This entry was inspired by a post on Dance Forums by the same title. The forum member asked:
60 dollars an hour?
How am I ever going to afford the 4 lessons a month that one would usually get with group lessons? Which would be $240!!
Anyone whom ever took private lessons how in the WORLD did you afford this?
Would I be able to get away with just taking one or two private classes a month and then practice at home?
Most of the responses were typical of the discussions we’ve had on this blog: do you need private lessons, if so how many, how do you get your money’s worth from a private lesson, what are typical going rates, private lessons are worth it, private lessons aren’t worth it, and so on. These are all valuable topics and ones we’ve explored at great length for just that reason. Only one forum member attempted to answer the original question, and the answer was less than satisfactory (“That’s what the market will bear.”). So today, we’re pulling back the curtain: how dance teachers decide what to charge for lessons.
The first thing I do when I decide my pricing is look at my expenses. How much does it cost me to give the lesson? If I’m giving an in-home lesson this is pretty basic: gas and tolls, plus a little bit extra for wear-and-tear on the car. If I have to rent space at a studio that’s added as well. Will I be traveling so much I need to do a meal out of the house? The result is most lessons cost me between $10 and $40 just to show up, the former being for someone close by me learning in their living room, and the latter for crossing state lines over a toll bridge and renting a studio.
But beyond those costs, there are opportunity costs. Dance is not my only income; if someone wants me to come in during my day job hours I need to take that time off, unpaid, which means I need to add in another $30 – that’s $10 an hour for the lesson, plus an hour of transit each way. In fact, even if I’m not taking time off of one job, I can’t book myself other dance lessons close together because of travel time to each lesson, thus in-home lessons require me to charge more even for time I don’t teach – thus I’m usually very willing to give substantive discounts to students doing double or triple sessions.
Now if I’m working for a studio and teaching back-to-back lessons there all day, my costs are significantly lower as there’s no travel involved beyond a normal commute. Of course now the studio has its costs if I’m an employee or it’s floor charges if I’m renting space.
The end result: of my $60/hr cost for in-home lessons, I usually take home about $40, which when averaged over a two hour block (half hour travel, lesson, half hour travel), comes to just $20/hr. A good rate, but hardly unreasonable. When I work for a studio I generally charge $25/hr but won’t take the job unless it comes with several consecutive hours booked.
Now, you may say, the studio only pays me $25/hr but charges $75/hr for the lesson. Where does the extra $50 go?
The answer is overhead. The studio is usually paying rent on the space, and remember dance studios need a lot of space. Mirrors can run thousands of dollars. A sprung floor can cost $18 per square foot (link) and with even a small 600 square foot floor (20′ x 30′) will run over $10,0000. Advertising is an ongoing expense for the studio. Licensing music. Maintenance. An administrative worker, which may include both a studio manager and receptionist. INSURANCE. A contract lawyer on retainer. An accountant. And we haven’t even touched on ongoing staff training. That extra $50 erodes very quickly.
All of these are costs just to get out and teach a lesson, but what about the cost to be able to teach a lesson? How much does it cost to become a dance teacher?
I’m very up front with my students: dance is a pyramid scheme, I tell them. You take lessons from me and I turn your checks over to my coaches. I know who they take lessons from and who they turn their checks over to. And I know some of the teachers they turn those checks over to. We’re all trying to learn from better and better teachers, and those high-level teachers are exceedingly rare and quite expensive. I charge $60/hr. This weekend my dance partner and I got a private lesson with one of our teacher’s teachers for the bargain price of $130/hr., and it’s looking like that’s going to become a regular part of our training.
But you can bet I taught a much better waltz lesson on Monday than I would have without that lesson.
Every dime of my dance income, after my immediate expenses, goes right back into my training to make me the best teacher I can be. That includes coaching with people who aren’t just the best dancers in the world but who are also the best dance teachers in the world. It includes certification costs so that I can guarantee to my students that I’m providing the best experience possible for them. It includes workshops, seminars, and congresses so that I can stay current on what’s happening in the dance world. It includes my fitness costs so that I will have the stamina to teach my last lesson of the day with the same vigor that I taught the first. It includes dance manuals and videos. It includes costumes so that I can perform and entertain my students. It includes everything that makes me a dance teacher.
How much does that cost me?
Year to date it’s cost me $2,000 more than my gross income from dance.
There’s one more aspect I consider when deciding on my lesson pricing, and that’s how much I value my time. When I consider all those variable costs and average them out to figure out how much money I need to make each lesson just to break even, that still only informs me when I do my final analysis: how much is it worth it to me not to teach the lesson?
Here’s the formula: I consider how much someone has to pay me to come teach on a day when I’m feeling great. On a day when I love the student, am excited about the material, want to go dance, and it’s just so beautiful I can’t wait to get out of the house. How much do you have to pay me to come show up for that lesson? I’ll do it for $20, my average immediate expenses.
Next, I consider how much money someone has to throw at me to get me out of bed on a day when I really don’t want to teach. When it’s cold out and raining, when my body hurts, when the student is stubborn and talentless and unpleasant, when I just don’t want to go. You’re going to need to give me at least $100 on that day or I’ll tell you to sod off.
Average the two together, and that’s my price: $60.
Dance lessons cost so much Achilles, because we won’t show up otherwise.