What I’ve Learned from Construction

Studio owners, if you’ve been through the construction process before, you know what I mean when I say it is one of the most detail-oriented works of choreography you’ll ever produce!  

It’s also pretty darn exciting.

My current project—our new International Performing Arts Campus—is hands-down the largest one I’ve ever undertaken.  This building will become the home for Misty’s Dance Unlimited, Ballet La Crosse, Everything Dance, and More Than Just Great Dancing® and will include a café and commercial rental space.  

There’s so much I’m learning throughout this process: Just like in dance, construction lessons can be life lessons!  

From the planning that began years ago to the construction that’s been taking place these past six months, here are three of my biggest takeaways ….

Always do your homework

While doing research for the new facility, I looked at many businesses for inspiration.  I was especially interested in those that have an awesome track record of moving people through their doors with great customer service and hospitality.  They included arts and cultural centers, universities, fitness clubs, churches, and hotels. I constantly asked myself: What do I admire about what these people are doing? What part of how they do things applies to what I do?

Along with keeping notes about this research, I used Pinterest to find visual examples to back up my vision for the lobbies, waiting areas, classrooms, locker rooms, and communication boards.  I created a “vision board” of what my dream facility would include.

Doing your homework forces you to slow down and look at the big picture.  You want to know you’ve made the best decisions. It also helps you to be clear about what you want on the front side, which can help save you a lot of money from unnecessary changes on the back side.

But, this doesn’t just apply to construction! I challenge you to take this time with every big project at your studio, from adding new programs to forecasting staffing changes.

Be prepared to pivot

I mentioned before that construction is a lot like choreography.  You start with one idea and keep making changes until you have the right idea. In choreography we call a change of direction a “pivot turn”.  In construction it’s called a “change-order” – and I’ve collected a few of those along the way.

For example, we had a brutal winter in Wisconsin this year (including a mid-April blizzard). This meant that we could not get the concrete in the new building to cure fast enough to install our fancy new sprung floors.  Everything else for the project was either on schedule or ahead so there was no other option other than to expand our budget to include a special service to dry out the concrete. As much as I didn’t want to do it, it was less expensive than the potential cost of running overtime on a project of this size.  

Knowing when to pivot is all about timing and having a contingency plan.  In this case, it was about re-working the budget. But in studio ownership life, it might be having a backup plan for a certain teacher’s schedule or having an alternate recital venue.  Or even jumping in to save a recital dance at the last minute. It’s time and money, but the pivot is worth the peace of mind!

Involve your people

Construction equals teamwork!  Building anything doesn’t happen alone.  It happens with the guidance, support, and expertise of others.  There have been a few pretty special moments in the building process that have reminded me of this lesson, but there is one that stands out the most: our Dedication Ceremony.

Before we finished the drywall and prepared to lay dance floors and install mirrors, we decided to invite studio families (past and present) to come into the new space.  On top of the largest wall in our largest studio, I had painted the following words, “You are fearfully and wonderfully made.” Those are words I’ve shared probably more than any other over the course of my 20 years of owning a studio.

When the families had gathered, I explained:  “If there is one thing that I’ve learned after 20 years of teaching dance it is that the mirror tells a different story from day to day. Some days it tells us we are great and other days it tells us we will never be enough. Today we write words of affirmation on the wall where the mirror will soon be installed.  That way our students will always know that those words of truth are on the wall behind the mirror no matter what the reflection says from day-to-day.”

We all know that being a studio owner means we wear a lot of hats.  I’ve learned a LOT while wearing my (pink) construction hard hat. But I know that even when it’s time to put this hat on the shelf, I’ll have these lessons to remember.  I hope they serve you just as well!

Love, Misty