Since the pandemic emerged, your customers have had to adapt over and over again. Here’s what to know about how they’ve changed—and how to meet their new needs.
The pandemic has had an outsized impact on dance and business. Through lockdowns, cancellations, vaccinations and transformations, everyone in the dance industry has been affected—including your customers.
A 2020 report by business consultancy McKinsey & Company detailed new consumption patterns resulting from the COVID crisis, including a decline in discretionary spending and an increase in remote learning. Two years down the road, the pandemic has had a detrimental effect worldwide on students’ education and on their social, emotional and mental health.
A New Dance Consumer Mindset
In April 2022, McKinsey suggested schools respond by safely reopening for in-person learning, building resilience for future interruptions, encouraging students and families to re-engage with learning, and supporting students in their academic and social-emotional recovery. Studio owners can prepare similarly, as dance students face comparable challenges.
While businesses continue to adapt to a new reality, dance studio owners will need to adjust to fit the new dance consumer mindset. We asked three dance business consultants about trends among studio clientele.
Studio families have a newfound gratitude for the hallmarks of studio life.
Dance studios have seen greater enthusiasm for milestones missed during the pandemic, according to dance entrepreneur and consultant Misty Lown. Coming out of the worst of COVID, students are more engaged with and have a deeper appreciation of events like class observations, father–daughter dances, large group productions, recitals and in-person auditions.
“I think everybody focused on the fact that we missed recital, but there are many other milestones that are layered throughout the year that really make the dance studio a second family, and that make it feel like a team even if you’re not part of a [dance] team,” says Lown. Make sure you incorporate these milestones into your studio community.
Older children and teens are more likely to return.
As the pandemic began, studios lost students due to families’ tightened budgets and dancers’ low interest in virtual instruction. Now, Lown reports a higher rate of return among older students, who had developed stronger ties to the studio community. “A high percentage of the older students—the kids who were involved in teams, in companies, in student leadership positions, and who were at the point where dance was their second home—came back,” she says.
At the start of the COVID crisis, younger dancers were expected to be the least likely to depart, “but that’s where we saw the highest reservation and the highest dropout rates from the parents,” according to Lown. “Most said, ‘We’re just going to pause for a beat, and then we’ll pick up later.’ But many did not.” Strengthen opportunities for dancers to deepen their involvement in your studio’s community by offering student leadership roles, competition teams or other activities outside of class.
Each person will have their own comfort level for pandemic safety.
For Studio Evolution, an organization that helps studio owners grow their businesses, not all patrons have resumed their regular activities at pre-pandemic comfort levels. Based in Sydney, Australia, the company also has a large clientele in the U.S.
“I think what we’re seeing at the moment, across the board, is a real spectrum of experiences,” says Rebecca Perry, director of Studio Evolution. “[Parents either felt] quite good to be at home with their kids and safe in their bubble, and they’re only slowly emerging back into activities. Or, at the other end of the spectrum, they recognize that the arts are exactly the thing that children need at this point for their socialization, and they’re kind of getting back into some normality.”
Handling this divide requires marketing and communicating to two different groups: those who are excited to resume their pre-pandemic lives and those who are adapting by creating new habits.
Consumers’ preferences are also reshaping recitals. “We used to do a four-hour recital with everyone all at once, and now [studio owners] are finding that people are preferring that their 3-year-olds perhaps have a little, intimate performance, while the older students do something different,” Perry says.
There’s a heightened awareness of the developmental benefits of dance.
For dancers, the studio may serve an enhanced purpose as a place of solace, and a space to learn—or relearn—social skills.
“It’s well documented that we are now in a second pandemic, which is a pandemic of mental health,” says Lown, noting the American Academy of Pediatrics’ declaration of a national emergency in child and adolescent mental health. “I would consider people like us—teachers and coaches who work in the arts—as essential workers of this time,” she says. Movement instructors can give children a way to express themselves. “They’ll have the opportunity to build their social-emotional wellness, their mental skills and get their bodies in action—and this is going to produce endorphins,” says Lown. “We are here on the back half of all of the things that they lost, helping them fill those skill gaps again.”
Perry also has observed that dance plays a more prominent role as a lifeline, especially among teenage students dealing with the fallout of the pandemic. “There are real life-and-death stories that are coming out,” she says. “We’ve had quite a lot of stories where the dance floor is this safe space, and the students might have been experiencing extreme kinds of mental health challenges or family challenges. The one thing that they’re holding on to is their dance classes or their dance school.”
A studio’s youngest students were likely introduced to dance after COVID began. As a result, some dancers may be encountering an in-person dance experience—from class to performance—for the first time. “Some of these kids weren’t even born when the pandemic began, and don’t understand what a stage looks like,” Lown says. Spatial awareness, performance conduct and anxiety may present new challenges and require extra attention. At a recent recital rehearsal, Lown encouraged parents to give their children extra kudos for adapting.
Similarly, older students may need some retraining. “Mask mouth,” or difficulty with full facial expressiveness onstage, has been an issue, says Lown, as students regain familiarity with performing maskless.
Online education has endured—but with new purposes.
As in-person activities went digital early in the pandemic, studies predicted the trend to endure. But Lown has seen dwindling interest in virtual dance classes. “When we offered the online group class at the same time we offered the in-person group class, there was next to zero traction or interest for the local studio consumer to take their class online,” she says.
Rather than replacing on-the-ground instruction, digital learning is becoming an occasional—and useful—alternative for when dancers are sick, injured or otherwise unable to attend in person, according to Lown and Perry.
“What we’re seeing now is that some studios have taken on a hybrid model, and they’re still offering classes to people in different states or even different countries,” says Perry. This formula can expand a studio’s market. It is also financially advantageous for families, as a student who contracts COVID will not need to miss class.
According to dance business coach Erin Pompa (Pride), consumers have demonstrated a growing interest in services beyond typical studio offerings, including new possibilities for hybrid models.
A client of Pompa’s had once traveled to Peru on a Fulbright scholarship to reconnect with her heritage. After returning to the U.S., she taught workshops on Peruvian dance and culture throughout the New York tristate area. When pandemic restrictions subsided, she decided against opening a traditional studio. Instead, she launched a program in which Peruvian Americans study Peruvian culture and history from guest artists online, then travel to Peru for in-person education. The initiative launched this summer.
Lydia Murray is managing editor of Dance Business Weekly, Pointe, Dance Teacher and Dance Spirit.