I’ve been meditating a lot lately on what makes a dance studio really great. How does one studio feel so cold and another feel warm and inviting? How does one studio instill a sense of confidence and professionalism while another seems disorganized or even chaotic? How does one look and feel eclectic and colorful, yet professional, when another looks bland or slapped together? In my research, here are some of the top considerations for creating the ideal atmosphere:
Look and Feel
First impressions matter, and how your studio looks will be the first taste any student or guest will get of your overall vibe. Aside from general cleanliness and order, aesthetically speaking, a studio that is a reflection of the people that come in its doors will feel like home to everyone. Trying to “theme” a studio doesn’t usually have a positive effect. People can sniff out what is genuine and what is a facade. Thinking about what you love in your home–colors, textures, decor–and applying it thoughtfully to your studio will naturally help people feel as if they are being welcomed into your personal space. Be authentic to yourself, and your students will feel safe to be themselves in your studio.
The Face of Your Business
If you have employees or student-helpers, be mindful of whom you trust to represent you and your business to your students, clients, and guests. Whether you are present or not, the experience the students have with your staff is a reflection on you personally. You should be confident that anyone you enlist to help will treat your students with the same amount of kindness and professionalism you yourself would offer.
Having thoughtful systems in place to streamline the process of registration, check-in, and payment is vital not just for a positive student impression, but also for the sanity of your staff. For some students, your web page or payment gateways online will be their first impression of your business, even before they walk in your doors. They should get a sense of your character from these front-facing systems, in imagery and administration. Adult learners in particular are often snagging moments in an incredibly busy day, between work and family obligations, to research the studio they want to spend their time in. If it takes too long to get the information they need, or their ability to pay quickly is slowed by outdated or confusing gateways, they may walk away before they ever get a chance to come to your welcoming studio and see your friendly smile.
A Sense of Belonging
This aspect is difficult to express, but even if all other elements come together in harmony, if you can’t foster a sense of belonging, you will see frequent student turnover that will not only hurt your bottom line, but it will have a cascading effect on current and future comers as well. Keep firmly in mind that your students aren’t just bodies coming and going, they are people with complex needs and distractions. When they come to your space to dance, for many it is one rare and beautiful moment to let the stresses of life slip away so they can focus on their own well-being. Having an inviting space, welcoming staff, and seamless organizational systems all work in tandem to make it easy for a student to want to come to a studio, but it is a greater sense of belonging which may inspire them to stay. This is fostered on many fronts, but the key components are respect and safety.
As a director or teacher in a studio, you set the tone. You are the one who fosters the invisible energy that will fill that space. If you encourage–nay require–your students to conduct themselves with respect, both for themselves and their fellow dancers, it has a pervasive effect on all new students who walk through your doors. They will immediately see and feel that in this space there is respect. And where there is respect, there is safety. This allows the student to truly let go of distractions, to focus on the work they are doing as an individual and among the larger population of students they interact with, and they will feel at home.
None of us has all the answers. None of us will conduct ourselves flawlessly, and we will sometimes do and say things that may undermine our deepest intentions for our business and our studio families. All we can do is focus on best practices, foster an atmosphere of safety and welcome, be humble in our mistakes, and tenacious in our goals to create a studio worth coming to…and staying with.