Someone wrote to say that obviously “the twist” I implied a few weeks ago was that we were going to pull the rug out from under everyone’s feet to purposely ruin the FLEX recital. Well, at least people are consistent. They immediately think the worst of us. (That makes sense, considering we were such ogres for eighteen years and ran such an awful school . . . And they wonder why we left and moved so far away to live a simpler life.)
I really didn’t want to address these issues before end of year performances had been wrapped up, because in all fairness, I didn’t want to increase anyone’s discomfort. But it seems I have to address events now to help people understand what is happening.
Let me say first that we certainly don’t want to interfere with FLEX having their show, and have no idea why people are reacting as if we are, because classes leaving the building six days earlier than planned should have no bearing on events. The timing of this eviction was out of our hands once the FLEX management did not meet court-established obligations. That is unfortunate, but at this point, one group rehearsal for the finale can take place as a final class. In fact, Mark and I had to do this one year when we moved the business during the recital season. We scheduled a group rehearsal at a community center and things worked out fine. This is part of the creative solution personality trait all dance studio owners rely on when plans go awry.
If FLEX does not have a recital, it won’t be because of us. There are many costs associated to pulling off a big performance, so the determent would more likely be whether the school has met their obligations in these areas. I happen to know teachers and others are planning to do what it takes to assure a show takes place. The concern about recital should be alleviated in light of this. I even know someone in the wings standing by to step in, should everyone be left in a lurch. Enough said.
Nevertheless, here are some facts about the fate of the building and what will happen beyond the show: Several businesses made offers to purchase the Sarasota building, but “the twist” I alluded to was that we arranged for the building to continue to be a dance school. I thought this would be good news, because all those people who have written me asking for advice on where to train next season now have a perfect solution. SRQ Dance will not be just any school, but one that will be run by a student we trained and mentored. To assure the new school has a sound foundation, Mark and I are giving them guidance, consultation, our expertise in teacher’s training, and we plan to come back in the fall to choreograph. These are all things we offered FLEX management after we left, but our involvement was declined. Things will be different this time around.
Whether or not the owners of FLEX re-open under a new name with entirely new staff and entirely new resources is anyone’s guess. We don’t know how this will be financially feasible, considering they cannot meet the minimum obligations agreed upon in settlement, but that is not for us to say. If the Mendisons do open a new school, we wish them luck with it. We think they are fine people with good intentions, despite what has transpired between us. We don’t understand their business choices, but differences are what makes the world go round.
Meanwhile, under the assumption that FLEX would not survive, we have worked with the Boyas’ on their business plan and poked holes in their ideas, testing their organization and intentions. After weeks of this back and forth, I can attest that they have more than a fancy website and promises to offer everyone. SRQ dance is set up to DELIVER what they advertise. I am so tired of dance studio’s bragging about the future- because anyone with any experience or understanding of the complexities of the dance business knows the reality will fall short of the grand promises being made. There is also an inexplicable attitude that the school with the advanced dancers WE trained somehow validates the studio’s worth. How ludicrous. The fact is, a school is only as good as the students THEY train and it will be years (ten or so) until anyone can judge which teacher or institution really knows what they are doing by evaluating the dance student’s skills. Everyone’s focus now is on competitions, choreography, and advanced dance numbers, but the true focus of a good school should be on devising progressive educational programs. The obsession with a plastic trophy as a measurable result to wave around doesn’t point to a very good future for these schools in our opinion. But then, we are dinosaurs and with old-school attitudes about what makes a quality dance school. Perhaps we were put to pasture just in time.
Nevertheless, assuming we know something about dance education, we are excited about the school Cory and Sharon Boyas will be opening, SRQ dance. Here’s why.
Cory can run a dance school “as only a lifelong dancer can” who happens to have professional dance experience as well as management training in business. Cory was trained by us and like most of our former students, had his glory years as the winner of competitions (Mr. Dance of Florida and others) and as a soloist with the West Coast Dance Project. This makes a fine little bio to give customers confidence, but after this, the important qualifications begin. Cory went on to study in New York. There, he worked with dance companies and for theatrical productions. He was on scholarship with a few of the best schools in New York and went on to tour Europe. His expertise goes far deeper than growing up with FLEX as his single source of knowledge. He has professional associations and connections that will help him to devise a great dance curriculum – not to mention his positive association to us- which means we are an ongoing resource for the school too. On top of this, he is customer service oriented. Thanks to his background, working in management for two of the most prestigious service companies (Starbucks and The Hyatt) for several years, he is very professional and can handle the business side of running a school. Dance knowledge is important, of course, but to be an effective director you need to be very skilled at the business end too. This is what establishes security and longevity for a school. Cory has impressive computer skills, marketing experience and great instincts, all necessary for his future role as dance school owner.
His wife, Sharon happens to be a preschool teacher, soon to be certified as a director. This, along with her great organizational skills, makes her highly qualified to manage the preschool and youth education aspect of the school. This couple has noble aspirations to expand SRQ to become a credited performing arts school one day, and I suspect they could pull it off. But they know to go slow and make changes sparingly with great care. Sharon’s parents are principals of a school as well, so teaching comes naturally to the family. (Cory has also worked on staff at a school). The relatives are going to be involved too, which brings maturity and experience to the educational divisions of SRQ. As a graduate of the theater department of Booker, Sharon has experience as a theater techie too – which means she has training in backstage management, costuming and lights. As anyone can see, this couple is well qualified to run recitals and other performing events too. They hope to serve mostly as directors and office management, but they are fully qualified to sub classes, manage artistic programs and hire terrific staff. They have invited past FLEX staff to join the school, should the teachers find themselves looking for work, but we have made ourselves available to help train new staff if those dance teachers we trained previously make other choices. I can’t see how SRQ can fail to have a good program considering the attention being paid to future staffing issues.
Frankly, I can’t think of a single element of managing a kick-butt school that the Boyas couple are not qualified for. They also happen to have four kids, so they have the parent’s perspective on what really counts in regards to the kind of environment a parent would feel comfortable entrusting their children in. They are investing their life savings on a dream, and for a couple with four kids to educate and raise, that speaks of their serious intentions and commitment as well.
But what really sold me on this couple was not their compiled list of attributes. It was attitude. In talking to Cory, I’ve learned just how decent and earnest he’s become as an adult. Like many of the teens we trained, he had his difficult moments as a young man. But he has hard-earned wisdom and humility now and a great attitude. He and Sharon want foremost to have a high caliber school. They don’t seem nearly as interested in getting rich or being a dance superpower, as they want to influence young people to develop into great artists and great people. They hope to enrich lives through the arts. That is what it is all about, and anyone who operates from this place is bound to build a fantastic school. Most importantly, they despise personal drama and are devoted to diffusing emotional upheavel believing it is non-productive in an arts school. I think people will appreciate that.
Cory wrote us a few weeks ago, explaining what he thought were his strengths and weaknesses as a dance teacher. He certainly has no delusions about his value or unexplainable arrogance regarding his skill, and that is refreshing. He asked our opinion about how he could improve in the area’s that needed improvement, and wanted our opinion about how to best utilize his strengths. He asks all the right questions and is so open to personal growth.
Mark and I don’t ever intend to shoot down anyone’s dream when we play devil’s advocate or point out weaknesses in a concept, but we did hit Cory with all kinds of questions and obstacles to see what his plans included. We have done this to each other for years, which is how we avoid many pitfalls. Planning is everything. And every time, he and Sharon came back with carefully researched and well-thought out answers. They are solution oriented, always with an eye on what is ethical, and best for the students in the long term. Their lack of ego is key. And they have showed us true respect, which is the mark of a generous artist. Most impressive of all is the hard work they have invested already in this, the formative period of their enterprise. They are tireless, enthusiastic and very positive people. In fact, the way they go above and beyond, never delegating the work to others but diving in to do it themselves, reminds us of us in the early years. Mark and I think they will be very, very successful, and it won’t depend on enrolling current FLEX students. This couple will train great dancers on their own, and they will have a progressive school that will appeal to many, many people. They don’t need other people’s students to make it work. But if other dance school options don’t manifest, students will at least have a wonderful new alternative to consider in SRQ.
We are happy because this solution gives closure to our years in dance. In a perfect world, FLEX would have thrived and been successful, and we wish it were so, but in light of the fact that this didn’t happen, what is the next best thing? I think a new school whose vision is an evolution of our past is perfect. It won’t be the same school, nor should it be. A copy of our school would be only that. A bad copy. Better, a school built on the foundation of all that was good before, with a changed and evolved definition to meet the needs of the current dancers in Sarasota. The FLEX of everyone’s past was wonderful – but that was because it met the needs of the dancers of the past. Today, our culture is different, and so should be the school servicing them.
We feel horrible about how things ended with FLEX and wish things had worked out differently. It has been a very painful two years for us. All I can say is, until you are the one forced to unplug the life support on something you deeply love, I suggest people stop passing judgment. Everyone has strong opinions, but they lack the facts required to understand all that has truly transpired.
Before I close, I’ll tell you what compelled me most to help make SRQ a reality. In one of our conversations, Cory said to me, “We sure would love to get that building, but if I told you why, you’d laugh at me.” Of course, I made him confess.
He said, “The night I married Sharon (they had a whirlwind romance and got married on the spur of the moment without anyone knowing- seemed risky, but four kids and years later it’s proven the right choice) we drove to FLEX and spent our first night together sleeping in our car parked on the side of the building. At sunrise, we went to take a walk on the beach and afterwords, I drove to your house to tell you and Mark that Sharon and I got hitched (they were both our students around that time). That building is sort of symbolic for us, the place we began our married life, and therefore, very special.”
Of course, FLEX was the backdrop for my marriage too, the place where Mark and I raised our children, built a future and established many wonderful memories. It occurred to me in that instant that here was a couple who would really love that facility with the same reverence and intensity we loved it. Not because they grew up there and it was a part of their childhood history, but because it was tied into their future too. While everyone is quick to say, “business is business”, the fact is, for some artistic types, “business is passion and making a difference.” ( Apparently, I think helpless romantics make good dance school owners.)
That made me think about Cory’s connection to the building. When we first bought it, he was a scholarship student and because he our only a guy, he helped Mark with remodeling construction. I remember we rented scaffolding and Cory and Mark painted the entire back room. They called me and asked me to bring them sodas and a snack. It was 2am. I remember showing up and seeing my boys all paint splattered and punchy from being so tired. They made off-color jokes just to keep awake and because it amused them to get me agitated, (I always reprimanded them like children when they made classless jokes.) I remember the laughter and camaraderie despite the grueling work, and how much I appreciated there being someone other than me up on that scaffolding to help Mark do this awful job.
I believe in Karma. I think Cory helped us back then out of true appreciation for our tutelage and friendship. But I like thinking he was really helping himself. Perhaps fate was laying the foundation for his future. We all thought he was painting our back room, but really, he was painting what as going to be HIS back room someday, even though none of us knew it at the time. A young boy was helping us accomplish our dreams, and now, it is our time to help him realize his.
Call me a romantic, but this feels so right to me.
It’s no secret to anyone that I am too sensitive regarding dance and FLEX. So, more than anything else, sometimes it is best to trust Mark’s instincts. He has talked to Cory, reviewed the numbers, looked over their business plan and discussed artistic goals and how to achieve them with both Sharon and Cory. And after hanging up the phone, he turned to me the other day and said, “I swear, these two could really pull this off and have a fantastic school. I’m so impressed with all they’ve done. They’ve worked harder than anyone else we’ve witnessed so far, and in the end, it is all about hard work and innovation.”
Watching the final days of FLEX is painful, but the rising of SRQ makes closing the door easier somehow. Time to pass on the mantel of dance on to people inflamed with ambition and passion for the job at hand. And for those that speculate, it is important to know we are not selling the school or the resources to them, although that could have been arranged. No, we are giving what we can to a former student whose friendship and loyalty has meant a great deal to us. This couple has a huge head start now for building a dance empire of their own. That means a great deal to us. There was a time we supposed this would happen with another protégé, but we were mislead by her true intentions. It was painful disappointment because we always dreamed that if FLEX didn’t make it, one of our students would step forward, carry on our heritage and make us proud.
Here he is, folks.
So, regardless of what others may think, Mark and I are pleased that something good will rise out of all the recent dance disappointments. We have cut our losses regarding former students that chose to treat us with distain once they thought they had no use for us, but we celebrate the former students who remained close friends (many of who visit this blog regularily).
We earnestly hope for the best for everyone involved in dance in Sarasota. To those still at FLEX, to those that left to participate in a new school, and to those who quit dance altogether because the volatile nature of the fighting ruined the experience, we want to say that we hope you find what you are looking for and are happy. Keep dancing. In the end, it doesn’t mater where, because it is an internal journey.
I guess, we have all learned hard lessons, but that is something to respect too.
Now, I am done discussing dance on this blog and I won’t revisit this issue so don’t bother checking in. I’m returning to talk of chickens, bees, literature, wine and horses, which will no doubt thin out my audience considerably. As such, everyone out there must follow their own heart and instincts in regards to dance.
The Hendry’s are old news.
(The only way I’ll ever mention dance would be in another capacity come fall. I am totally jazzed as I listen to music for my next piece. Lots of ideas clogging up my brain after a two year sabatical. I’m thinking a square dance in beesuits with a bottle of homemade wine balanced on the kid’s heads . . . chicken feathers in the hairpiece, of course. . . Ha. don’t panic, Cory, I’m kidding.)