Gilded Serpent presents...
Opening a Bellydance Studio
Tips for Success
by Keti Sharif

Keti Sharif has run several bellydance studios worldwide in Perth, Singapore, El Gouna and Cairo. She has been teaching and dancing internationally for 17 years and has created an A-Z teaching system that is now operating on a global level. She has recently retired fully from bellydancing but offers great advice on business plans for dancers wishing to expand their hobby into a career.

Here are some tips on opening a studio for teaching and practicing bellydancing. There are many points to consider - studio location, space and fit-out as well as issues of renting and sub-letting. Studio owners need to plan their programming, studio schedule, and finances well in advance for business success. How do you implement quality control and create programs that set you apart from the rest? Here are some of the key factors that should influence your decisions.

1. Studio location
a. Safety and visibility
Is the space you have chosen safe at night with good lighting, does it have ample parking and street signage, and is it easy to find?

b. Transport and distance
Is the studio within close driving distance for most of your student base? Is there public transport nearby: buses, trains, a safe night transport service?

c. Nearby cafes
Is your destination near shops and convenience stores or a cafe so students can get coffee or a bite to eat after class? Students often like to chat after class, especially morning and weekend classes. If there are no nearby cafes, can you offer coffee and tea or order lunches in from a local cafe for workshops and special events?

d. Neighbors
Will your neighbors be tolerant of the noise levels from class? Can you shuffle classes so that noisier classes are held after work hours? Who are your neighbors; are there shops nearby that appeal to women, including fashion and supermarkets, or is it industrial?

e. Studio location and cost
Is the area relatively inexpensive and slightly further out, perhaps in an industrial area where students would need to drive to, or is it in a choice central area near shops, cafes, main streets and public transport, making it easily accessible to more people but costing more in rent? Weigh up the costs.

2. Studio space, fittings and décor
a. Student accommodation
How many people will the studio accommodate? Will these numbers be achievable? Will these numbers cover the costs of running the studio, advertising, paying outgoings, and paying teachers or yourself?

b. Flooring and mirrors
Does the studio have a dance-safe floor? Is it wooden, parquet, rubberized or special dance flooring? If not, how much will it cost to convert, and are you allowed to change or cover the flooring? How much do mirrors cost? When installing, unless you own the property, it is wise to have mirrors mounted instead of siliconed to the wall so they can be removed if you leave.

c. Comfort and safety
Is there a comfortable place to sit, especially for aged students? Is there a place to get changed and store bags so they don't create a safety hazard? Are all walls, mirrors and sharp edges protected? If there are carpets on the floors, are they away from the dance area?

d. Ventilation and lighting
Is there adequate ventilation, heating, and cooling available? It may be necessary to install a reverse cycle air-conditioning system – each person omits 100 watts, so a room of ten people can heat up quite quickly, especially when dancing. Is the lighting conducive to dance atmosphere fluorescent lights are uncomfortable; try small spotlights and pearl globes. Make sure the teaching or instruction area is well lit.

e. Decorate with style
Middle Eastern dance evokes a certain style with its art pieces, pictures, carpets and trinkets. Choose colors and images that reflect a certain theme '40's Glamour Oriental, Egyptian Pharonic, decadent Ottoman harem-style, earthy Moroccan, or tribal, modern eclectic bellydance. Other creative ideas are to get artsy friends to help create unique effects; the inside of a Jeanie's bottle, a 3D desert landscape mural with carpets and pictures of dancers with coins and fabric glued on, clay or paper mache Pharonic wall, a Moroccan fountain with Islamic tiles, a gypsy's tent with the scent of essential oils. Creative spaces make people comfortable while creating atmospherics.

3. Studio Rental and Subletting
a. Rent or buy
Weigh up how much you would be paying in rent monthly. How many years do you plan to run this studio as a business? Does it work out better to invest and buy the property, so the growth is 10-20% annually? Make a five-year plan and see what makes better sense financially in the long term.

b. Subletting options
Even if you run a dance studio alone and work every day, you probably won't be using all time slots, so consider sub-letting to dance, fitness and yoga groups. If you are renting, ask permission from the landlord. If you own, seek advice from the local council on rules and regulations.

c. Insurance
Make sure to get insurance and public liability. If subletting, make a standard contract where all hirers must pay an annual group insurance fee. See a lawyer and get the best advice; it could save you money in the long run.

4. Programming, studio schedule, and finances
a. Work 3-6 months in advance
It is wise to make an overall annual plan for your year, looking at the program in terms of school terms or in course blocks, and then revise and refine the schedule every 6 months. Advertise at least 3 months before main events or course start dates.

b. Develop a workable payment system for your students
Decide on your system. Up-front payments usually provide an overall discount and have an early-bird option available; this makes sure your cash flow remains steady. If you choose to run pay-as-you-go classes, it is advisable to offer bulk classes with a good discount or free gift incentive to get payment up front to cover your costs instead of hoping a good number will show up. Up-front payments equal commitment.

c. Offer crystal clear program flyers
Create clear program flyers with clauses outlining general refund guidelines and what happens in cases of illness and missed classes.

d. Set clear enrolment dates and class sizes
Apply a cut off date for course enrollments with discounts and state the limit of numbers in each class. Honor the class numbers you set, and if you have extras, see if it is viable to start another class. If not, students quickly learn to enroll on time. When this becomes your studio policy you will gain more respect, and therefore your quality and value increase in the eyes of your participants.

e. Get a good accountant and banking system
Seek an accountant who deals with small business and related fields. Find out what you can and can’t claim as tax deductible expenses. Keep records and learn basic bookkeeping, or pay someone to do these jobs for you. Set up a credit card merchant facility and even online secure booking forms if you wish to boost revenue through ease of booking for students. Keep your bank updated with business developments.

5. Teacher qualification:
a. What levels of qualification do you have?
Do you and all teachers working with or for you have good experience? Have you all studied with professionals and updated your teaching skills?

b. Do all teachers working with you have a first aid certificate?
No dance teacher should be working without one. Make it a pre-requisite for teachers to obtain one. First aid certification usually only takes a day and is available through local ambulance, hospital or fitness institutes.

c. Do teachers agree on teaching styles?
If students choose to move between teachers or classes, it is important that teachers liaise with each other and understand how everyone else works. A conflict of teaching styles can be unsettling for students. Regular meetings are necessary.

d. How do you assess quality control?
Make sure the teachers and class programs have a general theme in terms of wording, level description and follow through – how can the student build on the past classes or courses for their own personal development? These issues should be worked out during programming and teachers must meet to decide on congruent systems. Decide on a feedback system or regular pre- and post-course group meeting to assess overall quality and delivery of teaching.

e. Set clear standards
You are the studio owner and administrator. Make sure all teachers working with you understand your basic principles. State and write them clearly and then get the teachers to repeat back to you in the way they understand. What do you expect from teachers (and yourself) in terms of teaching standard, quality, outcome, repeat students, follow through events? Create a mission statement and review it regularly. What is fixed policy and what is negotiable?

6. Implementing programs; setting you apart from the rest
a. Invest in your skills and credibility
Educate yourself and expect that teachers working with you continue their education. Make sure your research is up to date and your skills are polished. Continue to study and research if you wish to grow as a teacher: read regularly, attend workshops, use the internet and take courses in teaching and business management.

b. Plan your programs to include basic skills and specific focus areas
Offer solid programs with the basic dance skills required for everyone, and then follow with specialized, culturally stylized or genre-specific courses, graded in levels. With student development in mind, how can a student progress within your system or school?

c. Complimenting classes
Can you introduce fitness, pre-natal, yoga, Latin dance, children's, senior's, a dance troupe focus class or other dance-related classes? Find the balance of a core set of classes and then introduce something special -not all at the same time. Keep the program streamlined, and test what works before introducing too many options.

7. Marketing and advertising
a. Develop an identifiable style in your marketing material
Design a flowing market spread of business card, studio flyer, program updates, web page, basic advertisement copy, email signatures, etc. Use the same general font, pictures and style so your studio is identifiable and creates a string image. Keep wording succinct and powerful. Include all class information and contact details.

b. Free marketing is easy to get if you know how!
Learn how to write a press release and include a picture (press release kit) for magazines and local papers. Remember to state how the studio or event benefits the community or has a special story attached. Source free advertising in local papers – they often have a community notice board, list special events or run small adds in the classified section. Go online and list your studio on as many free dance websites as possible and exchange links with other studios if you have a website.

c. Budget wisely; your marketing material is an investment
Is it worth getting a professional artist to design your logo? Should you have some professional photos taken? Is it wise to invest in quality printing instead of photocopying? These things must be planned and budgeted for, as they carry your message and can make your business look either professional or cheap. Participants often use your marketing as their entry point in decision making. If a flyer looks as though it has been made on a home computer, people don't expect to pay as much for the service as for classes that are detailed in a glossy flyer or presented on a professional website.

d. Everyone loves a freebie
Offer something free once in a while – not too often, but use this as promotion; for example, a free class for a friend, a free CD with a course, or a free evening event if people bring four guests. If participants are loyal to you, it is worth acknowledging their loyalty with a special gift or discount several times a year.

8. Other options to boost your business revenue and profile
a. Workshops and sponsorship of "big names"

This will add to your revenue and generate more business even outside your immediate school. Invite other schools to participate and watch your business expand!

Ketib. Sell products
Buy wholesale bellydance scarves and jewelry or even costumes from Cairo, India or Turkey, where the currency is relatively low, and sell items in your studio. You usually need to make an initial trip abroad and set up contacts face to face, but thereafter you can usually liaise and order by fax and email. Sell music and DVD's, too, but remember, no copying; buy wholesale from other teachers. You usually make 10-25% on small amounts and up to 30% on large quantities.

c. Events and charities
Hold several events annually and at least one fundraiser or charity event each year. Charities are firstly a great cause, secondly a wonderful way to promote your event in the media, and thirdly a way to make people feel good about participating.

d. YOU are your business!
Conduct yourself with dignity. Remember that your public profile must be strong yet flexible – you’ll get respect from implementing clear, dynamic principles and ethics, and some flexibility and an easygoing attitude with win you “likeability,” which is important in the personal business fields. Create a business persona that is attuned to the real person and you can't go wrong. Remain authentic, wildly promote your art form, and sing praises about your students, your fellow teachers and the dance …rather than about yourself. Others will notice, and they will be the ones to compliment you and ultimately raise your profile.

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Ready for more?
8-28-06 Bellydancing, Mythology and Astrology: Exploring the creative character of dance expression by Keti Sharif.
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3-7-06 Streets of Cairo- Egyptian Rhythm, Language and Dance by Keti Sharif
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3-12-05 Keti Sharif’s A to Z Advanced Stage Instructional DVD and booklet review by Monica Berini
It is rare that an instructional video marketed to advanced dancers follows through to actually challenge experienced students or performers. This one does.

10-24-06 Adventures in Turkey 2006 by Michelle Joyce, photos by Michael Baxter
I am not exaggerating when I say that Sandra actually threw herself into Bella's arms and wept when she first laid eyes on her.

10-18-06 “The Bellydancers of Cairo” An interview with filmmaker Natasha Senkovich by Betsey Flood
As a maid you can find yourself in compromising positions—not good situations for a woman to be in—but in Egypt, it is considered so much better than being a dancer.

10-17-06 Judging in Germany, The Summer Festival and the International Raks Sharqi Contest 2006 by Dondi S. Dahlin. photos by Klaus Rabien, Berlin, Germany. "It is also an easy out for judges who need to find a reason to drop a dancer’s score…especially if the competition is tough."

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