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Ask Rhee Gold | September 09

AskRheeAdvice for dance teachers

Dear Rhee,
I have been teaching for 25 wonderful years and still love what I do. That said, I have been presented with a dilemma. My studio has a competitive team, and we have only done regionals to this point. However, a parent is pushing for her 9-year-old daughter to attend a national competition because it is close to where we live and her daughter wants to do it. The competition does not accept individual entries; therefore, I would have to enter it, and it happens to be the week of my recital. So I cannot go to the competition, nor can I send a faculty member to represent my school. Also, I feel that if I let this girl go, I need to open the competition to the rest of the girls. But is that fair to the studio to have this disruption right before the recital? —Carolyn

Hello Carolyn,
It might be time for you to start to think about participating in a national competition, but not this way. You should not let a parent push you into participating, especially when the event interferes with your recital. The stress associated with the show and having your kids be in a competition (especially one that you cannot attend) is more than this mom should be asking of you. I would tell her that you cannot participate this year but that you will consider a national event for your team in the future.

It’s not easy when parents interfere in areas they should leave to your discretion. Be strong and stand up for what you know is right for you and your other students. Good luck! —Rhee

Dear Rhee
I have a question regarding costumes, music, and choreography for adult dancers who are amateurs. I choreographed a piece to “Rich Man’s Frug” and purchased blonde bob wigs and dresses. Granted, the costumes looked better in the catalog than on the adult bodies. These dancers are doing nothing but complaining. We had an in-studio dress rehearsal last evening and they frumped through the routine looking like they were in extreme pain. How do I get them to just go onstage and have fun? Any advice you can give me would be greatly appreciated. —Lisa

Hello Lisa,
I would ask the dancers what they would like to do with the costumes to make them feel more comfortable (maybe add something?). This is not an easy situation, but in the future, you might want to have a seamstress make the adult students’ costumes or let them find something they feel comfortable wearing. Sometimes an adult body needs something different from what the catalogs offer. I wish you all the best. —Rhee 

Hello Rhee,
I have a simple question. My 9-year-old son dances for my dance studio. Should he wear tights under his costumes so that he matches how the girls look or should he have bare legs? For the tap routine the girls wear tan tights and tan shoes and he wears capri-length pants. For the lyrical routine, the girls are in brown dresses with tan stirrup tights and he wears brown shorts; for the hip-hop routine (black capris and black sneakers), the girls wear tan tights and black sneakers— should he just wear black socks? Until now his costumes have all been long pants. We want to be confident that he dances and looks like a young man. Thank you so much for your masculine authority! —Andrea

Dear Andrea,
My thought is to get rid of the capri pants and get him some long pants to wear in these numbers. Although I have put boys in capri pants, it is usually for a piece in which they don’t wear shoes. Putting your son in tights with socks and shoes would look strange. (I would be intimidated by that myself.) Don’t concern yourself so much with how well he matches the girls; you can accomplish that by matching the right shirt or top with the girls’ costumes. Because he is a male, that alone makes him look different from the girls, and his look should be different. I wish you all the best. —Rhee

Dear Rhee,
The single mother of a student in my dance company has been fighting breast cancer for years. Two years ago she ran up a huge bill and I told her I would allow her to make payments throughout the summer months to catch up. Come September of the next year she still had a balance, and then of course her current bills kept adding up.

Although she kept trying to make payments, some checks were returned again. She was approaching a balance due of around $2,800. Toward the end of the season, with the recital approaching, I said she would have to pay her costume balances and other material items but that I would forgive her tuition bill. She would start with a fresh slate in September 2008, but I told her she would have to keep her account paid up to date. For a few months it went fine and I was a good person in her eyes and she said would never forget what I did for her daughter.

Fast forward to 2009. She owes me around $900. My recital is in two and a half weeks. I have spoken to her, explaining that I cannot continue on this path as I have salaries, rent, and utilities to pay. Then I got a note from her asking for a detailed listing of her costs because she thinks I am charging her incorrectly. How soon she forgets what was done for her.

I printed out a detailed list and have not gotten a check since. She will not return my calls, and her 16-year-old daughter continues to come to class every week. I think the mom is calling my bluff that I will not pull her out of her dance for the recital. Doing so is not my nature and I don’t want to have to make the teachers change the choreography.

She sent in a ticket order, and I could apply that amount to the account, but it is only $96. I didn’t forgive the bill so I could put myself on a pedestal; no one knew about it except my office manager and me. But now I’m the bad person for having the nerve to ask her for the money. The girl’s teacher overheard her saying how I harass her mom constantly about money. What should I do? —Frustrated

Dear Frustrated,
I would probably be as frustrated as you are with this situation. One thing that’s important to remember is that you already went beyond the call of duty for this mom and her daughter. You are to be commended for that, whether they recognize it or not.

At this point, you have to let go of the emotions involved and let this mom know that you are not harassing her but are requesting payment for services rendered, just as you would with any other student in your school. If your policy states that all tuition and other monies owed to the school must be paid in full in order for students to be in the recital, then you have no choice but to take action.

Either in a phone call or a letter, explain that you cannot process her ticket request because of the outstanding balance for lessons. Ask her if she would like you to apply the $96 to that outstanding account and then ask when you can expect the remainder of her balance. If she does not pay the bill, then her daughter cannot perform in the show. As harsh as that may seem, the rest of your clients are adhering to your school’s policies; plus, you have already given to this family in a time of need. It is time for this parent to show appreciation for what you have done and take care of her balance due with respect and appreciation. If she doesn’t do that, then know in your heart that you have done all you can and that will have to be enough for you.

Don’t stop giving, though—many people in need will appreciate your kindness and not forget it. And those who do will appreciate you long after the dance classes are over. That’s what it’s all about. Good luck! —Rhee


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