Before I dreamt of becoming a sports writer, I fully intended on being a dance teacher and owning a dance studio. Not necessarily because I loved the idea of teaching dance, though I didn’t mind that aspect of the job. It was because I loved the idea of owning a dance studio and the marketing that came with it.
The flyers. The newsletters to families. The program. The Yellow Pages ad. The registration forms. All I wanted to do was own my own dance studio so I could create all of that for myself.
My interest stemmed from my own dance teacher, who was a savvy marketer, though I didn’t realize it as a child. I joined my dance studio a year after it opened. I wanted to take gymnastics, but after years of hoping the tuition at Eastside Gymnastics might decrease, my parents gave up and signed me up for dance. They picked the studio with the crisp mid-1980s logo within walking distance of my house. That was a marketing success – there were other studios in walking distance, but my mom saw the nice looking logo and sign every time she walked to the bank and registered me.
That logo – brush strokes of the studio name with certain letters made out of dancers (not in a cheesy way) – was on every piece of paper you ever received. It was the full width header on every registration form, class schedule, costume invoice, nursing home show agenda, and newsletter. This was my first real memory of a branding campaign. All the older dancers had dance bags and shirts with the logo, and immediately, eight year old me wanted one. I went without both, because my parents could barely afford tuition as it was.
My mother was an active Yellow Pages reader, and I followed suit. A few weeks into my dance career, I decided to page through “Dance Studios” in the Yellow Pages to scout the competition. In 1988, there were 5-6 pages of studio listings in the Rochester, NY Yellow Pages, but only a handful of studios had visual ads. While most of them looked cheesy, swirly and out of 1972, there was my studio, with the ever-present logo and a serif font. “Irondequoit’s Best Dance Studio,” it read. (Though the studio was technically in Rochester, if you walked ten feet behind the building, you were in Irondequoit.) Nothing about “turning your little girls into stars.” No cursive, pointe shoes or flowery anything. It was modern and smart looking.
Over the months, more of my dance teacher’s branding stuck. The older girls did a show in the Sibley’s store during the opening of Irondequoit Mall. Though I wasn’t dancing in it, I begged my mother to take me. The stage was the size of a postage stamp and carpeted (neither ideal), but all the teachers were in their branded t-shirts and had balloons with the studio name. The hundreds of passer by celebrating the mall’s opening saw the studio name. That wasn’t lost on me – I felt like a part of something impressive and important.
I loved dance, not so much because of the dancing, but because I loved watching what my dance teacher would do next to market the business. I saved every piece of paper she gave us in a folder in my kitchen and poured over every single one. By the end of my first year, I had a piece of notebook paper in that folder with logo designs and ads for my own fictitious studio.
A few years later, my dance teacher held a contest for the studio’s fifth anniversary. The studio would have an anniversary t-shirt, and us dancers could enter designs. I went to work immediately. I think I slaved over five or six possible entries, wanting to put everything I had learned from a branding perspective to work.
I turned in my design the day they were due. Our recital was split into halves – one half had an Annie theme, and the other had some star related theme. So ten year old me drew a wand with a star on top, with the recital name in script in the handle, and then Little Orphan Annie’s head peaking out of the star. Then there was a border with the logo and the recital date and time. If I saw it now, I’d probably cringe.
But I won.
My prize? One of the shirts hot off the press. I loved it, not just because I’m a competitive person, but because after a few years of attending the studio, it was the first t-shirt I owned with the beloved logo.
Fast forward to now. I’m obviously not a dance teacher (though I dance around my apartment and office when no one’s looking), and I don’t own a dance studio. But I’ve done publication design, branding and organizational communications in every job I’ve had. When a fellow student government member in college labeled me, “The Queen of Newsletters,” I thought back on my dance studio days and the newsletters I still saved in that folder. I design t-shirts for special events. I design websites. I write copy.
And it wasn’t just me my dance teacher’s marketing had a lasting impact on – it worked in general. The studio celebrates its 25th anniversary with their annual recital this weekend. The Rochester Yellow Pages are down to a page or two of studio listings, but somehow the studio has survived. Things have changed: there’s now a Facebook page that likes to embarrass alumni with Throwback Thursdays, and instead of newsletters and forms, there is a clean and clearly branded website with online registration. And that beloved brush script logo was retired a few years back.
While I never did open my own dance studio (though, like the 1980s, that dream could make a comeback), my dance years inspired the communications aspect of my career in ways I didn’t realize as a child. So happy anniversary and thank you, Denise.