A Guide to Running Your Own Company

Are you too busy juggling technique classes and rehearsals to learn how to write a successful press release? Do you feel so consumed with choreographing your next piece that you can’t find time to file for nonprofit status? Unfortunately, few dancers formally learn the business side of running a company. No worries—we’ve created a cheat sheet to get you started. When running a company, you will need to know how to…


Find dancers


Holding an audition can be overwhelming. Avoid the stress by asking friends who are dancers to be in your company. But make sure the partnership makes sense both personally and artistically. “It’s very important to work with people you really admire,” says Karola Lüttringhaus, artistic director of alban elved dance company/KAROLA LÜTTRINGHAUS, based in Berlin, NYC and North Carolina. “It’s not enough to just work with someone who’s great.”

 

If you must recruit dancers outside of your personal network, consider approaching dancers you see in class. “Just walk on up to them and let them know you want to work with them. They’ll most likely be delighted,” says Pele Bauch, manager of program operations at The Field, a service organization for independent artists, in NYC. Another good idea: Hold a limited audition. Open it up to just 15 friends of friends. Send an e-mail asking for recommendations and then set a date and time. Keep it low key. You can even have a few days of classes and auditions so people can get to know each other and see if your company is the right fit.


Find rehearsal space


Renting rehearsal space, especially in a metropolis, can be one of the most expensive parts of running a company. Many arts organizations offer space grants, and many dance studios rent space at a discounted rate during off hours (usually late at night or early in the morning). Bauch suggests trying to find a studio that doesn’t offer classes: “Generally, the studios that have classes are booked all the time,” she explains.

 

Remember: Scheduling rehearsal space for a group of dancers who are all balancing side jobs can be a logistical nightmare. “You can’t always pay everybody,” explains Lüttringhaus, “so you have to work around their schedules.”

 

Online Resource: nycdancespaces.org has a search engine that allows choreographers to search for rehearsal space by size, price and location in the NYC area.


Secure a performance venue


There are two ways to present a show: You rent a theater (sometimes you have to apply, and it can take six months to a year) and do everything from hiring a lighting designer to advertising the show yourself, or a theater selects you, in which case it takes care of all the logistics. Of course, the latter isn’t always an option for brand-new companies. You may need to be seen a few times before a venue will present you!

 

If you’re not yet ready for an evening-length performance, seek out showcases at the theaters you’d like to perform a full show at someday. Look for “smaller performance opportunities where you can show a 10- or a 20-minute work and be part of a group show,” explains Bauch. “It’s a great way for you to get to know a theater and for them to see your work.” These opportunities are also usually at little or no cost to you. One notable series in NYC is Dance Theater Workshop’s Fresh Tracks Performance and Residency Program; fledgling choreographers and their performers audition to participate, and if accepted are given rehearsal time and a small stipend. Look for similar opportunities in your area.

 

Online Resource: gotour.org, sponsored by The Field, lists performance venues in various cities.


Create a press kit


The point of a press kit is to give reporters everything they need to write an article on your company. Fill a pocket folder with the following: bios of each company member, your artist’s statement, any promotional materials you’ve already made (postcards, magnets, etc.), photos printed on regular paper (if the media want an actual photo you can e-mail a high-resolution version later), reviews or articles that have already been written about you or your company and a press release containing info about your current project.

 

Even if you don’t have all of the elements listed above, send a press release on its own. Determine what your news hook is—announcing the formation of your company, your first show, a work premiere or a star guest performer. This information should be the basis for the title of the release and the bulk of the first paragraph. Make sure all performance dates and times are included, names are spelled correctly, and your contact info is double-checked for accuracy.

 

Online Resource: prleap.com has free sample press releases.


Start a website


While having a presence on the internet may seem like a priority, there’s no reason to hire a website designer right away. There are many templates that allow even technophobes to build a great site. First, buy a domain name, like “mycompany.com.” Keep it simple and avoid hyphens. Then find a host. Websites like GeoCities and Angelfire will host your page for a small monthly or yearly fee. It’s easiest to buy your domain name and host space from the same company.

 

Online Resources: Search godaddy.com to see if the domain name you want is available. Talentcase.com is an affordable website template company created by artists for artists.



Apply for grants


Along with soliciting donations from friends and family, you may want to apply for grants to finance your company. “There are grants available from local arts councils,” says Bauch, “and grants for people who are starting out.” She also suggests taking a grant-writing workshop, to learn this specialized style of writing. Before applying for a grant, research the goals of the organization you wish to receive money from. For example, if its mission is to further the endeavors of women, tell them if you’re the first woman in your family to go to college.

 

Most grants ask for the following: proposal summary (a brief description of your objectives), an introduction to your organization (bios of members, goals, philosophy), problem statement (what you will overcome with the grant), project objective (your goals), project methods (specific tasks that more money will allow), project evaluation (what criteria you use to determine success), future funding (expected sources of money after the grant is received), and a proposal budget. If this seems daunting, there are many people who make a living writing grant proposals.

 

Online Resources: foundationcenter.org offers grant-writing classes and research libraries across the country; guru.com is an online database of grant writers.


Advertise performances


Buying an ad for your first few shows is “a chunk of change that’s not necessarily going to come back to you in ticket sales,” says Bauch. Instead, she recommends making postcards that you can mail to friends and family, hand out to colleagues and leave at dance studios. Postcards should have a compelling photo of your work, the name of your company, performance dates, times and venue, your contact info and price of admission. If nothing else, send a blast e-mail a few weeks before your show with the same info in it to everyone you know.

 

Online Resource: Order inexpensive customized postcards from postcards.com.



File for nonprofit status


Having 501(c)3 (or nonprofit) status means your company is exempt from some federal income taxes, and donations to your company can be deducted. Getting nonprofit status is not simple. Most applicants hire a lawyer because of the extensive legal paperwork. You must prove that your company betters the community; establish an advisory board; set up a separate banking account; take out liability insurance; pay a lot of money, spend between six months and a year working on the application; file annual reports and be directly responsible to the IRS. The benefits of nonprofit status are that you become eligible for more grants and you can receive tax-deductible donations, which will encourage more people to give you money.

 

Another option is finding a fiscal sponsor, such as The Field. A sponsor will either take a percentage of the funds you raise or charge a flat rate, but in exchange, sponsored companies are allowed to apply for grants that otherwise require nonprofit status, and receive tax-deductible donations. Essentially, you’re getting the same financial benefits as being nonprofit without the headaches. You know you’re ready for nonprofit status when you’re able to raise so much money that the percentage or fee paid to your fiscal sponsor is no longer worth the benefits.

 

Online Resources: Dance/USA, danceusa.org, is a national service organization for professional dancers; The Field, thefield.org, has satellite sites across the U.S.; Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts, vlany.org, can help during the nonprofit filing process.



Starting a company can be daunting, but remember: Every great company started out small, just like yours! (Paul Taylor used to cut his dancers’ hair on the road!) So gather some friends and collaborators, get on your computer and jump in feet first.

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What’s in Your Dance Bag—Based on Your Zodiac Sign

Sometimes our dance bags feel like portals to another dimension—we have no idea what half the stuff buried in our bags even is. (Note to self: Clean out dance bag.)

But have you ever wondered if there's a method to the madness? We're pretty sure there is, and as always, we're pretty sure it's something to do with astrology. That's right, your resident Dance Spirit astrologers are back with our best guess at what you keep in your dance bag—based on your zodiac sign.

Aries

You're always going 100 mph Aries (or maybe even more), so it's pretty much a guarantee that your dance bag is fully stocked with snacks to power you through the day. Granola bars, trail mix, yogurt, fruit. It's like a Whole Foods in there.

You've also usually got about six different pairs of shoes in your bag. As an Aries, you love adventure, trying new things and, most of all, a challenge. So when it comes to classes, you're all over the map. Tap, jazz, ballet, character, modern—you'll try them all.

Something else you won't go without? Your signature red lipstick, obv. How else are you going to show off your fiery personality? (And look amazing while doing it, TYSM.)

Taurus

As a child of Venus, you always want to look your best, Taurus. So your dance bag is a hair salon/makeup station, all in one. If your dance besties need to borrow a hair tie, or are looking for a fun accessory to spice up their bun, they know you're the one to go to.

Also important to you? Smelling your best. Taureans love comforting, luxurious scents, so your dance bag is typically equipped with a favorite perfume or deodorant. (Or both.)

But what's most important is the bag itself—admit it, you've been using the same dance bag for years. We get it, Taurus, nobody likes change, and least of all the stubborn bull of the zodiac. But if your dance bag is really starting to smell like feet (or if your bobby pins are starting to slip through the holes in the bottom), you might want to consider investing in a new bag.

Gemini

Gemini, you love to switch it up. So you're pretty much guaranteed to have at least three different dance fits in your bag at any given time. And your dancewear is always on point. You love to keep up with trends and try edgy, new looks.

Ever the intellect, you usually have a book in your bag, as well. You're always making book recs to your fellow dancers, and you refuse to be bored between rehearsals or backstage.

Though you might act carefree, Gemini, we know that at heart, you're ruled by Mercury—and you have more in common with your sister sign Virgo than you'd like to admit. That's why you always have a toothbrush, toothpaste, and some floss in your dance bag. No way you're getting caught with food between your teeth (or bad breath during partnering class).

Cancer

Not to be obvious, but as a water sign, the first and foremost thing a Cancerian keeps in their dance bag? A water bottle, of course. (Preferably a Hydroflask, S'well or any bottle that comes in a fun color.) No dehydration here, please and thank you.

Your dance bag also functions as a de facto vending machine for your dance besties, since you always come prepared with the best snacks, and you're always willing to share. As a bonus, your snacks are almost always homemade, since you're practically a five-star chef.

And while we're wary of zodiac stereotypes, there is a pretty good chance your dance bag is stocked with tissues. And there's no shame in that—because, really, who can get through a performance of Romeo and Juliet without shedding some tears? Props to you for being in touch with your emotions, Cancer.

Leo

We'll state the obvious, Leo. You love to look at yourself, and sometimes the studio mirrors just aren't enough. So, naturally, you always keep a compact mirror in your dance bag, just in case your makeup or your bun needs an extra touch-up.

You also love bright colors, and you're not afraid to wear more daring dancewear than any of your besties. You've usually got a couple of leotards packed in your bag, just in case you need to make a fashion statement, and they're always fun. Bright colors, loud prints, stylish necklines—you'll try anything.

But something not everyone knows about you? You're an amazing friend, and incredibly loyal, Leo. That's why you've usually got something in your bag for your dance bestie, be it her favorite brand of granola bar, a fun sparkly pin for her hair, or a note reminding her she's a star, on and off the stage.

Virgo

You're incredibly hardworking, Virgo, so you've always got the tools for success in your dance bag. TheraBands, foam rollers, tennis balls—you're the one dancer your teacher can always count on to be stretching between classes.

You also love to be prepared, so you've usually got a makeshift first-aid kit in your bag. The thought of suffering a blister or floor burn without the appropriate salves or bandages makes you shudder, and, hey, it's always better to be overprepared, right?

What's most noticeable about your dance bag, though, isn't what's inside of it. It's what it looks like—your bag is pristine. It never smells like feet, and you've got a hard-core system for what you keep in each little zip pocket or compartment. And TBH, all of your dance friends are jealous, though they'd never admit it.

Libra

Like your sister sign Taurus, appearances are important to you, Libra. You like to look good (no shame in that), so your dance bag is always stocked with the essentials: extra hair spray, lip gloss, concealer, bobby pins and a spare leotard, in case you get just a bit too sweaty.

You also love to socialize, so if this were the 1950s, we would say that you always keep your date book in your dance bag. As it is, you always have your phone with you, and it's usually blowing up with texts from your dance besties asking to make plans.

Your dance bag wouldn't be complete without your secret supply of chocolate. But to be clear: This isn't your average Hershey's bar. Libras aren't afraid to indulge, so you keep a bar of luxury dark chocolate tucked away for when the cravings hit.

Scorpio

You can't fool us, Scorpio—the contents of your dance bag aren't some big mystery, like you'd like us all to believe. In fact, they're pretty basic: For starters, you always have a black leotard or two in your bag. After all, black is your signature color.

One thing that isn't in Scorpio's dance bag? Toe pads. You love to look tough, so you'd never be caught dead wearing toe pads with your pointe shoes. However, this does mean you need a hefty supply of Band-Aids for the inevitable blisters.

You also love all things mystical and, dare we say, witchy. You're the Halloween queen of the zodiac, after all! So it's no surprise you always have a crystal or two in the front pocket of your dance bag. Let us guess…moldavite?

Sagittarius

You're an explorer, Sagittarius, and that applies to your dancing. You're always trying new dance styles, and that's reflected in your dance bag. You always have the trappings of your latest obsession in your bag: heeled shoes for ballroom, kneepads for contact improv, sneakers for breaking, the list goes on and on.

But on all of your adventures, there's one consistency: You love making memories. And that means literally—you document everything. At each performance or recital, you're bound to be the one with a Polaroid or disposable camera in your bag, and you can usually be found snapping backstage candids of your dance besties.

Your other favorite form of documenting? Writing it down. You love to learn, so you're always taking notes. You can usually be found after class scribbling down your dance teacher's latest piece of wisdom. Your dance bag is crammed with half-filled notebooks, and you wouldn't have it any other way.

Capricorn

You like to be prepared, Capricorn. And we mean prepared—for every bad scenario imaginable. That's why your dance bag is a mini survival kit. The first Capricorn dance bag guarantee? A stitch kit, of course. Losing a ribbon on your pointe shoe mid-rehearsal is your worst nightmare.

You also always have at least three spare leotards handy. After all, what if you spill something, or get too sweaty or, worst of all, show up to an audition in the same leotard as your dance rival? No, thank you. As a Capricorn, you're expecting the best and preparing for the worst.

Another key to your survival kit? Headphones, so you can drown out the noise around you and focus on your dancing. And before anyone asks, the answer is yes, you have the perfect playlist—for each and every occasion.

Aquarius

Aquarius, you love helping others. That's why it sometimes seems like your dance bag isn't even for you—it's filled with stuff you bring for your friends. Snacks for one dance bestie, Band-Aids for another, and tampons, of course, just in case anyone needs one.

But when it comes to you, you're all about originality. That's why you always have tons of fun accessories in your bag: striped legwarmers, colorful socks, tie-dyed sweats and more than a couple of fun additions to your ballet bun, just to make it a little more interesting.

You're also a rebel at heart, Aquarius, which is why there's usually something in your dance bag that just borders on breaking the rules. Maybe your studio is strictly black leotards only—and yours is gray. Or phones are completely banned—and you just put yours on vibrate. We see you.

Pisces

Like your fellow water sign Cancer, you're big on hydrating during dance class. But as a Pisces, you're a little more imaginative (and a little less practical), meaning you're usually carrying your water in something aesthetically pleasing, like a mason jar, a tumbler, or one of those fancy water bottles with a crystal in the base.

Unlike Cancer, you're a mutable sign, meaning you can adapt to just about any situation. Counterintuitively, this actually means your dance bag is pretty sparse. Unlike other zodiac signs who feel the need to overprepare in case of disaster, you're comfortable in most situations, and your dance bag reflects it. You like the basics, nothing else.

Something most people might not know about you, though, is that you get cold easily. We're not sure why, but it's a Pisces staple. That's why if you keep anything in your dance bag, it's the coziest of warm-ups.

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