Building a Pro-Am Business in Country Dancing
(A guide for new female professionals)
by Devorah Kastner- Professional Dance Instructor
I have been a professional dance instructor for the past 15 years. Based out of Arizona, I teach group classes and private lessons in all styles of partner dance. One of the most fulfilling parts of the job is dancing in Pro-am competitions with my students. Building a successful Pro-am business takes patience and time, but I would like to share my experience and knowledge with you in how to get started.
Starting as a female professional
In all my years as a female dance instructor it is quite rare that a male amateur calls me out of the blue and says “I want you to train me for a competition and I am ready to get out there!” Perhaps that may happen more often to male instructors with female amateur clients. However, I think it's safe to say that most of the time students need to be slowly groomed and highly motivated to get on the competition dance floor in front of the judges, friends & family, and complete strangers.
Build your clientele
My first piece of advice for you is to build up your clientele. One great way of attracting Pro-am students is to teach group classes either at a studio or a country bar. This will give you exposure to large groups of people that already have an interest in country dancing. Observe those students who look enthusiastic and have potential to improve, and then approach them for lessons.
Another great way of increasing your clientele is going social dancing and being seen, which allows you the opportunity to introduce yourself to all the new faces. Lastly, being seen dancing Pro-am with current students is a wonderful way to inspire new prospects to dance with you. It’s a wonderful bonus when your current students act as your personal billboard and advertise for you! Competing with a pro partner will help your credibility as a professional as well.
Moving towards the competition floor
Once you have a private lesson student base, then you need to convince them to get out of their comfort zone and get on the competition dance floor. How do you motivate your students to do this? I usually work them up slowly, starting with a local performance, followed by a local competition, and then a travel/vacation destination competition. The final step is competing in three qualifying events to take them to UCWDC Worlds. You don't need a full program to get on the competition floor. I usually start my students off with Two Step, Waltz, and West Coast Swing.
I like to remind students that those who are preparing for competition tend to improve lightning fast compared to students who are just trying to become better social dancers. Inspire them to come early before their lessons to warm-up, stretch, and go over their routines, as well as stay at least 15 minutes after the lesson to walk through or write down what they learned that day. To inspire and motivate your students, send them YouTube links of country dancers in their divisions and of professionals. As the competition deadline nears, students will take more lessons per week, focus and train harder, and practice more on their own.
Advise your students to sign up for as many dances and as many age categories as possible! They never regret dancing more heats, but always regret not dancing enough.
Getting ready for the competition
In addition to training your students in dancing well, help them prepare for the comp by offering advice on costuming, tanning, hair and make-up (even for the men, if they want it), rules, and mental preparation. I advise my students to keep the costuming simple and inexpensive, at first. Make sure they meet all the rule requirements and restrictions regarding the yoke, panty hose, hat, boots, and rhinestones.
Practice rounds in competition order, with music that is the proper length and speed. Keep in mind that country dance routines are usually choreographed to phrase, and face a 3-wall audience vs. the 4-wall audience common in ballroom. Usually, country events have a back wall without an audience, used primarily for decorations, the MC, and DJ booth. Have your students order a video of their dancing at the comp so you can analyze, critique, and make corrections for the future.
Pricing your services
Payments and pricing are different for every professional. It will always be more profitable, fun, and cost-effective for your students if you take a group of them to the comp. They can support and entertain each other and they can split your travel expenses. I recommend charging students for all travel expenses, like hotel, meals, airfare, comp fees, etc. I usually have them write a separate check to me for my dance fees, travel expenses, and time, and a separate check to the comp organizer for the registration fees and tickets. I always like to show my students the breakdown of expenses so they understand what they are paying for. (Some studios prefer not to break it down and just have students write one big check to include all expenses; the studio then mails the entries and fees on their own.) Send in your entries early to avoid late fees and help event organizers plan their schedules. Sign in immediately upon arrival and double-check that your heat list is correct when you get to the event.
You've arrived at the competition
Once you are at the comp with your students, introduce them to as many people as you can: professionals, other students, judges, officials, and organizers. It will make them feel more comfortable in a new, unfamiliar setting. The attendees of country events tend to be very friendly and supportive of each other! Spend lots of time with your students off the dance floor and enjoy their company. Try not to make it all about the results. Having fun, gaining confidence, improving your technique, practicing showmanship and stage performance, getting floor time experience, and practicing floor crafting are all important skills you gain from dancing Pro-am. It's not all about getting first place. Pro-am is about enjoying and improving your dancing together and creating lifelong memories and friendships.
As a male pro, I’ve never had a non-dancer come to me asking to compete. I’ve had existing/former competitors call me up though.
I’ve never had a non-dancer ask me that either (as a male pro) however I have had dancers ask. If you qualify people walking in a dance studio for the first time as non dancers, I’ve had them express interest in competition. Usually though I’ve had to introduce the idea to them. 😉