I am often asked why my school has so many high-school–age dancers when many teachers say that they tend to lose students once they hit age 13 or 14. The answer is simple: flexibility. I have learned to know where I can be flexible with the intensive dancers’ schedules and where I cannot.
One of the most common reasons why teenage dancers stop taking dance classes is the time needed for school activities and after-school jobs. Such activities are more important than ever for students who plan to attend college. Colleges today are looking for students who are well rounded, and that often means participating in school activities. A flexible dance schedule is crucial if they are to find other activities they can participate in. Teenagers may also need to have part-time jobs for gas money or college expenses. For this reason I offer paid assisting jobs to most of my advanced intensive dancers. Since they are making some money, they are less likely to leave for an after-school job.
Knowing where to be flexible is the key. We require our advanced dancers to participate in two ballet classes, one jazz technique class, and a modern class each week; that’s six hours. These requirements can be fulfilled in two days. I keep this in mind when I’m working on a schedule. Though tap, acro, and pointe are not required, many students choose to take them; if they need to lighten their schedule I suggest dropping one of these optional classes first.
Keeping the requirements in mind, the dancers and I can compromise on scheduling when conflicts arise. For example, many school activities are short lived, often about six weeks. It would be a shame if someone were to drop out of dance completely because of a short-term commitment. In such cases I suggest that to fulfill their dance requirements they take a ballet class, for example, on a different day, even perhaps at a lower level, for the duration of their school activity. The one area I cannot be as flexible in is choreography. Our dancers have six hours in which to learn a routine, so missing a rehearsal is not an option. However, I have learned to be creative in working with outside schedules.
Sometimes students are given opportunities that they can’t afford to pass up, even when it means having to drop out of dance because of a rigid studio schedule. Our local high school has more than 320 members in its band, including many of our dancers. Next summer the band is traveling to the Olympic Games in Beijing, China. What a chance of a lifetime! Knowing this, I obtained the practice schedule and have been able to work around it without much effort. But had I not made the extra effort, I might have lost the dancers in this group—after all, who would not want to participate in the Olympics?
Next summer the high school band is traveling to the Olympic Games in Beijing. Had I not accommodated their schedule, I might have lost these dancers.
Another issue is accommodating dancers on the high school dance team and cheer squad. To help resolve that potential conflict, I chose to coach the dance team. I work the practice schedule around the students’ studio schedules (mine and others’), and I have not found the schedule to be unreasonable. However, if at times a compromise cannot be reached, I work with those dancers to help keep them active in the studio.
Often the top dancers are also some of the brightest teenagers. I believe it is important for school owners to keep in mind that at times the homework load for high school students can be intense, particularly during finals week. Offer some flexibility on those rare occasions when a dancer must leave early or miss class due to homework obligations.
In a day and age when there are so many outside pressures on teenagers, and when getting good grades is simply not enough to get into the college of their choice, I believe it is important to work with students so that dance can continue to be their passion and the studio offers them a place where they don’t feel pressured. By making some compromises in scheduling, without compromising their training, we can retain and continue to nurture the teenage student. Although some school owners may feel that it takes too much effort to work with outside schedules, I believe that the dancers benefit from it. Yes, they can continue dancing, but they also learn an invaluable life lesson: how to compromise.