At a competition this weekend another studio performed an original tumbling number of ours. We believe they taped it at a previous competition that both schools attended. I’ve never had this happen before. I suppose it is the nicest form of flattery, but we feel a bit violated. I don’t know the owner/director and my guess is she was counting on not running into us again. I’ve heard that all choreography, once performed, is copyrighted. I don’t want to put the energy into suing anybody when I need my time to inspire my students and run a business. I just wondered if this happens often and what most people do in this situation. Thanks! —Sandra
Although I don’t think this practice is rampant in our field, I have heard about it from other teachers and, as part of the competition world, I have seen it. Sometimes it is a concept, not choreography, that is taken. I understand that you feel violated and I know it’s hard to ignore a circumstance like this. But as crazy as it may sound, I would do nothing. People who rip off your choreography, concept, or idea look so bad in the eyes of everyone who knows what they’ve done (other schools and your students and their parents) that you don’t have to say or do a thing. The people who matter know that it was your creation; let them do the talking. Don’t let it sidetrack you from always staying ahead of yourself—and from those who steal your ideas.
Use this circumstance as your motivation to always stay one step ahead of the competition. Obviously you’re capable of conceiving good work; otherwise your competitors wouldn’t be interested in re-creating it. Consider yourself a trendsetter and give yourself a pat on the back! All the best to you. —Rhee
I’ve owned my school for 28 years and for the first time I feel insecure about myself. It started several months ago when I let a teacher go because she was always late, her language and attitude were not appropriate, and she lacked the skills needed to be a good role model for my students. I replaced her with someone who is not only a wonderful teacher but a perfect role model. I love her and so do her students and their parents.
My problems started a couple of weeks after I let the teacher go. She contacted the students she had taught (and some that she didn’t) to explain that I fired her because I was jealous of her. She told them (and their parents) that I am a horrible teacher who has to hire others to teach because I don’t know what I’m doing. She then added that she is opening her own school and offered them tremendous discounts if they made the switch to her school.
From the day I started my school until I brought this teacher in, I taught every class myself. Can you imagine how happy I was to have someone who could handle some of my classes after all those years? I considered her a blessing; jealousy never crossed my mind.
All the kids and parents who have spoken with me about this are loyal to me, and most seem to be offended by the calls and want me to know what’s going on out of respect. One of the moms told me that she blasted the teacher by saying that she thought the call was unethical and that she wouldn’t go to her school even if it were free.
This kind of support is humbling, yet I can’t get the negative thoughts out of my head. Lying in bed at night I wonder if I’ll lose students who are seeking the tremendous discount that I can’t afford to offer. Are there students or parents who received a call from my former employee who are thinking of leaving my school? Should I fight back by telling people why I fired her? (That’s not my style.) Those are just a couple of the questions that are making me feel insecure.
Worse yet, I am wondering if I’m old-fashioned, questioning whether this young and with-the-times woman, who doesn’t yet realize the responsibility a teacher has to the children she works with, will somehow put me out of business. I’m flipping out right now and I’ve never felt this way, ever. It’s a scary place to be in. What’s your take on this? —Corinna
OK, take a deep breath. You are going to be just fine. I answer questions from dance teachers all the time; take it from me, you are way more levelheaded than you give yourself credit for. Your ethics and respect for the profession come through loud and clear in your words, and you don’t even know it. It’s very refreshing.
Be grateful that this is the first time you’ve come to this place of insecurity. In our profession, and in life in general, some people live in this state all the time. It can feel traumatic, but it just might lead you to a new place where you’ll feel more confident than ever.
Think about it—you let this teacher go because you were protecting your students and because she didn’t live up to your standards. There is no one who could fault you for that—in fact, it’s your responsibility to behave as you did. What impresses me even more is the fact that your students and their parents are so loyal to you. Their support means that you’ve been doing good things for the children and for dance. Let it be gratifying to you that they respect you so much. You replaced this teacher with someone you and your kids love and respect. You’re a pro who knows what to do to make things right.
Don’t lose one more minute of sleep over this. You haven’t even lost a student yet! The phone calls that this teacher made have clearly worked against her. Her actions are a good indication of her ethics and the type of atmosphere she’ll create at her new school, which isn’t going to help her one bit. Add to that the fact that you’ve been at this for 28 years and she’s a novice who will make a lot of mistakes to learn what you already know—in my opinion, you’re way ahead of the game.
Tonight when you’re lying in bed, replace those negative thoughts with feeling thankful that you’ve been able to do what you love for 28 years. Think about the hundreds of children you’ve influenced in a positive way. Mix that up with fresh ideas that will help you to continue to give the dance world the best you have to offer, and you’ll have what it takes to let this situation go. Maybe you’ll eventually see that this situation has allowed you to acknowledge all the good things you’ve accomplished with your school. Funny how life works sometimes, isn’t it? Enjoy life! —Rhee
I have a question regarding teachers whose children take dance class in the studio where they work. I have a wonderful boss who allows my two children, ages 9 and 4, to dance for free. She does provide me with a financial statement from time to time to remind me what their monthly fees would be. The 9-year-old also competes, but only on a novice level. My boss has said that in the future, when my children are in the school’s regular competition group, she will charge me the usual fees because it would be too much of a loss for her to bear. I do pay about $25 per month into an account for costumes and competition fees.
I don’t want my boss to think I’m using her. I just wonder what the norm is, and where it draws a line, if it does. If you have some insight on this subject, I would appreciate it. —TJ
My policy would be to offer a class scholarship that might include other in-school activities like summer programs, camps, and master classes. The guideline would be that if I have to lay out funds for a product or service, I would pass those expenses on to my employee. Some examples would be competition entry fees, conventions, costumes, choreography created by a teacher whom I had to pay, and so on. If I were doing the choreography myself, I might not charge you, but that’s not always the policy.
In short, it’s normal to offer employees’ children training scholarships, but any other expenses are usually passed on to the teacher/parent. Hope this helps! —Rhee