When You Were Young And Your Heart Was An Open Book

How are things coming along in your part of the country? My area has been slowly working our way through the first phase of opening things back up, and is looking at starting the second phase soon. I think that the first phase has been going well, but it has been raining quite a bit this week. Even if you open everything back up, the rain tends to keep people home, so to me it looks like nothing has changed even though we’ve supposedly opened back up partially.

Well, I take that back. One thing has changed: there is now a small brook running through the ravine in my backyard. If the rain decides to let up sometime soon, it will probably take a whole week of warm temperatures and sunshine to dry out all that water in there.

Originally dance studios were going to be allowed to start operating in a limited capacity with a number of other types of businesses when we finally got to phase two, but it looks like they were removed from the list for the time being. I’m not entirely sure why that is, but with how much people in the area seem intent on plowing through these phases to get everything back to the way things once were, it may not be long before people are allowed to venture back into the world of dancing. One thing that has been on my mind this week as the discussion about opening dance studios back up has been going on is: What is the landscape going to look like once those businesses are allowed to start business again?

No matter how much people want to go back to the way things were before, without strong social safety nets to protect people when everything has to be shut down for long periods of time there are going to be inevitable changes. I’m certain that a fair number of businesses are not going to be opening their doors back up even when they are allowed to do so, simply because they weren’t able to survive being shut down in the first place. Based on some pieces of information I have seen over the last month, I get the impression that at least one studio in my area is in danger of not coming out of this shutdown. This is just my guess based on things I know, and I don’t have proof yet, so I could be wrong.

As I’ve mentioned the last few weeks, there is a newsletter sent out to dancers in my area that goes over all the different dance-related offerings for the week. Even though not much has been going on due to the shutdown, almost all the studios and dance clubs in the area have written up notes about their statue to include in the newsletter. Most of the notes are there to let everyone know that they miss people and are looking forward to the time when they will be allowed to open their doors again in any capacity.

One studio in the area has been noticeably update-free: the Fancy Dance Hall. Since this shutdown started, the staff from this studio has been silent. Almost all other studios are offering at least some limited amount of virtual classes to help keep people entertained, but the Fancy Dance Hall has not. The studio’s social media accounts and website haven’t been updated since well before the shutdown was put in place. There’s just nothing available to indicate that this studio will be coming back once they are allowed to open.

No dancing here! Dragon out front shoulda told you.

To know why I am leaning in this direction rather than just assuming that the staff is biding their time, you have to know a little bit of the history of this studio. Let me tell you a little about this place of business…

When the studio was opened, there were three owners. Two of the owners had been dating for a long time – practically married from the way that most people talked about them – and the third owner was actually the guy who owned the Endless Dance Hall, who was interested in helping to spread ballroom dancing by bringing another studio onto the map. He came in under the guise of being just an investor, and wasn’t interested in doing anything with the operations of the studio since he was doing all the operations at the Endless Dance Hall already.

The relationship between the two owners running the studio did not work out. Actually, that’s putting it really nicely… let’s just say the relationship ended poorly to keep this brief. For a while the two of them continued to both teach at the Fancy Dance Hall, but other arrangements that had been made between them that helped the studio function successfully fell to the wayside as they started to untangle their lives from one another.

One of those was the arrangement that, since the male instructor had so many students and was constantly teaching or traveling around the country to compete with said students, he never had time to deal with the finances of the studio. He had given his lady friend free access to all his accounts, so she could just pull his portion of the payments for the studio out for him while he was working all the time. When they were no longer on good terms, that arrangement fell apart, so suddenly there were delays introduced in when the bills for the studio were getting paid.

That made a lot of the staff at the studio unhappy. What made things worse was that, since the male instructor was always traveling, they had LOTS of time to talk about these issues and how unhappy the situation made them without him around. Eventually there was a kind of revolt at the studio, and everyone on staff there decided to ask the male owner to leave. Based on who you listen to, the genesis of this idea might have been the female owner trying to get all of the other instructors to side with her against him, but whether that is true or not I can’t say for sure.

In any event, the staff had a big “meeting” and laid out all their grievances on him all at once. Because the male instructor felt hurt and betrayed by all these people he thought were his friends, he chose to leave the studio on his own accord to keep life civil. He still held onto his ownership stake in the Fancy Dance Hall for a while, since the other two owners needed to find a way to raise the money to buy him out, but he rented floor space at a different studio to teach all of his lessons from that point on. Eventually his former girlfriend found the money somewhere to buy out his portion (in what always sounded like a shady deal), and thus the number of owners of the Fancy Dance Hall was reduced to two.

The financial impact of him leaving, however, was noticeable right away. This man had a lot of students, and those students had a lot of money to buy a lot of lessons. Because of how often this man was out traveling the country, he would work with the other instructors at the Fancy Dance Hall to have them help work with his students during the times he was out of town. That arrangement not only helped his students improve and kept money coming into the Fancy Dance Hall, but also helped the other instructors at the studio make more money by teaching more lessons.

Now all of that money for all of those lessons was no longer going to help keep the Fancy Dance Hall afloat. Because the former owner felt betrayed by his former coworkers, he did not ask his students to work with them any more once he started teaching at a different studio. Since all of this guys’ wealthy students were loyal to him, they went along with him when he changed studios and cut ties with the instructors at the Fancy Dance Hall. So not only did the Fancy Dance Hall lose that significant income stream, so did all those instructors.

Originally the location chosen for the Fancy Dance Hall was central to where all the owners and the majority of their students lived. The area is in a wealthier suburb, with a lot of money floating around in the hands of the residents. The lease on the building where the Fancy Dance Hall resides is reeeeeeeaaaallllllyy expensive. Without the money from all these wealthy students of the former owner coming in, the Fancy Dance Hall struggled to make enough to pay that lease month after month.

I had thought that the studio had managed to find some kind of footing since then, but I’m not entirely sure. They brought in another big-name male instructor to try and attract some new wealthy clients to the studio to help pay the bills, but this new guy never really managed to attract as many students as the former owner had. I know the other owner, the one who also owns the Endless Dance Hall, has said on several occasions that he has had to step in to cover shortfalls at the Fancy Dance Hall so that they could make their operating budget for the month. Obviously he wasn’t thrilled about having to do that for a studio that once used to be profitable.

FYI – the owner of the Endless Dance Hall is a nice guy, and talking to him about the business side of dance studios is always fascinating.

Then the shutdown hits. Weirdly enough, during the time that we were told to stay home in my area, somehow the female owner of the Fancy Dance Hall is also staying home… but in her country of birth. I’m not sure if she managed to get a flight to go halfway around the world after the shutdown started or if she just happened to be there at the time we shut down and got stuck there. Either way, she hasn’t been around for a long time to manage the affairs of the studio.

On top of that, based on recent posts to her social media that were shown to me, she has revealed that she is pregnant. So she’s at home in her country of birth, surrounded by her family and the father of her child, and somewhere around four months pregnant. Her home country is one of those where they have some form of universal healthcare, so because she still holds citizenship there she is able to be taken care of medically during this pregnancy for little to no cost as long as she stays in the country. Part of me suspects that we may not see her return to this country for a while because of that new development.

So… where does this leave the Fancy Dance Hall? I don’t know for sure, but all the business courses I had to take in college tell me that it might be smart for them at this point to use this change caused by the pandemic to either close up shop at their current location and move to somewhere where their lease is far, far cheaper, or just close their doors entirely and let the freelance instructors rent floor space at other studios in the area.

Will they do that? Who knows. But the signs of how the business was going before the shutdown were not the best, one owner has been MIA during this crisis, and the other not happy about having to invest more money than expected in keeping the lights on at the studio. That doesn’t paint a rosy picture for the future of that studio. We’ll have to wait and see what happens when we reach the point that studios in this area are allowed to open up again. At that point we can fully take stock of how the dance landscape has changed around me.

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