Paid Sponsorship – Dance the Magic

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Ask Jennilee Barr, vice president and artistic director of Dance the Magic, where her company is today. Her answer—“We’re on a rocket ship going to the moon, in the very best of ways!”—couldn’t be brighter or cheerier.


But just as it takes plenty of effort and ingenuity to get a ship off the ground, it took all that and more for Dance the Magic to propel itself out of the black hole of COVID. As a company that provides performance and educational adventures for dance studios at Disney parks, Broadway, and elsewhere, DTM was “dark”—i.e. no “live events”—for 18 months during the pandemic shutdown (December 2019 through July 2021). The first six months of the shutdown were spent sending out refunds for pre-booked trips—while no new income flowed in. Like so many others, the business’ future was up in the air. Yet what could have been an epic mission failure was, instead, a galactic opportunity. 


Jennilee and her mother, DTM founder and president Debi Barr, explained to INSight™ Magazine how the company spent the forced downtime looking up at the future by innovating, adding value, and expanding opportunities.  


They also took a deep breath. “When we got to 2020, we had been running so fast that when [the shutdown] hit, it gave us the gift of slowing down,” says Jennilee, who, as a college graduate in 2013 started helping her mother temporarily but fell in love with the business and stayed. “We could reevaluate and restructure” not only the business’ operations, but their own personal life-work balances. 


Post-COVID, the company boasts some big transformations: an online, parent-centric booking process that eliminates much of the work for studio directors; two new destinations (Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry and Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida); a doubled employee team of “insider experts” (former and current Disney performers) who are passionate about providing exceptional guest service to studio owners; amped-up marketing materials that allow for per-studio customization; and completely reimagined themed events. 


This “new and improved” DTM is applauded—literally!—by longtime clients such as Kevin and Meri Bender, owners of Bender Performing Arts, Phoenix, Arizona. In March of 2020 when Disneyland shut down, the Benders’ studio was only two weeks away from its next DTM experience. Later that year when the studio started re-booking their “lost” trip for April 2022—the first DTM event back in California post-COVID—Kevin was planning to pay a studio staffer to handle the time-consuming job of inputting the registrations of 300 dancers and family members. 


On a call with DTM, Kevin asked, “Could you find a way so that I’m not doing all the registrations?” and was thrilled by the “there is a new registration system!” response. 


When discussing the new system with INSight™, both Meri and Kevin threw their fists in the air and cheered. “The ease of the registration takes work off my plate” and the new system’s pricing setup includes a built-in studio commission that “allowed us to take eight of our own staffers on a trip like this” as a thank-you bonus for sticking with the studio through COVID, Kevin says. 


The new registration system has online portals where parents sign up and log in, order their desired package or customize room accommodations, sign waivers, and pay. The studio director, as trip leader, can oversee everything, but the workload of data entry—and handling money—has disappeared. The studio simply receives a commission check when all’s said and done.


The system makes studio directors’ lives easier—which was much of the company’s focus during the dark days of the COVID shutdown. 


Although the Benders’ studio parents were eager to rebook their lost DTM adventure, the park’s COVID-related guidelines and restrictions seemed to change daily—no one seemed to have solid answers to parents’ questions. Meri and Kevin assured them that DTM would make everything work—and Debi said the same during a studio-wide Zoom call. “DTM was so transparent in that parent meeting,” Meri says. “Oh, did the parents come on board!”


Meri says it was all about “trust value.” The Benders had full confidence that Debi, who worked as a studio owner for 28 years before starting DTM, knew the challenges that studio directors face and would work hard to iron out any wrinkles. 


“We knew it all was challenging for the directors, so for us it was, ‘How do we maximize [success] and make everything an easier experience?’” Jennilee says. 


Here’s one example. Anticipating that the parks would raise rates post-COVID, Debi says, she and Jennilee searched for places to add value to experiences, such as special, DTM-only celebration events like a party at Pixar Pier. (Debi says when pent-up demand for one event caused the initial estimate of 450 dancers and parents to blow up to 1,800, she and her Disney contacts worked furiously to find a bigger location.)


Bender Performing Arts, through Meri’s and Kevin’s leadership, went through a similar re-evaluation and transformation during COVID and now has its largest enrollment in a decade. Kevin says DTM was and is a good teammate to have during tough times. “We had a huge event planned for two weeks away, and we worked with DTM to get through it,” he says. “People like DTM who have flexibility and vulnerability and integrity, and who lead with kindness, are the kind of people you want to do business with.”


“We know there will always be challenges—this was a big one!—and we know we will get through them and come out better on the other side,” Debi says. 


“Together we’ll get through anything at this point,” Kevin added. To infinity, and beyond! 

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