups and have been using that to help jump-start my brainstorming on what is most important to me as a studio.

There are many dance studios in my community so opening a new one has to offer something special that students won’t be able to get elsewhere. Every studio has a different focus and overall philosophy based on what each director feels is most important to their dancers’ training. I have tried to develop my core philosophies and the environment that I would like to grow within my studio and will use these as a guide for my decisions moving forward. I see these as kind of a precursor to my business mission statement and vision.

I believe that my dancers will succeed best in a studio that values the following things:

  1. A Healthy Dancer
    • I am a firm believer that every body can dance. I believe that dancers should be encouraged to live healthy lives and embrace their body’s natural shape and size. I also seek to eliminate the historical “ballerina body” that often leads to poor self-image among ballet dancers. Anyone can learn to dance and anyone can learn ballet.
  2. A Ballet Focus
    • Ballet is the foundation for so many other dance forms- jazz, modern, lyrical, etc. The discipline required improves a dancer’s technique in other dance forms as well as in live outside of the art world. I strive to teach my dancers the importance of ballet’s history and evolution and how it has and will inform the art world as a whole.
  3. A Supportive Atmosphere
    • The art world requires an intense amount of competition in the real world. However, I believe that dancers should strive to not only work to be the best they can be, but also support and encourage their fellow dancers to be their best. Competition to be better than you were yesterday is more important than competition to be better than your classmate. Watching your fellow dancers succeed is much more fulfilling than a rivalry against them.
  4. A Community-centered Artist
    • Dance does not exist in a bubble. Like other art forms, choreography is influenced by your environment. Not only to I wish to develop a passion for dance as an art form, much like most studios, but I hope to create a culture that respects the community around us and encourages each dancer to be an active member through service and performance.

I still have much work to do to hone in on how I plan to create the studio environment that I envision. I hope to be able to carve out more time moving forward to work through these concepts in the blog. I think my next step is to review my college capstone project outlining the studio structure that I had in mind when it was completed and compare it to my values now.