Dance Teacher Magazine Article About Fitness in Dance Studios

Jim was interviewed and featured in this Dance Teacher Magazine article below which is from the June 2005 issue. He discussed the perks of offering fitness classes in a dance studio setting. Jim used to teach Cardio Barre at Broadway Dance Center (BDC) and Pilates for both BDC and Equinox Fitness Clubs for a number of years.

Bringing the Gym to the Studio
How to Add a Dance Fitness Class to Your Studio’s Schedule
A step by step guide.

Cardio Video Dance. New York City Ballet Workout. Hip-Hop Dance. Super Street. All real classes taught in fitness centers. Gyms these days are stacking their schedules with classes that reflect a growing interest in dance and are geared toward fitness buffs, especially women, who want to shape up by moving to music.

These classes attract fitness-minded individuals who may have taken dance in the past, have always dreamed of learning to dance or harbor a secret desire to imitate music video or concert choreography. The idea of walking into a dance studio for the first time (or the first time in years) is often too intimidating, so these students turn to the safe, comfortable environment of a health club. But they shouldn’t have to.

Dance fitness classes are a perfect addition to your studio, with the potential to add diversity to your schedule and boost revenue. They also require a new way of thinking—and teaching. Follow these steps to attract, and keep, this growing client base.

Selling the Studio Setting
Many people who gravitate toward dance fitness classes at health clubs belong to the gym specifically for these classes: They spend money on costly memberships without ever using the cardio equipment or free weights. These men and women are a dance studio’s perfect client.

“They don’t like the gym atmosphere, and would probably prefer a studio setting,” says Jim Cooney, a faculty member at NYC’s Broadway Dance Center who teaches Cardio Barre, an hour-long fitness class that blends ballet barre with cardio training. “[Dance studios] offer classes with no initiation fee and no commitment, and that’s something most gyms can’t do,” he says.

Pay-per-class plans, Cooney notes, are especially attractive to professionals who travel frequently or people simply too busy to take class frequently. For students with a real passion for dance and fitness, a studio setting allows them to interact with people who have the same interests.

Going to Market
Before classes can fill up, the public has to know they exist. “We began with word-of-mouth marketing and the internet,” says Anthony Lewis, director of All That Dance! in Louisville, Kentucky. He and his staff send frequent e-mail notifications of new classes, schedules and studio happenings to students, and maintain a website for the studio. And because most dancers have friends or family members who are interested, at least peripherally, in dance, he also runs a referral program. “Anyone who brings someone to class receives a free session, and the first class is always free,” he explains.

Similarly, some studios offer a free first month or free half-hour “beginner” classes to entice new students into the studio without pressuring them to make a commitment. “We encourage instructors to keep guest passes in their wallets,” says Kyle Wiley, manager of Marblehead’s Energy Works, a dance fitness center in Marblehead, Massachusetts. Oftentimes, new students end up signing up for additional dance classes and private sessions—meaning increased revenue for you.

Finding the Right Staff
A good class needs a good teacher, and that’s especially true with fitness classes. Gyms often offer the same class with different instructors, allowing members to choose their favorite. Studios don’t have that luxury, as they may only have room for one class or one time slot. The ideal instructor will have a background in both dance and fitness, and experience in teaching dance to a mainstream clientele.

Gyms are a good place to start looking, because many of their dance instructors have formal training. They can also be an excellent venue to try teaching the fitness crowd. Lewis and his wife, in fact, began teaching their Salsa Fitness class at a fitness facility before bringing it into their studio. “It gave us experience teaching a range of students, from fit, active people to a much older crowd,” he attests. His experience also helped him market his class to people who may have never known about Salsa Fitness had he debuted it at the studio first.

Cooney suggests sending a dance instructor for fitness training if a specialized instructor is unavailable. “It’s great for the teacher, because it’s helpful to cross-train,” he notes. “And it would be much more difficult to educate a fitness instructor in how to teach dance.”

Planning the Class
The next step is to select a class that best fits your current curriculum. Determine the goal: Do you want the class to be a half-hour lower-body workout? An hour-long full-body class? A high-energy cardio class?

Once you’ve determined the focus, back it up with a soundtrack. “Music selection can make or break a class,” Cooney says. “It should be upbeat and recognizable.” And it should fit the tone of the class. Joyce Colahan, creator of DancEnergy, a 21-year-old choreography-based cardio-dance class, says she often uses songs that trigger emotions. “I like the women who take it to have a good time,” says Colahan. “I recently added my first country song, ‘My Give a Damn Is Busted,’ because the lyrics were so comical and fun.”

Keep the choreography tailored to the clients’ needs and goals. “People take these classes because they want a dancer’s body,” Cooney says. “In order to achieve that, the student needs a class that is constantly changing, because their bodies will adapt and stop progressing.” He suggests creating a class framework that can easily change from week to week. If the class is one hour long, create enough choreography for several hours of class time. “I can never get through the entire program in an hour,” Cooney points out, “which keeps the students coming back.”

The choreography should also suit a student with little to no dance experience. If the goal of the class is to learn a routine, steps should be repeated several times, becoming increasingly challenging. “You don’t want to discourage them, but if people are picking up the choreography too quickly, then the class is too easy,” Colahan says. “People come to classes to challenge their minds as well as their bodies.”

When using a technical dance term, especially in ballet-related classes, couple the term with a visual description. “I’ll say plié, show the movement and explain it as a straddle position,” Cooney says. “This way, they understand the movement and begin to learn the dance terms.”

Keep safety in mind at all times, especially with new students. Colahan advises focusing on correct movement. During the warm-up and cool-down portion of class, her students perform exercises and stretches to prevent injury and she spends time discussing the proper, safe way to execute every movement.

Ensuring Repeat Business
The ability to successfully teach the average Jane will come with experience, but the most important tool is encouragement. The first day is key, says Colahan: “A brand-new student doesn’t hear a word you are saying and may have never heard some of the words you are using. They’re simply chasing choreography, and if you don’t encourage them to stick with the class, you could lose them.”

She asks new students to focus on the teacher to help them take in as much as they can without getting too caught up in learning the entire routine. “I help them focus on minor accomplishments and enjoy the first class,” she says. “I know they’ll be back for a second.”