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Achieving the Ultimate Studio Culture

culture numbers

When you walk through your studio doors, how do you feel? Happy? Excited? Agitated? Scattered? What about your students, their parents, and your employees? How do they feel?

That feeling—whatever it may be—stems from your studio’s culture. Culture is the culmination of attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors that happen within your business. And it starts with you.

I decided a long time ago that I only wanted to feel joy when I walked into the studio. It sounds cliché, but dance has always been joyous for me—for my whole family, in fact. I grew up with a studio owner mom, and my sisters and I became studio owners too. Dance fuels my zest for life! So when my husband Anthony and I decided to open a studio together, we knew that a culture of joy would be the prime focal point. We wanted to make every effort to create a caring yet disciplined second home for our students; a place where everyone loves coming to dance. It has served us well: our enrollment has grown more than 60 percent in the past three years.

Culture can have a ripple effect, and as the leader of your business, you are like the rock that sets the waves in motion. Your values create the vibe that influences those closest to you—your staff—then continue to ripple out to students, their parents, and the community as a whole. Let’s look at the ways you can set the standard and create the ultimate positive culture.

Start with yourself

Consider why you opened your studio. What values are most important to your business? What gives you pride in your work, as a leader to your employees, and a role model to your students? Here are some sample words; circle the top five that fit best or jot down your own.

  • Excellence
  • Generosity
  • Positive mindset
  • Creativity
  • Teamwork
  • Fun
  • Responsibility
  • Safety

Another way to think about values: they are the spark that lights your fire. When your values are in place, you truly feel like you are running the business—not that the business is running you. Living our studio values out loud is what fuels my joy. Whether I’m planning a new program, sitting in a meeting, handling a tough situation, celebrating a win, planning for recital, or anything else, I always search my values for direction. In turn, staff and students see me “walking the talk” of who we are as a community.

Your staff

As a former professional dancer, I love that feeling of “It’s showtime!” It’s when you know you are “on” and giving your best. I expect my employees to feel the same, and during our onboarding process we explain to new teachers how each class is their “showtime.” Teaching is performing, just from a different vantage point. And when teachers are giving their all, students tend to follow.

Because teamwork and positivity are so important to my studio culture, I actively foster relationships and celebrate the people on my team. Weekly “huddles” are less-stuffy versions of meetings—a way for everyone to stay informed without dozing off from boredom. Our huddles are efficient and information-focused, but we still make time for staff recognition. For example, I’ll give a special shoutout to teachers who took the time to sub extra hours or work on an additional project, like organizing costumes. Outside of these meetings, Anthony and I randomly show appreciation, like surprising the team with coffee-shop gift cards.

Relationships go hand-in-hand with accountability, so I make sure each staffer understands that work time is time to put their best foot forward—starting with that first step into the building. One time a young teacher came in complaining about traffic, without so much as a greeting first. I reminded her, gently but firmly, that a friendly hello can go a long way to starting the day right, even if the traffic really was horrible. 

Staff—especially teachers—are the conduit to students. Offering your teachers a healthy, happy, high-standard work environment means they will bring that vibe into the classroom. It’s the ripple effect in action!

At your studio, what expectations are you holding up for your staff? How are you instilling studio values in them? How will you amplify these relationships and show appreciation? List the steps you already take, and add a few new ideas to try in the coming weeks. Use these prompts to brainstorm:

  • These are the ways I listen, support, and recognize my team in accordance with my studio values …
  • Here are new ideas I want to try …

Your students

I love getting students excited about goals; it fits our culture of excellence. I want them to train hard while learning how to be good citizens of the studio, like cheering each other on in class or congratulating a peer after a job well done. One method we use to reinforce our culture this way is recognition for special accomplishments, such as our “pirouette wall” (affectionately known as Pirouette Way) adorned with large wooden numbers. Once approved by a teacher, dancers sign the number that signifies how many pirouettes they’ve achieved. The kids’ smiles are priceless when they get to pick up that marker and sign their name.

I’m also a big fan of giving students a voice. I won’t hesitate to ask them for feedback after a guest class, competition event, or community performance, and I’ll occasionally allow them to suggest music for class and choreography. Giving kids the opportunity to speak up offers them influence over and ownership of their dance training. Through this, we are engaging their critical thinking skills. While I won’t act on every comment or suggestion, I am an active listener and I encourage all of our teachers to be the same.

To build up our leadership culture, we established a program called Rising Leaders, with four levels of “culture ambassadors:” classroom assistant, classroom leader, studio apprentice, and studio leader. Interested students work their way through each level, taking on special responsibilities and duties. Classroom assistants, for example, help demonstrate in younger kids’ classes. Studio leaders, who assist with small administrative tasks, are employees of the business. The goal is for Rising Leader participants to carry the banner of our culture as they build their work ethic and serve as role models.

In what ways are you creating a positive learning environment for your students? How are you using your studio values to develop a strong culture within the classroom? What are some ideas you’d like to try regarding:

  • Getting students excited about goals?
  • Giving them a voice?
  • Encouraging peer-to-peer influence?

Developing your studio’s culture takes effort, introspection, and intentional leadership. The best part, by far, is the ripple effect. If you feel joyous—and put in the work to spread that joy around—your employees and students will feel joyous too. Cultivate the vibe you want and success will follow.

Wondering what your studio culture feels like to new clients?

Consider hiring a mystery shopper to audit your business’s first impressions. Ask a friend-of-a-friend to answer the following questions:

  • What three words would you use to describe the studio’s social media presence?
  • When looking through the website, what’s the first impression you get?
  • How did you feel after calling the studio to inquire about classes? What about after emailing or texting?
  • How would you describe the vibe you felt upon walking through our doors?

Discuss the answers with your mystery shopper. Resist the urge to respond defensively. Think critically: if these first impressions don’t align with your studio values, what steps can you take to change them? Make those changes and revisit this activity in a few months.

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