How To Start a Dance Company

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There are lots of reasons people decide to start a dance company. Whatever your reason may be, how to begin can be a daunting task. Knowing why you want to start it and how to start a dance company can help you determine if you should actually move forward with the idea.

I’m going to share a personal example for my first “why.” In the early 2000s, I was on tour with a bunch of people. Inspiration was not hard to find. I was surrounded by dancers who loved what they did. When that ended, I really felt like I was on an island. I wanted people to dance with. I’d been performing for over six years, eight shows a week and I wanted to keep my creative energy flowing. That’s how my first company came into existence.

I personally believe that an excellent reason to start a company is because you want to put your vision out there. How you see dance. It can be a way for you to create work for yourself and others. It can be some of the most rewarding work you do. But, it will be difficult. Some easy starting points are needed.

First, come up with a name and search the name to see if someone else already has it. You’ll want to search out the domain name too since you’re going to need a website. This will also be helpful in finding out if somebody else has a similar name out there. Once you’ve searched your name, it’s safe to go ahead and buy the domain name. It’ll give you a nice feeling of taking steps in the right direction. You can then build your website. That’s always fun! You’ll also want to create your social media handles. If you can’t get your new name, add “the” or “official” to it. This particular process can be really frustrating, but it’s ever so necessary.

Once you’ve named the company, you have a decision to make. Will you be official and register with a state, play it loose and operate under the name without an LLC or S-Corp, or form a nonprofit. Each version has its upside. Operating as “company name” is the easiest and cheapest. You just start rehearsing and performing. This is a good way to just start dancing. However, forming an LLC is probably the safest bet. You can have insurance to protect yourself from injuries and allow you to rehearse in people’s spaces. A nonprofit is a giant mountain that’s worth the effort. This type of company will allow you to get grants and donations easier. Maintaining nonprofit status is the hard part. This path is for the long term planners. You’ll need a board of directors, to plan quarterly meetings, and to keep your books up to date. Setting up your business is an important decision to make, but you can do that while you form your company. 

There are a couple more things you need to determine before you are all the way ready to start filing paperwork. One is, who is in your company? When you start, all you have is your personal reputation so I suggest friends and strong students. People who believe in you will help you build your vision. Your dancers will want to work for experience and exposure.

Then where will you rehearse? This is a big hurdle. Usually, there’s no money to start a company so renting space will come out of your pocket. If you teach at a dance studio, asking to use the space at a discounted rate or free during the studio’s off-hours is a great option. Be open and honest with the owner and they’re sure to want to work with you. Sometimes trading space for teaching is a possibility. Cleaning the space after you’re done if it’s not a rental will be important, too.

Name, business formation, members, and space are all the starting points we’ve addressed. The final thing I suggest is building your first piece with the group you’ve assembled and recording it. Record on your phone with a tripod to make it easy and do simple edits to it. Post it to your site, social media channels, and YouTube or Vimeo. This way you’ll be able to easily share your work. Reach out to local events and see if you can get your group to perform.

The slow climb of where the group performs will be fun, interesting, and sometimes frustrating. Know that each performance will build friendships, respect, and support for each other. Essentially you’re making a family. Treat your family well and they’ll stand by your side through the most difficult times. They’ll also cheer you on and bask in the glory of your success!

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The views expressed in this article are solely that of the individual(s) providing them,
and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Backstage or its staff.

Author Headshot
Aaron Tolson
Aaron Tolson is a professional tap dancer who is currently a professor at The Boston Conservatory at Berklee. He is the co-director of The Intensive, director of speaking In Taps, and a spokesperson for SoDanca. Additional credits include: Imagine Tap and Riverdance on Broadway and Radio City Music Hall.
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