Advice for dance teachers
Ideas and advice from our readers.
Ever wish you could pick the brain of a competition judge? Sure, you pay attention to the critiques, but sometimes those polite comments don’t seem to scratch the surface. What do judges like? Dislike? Admire? Applaud?
I had to let some time go before I responded to “Happy Ending” by Amy Moy in your October issue [“Thinking Out Loud”]. The studio I work at is all about family as well. We support each other through the tough times, which hit home for me when I’d been on the wild ride of my mother’s illness. After the year-end show, I let my dancing ladies know that I probably wouldn’t have my mom much longer. The next day my mom went into the hospital for the last time; a week later I saw my dancing ladies at the funeral, and a month later they were at my home for our annual picnic.
What would you do about a student’s monthly tuition if she was injured (in athletics, not dance, and it required surgery) and out for a couple of months to recover? She is part of a team and her mom wants me to hold her place in the choreography. I’m on the fence about this since she cannot dance; the problem is that she was supposed to be in eight dances, and all of the teachers will need to remember to factor her in. I’m not opposed to waiving her tuition while she is out, but I want to make sure I don’t start something that snowballs with all the other “ouchies” in the studio. Thanks for your help! —Shelly
As an owner of a dance studio for many years, I wonder if it’s necessary to be at the studio every day. I’ve attended many of your conferences and I know your philosophy about how the owner sets the mood of the studio. I agree with that. But personal life has its ups and downs. I love the studio but feel burned out from time to time. I watch my customers take vacations as I work on the next project. Summer is a busy time preparing for the next season, so I feel like I don’t get a break.
The wife of one of the teachers who works for me was arrested several months ago. She received four years of probation for running a drug operation out of their house. The teacher hasn’t been implicated at all, but I feel like he is, in a way, because of their marriage. He and their child are staying with her, hoping to work things out.
A 7-year-old should not dance to “Love to Love You, Baby,” because she doesn’t know how to love him.
I volunteer in a program that offers support to high school seniors—all the first in their families to attend college—as they write their college application essays. At our second meeting a recent high school graduate and program alum, who has been accepted to the University of California–Berkeley, spoke to the group of 50-odd coaches and students.
I have worked as an instructor at the same studio for seven years. A year ago I was promoted to manage our recreational department; it has suffered over the past few years. I raised the numbers a bit, but our studio’s company has always made up the bulk of our enrollment.
I recently learned that my landlord has leased the space next to my school to a tattoo parlor. I’m devastated. I recently expanded my school, but I’m sure future business for me will be grim because people will see what’s next door and drive down the street to the next dance school. Any advice would be greatly appreciated.
I am having a difficult time. I run a small studio with only one room and one teacher, with around 150 kids. About five years ago we were kicked out of a mall because the businesses didn’t like the noise; about a year later my studio burned down. It turned out that our insurance covered losses only if we were the cause of the fire, and since the furnace blew and it was ruled that no one was at fault, we were out of luck and money. Then, about a year ago, my mother (and business manager) passed away from breast cancer.
I wanted to thank you for including me in the article on seniors [“Aging Boomers, Dance Boom,” May/June 2013]. I was so pleased to be interviewed with such an amazing group of instructors who have a passion for the same demographic. Thank you so much!
One of our competitive dancers told me she overheard a group of other competitive dancers (all are that fabulous middle-school age) making fun of another competitive dancer while watching a video from a recent showcase. We have our first competition of the season this weekend and would like to avoid tons of drama. All of these girls are in several dances together, and we do not want the ones who are not involved to suffer. This town is so small that anything that happens is news!
Recently I got a phone call from a frantic school-owner friend looking for advice. She had started a business selling dancewear to her students and the community, and she was panicking because she was still losing money after four years. She told me how she had worked so hard to make the business a success. And then she said, “I can’t stand the thought of failure.” She was worried about what her family or friends would think of her if she couldn’t pull it off.
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be on the far end of a 40-year dance career? How do teachers over the age of 60 adjust their teaching style? What lessons did they learn? To gain some insight and advice from people who have danced into their 60s or 70s, we asked three longtime teachers, all in the Oregon dance community, to share their thoughts.
I have a dedicated 14-year-old student who shows up for every class and rehearsal by walking or taking the bus to the studio. Her life has been one tragedy after another. Her mom died when she was 8. For a while relatives dropped her off and picked her up at the studio. They were always late with tuition and other payments, but I let it go. About three years ago her older brother was killed and recently her father had a mental breakdown. Now no one drives her to dance or pays her tuition, but she manages to get to the studio almost every day.
I own a school that was founded by my grandmother. I grew up knowing that someday I would take the reins and I always looked forward to it. I am proud of what we have built, but my children have their own interests, and they don’t include directing the family school.
Do you have any advice about working with competition kids and determining who is in the front row, back row, etc.? These are 7- and 8-year-old kids in their second year of competing. It is only a group of 10, so the majority of times they’re in either the first or second row. I try to rotate them as much as I can, but there are always the stronger ones I need at that age. It bothers me because I always try to make sure they all feel important and a part of the routine. How should I base which dancers are in the front row—do I assess them or give preference to the kids who have been with the studio longer than the others?
I can’t begin to express what a beautiful job you did capturing the essence of our ballet scholarship competition [“Classical in Connecticut,” September 2012]. Thank you for bringing such exposure to the dance community and beyond. It also brought recognition to our CDA [Connecticut Dance Alliance] organization. I appreciate your quoting me on the educational aspect and opportunity it provides for growth. We want to continue to deliver that each year.
I need some advice on an extremely sad, unfortunate situation. As a member of Dance Masters of America, I uphold a code of ethics. I respect my colleagues and do my best to maintain a professional working relationship with everyone. Recently, though, a full-time teacher of four years at a local dance studio got arrested for multiple instances of lewd and lascivious acts with minors. One incident occurred at a dance convention. The studio owner knew about it and still kept this teacher on staff for several months. When the owner finally let her go, she still planned to have the teacher choreograph privately for the school’s competition team. My problem is that this has lowered morale and trust in dance studios and 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.
I teach for an amazing woman who built a big school with the help of her mother, who worked in the office until she died over a year ago, at a young age. It was stunning to all of us involved in the school because she really was the one who prepared and had everything organized for everything that happens outside of the classes. She died in the spring, so all the teachers and friends jumped in to help get through the rest of the year. It worked out fine and everyone bonded, feeling like they were part of the team. It was very rewarding. When the next season started my boss had hired a new studio manager to replace her mother.
I don’t want my students or their parents to believe that I am not offering them the best training I can, but I know they are getting from my school what they need. And I know this girl should move on. Are my teachers right?
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.
When an injury takes place, either at the studio or at a performance, you need to make an accident report. This means that you write down everything that happened in great detail, including what the injured party was doing when the accident occurred and everything the injured party says and does. In this case, I would have written down what the parents said at the hospital as well.
People write to me for advice on an enormous range of issues, and I usually feel that I can offer something useful because I’ve been in the dance field for a long time in a lot of different roles. But some letters, especially the ones that make me really feel someone’s pain, leave me asking myself: What do I say to this person?
Those preschool classes are your future.
It could be a simple smile or a compliment that makes it a great day for your students/dancers. Today is as good a day as any to make that happen. AND remember how lucky you are to have the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of so many . . .
Be sure to say every child’s name at least once in every class, and make sure you make eye contact with each of them, too.
Make it your goal is to instill a passion for the art of dance in every child
A parent signed her kid up for a 4:00 p.m. jazz class for 5- to 8-year-olds. We didn’t have enough children to run the class, so the secretary asked the parents if the children could move to the 4:45 p.m. jazz class and told me that all three moms said yes. I sent an email confirming the change before winter break, since we were ordering costumes. No one contacted me to say they were not interested in the change, so I ordered the costumes. After the break the class met, and one mom claimed her daughter left in tears and hated it (which didn’t happen because I was there to see how it went), and she wants a refund for her costume.
At the start of last year I hired a well-respected ballet teacher. She is a good teacher who is well prepared for her classes and I have noticed a big difference in my students’ technical skills. They are taking their ballet classes seriously, wearing the proper attire, with their hair in a bun, all of which I hoped for when I hired this teacher.
I am interested in selling my studio and am willing to stay on as a teacher. (My older girls would likely leave rather than stay for the new teacher; this way we could transition them over a few seasons to the new program while the younger girls build their loyalty to the new regime.) Do you have any suggestions for how to sell or find a buyer without broadcasting to my competitors (or clients) that I’m looking to sell? I have no staff or teachers. I have almost two years before my next lease renewal and figure the process will probably take a year.
A child who disrupts a class obviously wants attention. If the child is young, explain that you need to have someone hold your hand; then firmly and kindly hold that child’s hand. Or give the child a special place in the front of the class, along with the responsibility of being the class model. It usually works well.
Everyone would agree that the year’s end is a difficult time. It usually involves frantic list making, wrapping up the fall season’s dance programs, and facing increased family and social commitments. And then there’s coming to terms with what did and did not happen in the business plan for the year. If that isn’t a recipe for hyperventilating and an impending sense of doom, I don’t know what is.
I am a studio owner who is starting to see the effects of the economy in my area, and I’m worried that this will be my last year due to financial pressures. I have been in business for seven years. I just took 17 kids to Dance the Magic in California and had a great time. My clients are happy, but the numbers are just not there. If I can’t get out of this debt, then I will have to close, and I really don’t want to do that. I’m doing everything I can, but with seven dance studios in a five-minute driving radius, I just don’t think I will survive.