Monday, February 16, 2009

Interesting Policies at Dance Studios: What Am I Missing?

Is it just me or do some dance studios think they are special? I must be missing something because many have policies that don't make sense to me.

I'm early at a new studio and I'm reading the stuff on the wall. Lots of glossy promotional materials, the list of classes, events, why they are the best place on the planet for dance instruction, instructor photos (photoshopped to remove grey hair), etc.

I run across the "Studio Policies" with the rules for their classes. You know:
  • No gum chewing
  • No food or drinks (except water)
  • No insulting other students
  • No powder on the floor
  • No dancing with scissors (running is fine)
  • Wear appropriate clothing (especially in pole dancing classes)
  • We're not responsible if you have a heart attack or fall in love with other students
  • Inside the studio there is no shooting or stabbing allowed (take it outside before discharging firearms)
All the standard stuff you would expect in LA, nothing surprising.

Then I hit the section at the bottom and I'm shaking my head.

Attendance Policies:
  • It's important you show up on time.
  • If 2 or less people are there at the beginning of class, class is canceled.
  • If 3 or 4 people are there at the beginning, class is half the original time, students pay the full rate.
  • If 5 or more are there at the beginning, classes run full length, normal prices.
At another studio they have this line:
  • Studio reserves the right to cancel any class with less than 10 students.
Apparently it's my responsibility to be sure other people show up for class. Just because I drive 35 minutes, if I'm the only stupid one attending, they are canceling class. I guess the instructor and studio would rather do nothing for an hour, rather than teach me. If they knew me personally, maybe I could see that choice, but I'm just a another student at that point (and very unhappy if they cancel).

I really love the "pay full price for half the class" concept, if less than 5 people show up.

As a totally selfish individual, I love when I go to a class and only a few others show up. I almost get a private lesson for the price of a studio class. I get lots of attention, and the instructors tend to speed it up or slow it down based on the students. These are great classes for me and I recommended the instructor's class to others if they do a good job.

It's clear to me that if the class doesn't develop a reasonable following, it will be canceled. Most studios need 5-15 students per class to break even on expenses, so I know the 3 person class can't last for very long. If I like the class, I will tell others about it.

On the other hand, it's not my fault others didn't show up. I realize the studio can't look the other way every time. If the class is usually larger and it's slow one day, then it's a bonus for me. Canceling a class which is normally full seems inappropriate to me, since I made the drive and the effort.

BTW - When I teach, I enjoy the energy of larger classes but I like the small groups too. If there is poor weather, a new startup class, or there hasn't been enough publicity to attract students, I teach a complete class if one person shows up. I'm there already, the student is taking their valuable time to attend, and it's not their fault others didn't make it. If only one person shows up every week, I may cancel future classes.

Maybe some studio owners/instructors will post some comments to clarify the issues for us (you can be anonymous if you choose). I'm curious as to why the students who make the effort to attend should suffer if others don't attend. I'm guessing the studio has to pay the instructor the same amount for 5 students as for 25 students, so if they cancel or cut the class in half, maybe they don't pay the instructor the normal amounts.

Seems like short-term thinking to me. I certainly am not going to go to a studio more than once that cancels classes because only a few people show up. I'm hoping someone can tell me what I'm missing, because those policies just don't make sense to me.

If they post a class schedule, and I attend, I would expect them to teach me. What about you?
I took up meditation.
I like to have an espresso first just to make it more challenging.
--Betsy Salkind


  1. Haha...I love the one that says they aren't responsible if you fall in love with a student.

    From what I have found, dance studios (and a great deal of dance instructors that I have seen) have some of the worst business sense I have ever found.

    I don't think its excusable under any case to cancel a class because of a small attendance...if someone has taken the time to come and is willing to pay, it's wrong to turn them away because it's not as profitable as you'd like. As far as making the class shorter, I can see a *little* bit of logic to it, depending on the class.

    I encountered this the first time a few weeks ago at a yoga class...the instructor said that when there are only 2 or 3 people, she usually goes for 60 minutes instead of 90. Even though I thought it was odd at first, it made that style of class, the instructor usually gives feedback to everyone on every pose, and that is pretty time consuming. In the end, we still got the same amount accomplished (and maybe more) in the 60 minute class with 3 people than we would in the 90 minute class with 20 people. Even though I see the logic behind it, I personally would not do this as an makes more sense to give your students extra value rather than doing the minimum to keep them satisfied.

  2. Daniel,

    I guess I can see shortening a class IF the attendees still get great value. In some of the jazz classes I've taken, you can only do so many of some exercises before you get to a point of diminishing return. If the instructor explains why it's shortened and it makes sense, that is one thing (like your yoga class above).

    If it's a salsa class, it seems inappropriate to me. Giving more value than expected is a time honored way to build a following and business.

    I can see where they may cancel a class in the future, but after I've driven to the studio as a student, it makes no sense to cancel after I've arrived.

    Again, maybe I'm just ignorant. If I'm missing something, please set me straight.

  3. Don,

    An interesting post (as always!), particularly the comments on attendance.

    I'm assuming from your post that you are talking about drop in classes. At my club in Sydney, Australia, you can drop in on a class for a casual lesson, but the norm is to sign up for an 8 week structured term of lessons, paid up front, with 1 class per week. If there aren't enough people to pay the instructors and other overheads for the full term then the term is canceled before it begins, though I don't think this has ever happened at my club. I've been to lessons where 16 people have signed up for the term but only 4 people managed to turn up that night. The term is viable (because 16 people have already paid in advance) so the class goes ahead. Bonus (almost) private! I must admit that this situation is very much the exception, but it's fun when it happens.

    Actually, this term structure seems to be standard procedure for every Salsa club I have taken lessons with in Sydney, with some variations like 12 month flexible memberships, multiple class discounts etc. Are clubs in your city organized this way as well, or are drop in classes the norm?

    FYI, you would normally pay about AUS$130 for 8 1 hour lessons. Average class numbers range from 20-30 for beginners down to about 10-16 for an 'advanced' class. So up front payments don't seem to discourage people from signing up.

  4. These look like franchise studio rules. They are always fun. I wonder how much of them are really enforceable. On the other hand some rules make sense. Nother worse than someone dropping gum on the floor, or worse yet spreading powder...


  5. Agreed Don!

    Actually I have found that studios which cancel classes, even if there are LESS students than they need, are just encouraging those few students who MADE IT NOT to ever return for that class.

    Honestly, a good studio/instructor should keep their word and make certain they class happens as advertised.

    If you make the class fun/valued for those few who do show up, they will keep returning, and if you've setup a good value and advertising for the class you should see more people keep joining each time.

    Thanks! and keep up the blog ;)


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Don Baarns - Unlikely Salsero