The Pros and Cons of Bringing a Convention to Your Studio

In-studio conventions, one of the latest trends on the circuit, offer an alternative to the traditional forum. Held at one studio’s home base, in-house conventions are presented over a period of several days with a tailor-made schedule of classes. While they provide access to high-profile faculty members in an intimate and familiar setting, they don’t always have the impact and energy created when multiple studios convene.

Community vs. Competition
The main difference between in-house conventions and traditional options is the absence of opportunities to test your skills against dancers from other studios. Eliminating competitive elements, though, was part of the point for Muse Dance Company founder Jessica Starr (see Shooting for the Stars, DS October 2005). “Growing up, I competed for many years, and as a dance teacher, I had my students involved in competition,” says Starr, who spearheaded Muse’s first workshop last June. “Just because you don’t get a gold or platinum on your solo doesn’t mean you can’t be a professional dancer.” However, Tracie Marciniak, vice-president of Oklahoma-based Co. Dance, says that the competitive element of more traditional conventions doesn’t detract from, but rather enhances, career goals and professional opportunities for participants. “Competition in an outside setting is good because it challenges dancers to be the best they can be and reach their full potential,” says Marciniak. “The opportunity to see other teams with different skill levels helps kids grow as dancers.” Famed convention leader Joe Tremaine, whose competition and convention company is in its 25th year of operation, says that in the absence of [natural] competition, improvement is impaired. “Without competition, there is not a whole lot of progress for any dancer,” says Tremaine. “[With an in-house workshop,] all you’re getting is basic master classes from an outside teacher, whereas at a convention, a standard is set to rise up to.”

 

In lieu of competition against other teams, many in-house conventions provide the chance for dancers to see how they measure up professionally. Flow 40 Dance Workshops offers an elaborate mock audition that mimics an industry audition process, from eliminating dancers based on physical casting requirements to teaching actual combinations performed in music videos. L.A.-based company Artists in Training also holds simulated auditions during its in-house convention weekends, with those who make the “cut” awarded airfare and scholarships to study at Hollywood studios. TAMJAMS! Dance, which, at 9 years old, is one of the oldest in-studio conventions, also holds a mock audition with a concrete objective—to fill the lead roles in a pretend dance video.

 

While many in-studio workshops pride themselves on focusing on learning rather than competition, the approach has its drawbacks. Larger conventions give dancers and studio owners the opportunity to gauge skills against other teams and the chance to perform in front of peers. Although many in-studio workshops allow studios to invite other local teams to participate as a means of whittling down costs, the competitive vibe is missing. “The one downfall of our workshop is that you don’t get exposed to such a wide variety of students and styles,” Starr admits.

Up Close and Personal vs. Big-Name Cachet
Small, personalized classes vs. classes of hundreds. In the classic conundrum, students are divided between tiny colleges and big state universities. The same debate applies in the decision between in-studio and large conventions. With an in-house workshop, studio owners can control the number of participants, whereas at a crowded convention, the number of students can sometimes swell into the thousands. Rob Schultz of Artists in Training says that dancers who take part in in-studio conventions feel more confident learning on familiar ground, as classes are held within their studio’s own confines. “There is also an added safety element, since you’re not dancing on carpet and you can [often] do more than in a convention room,” says Schultz.

 

Although the smaller, more intimate classes are a draw, some question whether in-house conventions offer dancers the same access to major choreographers and industry players as traditional conventions like Co. Dance. Marciniak says that the top-shelf talent is one of the biggest draws for dancers who attend Co. Dance: “We offer approachability coupled with quality in instructors who are the best of the best, like Marguerite Derricks and Brian Friedman.”

 

The faculties of in-studio convention companies are indeed considerably smaller, but Muse boasts popular instructors like Blake McGrath (“So You Think You Can Dance”), while the three Flow 40 instructors are all working industry dancers who’ve shared the stage with stars like Paul McCartney and Jem.

 

As far as exposure to industry agents and decision makers, scouting isn’t necessarily prevalent at in-studio workshops. However, Artists in Training enlists an agent from Clear Talent Agency to give students a look into the world of representation, while Flow 40 offers a panel discussion, titled “The Business of Dance,” geared at teaching up-and-comers how to find work and market themselves.

The Nuts and Bolts
Wondering how an in-house convention works? Generally, a studio owner contacts the company and a custom package is designed to fit the studio’s needs and budget. Some companies charge a flat fee that frees the studio owner to determine cost and number of students, whereas others charge a per-student rate. (Fees can vary depending on the number of days and classes selected.) Studios are also usually asked to cover travel and materials expenses for convention faculty, though some companies offer incentives in the form of kickbacks for studio owners who book a certain number of students.


Once the arrangements are in place, representatives of the company work with the studio owners to create an agenda for personalized instruction. Studios can use specialty offerings to supplement classes not offered at their own location (i.e. a mostly ballet-oriented school might choose instruction in tumbling or breakdancing). Many companies also offer extras like discussions with instructors, parent question-and-answer sessions and competition choreography and prep. At the workshop’s conclusion, a showcase is usually held to celebrate and show off newly learned skills. After the workshop finishes up, it’s common for in-studio workshop instructors to offer their contact information to students for further advice and networking correspondence.

 

Although a heavy emphasis is placed on technique, most in-studio conventions are based on cultivating a love for dance in students. “Rather than a trophy, we give out certificates at the end of the weekend to dancers who showed the most heart or improved the most,” says Grant Chenok of Flow 40. “We want to provide a high-caliber, character-building learning experience.”

 

Lest studio owners think they have to choose between the old and the new, Schultz says that in-studio conventions aren’t necessarily competition, but rather can work in tandem with larger conventions. “Traditional conventions are a great tool for getting exposed to teams from all over the country,” says Schultz. “In-studio conventions act as a wonderful supplement and give you up-close technique, choreography and correction.” Indeed, TAMJAMS! even offers an optional add-on session called “Critique Competition,” during which routines are performed for staff who judge the performance.

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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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