The Value of Hiring Non-Dancers for Your Leadership Team

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All of us gravitate toward the familiar. When it comes to hiring, studio owners with dance backgrounds tend to seek out other dancers. Often that new employee is exactly what’s needed. But sometimes more of the same is, well, just more of the same.

When seeking employment, candidates may also limit themselves to what feels comfortable and known. But as a non-dancer working in a dance studio, I’ve learned that I add value to the business: my non-dance work experience complements the rest of the team. In addition, my studio owner invested time and money to develop my skills and make it possible for me to understand the language of dance.

With the goal of raising leaders at Expressions Dance & Music Center in Santee, California, where I am the studio manager, instructors often receive administrative and leadership opportunities. Studio owners, when seeking a new administrative hire or addition to a leadership team, often promote a teacher or hire a former student because they are known quantities. But these hiring decisions don’t always pan out.

When looking to fill an administrative or managerial position that requires skills such as critical thinking, problem solving, reporting, and relationship building, widen your view and consider candidates without a dance background. Non-dancers might not “speak dance,” but the right person willing to learn about dance could take some real responsibilities off your business owner plate.

I had a background in accounting when I was initially hired as the bookkeeper at Expressions. As my career at the studio progressed, I began adding other responsibilities, beginning with the front desk. The learning curve was steep. While I could speak knowledgeably about financial statements and was confident with computers and learning new programs, my dance vocabulary was lacking. The owner, program director, and teachers helped me as I learned to understand dance. I truly made an impact after joining the leadership team. My experience as a parent and a non-dancer led me to ask questions, provide a fresh perspective, and seek understanding.

A 2017 article in Forbes, “Five Reasons to Hire Someone With No ‘Industry’ Experience,” explained that an out-of-industry hire will often:

  • Ask “Why do we do things this way?”
  • Look at problems from a new angle and see new opportunities and solutions.
  • Challenge owners to define what makes the company different.
  • Require owners to train differently.
  • Introduce diverse ideas.

Let’s look at how those benefits might work in a dance studio setting.

Asking why

A new employee without a dance background will, out of necessity, need to ask a lot of questions. If you know you have a great program and have built a fantastic brand, allowing your new employee to challenge you a little on your processes may lead to improvements you didn’t know you needed. It can also refresh your perspective of how a novice dance client feels when walking through your doors the first time.

New opportunities and solutions

Non-dancers have knowledge and expertise in a different field where they encountered problems, saw opportunities, and came up with creative solutions. These kinds of skills transfer well to any business, including dance. Encourage them when they see a new opportunity for efficiency or a solution to a problem.

Train differently

This new hire will need to be trained not only on the core processes and skills necessary to effectively carry out responsibilities, but also on the language of dance. This training process offers a chance to test the integrity of your systems, brand, and curricula, and to clarify and strengthen certain dance-related processes.

Diverse ideas

No single person holds a monopoly on good ideas. If you surround yourself only with employees who have a dance background, you could miss blind spots in your programs, marketing, or communications. A non-dancer teammate may provide valuable insight, bring fresh ideas, and introduce new contacts.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of hiring similar employees. Instead, think about qualities and skills your team might be lacking or missing, and consider whether a non-dancer’s diverse benefits and strengths could fill those gaps and add value to your vision.

Welcoming a Non-Dancer to Your Team

  1. Assign an instructor to be a “staff buddy,” someone the new hire can turn to for help learning your dance language and culture.
  2. Create a schedule allowing the new employee to observe classes to better understand each genre and age or level.
  3. Cross train the new-to-dance employee with an instructor who is already filling an administrative role.
  4. Seek input about your processes and systems: does your non-dancer employee see any places for improvement?
  5. If appropriate for the non-dancer’s role, introduce him or her to students who can explain what they enjoy about dance and why they like certain classes or styles.

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