Ballroom Dance > Franchise Experiences

Discussion in 'Ballroom Dance' started by SDsalsaguy, Jul 20, 2003.

  1. SDsalsaguy

    SDsalsaguy Administrator Staff Member

    I was just at the Arthur Murray Unique Dance-O-Rama in Costa Mesa yesterday, and I am curious about anyone’s experiences with and feelings about the ballroom franchises.

    Personally I started at an Arthur Murray school but, unfortunately, the owner of that studio is one of the slimiest people I have ever met. It actually took a couple of years after I had left that studio before I would even set foot in another Arthur Murray studio. I did, however, eventually visit a couple of other Arthur Murray schools and was pleasantly surprised and impressed.

    This weekend’s competition, however, was my first time seeing a franchise competition and I am still sorting out my impressions. There were definitely some elements that impressed me. The overall enthusiasm and support in the ballroom struck me as on par with what I’ve come to expect from the college circuit, but is almost entirely lacking at any other event. One thing that was particularly nice about this, aside from the general camaraderie, was the joy in dancing—both in doing it and watching it—something that seems sadly lacking in other events. Also, even though franchise events are expensive, I have to say that the decorations, catering, etc., were all really top notch—definitely at a scale that I have never seen at any independent event.

    On the flipside, however, and something new to me, were the “Future Professional Champions” events. These are professional two-dance events that, to the best of my knowledge, are for instructors during their first two years (does anyone know if I got this right?). I have to say I found these events a bit shocking…someone who only competes in a two-dance event is an instructor? Of course there is the larger issue that good dancing and good instruction are not synonymous, but I think that is a different issue…

    Anyway, I’m curious about anyone else’s experiences with and impressions of the franchises and franchise events…
  2. MissAlyssa

    MissAlyssa New Member

    Weeeell..I am biased lol. Fred Astaire all the way baby :] I'm not sure what the whole two dance instructor dancing was all about but I have to say that you hit the pros of the franchise pretty much on the head. I feel like there is a ton of support and excitement within a franchise. The studio forms a tight bond and the enthusiasm that the "employees" build definetly wears off on the students. Oh yea, and the catering and decorations are awesome :]
  3. msc

    msc New Member

    I've never had a lesson, either group or private, from a major franchise studio. I started out at a start-up studio, fairly big place, then migrated to take lessons from the major ballroom studios in the area. I stayed at the start-up for quite a while, as the owner gave me some serious discounts on privates, since I "helped train his instructors." What can I say, they made for good practice partners.

    I actually had three separate private instructors at one point ... one from the start-up, one from an established studio, and argentine tango ... and the tango instructor was far and away the best. The fact that she had won her country's modern (standard) championship at an early age probably helped a bit.

    Now I'm soon to have a new instructor, definitely the best I've ever had, both in ability and teaching skills, so I'll have to gear it up. I'm just hopeful that I won't have to go all the way back to the beginning again ...
  4. MissAlyssa

    MissAlyssa New Member

    hehe, I do a lot of my training on students [they get free/discounted lessons]. it helps me and the student out. :)
  5. Black Sheep

    Black Sheep New Member

    Chain Studios vs Independants

    Chain studios have a definite advantage over 'most' independent studios because the advertising is shared by several franchises, and the cost of a franchise is only affordable for those who can put forth additional investment to embellish the studio in every way.
    I worked for the Veloz & Yolanda studios in 1949; I joined the same branch as Jean Phelps only a month after she went through their teacher's training course of six weeks, six hours a day, six days a week. Many independent studio owners are former chain studio trained, as I was. However, There are too many untrained teachers running lose, so a student has to be judicious about picking a teacher from a dance hall just because they dance well. The best way to judge any teacher's ability is by the students they turn out.
    Fred Astaire and Veloz & Yolanda studios in the 1950's did turn out more stylized graceful dancers then the Arthur Murray Studios in L.A. I haven't seen an Arthur Murray contests on TV for a few years, but when I did view them, I had difficulty identifying the differences in their styling for individual ballroom dances. If it wasn't for the music or the costumes all their moves and executions and styling were so similar that the individual dances lost much of their unique character and mood.
    Great thread, Salsaguy!
  6. SDsalsaguy

    SDsalsaguy Administrator Staff Member

    MissAlyssa, I do have to say that the enthusiasm was, indeed, great!

    At the same time though, many—if not the majority—of the “instructors” would have been wiped off the floor by a large percentage of the open level amateurs. So, for those students who enjoy the atmosphere and camaraderie provided within the franchise setting, I think they’re getting just what they want. For students who are trying to develop a certain quality of movement though, I think they need to be very careful within the franchise system (which is not, of course, to say that any such thing is in any way guaranteed in independent studios either).

    FYI, this same prompt has generated some responses you may be interested in over in my yahoo group,
  7. Guest

    Guest Guest

    Very nice post, SD, I always was shown and held that if you're looking to take lessons in any form of dance that the best learning comes from a variety of teachers and methods of teaching.

  8. Panthra

    Panthra New Member

    Oooh anthropology. My future major. :D

    My experience with the world of dance franchises has been limited and I plan to keep it that way. When it comes to ballroom things seem to be split down the middle. You've got the social and competitve and most of the time the two just don't seem to overlap.

    Being more interested in the competitive aspect I find that anyone I want to take lessons with is affiliated with an independent studio. The chains are more focused on the everday social dancer and from what I've seen exclusively teach American style. I've read the franchises try to keep people from going beyond their network, hence one motive for exclusive competitions.

    I'm dancing at a "former" Arthur Murray's (only in name it seems, except for that one teacher who makes it worth it) and paying up front for 10 privates and 10 groups set me on edge. All my other lesson programs were payed in installments. I don't know if that's significant or not, but it was another difference I noticed.

    Yeah... so those are my observations, who knows though.
  9. SDsalsaguy

    SDsalsaguy Administrator Staff Member

    Really? What branch of anthropology are you interested in? FYI, feel free to be in touch if I can ever help out!

  10. MissAlyssa

    MissAlyssa New Member

    I'm not quite sure why paying up front "pissed you off" but from an instructor's standpoint I'd like to share why I feel paying up front is a positive thing. Think of it this way, you have a lesson at 5 o'clock and you show up at 4:55 so you have time to put on your shoes etc before your lesson. At 5 o'clock I walk up and let you know that you have no more lessons paid for at the moment. Instead of starting a lesson on time you have to go and pay for a few more lessons, taking 10 minutes out of a lesson (on your time) that would otherwise have been taken care of. Furthermore, the higher the program you are enrolled in, the more fun and exciting things we can teach you during your lessons. Let me tell you, I'd rather be teaching you style, technique, or cool patterns during your lesson rather than watch you do the rumba box step for 30 minutes and for excitement throwing in an UA turn lol :D
  11. SDsalsaguy

    SDsalsaguy Administrator Staff Member

    MissAlyssa, I think the point is that if the product is really of value, it will sell itself, i.e. the student will sign up for lessons of their own initiative, not be required to make an up front commitment. Every top instructor I have seen in the U.S. and Europe receives payment on the completion of the lesson without issue…

    Part of the discrepancy may also be that you are viewing this only as a franchise insider…in most independent schools there is no such thing as “you haven’t purchased that yet.” I’m not entirely sure why, but it seems that the business model that the franchises are based on quantify and qualify the value of their program from a choreographic standpoint. Dance is a skill and, as such, even a rumba box can be taught at levels that only the vast minority of franchise instructors (albeit many independent instructors as well) would be able to match…
  12. Taita

    Taita New Member

    Franchise Experience

    Hello everyone,

    This is my first post. I hope you enjoy it. A bit about myself...
    I currently take lessons at both independent and a franchise studio. I have taken lessons from several schools in this franchise for years. Let me see if I can share some of experience with them...

    I would describe my experience as very positive. The ones I go to do not exclusively teach just the American style, but also offer an international syllabus (or is it syllabi for plural...). While I do see a tendency to try and 'sell' newcomers I don't see the same tendency at many independent studios too. I have also found that it's easy to characterize an entire franchise based on the experience had at a single school. I have visited many schools from the same franchise and found them to be pretty much self-owned and managed. Some are well run operations where a pleasant experience is assured and morale is high with both the staff and the students. Others are badly mismanaged where the staff feels little better than slaves and the atmosphere seems a bit too workmanlike. As each studio is independently owned and managed, I have never had difficulty negotiating a fair rates for my lessons. In terms of instruction.... I tend to believe it all comes down to two things: the teacher and the student. Sometimes I find people paying outrageous sums of money to learn from barely qualified teachers. Sometimes I find people who pay top dollar to work with the same teachers I work with and never really learn anything. When I objectively look at those situations, it always strikes me that the student has a role and responsibility in this too that is not often met. When I go for my lessons, I am blessed to be able to learn from some of the world's best dancers and I prepare by practicing beforehand, being warmed up, and paying close attention. All this at a price that is comparable to what I would find at the independent studios I also take lessons at.

    For me, lessons are not cheap, but time is even more expensive. One outstanding, expensive lesson every couple of weeks, is often worth more than mediocre, cheap lessons taken everyday. I have always found quality of instruction to be paramount. I have also found that it is possible to find that instruction at franchise studios. Franchise studios do play an important role and many do a good job of providing value to it's customers. One should definitely not shy away from franchises when looking for instruction. However, I have seen a few that seem a bit.... shall we say, mismanaged.... and I can see how easily one can form an impression of an entire franchise based on an experience at a single school. It is far more useful to judge each situation on it's own merits and make decisions based on what is best for you.
  13. SDsalsaguy

    SDsalsaguy Administrator Staff Member

    Welcome to the forums Taita! (And, FYI, I did enjoy your post :D)

    You bring up an excellent point regarding student responsibilities as well. Walking in for a lesson “just on time” and/or not having practiced since the last lesson are just some of the things that some students do that undermine the value of their lessons.

    On the issue of value, you also point out the valuable point (sorry, couldn’t help myself) that price is not synonymous with value. Aside from the fact that a higher quality lesson will get you further faster, there are some things you will never get—no matter how much time and money you invest—from even an infinite number of lower quality lessons. As such, the quality of the lesson needs to be factored in as much as the price and, despite larger social pressures to the contrary, price should not be conflated with value.

    Two factors relevant to this value factoring that have been brought up in the Ballroom Life yahoo group are (1) “extras,” and (2) portability. For the price of lessons the franchises include group classes and practice parties so, if you utilize these services, then a higher priced lesson can, indeed, be of greater value (assuming, of course, comparable quality of teaching). This phenomena, in turn, tends to function as an element of diminishing returns since most studios do not have group classes/events that are geared towards higher and higher level dancers. (Again, the specifics of any given establishment could vary, but as a rule of thumb, this is, indeed, the case.) As far as portability, for those who can and do make use of such, there is something to be said for the franchises in that one can join in group classes and parties, and even take an exchange private lesson, throughout the system at no additional cost.

    Returning to Taita’s point, however, I think that prioritizing one’s objectives is one place where students need to be careful. If social dance is what is wanted, then franchises are—by and large—among the very best choices. For more quality based dancing then it becomes essential to evaluate the individual establishments available. While there certainly are quality dancers and instructors available within the franchise systems, I watched multiple franchise professionals competing last weekend who would be easily beaten in novice level amateur events.
  14. Black Sheep

    Black Sheep New Member

    I taught at a Veloz and Yolanda franchise studio and have had several teachers and franchise owners as friends and I categorically agree with your description of the 'good, the bad and the ugly' of both Independents and Franchise Chain studios. Readers would be wise to follow your sage advice.
    Black Sheep
  15. luvandliv2dance

    luvandliv2dance New Member

    Hi, I was at the Costa Mesa event also and found your post very interesting. :D
  16. SDsalsaguy

    SDsalsaguy Administrator Staff Member

    Welcome to the forums luvandliv2dance! (I love the ID by the way!)

    I'm glad you found my post interesting. If I may ask, however, what was your impression of the event and in what capacity were you there? Please do feel free to disagree with anything I have said, as I am well aware that my frame of reference and perspective is only that—mine. I started this thread due to a genuine interested in other people’s perceptions and opinions on the matter.

    Again, welcome to the forums!

  17. Taita

    Taita New Member

    Thank you for the welcome everyone!

    SD..... I'm glad you enjoyed my post. If you are referring to the same franchise I'm thinking of, then I have to say that your experience with them is similar to my experience with them. In my area, this chain only teaches from their own American Style syllabus and subsequently, their focus is purely social. I agree with your point on 'extras' as their rates are outrageously higher than anyone else's. This is justified by the inclusion of extras like group classes which tend to be of questionable value as you advance. Tell me, was their competition competitive? Last time I checked, their competition was focused on pro-am and the students never actually competed against each other as each heat was essentially a 'proficiency' where every student was judged individually (I have never heard of anyone scoring lower than a 95/100 -- even the lady who tripped and fell). In addition to the above, I would daresay I too know many amateurs who were more fundamentally sound in their dance technique than any of the professionals I have seen from there (Note: I will say a friend of mine was once a competitive partner to a teacher at another studio from that franchise and they always did well in professional competition. This same couple was once allowed to compete at one of their franchise competitions. To the organizer's dismay, they proceeded to totally embarrass every other 'professional' couple by running away with the win. LOL, even the photos that were taken show judges unable to stop watching them! Needless to say, they were not invited back). In my opinion, this particular franchise offers the worst value from what I've seen so far. They do offer a good social outlet, that does appear a bit inbred as I generally do not see their students at other social dance events except when they go as a group. However, I do enjoy their company and occassionally crash their parties(they don't dance as well, but.... there are some cute girls in that place! :wink: ).

    BlackSheep.... Thank you for your insight, I'm glad to get verification from someone on the 'inside'. Thanks again for your compliment, I know many who would hesitate to call my opinions 'sage advice'! :p
  18. Panthra

    Panthra New Member

    MissAlyssa, please don't put words in my mouth. In rereading my post I said it "put me on edge" and by this I hardly meant pissed off. I meant extremely nervous. I don't know about you, but putting $1,000 down up front is a big deal for me considering the amount of money. I want to be sure that the studio will uphold their end of the bargain. I've always paid in installments which I find to make a lot more sense for both the teacher and I.

    Say my current instructor left the studio and I still had 2 or 3 lessons. The only reason I take lessons there is for him, he is geared toward competition and is by far the best dancer there. I am literally better than all the other teachers there simply because my focus is competitve and theirs is social. I highly doubt the studio is going to give me the money back for those left over lessons, so where does that leave me? Now *that* would piss me off. :p

    I've never had to pay up front, my instructors have always taken care of administrative stuff after the lesson, whether it has been payed for or not.

    SD - Cultural anthropology here. :D You? And I just got a book you might be interested in written by an anthropologist and classically trained dancer called Paper Tangos. She studies the whole culture of the tango, it sounds really fascinating. (I forgot the author and I don't have the book in front of me.)

    Taita, great posts, I really enjoyed reading them!
  19. SDsalsaguy

    SDsalsaguy Administrator Staff Member

    Hi Taita….

    :?: Ummm, sorry, maybe I’m just being obtuse at the moment, but I’m unclear about this…both the event I started this thread in reference to and my own personal studio experience are, I had thought, noted as being in reference to Arthur Murray. Maybe the lack of clarity comes from my labeling the thread “Franchise Experiences”?

    Anyway, to respond to your question, yes, there actually was competition, i.e., multiple people at the same levels who actually were marked relative to each other. Now certainly there were any number of uncontested entries, but that is also true of the vast majority of independent events as well these days. As an aside, I am not sure if my perception of this is accurate but, at least at first blush, it seems to me that I see more FADS students competing at independent (i.e. NDCA) competitions then I do AMI students. Anyone else have an impression on this? (By the way, I loved your story about your friend and his partner.)

    Panthra…given your post I would say that you have good reason to be nervous. Unless I am mistaken, franchise contracts actually include (in the proverbial “small print”) a clause specifying that the contract is with the franchise and not with a particular instructor...and that other instructors can be assigned to a given contract.

    As for the academic thing, I’m actually doing my Ph.D. in psychological anthropology—a specialized sub-filed within sociocultural anthropology that tends to focus on the permeable border between culture and personality. As for the book you mention, its written by Julie Taylor and was first published in 1998, by Duke University Press.

    luvandliv2dance…looking forward to any comments you may care to offer, especially as someone who was at the event which originally prompted this thread.

  20. Taita

    Taita New Member

    Hi Jonathan

    My mistake, I simply did not read your post carefully enough. I also did not wish to offend anyone by naming names. Ironically, AMI is the franchise I was thinking about. It is good to know AMI students do have the opportunity to compete against one another. As far as independent competitions, it does seem to me that I see more FADS students competing at these things than AMI students. As a matter of fact, I don't think I have ever seen an AMI student competing at an independent venue! Can anyone verify this? As far as amateur couples, I do tend to notice the vast majority of them train at independent studios. At first glance, this would suggest that independent studios tend to encourage amateur competition much more than franchises. (BTW, to put icing on the story, my friend was a teacher at an FADS at the time. The AMI organizers knew this. I'm sure they loved giving their first place award to him :wink: ).


    Thank you for sharing your experiences, I am glad that you are enjoying my posts. Having years of experience dealing with franchises, you may want to check the fine print on the lesson contract. As far as I know, a studio must refund any unpaid lessons if the student requests it. no questions asked. I have also known of instances where independent studios have honored lesson contracts from other studios (what happens here is one studio will simply purchase the contract from another studio). Also, do not be afraid to make a good business decision for yourself, even if you are afraid it may offend someone. I have in the past refused to take lessons from a teacher who I felt wasn't worth the price of the lessons. Personally, I liked this particular coach, but I didn't feel her teaching style would help me learn as much from her. By word and by action, I made it clear that my decision to not take lessons with her was a business decision, not a personal one. My decision was respected and no animosity ever came of it. In fact, I believe it lead to more respectful dealings from this studio and a higher level of instruction once they realized that I am not afraid of going elsewhere. Also, be clear on your goals. Is your goal to learn from your current instructor? or to become a better dancer? Is it possible that you are needlessly trapping yourself? You may find that you have more options than you believe are available.

    P.S. I took the time to check out your blog. Great pictures!

    P.P.S. Upon further examination of your blog, it appears that we share a coach! :eek:

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