Advice for dance teachers
Today one of my teen students told me that she has to leave the school where I teach because her parents can’t afford the lessons, shoes, and costumes. She is such a good dancer, with a personality that cannot be beat. She’s at the studio all the time and I look forward to seeing her because she fills the room with joy.
I want to ask the school’s owner to give the girl a scholarship, but I know he is having a hard time financially too. I was thinking of paying for part of the tuition myself, but I can’t afford to cover all her expenses. I am looking for advice on how I can keep this student in the classroom. Do you have any ideas? —Jill
It is so cool that you are willing to help this dancer! I’ve got a feeling that you could get some help from your boss. Simply bring your passion for this child to him and go for it. He may be able to cover the tuition, or at least part of it. Would other students’ parents be willing to sponsor the child in some way, maybe by covering the cost of the costumes or shoes? Or you could ask a local dancewear store if they might be willing to donate the needed dancewear.
You might be surprised by the response you receive. I knew a child whose parents died in a car accident, and the parents at the studio did all they could to keep the child dancing. This little girl dreamed of becoming a professional dancer, and she achieved her dream as a result of the kindness of others.
We live in a world where many people are in financial crisis, but there are those who want to help because they have managed to hang on. I suggest that you share the story with as many people as you can. And I’ll bet this student will always remember the kindness of her dance teacher. Good luck! —Rhee
My school is starting its ninth season, and I want to take a couple of small groups to a competition this year. I have no idea where to start. I have always said that I would never do competitions, but TV has done them up big and now everyone wants to do them.
My reason for not wanting to compete is that in my area the studios are so focused on the competition kids that the recreational kids get left behind. It drives me nuts! As far as I’m concerned, if a comp kid knows what a rond de jambe and piqué are, then a rec kid should as well. You would not believe the number of older kids who come to me from other schools and don’t know what a simple port de bras or chassé is! It’s sad, really.
Anyway, after eight years of molding and reshaping, I think I might like to give competing a try. I would like to start out small and slow—where would be a good place to start?
I suggest looking for a competition that has a pre-competitive category so that your students can enjoy the experience without competing with dancers who have been at it for years. The pre-competitive dancers are all in the same boat, and it is the perfect way for a new group to begin its competitive journey.
Also, I would lower the dancers’ (and their parents’) expectations by explaining that you will be happy simply to get them out onstage and see them finish their routines. Don’t allow them to expect anything more than that or they could be disappointed.
After the event, have a talk with the dancers and their parents about the experience. Ask them what they enjoyed and what they didn’t. Do also ask about performances they saw that they liked and why; this will help them to appreciate talent rather than thinking of those dancers as competitors. That lesson, taught right from the start, will serve you well if your school continues to compete.
When it comes to choreography, make it short and sweet, leaving the judges wanting more. Don’t include tricks that your dancers cannot do properly, and be creative with your concept and movement. The judges are sitting for at least a couple of days, and they notice when something unique, or different from the same thing they have watched for hours, is presented.
I wish you and your students luck. —Rhee
I have been in the dance business for 15 years and have never had a problem until this year and would like your professional advice. I’m sure you or someone at your conferences has gone through this.
I had an instructor who opened her own studio five miles down the road, and I recently learned that a student at my school has been teaching at the new studio while still taking classes at mine. I didn’t do anything about it because of my friendship with her grandparents, who are very involved in her dance career. I didn’t like it, but I let it go. I thought it was a done deal.
Well, it wasn’t. The owner of this new studio approached another one of my school’s older dancers to teach for her when one of her own teachers didn’t show up. This student asked me how I felt about her teaching at the new studio and I told her I didn’t like it. She still took the job. I then told her she would have to choose: stay with us as a dancer or teach at the new studio. Of course she said, “You let so-and-so do it.” I then told the other student that I’d changed my mind and she had to choose too. I cannot have two of my dancers teaching at the new studio.
They have now brought lawyers into the situation. They are saying I’m wrong (breach of contract) and that I should allow them to teach at the new studio while still training at mine, which means I’m training my competitor’s instructors. And who knows what else they are taking from us to the new studio? I feel this is wrong. Any advice would be greatly appreciated. —Mary Beth
Hello Mary Beth,
The lawyers can say what they want to, and they will; however, that does not mean they have a leg to stand on. My advice is to get your own attorney. I am not a legal expert, but I can offer you some food for thought to present to your attorney.
Dance studios are private schools with the right to accept or deny a student’s enrollment. You have the right to create standards or policies by which you run your business. One of those policies certainly can be that a student may not teach for a nearby school, not only because of the business conflict of interest, but also because you are aware that your students are not properly trained as teachers.
If a student’s entire background in dance is derived from training at your school, then that is the only reference she has that she can draw on as a novice teacher. Unless she has also been trained in how to teach the material, then she is not qualified to do so.
I think you are being bullied by the students and their parents, as well as by the other school owner. Please take any correspondence from their lawyers to a professional. Also, have no discussions over the phone; be sure that there is a paper trail of all contact. That said, if the parents have told you they contacted an attorney but you have not heard from that person, the parents may be bluffing. Stick to your guns, hold your head high, and do what you know is right. Good luck, and let me know what happens. —Rhee
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