So many of us opened our dance studios not only because we loved to dance but because we wanted to share that passion. We wanted to teach future generations what it means to move. We wanted others to fall in love with dance.
All that might be soul-satisfying, but somewhere along the way you might have realized it takes more than passion to pay the bills. For that you need grit, grind, and knowing how to build a base of dancers that will keep your studio strong, allowing you to keep sharing your passion for years to come. With a foundation of youngsters, you have a built-in population that can grow with your studio for many years to come.
With that goal in mind, here’s some tips for building your base of dancers that are ages 4 and younger.
What dance studio doesn’t want “the babies” to come flooding through their doors? One of the best things that I’ve learned over the years is that class inventory equals babies! Just like a retail store stocks several sizes and styles of clothing, dance studios must “stock” a variety of class options for littles. Families are busy. They want and need flexibility. If they need a class on Tuesday evening and you don’t offer one, they are going to the studio down the street that does. Price will rarely make a difference, if at all—it’s the schedule that matters most.
When creating a seasonal schedule, slot in your inventory for 4 and younger first, making sure class times vary throughout the week. While a majority of moms and dads have a 9-to-5 work schedule, not all do. Classes that start after 5pm might fill first, but don’t forget that some parents prefer earlier classes, daytime classes, and even later evening classes—yes, there are parents willing to bring their 3- or 4-year-olds to classes that end after 7pm!
Teaching age-appropriate curriculum is key. Not only are developmentally appropriate lesson plans important for dancers’ physical, cognitive, and psychosocial development, but keeping everything age-appropriate makes for a more enjoyable learning experience. Age-appropriate curriculum shows parents that the studio and instructors are not only knowledgeable about children’s developmental stages but that they care about offering an optimal experience.
Create a curriculum of your own or invest in one or more of the numerous programs out there, such as Discover Dance, Leap ‘N Learn, Boppin’ Babies Dance, Rhythm Works, or Acrobatics Arts. If you need to brush up on your understanding of early childhood learning, search online for blog posts and educational resources from hospitals and pediatricians’ offices. Seek out information on gross motor skills and development milestones for 2-, 3-, and 4-year-olds.
And don’t be afraid to try something new! At my studio, we never thought that teaching dance to 1-year-olds would be popular, but today we offer classes to more than 40 1-year-olds (and their caregivers) every week. What better way to grow your base than to have a multitude of moms recommend you to their friends and family?
It’s imperative to hire experienced instructors to teach your 4-and-under population. Remember, a studio owner can teach a new hire how to chassé or do a shuffle ball change, but it’s tough to teach energy, empathy, or enthusiasm. The perfect staff member might already be inside your business—if you don’t know if they might be interested, ask! If you look outside the studio for an instructor, don’t just choose someone with dance-knowledge only. Look for someone who enjoys working with young children. Preschools are a great place to look for teachers who can train in the basics of dance.
Introduce these classes in a way that entices parents. Highlight the benefits of your studio; how it focuses on helping children improve their gross motor and social skills and provides a safe and fun, age-appropriate environment. Talk about everything you have to offer: “Here, we teach more than dance—we teach life skills and life lessons.”
Hype up these classes internally and externally. Find out what social media platform(s) your parents use most often and frequently highlight class openings. Brag about your studio! Brag about the students! Parents love to share so make sure to include student photos or video snippets in your posts. Even the smallest “wins” can be touted as something amazing.
Most importantly, show that your studio is a community where parents find friendships and children find a second home. Post parent testimonials and cheer their kids’ milestones. Let the public know that your studio is a safe place where everyone is welcomed and celebrated.
Your 4-and-under student base is crucial for perpetuating growth in your business. Create a roadmap using the tips mentioned above, or take just one idea and focus on it for the new season. Future generations will thank you.