By Paul Henderson.
If you find yourself in this situation, there are some things you need to know. There are things you need to accept.
Owning a dance studio is like being on a roller coaster in the middle of a tornado. Right about now (September) your spouse is worked up about a “lack of good music” and she or he is probably talking a lot about a teacher who suddenly quit out of the blue. She’ll say there are no good teachers anywhere and she has to start choreographing new routines. She’s out of ideas and has no music and no teacher for the Saturday line-up. This is the uphill, tornado part of the roller coaster. She’s starting a new season all over again and that feels daunting. She’s climbing. It’s hard work. It’s exhausting and it’s only the very beginning of a new season. She’s looking at 10 more months of this. Problems are swirling all around her at 200 miles an hour. She’s got some staffing issues and probably also some student and parent drama issues. This is the time of year that she finds out some of her dancers are not returning to her studio and it makes her feel sad. And to top it off, he or she’s probably getting her own children ready for their own school and trying to be a good mom or dad.
Here are my top 13 ways to live a wonderful life while married to a dance studio owner:
1. Embrace the Chaos. Before you can embrace “the chaos”, you need to know what it is. It is anything that causes trouble in the form of an irritated spouse. The longer you own a dance studio the potential for irritation increases. By learning to embrace the chaos; however, you will find that fewer things are irritating; resulting in the inverse revelation that if you embrace the chaos, nothing is chaotic.
2. Understand that your spouse is a dance teacher first and foremost. This means that she’s a giver. Students “take” a class and teachers “give” a class. Giving all the time is hard in September when you’re in the uphill tornado section of the roller coaster ride. Understand that when she is complaining about “teaching”, she really means that it’s hard to “give” when so many things are distracting her from her teaching.
3. Your wife/husband is a mini-celebrity in his/her community. People will place her on a pedestal and then proceed to do everything in their power to knock her off. She can’t go to the store without bumping into a student and her mother. You probably won’t be able to go into a restaurant or movie together without her seeing, and probably chatting, with a client. This is all fine and good in the first year or two of the studio’s existence when everyone’s happy and everything is new and exciting. After the honeymoon period, it becomes more challenging. The uncomfortable run-ins in the grocery store may now be with a disgruntled parent who recruited seven of your wife’s best dancers to quit and go to another studio on the other side of town. This is only chaotic if it’s unexpected. Expect it. It happens.
4. Do you remember how in high school there were groups of people who always talked about and criticized other groups of people? Do you remember thinking in high school, “Geez, I can’t wait to get away from all this drama”? Well, it doesn’t ever end. The reason high school is dramatic is not because it is high school. It is because it is life.
5. Always remember, your job, as a spouse is to support your husband or wife no matter what. You vowed to love, honor and cherish your wife in good times and in bad. So, when you’re watching a “very important” game on TV and she comes home at 9pm from teaching, and likely dealing with unbelievably ridiculous drama at the studio, she’s going to need to vent. Your duty is to listen to her venting until she’s finished. As she’s venting, you will want to only support and agree and encourage her…or him. If you try to fix anything…you’re a dead man. Hint: if you turn off the TV immediately and give her 100% of your attention, she will get what she needs from you much faster than if you stare at the TV and mutter a distracted “uh-huh” every few minutes. This is why the DVR was invented.
6. You are cheap/free labor, so help her out with the business. To master the dance studio business, start by understanding that it is indeed a business and then concentrate heavily on cash flow. Once you understand that her cash flow is going to turn into one of those dried up Arizona desert riverbeds every July and August you’ll figure out ways to boost the studio’s revenue. Help her with marketing to help increase her enrollment, but also focus on ways to earn extra revenue from her existing clients. There is a reason that a restaurant sells not only an entrée but also, cocktails, appetizers, wine, desserts and after dinner liqueurs.
7. Become a therapist. The not so fun part of having a spouse that owns a studio is the psychological toll it will take on her. Remember, she’s a mini-celebrity now and what happens to celebrities? People gossip about them and hurt them for their own entertainment. You are her therapist now. Therapists do very little talking and a whole lot of listening. If you do have to say something, it better be profound or funny or both. At some point, your wife will have a conflict with some of her clients and/or her staff. Shocking, I know. These conflicts, and it doesn’t matter what they’re about, are going to cause her some serious anxiety. She won’t understand what she did to deserve it. She will be hurt and angry. She will be so frustrated that she will cry. Nothing you say will make her feel better and it might actually make things worse. There’s no magic to ease her pain, but I will tell you that just listening and validating her feelings is all she really needs from you.
8. When a customer complains about something ridiculous…like her daughter is in the back row or she didn’t know about a rehearsal when everyone else in the class was present, try saying something like this. “That lady is probably mad, not at you, but at someone else in her life…like her husband or in-laws and she’s misdirecting her anger on you. I’m sorry, that’s really terrible. Here, have a glass of Chardonnay* and tell me more about it.”
9. When the rude parent of a 4 year old cusses her out because he was late for class and can’t get a refund and threatens to go on Yelp, the BBB, Facebook etc…try: “I’m really sorry that you have to deal with this kind of stuff. I know this won’t help much, but despite this incident with one or two idiots, you still have a lot of happy students who did not complain today…so that’s good, right? Here, have another glass of Chardonnay and tell me more about it.”
10. When a teacher quits unexpectedly you say, “That’s awful! I’m so sorry. What-the-what?” “What-the-what”, said in a shocked and exasperated tone, is a way to indicate to your spouse that you are so flabbergasted by this horrendous news that you can’t form a coherent sentence. It might actually work to distract her, if only for one brief glorious second. Consider offering a cocktail containing Vodka.
11. When a parent actually trashes her on social media you say, “This is horrible! I’m so sorry. Here, have a glass of Chardonnay.” Seriously, there’s not much you can do here. This is serious. She has been violated personally and this is dangerous territory. Being gossiped about behind your back (ironically in the openness of social media) is truly horrifying for most people. Whatever you do, don’t minimize her feelings. This is called a “disrespectful judgment”, and if you do it, she will take her frustration out on you. Listen to her carefully and intently and validate her feelings as much as humanly possible. When the time is right, nudge her ever so gently towards deactivating the compromised social media account temporarily.
12. When she can’t find music for choreography you say, “Tell you what…I’ll choreograph a routine for you. I know you’ve got your hands full. Don’t worry, I can do this because I’ve watched you do it for years and you make it look so easy. How hard could it possibly be?” She will understand you’re full of it, but she’ll appreciate the effort. You’ll get bonus points if you throw in some dance terminology like “Tour jeté”. You’ll get triple bonus points if you actually do a tour jete right there in the living room. We taught my non-dancer son how to do one the night before his wedding…just in case. Watch it here.
13. When she comes home one night dejected, defeated and complaining that her best student just quit without so much as a “goodbye” or “thank you”, you say, “Here, have some Chardonnay”. When she takes the glass, raise your glass. Look her in the eyes, shake your head slowly and knowingly and say, “To the chaos!” Clink.
*Dance Informa does not recommend excessive drinking, but we do recommend excessive support of your spouse. Running a dance studio is hard work! A long bath, massage, date night or even just going on a walk together can help relax and refresh your spouse.
About Paul Henderson
Paul Henderson is an expert on administrative technologies for the dance industry and has been around the business for almost 30 years. His sisters were elite state champion gymnasts and dancers and his mother owned a dance studio and eventually a dancewear store. He managed the dancewear store for a few years before moving to the San Francisco Bay Area. He and his wife, Tiffany, currently own and operate Twinkle Star Dance™ – an online choreography and curriculum system for recreational dancers ages 2-11; seven successful dance studios in Northern California (www.tiffanydance.com) and one in Southern California. Tiffany’s Dance Academy’s annual enrollment of over 4,500 students caused Paul to invent ways to automate most of the day-to-day business transactions that take up so much of a studio owner/instructor’s time. Paul’s goal has always been to smooth out the business side of the dance studios so that his wife can spend more time in the studio doing what she loves…teaching. Automating online registration and monthly automatic tuition payments was achieved eight years ago but perhaps the most revolutionary invention is his web-based application – CostumeManager.com.
For the past six years, Paul Henderson has worked tirelessly with most of the major costume and dancewear manufacturers to consolidate their catalogs into one searchable website. Developing relationships with these companies has been crucial to the success of CostumeManager.com and his efforts have paid off for studios all across the United States and Canada. By creating one searchable website, it is possible for a studio owner to browse all catalogs simultaneously, assign items that they like to a dance class, establish their profit margin, create an online store or print a color worksheet for dancers explaining how they can order their required and or/optional items online or via toll free telephone. Dancers purchase their items securely online and CostumeManager.com orders, receives, sorts and ships the individually packaged items to the studio owner. The studio owner or instructor cashes their “commission” check, hands the bags of goods to the dancer and goes back to teaching. CostumeManager.com eliminates 90% of the work and all the worry associated with distributing costumes and dancewear to dancers while preserving all of the profit margin…if not more.