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Ask Rhee Gold

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Dear Rhee, 
Why can’t people see what dance brings to children and the community? We are going into our seventh year, and when most studios are growing we are not. Enrollment is low and parents think we are like Burger King and that they can have it their way. Parents don’t like rules here and the whole town revolves around church and sports.

We have great teachers, backed with degrees and experience, and our business manager is well organized and strategic. The technique we teach is professional and inspiring. The location of the studio is the problem, and we have no money to relocate.

We have 30 or 40 students and parents who support what we do, but we can’t survive on that in years to come. Any advice? —Kayla 

Hello Kayla, 
As a school owner, you’re well aware of the lifelong benefits that dance can offer a child, and it sounds to me like you need to share those with your community. Often, it’s not the degrees or the technique that are important to those who might consider registering their children at your school (even if they should be).

But first, think about your attitude toward your community. I can feel your animosity when you say the town revolves around church and sports. The tone of the entire email reveals your frustration. If I can feel it, maybe your community feels it too.

The knowledge that your community is into church and sports is excellent information that you can use to become better acquainted with the public—your potential clientele. It should inspire you to find creative ways to increase your school’s visibility and, more important, to gain the respect of this demographic. 

Maybe your school should sponsor a team or become involved in the sports programs by offering something to the athletes, like a strengthening and stretching class. Or you could offer a class to the cheerleaders, or do a demonstration on the athletics of dance for the sports teams. The possibilities for becoming involved in the sports community are limited only by your own imagination.

I’ll even take a stab at involving the religious community. How about producing a benefit for a charity or the town (or anything the entire community would support), and inviting the religious institutions to participate? They might let you speak to the church congregations about the event, which would help you become a trusted member of the community. In turn, it would likely give you opportunities to educate.

Dance people need to take the hand they are dealt and figure out how to make it into the best hand possible. To be successful, we must apply the same kind of creativity to our businesses that we bring to the classroom or choreography. Approach your community with confidence, leaving no stone unturned. Chances are you will gain people’s respect and it will lead to the success you imagine. Good luck. —Rhee 

Hi Rhee, 
I’m dealing with a school that is trying to start an all-out war between my school and theirs. How do I combat that and still keep my good reputation intact? They moved in two years ago and ended up taking about 20 percent of my clients. I’m going into my 20th year in this business and my reputation is great in the community. The other school is attempting to tarnish my name, so I’m not sure what to do. —Sarah 

Dear Sarah,
With a solid reputation, one of the worst reactions you could make to this unfortunate circumstance is to publicly “combat” this other school. Each time other school directors take an action or speak negatively against you, their unethical behavior tarnishes their own reputation. They will undoubtedly say the wrong thing to the wrong people, who will eventually catch on to what they are all about.

Though it takes time for this kind of behavior to backfire, in time you will discover that some of the students who left you will return or quit dance altogether because the grass was not greener on the other side.

Having said that, my advice is to avoid having negative confrontations with any students or parents who leave your school. Instead, tell them that your door is always open and you look forward to meeting up with them in the future. This proves that you are confident about your school and what you do. It also does not give those who leave any ammunition to speak negatively about you. They just might be the people to spread the word that the rumors are not true. 

I know that because you’re hurt and discouraged my advice is hard to implement, but do everything you can to make a public show of confidence. This incident will pass and you will be just fine. In the meantime, instead of thinking about what this other school has done, spend that time brainstorming new concepts for your school and your students that will leave the other school in the dust. I wish you the best. —Rhee 

Hi Rhee,
For more than 30 years, I owned a successful school with more than 500 students and three generations of student families. I sold it in order to relocate, but after a year my husband and I returned home. I have tried to get involved in other fields but always seem to end up back in dance.

My family is encouraging me to open another studio in a different town than my old one is in. I could still teach the pre-ballet and tap classes but would need to find well-groomed teachers for the rest. Do you know anyone who opened a studio after being out of the business for a while? It might be the right thing for me, but I need to talk with someone who has done it and is successful. —Tap Diva 

Dear Tap Diva, 
If your passion lies in teaching, then by all means you should open another school. Imagine going for a second round having all the knowledge of what works and what doesn’t from your years of experience with the first school. How cool is that! 

If you can’t manage a full teaching schedule, then it is important to surround yourself with faculty members who share your philosophy and will be team players in helping you achieve success. Again, your knowledge certainly should help you to find the right teachers. 

With all this said, there is one thing that I must address. When you sold your school, no doubt the person(s) who purchased it never expected you to go back into business, especially as their competitor. Setting up shop in a different town is a good idea, but I would take that further by going somewhere that won’t attract students from your former school. Also, when hiring teachers for your new school, do not solicit your former employees.

After 30-something years in business, many people in your community will remember who you are and that you sold your business. Do not give them the chance to gossip about how you came back at the expense of the people who bought your school. That is not good for your reputation, and it is very hard to open a school if you start off at war with another. 

Enjoy your second round. It proves that once dance is flowing through your veins, it never stops. I wish you all the best. —Rhee 

Hi Rhee, 
I am wondering how best to answer a question from a parent. I have a 12-year-old student who is on both our dance and gymnastics teams. The father is against spending a lot of money on dance classes. His question is, “What is she going to do with dance?” The parents are talking about colleges, etc. I just don’t know the best way to respond to this. —Sammy 

Hi Sammy,
This is an easy one. Dance instills a sense of discipline and determination in the soul of the child. With these attributes, young people have the confidence to handle college and job interviews, and they learn that they must balance their academics with their passion for dance—always a good thing for young people to comprehend! 

As for a career in dance, there are many opportunities, from performing to teaching and everywhere in between. Some former dancers move on to careers as dance critics or writers; others become physical therapists, Pilates specialists, and so on. Many become lawyers or doctors because they have what it takes to make it through the educational process. Why? Because they learned about commitment in their dance classes.

This dad needs to understand that the activities his child has passion for are worth the investment. They are learning experiences that prepare young people for success. If parents don’t think the dollars are worth it, they need to look around their communities to see the kids hanging out at fast-food joints, quitting school, or getting into trouble. Spread the word! —Rhee 

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One Response to “Ask Rhee Gold”

  • To the girl who has another dance studio talking badly about her: About 3 years ago I had a boy and a girl who grew up in my school open up a school down the street and take my entire Senior and Junior competition teams. I was left with only my little kids. I was devastated. And on top of that they started rumors that almost ruined my reputation in this community and I am going into my 40th year. It took 3 years, and everyone kept saying it will backfire on them but I did not beleive them, but this year I am having the best enrollment I have had in many many years, and I have had many people call and say they heard that our school had a good reputation, but it took 3 years to get it back.

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