I am working as assistant director at a good-sized studio and I will soon become the owner, which I am very excited about. I am a huge fan of Dance Studio Life and your postings on Facebook and would love any advice you can offer as I transform myself into an owner (a dream I’ve had since I was 8 years old). Your philosophies on teaching truly inspire me and motivate me to continue to do what I do, the way I do it. —Mandy
Your question is short and simple but an excellent one. As you transition from teacher to owner, your main focus should be to offer the best dance education possible. First and foremost, continue your own education and require your faculty to do the same. Dance education is consistently evolving, and fine-tuning your own and your staff’s knowledge to best serve your students is critical to your success. In the 21st century school owners need to be on top of the business side, too, including marketing, customer service, organization, and the other non-dance aspects of any small business that help it grow.
I always emphasize to school owners that financial success in the average studio is tied to the quality of the programs offered to 4- to 12-year-old children. A solid preschool and recreational program is the key. Once those programs are strong, you will be able to afford to put the needed time, energy, and financial resources into creating a strong intensive program. Many school owners have started the other way around and are no longer in business.
Your website and print promotional materials should always include pictures of young children experiencing the joy of dance. Too much focus on the stronger dancers can intimidate the parents of young children.
Also, and most important in my opinion, is that you look at every child as an opportunity to make a positive impact on her future. The words, actions, and atmosphere your students experience at your school will have a lasting impression on all of them—young or old, big or small, talented or not.
I could go on, but I’ll close by saying that if you do what you’re doing for the right reasons, and appreciate the gift, everything will be just fine. Good luck! —Rhee
I have been teaching for 13 years at a school owned by my best friend. We have been friends since middle school. She has devoted herself to her business and dance forever. Her dream was to own a school and my dream was to teach without the pressures of a business. The relationship has been pretty much perfect for many years.
Four years ago I married the man of my dreams, and we have two children. My best friend was my maid of honor and is the godmother of my first child. But in the last few months she has made several unflattering remarks about what she refers to as my “perfect family” and often says things like, “Go home and enjoy your normal life,” as though my normal life is not as important as her life.
Then she got a nasty note from a disgruntled parent. She called me to talk about it and then turned on me, yelling and telling me that I have no idea about real problems. I was quiet as I listened to her hurtful comments, but I am really offended that she would treat me this way. I have stood by her through good and bad—I was there for her when she was sick and couldn’t teach and I have defended her actions when I thought she should have handled a situation differently.
I don’t want to say anything that could jeopardize our longtime friendship, especially because of my daughter, who loves her godmother. But I’m uncomfortable and I’m hurt. I hope you’ll have some words to help me out. —Rosanne
I found your question very interesting for a couple of reasons. First, I’m questioning whether I might offend my friends when I make comments about a “normal life.” I appreciate my friends who have managed that “normal life” and are happy, but it does raise the question of how our words sound to others.
The second reason is that I recognize something I see in people who are extraordinarily dedicated to one thing. I’m speaking from experience here: when you have spent the majority of your life focused on what you want and need to accomplish, you can lose sight of what you need to nourish your spirit. That can be personal relationships, time with family, the ability to stop for a minute because that’s what your body is telling you to do, or simply putting yourself first once in a while.
For 13 years your friend has been building her business, with you by her side as reflection of where she comes from. When she’s stressed or feeling burned out, she probably wonders if she’d be happier if she were living a life like yours.
If I were your friend I would want you to speak up about how you’re feeling. Your friendship is important, and she probably values the opportunity to be a good godparent and might not realize she’s jeopardizing that. It sounds to me like she needs your normalcy in her life.
Go hang out with her in a place where you both have a lot of history. In the kindest way possible, express how you’re feeling. My guess is that she’ll appreciate your words. —Rhee
A former student of mine came back to class after having been gone for a year when she moved out of town. She has since graduated from high school. She joined the class with the same kids she was in class with before. They have danced together for four or five years; the rest of the class are mostly seniors.
This week only half the class showed up and one of the moms and her daughter stayed afterward to talk to me. It seems the reason no one showed up is because this girl who is back in class supposedly just got out of jail and is on probation for assisting in a robbery. Of course this is all hearsay. She did not come to class this week and I am praying that she has decided not to come back and the problem is solved.
I told the mom to give me a couple of weeks to check things out. I don’t want to lose an entire class because of this girl, but unless I have concrete evidence I cannot kick her out. And I really like this young lady. I do know she has had problems in the past, but nothing like this. If she was in jail it would have been as a juvenile, so the records would be closed. What do I do? —Lauren
This is a tricky situation. Bear in mind that you might already have had a student or parent in your school who has a juvenile criminal record and were unaware of it. What you’re facing is a rumor, and it’s important not to take any action that shows that you’re judging this girl. That said, the happiness and comfort of the other students in the class are important considerations.
Consider meeting with the student (and her parents, if they’ve involved in her life) to discuss what you’ve heard. Understand that you risk hurting her feelings; she may not be aware of the talk about her. And if the rumor isn’t true, she will probably be offended. Don’t judge her; just tell her you’d like to know the real story so that you can speak to the concerns of the other students and their parents with a complete understanding of the situation.
If she agrees to discuss it and the rumor is true, you’ll need to ask her for permission to discuss her past. If she grants it, explain to the others that dance may be the thing that helps this girl make good things happen in her life. Parents might be able to relate if they realized that any child can get into trouble and be forgiven. Instead of shunning her, maybe they could encourage her to be a success.
If she denies the rumor, you’ll have to accept that as the truth and do everything you can to get the others to accept her. Without any evidence that the girl is a danger to anyone at your school, it would be unethical to judge her by forcing her out.
Good luck! —Rhee