My name is Alex and I’m a dance addict. It’s been about nineteen… hours since my last private lesson. It’s hard sometimes doing solo exercises when suddenly you’re not sure if you’re implementing Cuban motion correctly in your hustle side break. That’s when I’m glad I have you guys.
Yes, dance is an addictive habit. An expensive one, too. In the Philadelphia area a typical in-studio private lesson with a certified instructor runs around $75 per hour. At one lesson per week that comes to nearly $4k per year, or over 10% of the average Philadelphian’s salary ($36,646 according to Simply Hired). Spending that large a chunk of your income on an activity that gives you only one hour’s entertainment per week isn’t just fiscally retarded, there’s no way you’re going to be able to sate your dance addiction.
For many people, the solution is to go out dancing more often. More social dances, which typically last far longer than lessons, means more time dancing, right? A few minutes with Google will usually lead to a plethora of choices for social dancing on any night of the week. In fact, whenever I’m traveling anywhere I make sure to find a place to indulge my addiction and, in less time than it takes to microwave popcorn, I’ve found ballroom dancing in Washington D.C., San Jose, Indianapolis, Madison, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Boston, Champagne, and London, to say nothing of swing, salsa, tango, or hustle.
But most dance addicts know that the dance bug is never content to just let you dance. It drives you to be a better dancer, to continuously learn and improve, and while social dancing can be great for practice, the typical lessons that accompany social dances rarely improve one’s dancing beyond teaching a pattern or three. No, if you want to be dancing every night, and getting better at it, you need to take group classes as well as private lessons.
I’ll write about group classes in a later article, but for now let’s accept that group classes are A) cheaper than private lessons, though more expensive than social dances, at least on an hourly basis, and B) a source of new dance knowledge. For the cash-strapped dancer, group classes are a vital way to get your fix and stay on-budget. And so we enter the realm of packages.
There are many ways to pay for group classes. One way, the most common way new dancers inquire about classes, is ala carte. In this model you show up for class, pay a fee (usually $5 to $35 depending on who’s teaching and where the lesson is), and get to take that one class. It’s easy, it’s simple, and it’s highly inefficient. While there are distinct benefits to purchasing ala carte rather than packages or a subscription, when it comes to dance you can usually get a much better deal with a package. Why? Well as a studio owner:
- It costs me the same price to run a class if there’s one person in it or fifty people (take a teacher away from private lessons, set aside floor space, etc.).
- In order to retain students, they need to feel they’re improving. The more they feel they’re learning the more likely they’ll stick around. A good class will keep them learning.
- When I worked for my last studio, at least a third of our new clients were people who randomly walked in. As an owner, I want anyone who comes into my studio to see people dancing and having the most fun of their lives.
The end result is once I’m making enough money to make a reasonable profit, a studio owner is inclined to give away classes which cost him or her next to nothing. Packages help the studio owner predict if he or she is making or losing money, and if so how much, because they’re predictable.
You can make this work for you by inquiring about your studio’s packages. I know of one northeast Philadelphia studio that has a policy of giving you your second class of the night at half price. Others give a quantity discount for purchasing several lessons at a time. Many have packages for unlimited group classes. Don’t be afraid to shop around and compare prices, and don’t be afraid to tell your instructor what other deals you found. A good studio will be able to demonstrate how their costs are competitive, and a good instructor, even if he or she costs more, will be able to demonstrably justify why he or she is worth the extra cost.
But I still haven’t talked about the deal I mentioned in the title, and that’s the complete package: all inclusive deals that cover private lessons, group classes, and practices. To my knowledge, there’s only one type of dance studio that offers comprehensive deals like this, and unfortunately, it’s a type of studio not widely celebrated by many dancers: chain studios.
Chain studios have a reputation – a deserved reputation – for being more expensive than all other studios. Some of this cost is of direct benefit to the students, as chain studios often provide more regular, and often mandatory, ongoing training for their instructors than many independent studios do, and some of it only benefits the studios themselves, vis a vis franchise fees, advertising, and so on. That said, chain studios are usually motivated to give you complete packages because part of their business strategy is to become your only dance outlet, providing instruction and social opportunity in all styles of dance.
For example, the Fred Astaire studio in Coral Springs, Florida (franchise and location chosen at random) has at least one all-level class every weeknight, two practices a week, and lists several events and competitions as well. Compare that to most independent studios which must rigidly divide their classes by level because so many students are not taking private lessons and there is no other way to ensure preparation for higher level classes. Even chain studios that do divide classes by level are usually much more flexible about people challenging themselves with higher level classes because of the universal private instruction.
Chain studios are undoubtedly more expensive to get started with but, once enrolled, there is usually little to no extra cost for being as active as humanly possible within the studio. Of course, that requires that you use what you’re given. In fact, a break down of a local Arthur Murray studio’s prices compared with the cheapest studio in the city using certified instructors, clearly favored the Arthur Murray, but only if the program was utilized properly. If all you do are private lessons and one or two group classes per week, you’re wasting money, but if you want to be out on the floor every night, pushing yourself to your max, and seeing how far you can really go as a dancer, maybe a chain studio is perfect for you.
“If you have any personal dance problems, please do not hesitate to write, telephone, or visit your nearest Arthur Murray Studio for aid. Our teachers will be glad to demonstrate any of the steps taught in this book See list of studios on the last page.”
Arthur Murray, The Arthur Murray’s Dance Secrets, 1946