When Sara Ordway saw an Instagram post about a studio fundraising opportunity involving a private dancewear shopping event and dancer photo shoot, she immediately signed her studio up. She already had been a long-time customer at Liesl Dancewear in Woodbridge, VA, and she admired the work of dance photographer Jennifer Fitzpatrick of Artistry Reimagined. But she especially loved the idea of three dance-related businesses collaborating during a pandemic to help boost everyone’s bottom line and support each other’s marketing efforts.
Ordway Conservatory of Classical Ballet in Manassas, VA, scheduled its three-hour, private shopping night at the store on February 23, with several pre-booked, 10-minute dancer photo-shoot sessions with Artistry Reimagined. Ordway received 10 percent of the proceeds from sales and the $60 photo sessions; Ordway and Liesel Dancewear both received access to Fitzpatrick’s photos for future marketing efforts; Fitzpatrick gained an audience of potential customers who helped promote her work on social media; and Liesl Dancewear saw three hours of deliberate sales.
“I’d do it again in a heartbeat,” Ordway says. “My students felt like they were a team because they knew they were helping out the studio and Liesl’s. And to see Jennifer and Liesl [Rinke Balatsenko, owner of Liesl Dancewear] helping each other out, and providing this opportunity to the local studio community, it just helps all around during this really difficult time.”
Fitzpatrick’s concept relies upon cultivating a collaborative spirit with the right players and being patient enough to build momentum through social media promotion and a lot of hustle. Here’s how she did it.
How It Started
Fitzpatrick started her dance photography business almost two years ago, but her performance bookings disappeared once the pandemic hit. To stay inspired, she launched her Porch Swans initiative in the summer of 2020, where she provided a free 15-minute photo session on dancers’ porches and five digital images in exchange for a donation of at least $50 to their favorite dance nonprofit. Fifty students took advantage of her offer, raising nearly $6,000.
Porch Swans expanded Artistry Reimagined’s social media following, but Fitzpatrick also needed to make an income from her art. Using her background as a former vice president of retail at Capezio, a dance instructor and a marketing strategist for Liesl Dancewear, she decided to shift her focus to helping area dance studios who have been struggling with lower enrollment, higher operating costs and lost performance opportunities. Fitzpatrick asked Balatsenko if she could turn an unused room inside her 4,000-square-foot store into her photo studio and described her fundraising idea.
“This couldn’t have come at a better time,” Rinke Balatsenko says. “We went for months where it was so quiet, and then Jennifer comes up with this? She’s done most of the work—all of the get-up-and-go comes from her.”
In late January, Fitzpatrick and her husband spent about $1,000 outfitting the room into a 10×10-foot studio space with sprung floors, backdrops and lighting equipment. By early February, promotion for the studio fundraiser started on social media and the store’s website. Once Ordway committed to the February 23 event, she had about two weeks to advertise to her studio families, but it was more than enough time to build excitement. “The kids are just so happy to be seeing their friends, and the families love seeing each other,” Rinke Balatsenko says. “It’s been such a great way to bring the dance community together.”
Most of Ordway’s families bought basic dancewear needs. “It was good timing because a lot of new families waited to get their uniforms until that day, and many students were stocking up on tights and pointe shoes,” Ordway says. “And, almost every advanced student purchased a new leotard, so it was almost like a fashion show the next time we had class.”
How It’s Going
This spring, eight studios have signed up for the fundraising event, with each guaranteeing a minimum of 10 dancers who prepay for a photo session (although Fitzpatrick can schedule up to 18 sittings) during the Saturday evening events. Those participants receive three downloadable images and an online gallery where they can make additional purchases. More dancers come during the private event just to shop, wearing masks and staying socially distanced within the store. (Dancers remove their masks during their photography appointment, since a masked Fitzpatrick remains six to 10 feet away.)
In addition to getting their names and services out in front of a very targeted audience, each event is a financial boon, as well: Liesl Dancewear makes about $2,000 to $3,000 in sales; Artistry Reimagined makes about $1,000; and the dance studio receives checks from both businesses, totaling about $250 to $400. While the extra revenue was certainly appreciated, Ordway says the real highlight was getting copies of her students’ final images. They’re already appearing in her marketing campaigns. “We got new posters for the front of our building, which was really cool, and we have been using some of the photos in summer marketing and in general registration marketing pieces,” she says. “They are priceless, and I can use them forever.”
Takeaways and Looking to the Future
While Ordway is looking forward to signing up her studio for another session, she is going to aim for the beginning of the school year when students need to stock up on basics, or leading up to holiday or spring performances when everyone needs nude leotards, fresh tights or pointe shoes. “It was fine when we did it—it worked out really well with the timing of the pandemic—but I think even more people would get involved with it if you timed it to specific events,” she says.
Fitzpatrick and Rinke Balatsenko have also noticed that every studio also has a very distinct personality and approach, from how they like to pose for pictures to how they dress for class. To help prepare for the shopping event, Rinke Balatsenko chats as early as possible with studio owners to discover preferences or ideas for impulse or splurge buys.
The publicity alone has been a success. Some studios are driving in from more than an hour away to either participate in the fundraiser or just to come shop because they’re seeing and hearing about the store through social media posts. “Everyone is sharing photos online and they’re tagging the studio, tagging the store, and tagging me,” Fitzpatrick says. “Everybody gets recognition and we’re all getting unique images to use.”
Both Fitzpatrick and Rinke Balatsenko hope to see the program continue and possibly grow into including videography. “This is about connecting our community, helping to build community and getting through the pandemic together,” Fitzpatrick says. “It feels good. It’s a genuine thing, not a marketing gimmick. But, it’s not easy and it takes a lot of work and the right people.”