Lifetime vs. Hong Kong

Lifetime vs. Hong Kong

I will start by saying that I am not old enough to have been in the business when lifetime courses were sold.  I was, as a young teacher however, in a market where a number of lifetime students were still around.  I taught quite a few of those students and was duly impressed that these students who had bought lessons so many years earlier at such a low rate were getting free lessons at a regular pace.  There was no doubt the studio was paying me a great deal more per hour than the ladies paid for each of their lessons they received when buying their lifetime course, let alone the years and years of free lessons they received after they completed their course.  One student, a triple lifetime member, said she always thought her lifetime courses were one of her best investments.  To the credit of the Arthur Murray Studio and their franchisors, they never did anything to discourage or dissuade the students from using all the lessons and services that were afforded them.  In fact the students were always encouraged to use everything available.

So maybe I should not be surprised or disappointed to find out that “professional” dance instructors are charging millions of dollars for “exclusive” dance lessons.  I of course refer to the case in Hong Kong where European “champions” Gaynor Fairweather and Mirko Saccani found it entirely acceptable to charge, as the Wall Street Journal Online stated, 15.4 million dollars for 8 years of “unlimited Latin instruction”.  The discussion here should not be about this particular case, as the Hong Kong courts have found in favor of the student.  Hopefully for her this is the end and the episode will not turn what was obviously an ardent fan of dance into a disgruntled naysayer about our industry.

Here is where it becomes everybody’s business, but let me say first, no one should have the right to tell someone else how much they can or should charge for services or products.  This is the basis of free enterprise.  I charge as much as I can and society expects that I will reinvest the profits and so on and so forth.  If someone else can do it better and/ or cheaper then the competition begins.  Also each vendor of services should be able to choose what services or styles of products they wish to bring to the marketplace, and offer their warranties, service history and more as the reasons to choose one product or service over another.  What should not happen is that unsubstantiated claims be allowed or in the case of services that they be onerous or excessive beyond what is actually required to perform the service.

Going back in history again, Arthur Murray International has again to be commended.  While the dance world in general was looking at how many lessons can we sell, they must have been looking at what can the customer actually use.  They insisted upon setting a limit of lessons that could be sold.  Some might say, yes, but only with the prodding of government agencies, but they also recognized the business advantages to selling what you can service for a price you need to stay in business.  No studio made money on the lifetime lessons they taught out.  In fact I remember being told that profit at one time came from the lessons that were not taught, not from the lessons used.  Later when I was involved in State legislative issues regarding dance studios Arthur Murray International once again and now with Fred Astaire Studios were in the forefront to encourage all studio operators to treat their business as a service business instead of just a sales business.  Thus the industry by and large has refundable service agreements, where the quality of service matters.

The world dance community needs to take heed.  The British especially and the world dance community are quick to claim that they the leaders in this industry.  After all they have had the champions, they hold the titles and they have exported to the world the right way to dance Cuba’s Rumba, America’s Swing, Brazil’s Samba, America’s Foxtrot and, well you get the point.  None of this to say that I am not a fan of International style dancing, where the essence of seeing what one couple can create in movement, shape, and position to music is, in my opinion, best exemplified in the Big 5.

The WDC and others now have chosen to add to their purview of professional competition dancing, pro-am issues with a world pro-am championship, and departments in (according to the WDC website) Social Dance with sections on Dance Centers, Dance Schools, Teachers and more.  Either these are merely another way to acquire money through dues and fees or the WDC should be at the forefront of promoting professional standards that add to the esteem of professional dance instructors worldwide.  To do any less because friends or Champions may be involved is in itself scandalous.

I emailed the President of the WDC, first on September 28 to get the official opinion or position on the issue and have to this date, December 22, received no response.  One can only presume that they hope that the issue will fade from memory.  Is helping a friend more important than protecting or strengthening the industry?  What was the quote from Huey Long, Governor of Louisiana?  Something like, if I can’t help my family or friends how can you expect I can help you?  And while the issue of some multi-millionaire lady losing some money may not draw much sympathy, how the “industry leaders” act should be of interest to all who work hard to maintain teaching standards, and business.  In times, where our industry enjoys unparalleled popularity with successful TV shows, movies, tours, and more, we can only hope our individual national organization, the NDCA, will insist that the WDC take a strong stand.  If it matters to you, let somebody know, and protect the integrity and standards the industry has and that American companies started building so long ago.

Michael Reichenbach

Published:

Dance Week

January 5, 2007

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