By Martha Harper
I. “Are We Having Fun Yet?”
It’s all about attitude and the customer/student. You think it’s about the money? Consider, if you keep the customer happy, really happy, they’ll be back. Even if their budget is tight, they’ll find a way to make it work. If they love dancing, they’ll find a way to be at your door and on the floor. The product is dancing, but the manner of instruction is customer service, and you’re responsible for delivering the service.
Let’s take a minute and go back to the initial question, “Are We Having Fun Yet?” The key word here is “We.” Are you doing what you want to do for a career, or is this just to tide you over until the real thing comes along? You may think you’re fooling your customer, but this is ballroom dancing and when you’re in close quarters and physically connect, the truth usually surfaces sooner rather than later.
Respectfully, many instructors have to work a 2nd job until they build their customer base. When you arrive at the studio can you put aside your personal or other professional concerns and focus on your customer? They usually come in with multiple thoughts and emotions. Through your calm they will learn to leave other issues at the door to concentrate on their dancing, and you will both enjoy the time more.
By the way, are you ready to travel? Are you comfortable with your syllabus training; do you keep yourself in physical and mental shape? When you pay for car or home repairs, you expect to know the certification or qualification of the people delivering the service and you ask for the price estimate in advance. As the travel develops, for the satisfaction and happiness of the customer, are you ready to 1) release them to a more qualified instructor or 2) take the time to increase your own training?
How do you prepare the customer to travel? Have you taken time to find out their dance history and put them through a “qualified” session to properly evaluate their skills? A new student needs to be encouraged and challenged, but it can be very frustrating and discouraging to keep working on something that is not producing positive results. If a customer is uncomfortable, it will reflect in the studio and in the performance. Many a contract or commitment has been terminated before reaching the final destination.
A happy heart produces positive thoughts and actions. Whatever questions or concerns arise, I hope you will purpose to communicate often and honestly with your customer/student, being flexible to adjust travel plans for the benefit of the partnership to continue on your journey.
II. Do You Have a Travel Plan?
Some people claim to be “free spirits” moving or traveling about clearly making spontaneous decisions for whatever they do or wherever they go. Everyone has a right to their own life style, but please consider ballroom dancing is a partnership. Where and how you travel, on the dance floor or on the road, it helps to have a plan with the consideration of the customer’s interests. Respect the customer: their objectives, their money, their time. Usually they walk into the studio with something specific in mind and need help to broaden their horizons. Help them be aware of their options, and after a few lessons help them be realistic about their technical potential. (remember to be sensitive and diplomatic in communicating this)
There are primary agendas, and there are secondary agendas. Ballroom dancing is a business so management has their agenda. The customer comes in with their agenda/plan, and you have the creative opportunity to be the liaison between the two. Hopefully you can learn to maintain a healthy balance or overlap the two while maintaining your joy and integrity on the journey. Long range planning is a necessity; daily planning is also a requirement. We’ve all been to school or a lecture, recognizing that no matter how knowledgeable the teacher is, if they have not planned for the class it is evident.
One option (plan) is for Social interaction. When a new customer arrives at the studio for their first appointment, it’s important they see other students on the dance floor. Personal testimonies are used all the time in marketing by successful travel agencies. This will naturally happen because people chat with each other while they’re waiting on their lessons. Most often personal dance history is shared and questions answered by someone other than professional staff. I’ve even been asked to make contact with a potential customer or new student to help them feel welcomed and not “rushed” by a staff member.
A progressive consideration is Performing. A customer may be ready for this or may need to be groomed and encouraged over a period of time. Spotlights at parties, showcases or community events are useful tools. Helpful is the idea they won’t be on the floor by themselves. First of all they are dancing with a partner; second there are others who can be worked into their first appearance. An important point is to encourage but not to push. It is human nature to want to be recognized and appreciated; usually they come around and will do it again soon if this part of the journey is found to be enjoyable and a personal choice.
Competitive dancing is for the passionate and persistent personality. This traveler loves dancing and is willing to practice, sacrifice finances, meet instructional and partnership challenges, and pursue physical development to make it all work. They want to not only finish, but they want to finish (arrive at their destination) ahead of everyone else!
III. Seasonal Travel
You may consider yourself a travel agent of sorts, relating to the diverse cultural background of the dances originating throughout the world. When a new customer arrives you need to remember the demographics and culture of your country, your state, and the community where your studio is located. Also, be aware of the ethnic background of your customer.
As you travel, it would improve their understanding if you are able to progressively educate them on the origin and nature of the dance. This will probably also enhance their emotional presentation as the customer increases their awareness of the choreography as well as your interpretation of the dance.
Stay alert to the seasonal schedule of studio showcases, community performances and local, state, regional, national and international competitions. Management normally keeps staff informed of these events and their preferred schedule for the studio. Think about your customer and their abilities, finances and objectives when you help them plan their personal event schedule. Most customers initially walk into a studio without the awareness of the rate per lesson, cost of events, and the additional expense of dancewear, shoes, jewelry and make-up.
At this point we transition from seasonal events to personal seasons of the customer. Respectfully, these are not always known to the dance professional, but customers are people who have jobs, budgets, families and other responsibilities. There are changes (seasons) which are not always planned but can directly affect their dance plans.
It’s practical to determine your travels based on the actual season of the year. Affected by travel objective and weather, you will make decisions about activities, food, route of travel, finances and wardrobe.
Change is constant: interests change, circumstances change, opportunities change. The most effective and productive “Travel Agent” is the one who is current on their knowledge (training), opportunities (local/regional/international events), and flexibility (ability to match interests/ syllabus/accommodations).
“Whether stops, starts or detours, I hope you will purpose with your partner / student to travel the road and complete the journey, together . . .”