Do Dance Teams Equal Dollar Signs?

Could the addition of a dance program be something to cheer about at your all-star gym? The sector has certainly seen significant growth in the last five years, with the debut of the Dance Worlds in 2008 and many gyms introducing dance teams and programs. USASF dance committees were formed in 2011 to help foster that growth, and 25 event producers are now on board giving bids to Dance Worlds. 

Being part of this emerging trend comes with both risks and rewards for any gym. Though a dance program can diversify your offering and/or boost your bottom line, it’s important to consider elements like scheduling issues, staffing and costs involved. Incorporating dance teams might not be the right move for every gym owner, so it’s important to know the pros and cons before jumping headfirst into those waters.

Rockville, MD-based Shockwave Allstars started offering dance teams and classes last season. Owner Jessie Leone opened the gym with his wife Carrie almost four years ago, and they now have 15 cheer teams, nine dance teams and 410 total athletes in their 15,000 sq.-ft. facility. “My wife runs a very tight ship when it comes to customer service, and we felt that we could bring that same level of commitment to the dance industry,” says Leone. “We also felt it would be a great complimentary use for our facility.”

One of Leone’s top pieces of advice is to “consider whether you can offer a great product with solid margins that can lead you to profitability.” At Shockwave, the Leones incurred a significant amount of build-out expense when they added studios, but because they didn’t expand the facility, the effort didn’t raise their operating expenses other than staffing

Two locations and 275 athletes strong, CNY Storm is now in its 18th year, and owner Kathy Penree added dance teams five years ago when an existing program that already had dance teams in place joined theirs. Though the addition of dance teams hasn’t yet increased profitability for the gym, Penree believes it’s been beneficial as a way of “giving our athletes another outlet for their talent.”

Fitting the Puzzle Pieces Together

Over at Ultimate Athletics of Ohio, co-owners Denise Haase and Ryhannon Haase-Johnston introduced dance teams six seasons ago. Haase-Johnston oversees the dance program at the gym, while her mom focuses on cheer. The mother/daughter team started with a small dance program offering substantial crossover tuition cuts, which facilitated growth into a larger program. Now that the program is well-established, local dance studios have been coming to Ultimate Athletics for guidance and advice, and going on to compete at all-star competitions.

So how does Ultimate do it? A whopping 75 percent of their athletes participate in both cheer and dance. “We make tuition affordable and really try to balance the practice schedules to accommodate those athletes so they aren’t in the gym seven days a week,” Haase-Johnston explains.

They also try to maximize resources in other areas; for instance, the uniforms and costumes have become multi-purpose as a means of keeping overhead low while still looking professional at competitions. “One unique thing we do to cut back on costs is use our cheer top for our pom teams and pair them with black jazz pants and a mesh leotard to cut down on uniform prices,” says Haase-Johnston.

The tactics seem to be working, as the program has gotten bids to the last three years of Dance Worlds. In May, the gym will be merging with Tumble Athletics to become the newest franchised location of Midwest Cheer Elite—and they hope the dance program will continue to grow. “I wish more gyms could see the potential in turning cheer athletes into dancers,” Haase-Johnston says. “With the right training, it works and gives them an option to express themselves in a different way.”

Scheduling & Staffing 

Like Haase-Johnston, Leone of Shockwave sees dance as a growing sector of the cheer world and a great way for a gym to reach a wider market—provided owners have the right infrastructure in place. However, unlike Ultimate Athletics, they try to have their athletes choose between cheer and dance. “Otherwise, when you get close to competition and start scheduling extra practices, it will become an issue,” says Leone.

At Penree’s CNY Storm, most of her dancers are also cheerleaders, so practice days and times are separated out so that most athletes have a break. “It also teaches those athletes time management skills,” Penree says. However, she adds that competition scheduling can be tough—dance is usually at the beginning or end of the day, making it a long day for any crossover athletes. Smaller competitions can also be a challenge, since there is very little time for costume and makeup changes.

Another top consideration is staffing. Many gym owners stress the importance of not having coaches do too much double-duty, as it can lead to scheduling problems and burnout. One solution is to bring in dedicated dance coaches who can focus on that aspect of the program—for gym owners who are able to find the finances, it can be a huge plus.

Ultimately, the way a dance program is run is up to each individual gym owner, because what works for one gym may not click with another. Consider the infrastructure you have in place, your gym’s finances and your future plans carefully before you commit. If a dance program makes sense for your business, it could be well worth the risks. “Every time a new child joins the gym, your profit margins should be the same for cheer as well as dance,” says Leone. That way, “as an owner you do not care which one they join—only that they join your gym family.”

-Dina Gachman