SO YOU WANT TO START A DANCE CLASS!?

This article first appeared in the July 2005 issue of Let's Dance

by Loui Tucker

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So you want to start a dance class!? As someone who currently runs three dance classes a week, the first question that comes to mind is: “Why would anyone *want* to start their own dance class?” It’s a lot of work, a near-constant responsibility, and fraught with diplomatic land mines.

It could be because you’ve just moved to a new city and there are no dance groups or classes at all (how could that be?!). Perhaps there are some dance venues, but not on a convenient night; or there are some classes, but the dances are too easy or too hard or there isn’t a mix of dances that you like. Perhaps you are at that point in your life when taking on a dance class seems like a positive step.

Whatever your motivation(s), I hope this article will be of assistance, and if you are just an innocent dancing bystander or just curious about the process – read on!

Blessed Be!
I hope this first step is obvious: before you even begin your search for a hall, if the area already has a class or classes, take the teacher(s) to lunch. Explain why you want to open your own class. Invite the advice, assistance, cooperation, even the support of those teacher(s). Establish a collegial tone and an open door policy. If there is an existing dance population, please don’t start a holy war in your area by deliberately alienating the current teacher(s) and dividing the dancing population.

Location, location, location
With the blessing of the local leaders, now you need a dance hall and you need to reserve it for a time and date that are convenient to you, and hopefully without causing a conflict with or seriously impacting any existing dance class(es). Assuming you don’t have the degree or credential required to teach at a college or university, consider starting your search in other places where there are already classes: community centers.

Most cities have at least one community center that offers classes to residents of the surrounding areas. Pick up a catalogue of current class offerings and see if they already have other dance or exercise classes. If they have similar classes, convincing the manager of the center to add another dance class should not be difficult. You can still pitch the idea of a class if they don’t have such classes, but it may be a harder sell. And don’t forget to check out any community centers that are focused on the ethnicity or religion of the local inhabitants, such as a Jewish Community Center or Slavic Community Center.

Other possibilities include exercise facilities and gyms. If they don’t have a full slate of exercise classes, perhaps they will welcome a low-impact aerobic activity such as folk dance in their schedule.

Check the local yellow pages for other classes specializing in other types of dance such as ballroom, Latin, tap, ballet, and jazz to see where those classes are held. A local dance studio might be willing to rent their hall to you as well.

Finally, connect with local wedding and event planners. If they have been in business for very long, they know the location and availability of all the available church and private halls.

You may think that a hall located close to any existing dance population would be ideal, but that may be less critical than you imagine. Existing dancers will travel farther for certain features, a great wood floor, for example. On the other hand, if you’re starting the first dance class in your area, a centrally located hall is your best bet. New dancers are not that fussy about the dance environment, and will look first for activities close to home.

Make your list, check it twice
You’ve found a wonderful hall with a great wood floor in a centrally located church basement! The price is right, the location is perfect -- you’re in love! As with any relationship, step back, take a deep breath, and consider some of the following (not necessarily in order of importance):

You can’t have everything (in a relationship or a dance hall), but don’t be fooled by a pretty face, umm, dance floor.

Timing is everything
Once you’ve narrowed down your choice of dance halls, start talking to the dance hall managers about the possible date and time for your class. Keep in mind what day, what time and for how long you’ll want to hold your class.

Besides picking a date and time that are convenient to you, take time to consider both any existing dance classes and your prospective attendees. Even if you are clearly offering alternative content (easier dances, harder dances, different mix of partner/non-partner dances, emphasis on a particular ethnic group), you are still asking current dancers to either (a) switch to your class or (b) add another night of dancing to their schedule. Also, if you schedule your class on the same day as (or even one day prior or one day after) a popular existing class, you are inviting discord. If the existing class is on Mondays, try for a Thursday. If the existing class is on Wednesdays, try for Monday or Friday. A day or two in between will give dancers a day to rest and give you points for being diplomatic and a good sport.

Also, take a look at other important activities in your community. If you’re new in town you may not realize that everybody attends Bingo Night at the local Elks Club every Thursday night or Contra Dancing draws 80-100 on Monday nights. You probably don’t want to complete with a really popular long-standing event.

Don’t bite off more than you can chew.
If the existing dancers are used to a two- or three-hour class, go ahead and schedule a class of similar length. If you’re starting the first dance class or a class for beginning dancers, however, go easy on your students. A one-hour class will probably be long enough. It is a better tactic to leave them wanting more rather than exhausting them. Once the class is established, your students will be first ones to tell you when they wish the class were longer.

Keep an eye on the future when you’re scheduling your class. Even if you’re only looking for a one-hour class at the beginning, leave yourself room to grow. If your new dance class is sandwiched tightly between two established classes, you’ll have to change the day and/or the time slot if you want to increase the length of your class.

Does Money Make the (Dance) World Go Around?
When it comes down to paying for the class, you may not have any choice if you are working with a community center. They must charge for their classes in order to exist. Even if you are able to hold the class and not charge for it (a local church offers you free space and you don’t need the income), consider charging for the class anyway. Contrary to what you might think, it actually is NOT such a good idea to provide the class for free. It is my belief that your students will value what they pay for. Also, if they are compassionate and thoughtful people, they will not want you to lead and teach and work for free. Finally, no matter how altruistic and good-intentioned you feel at the outset, there may come a time when you will start to resent the time spent on something for which you are not paid.

That said, there are a number of funding scenarios you should consider if you can.

Consider these factors before you decide:

[In case you are curious, two of my three classes use the percentage split and in the other I am paid a flat fee for my time.]

Build it and they will come
So now you’re like a bride with a hall, a caterer, a band – and no groom. You need dancers!

Go to: Marketing Your Dance Class