August 2016 | Ask Rhee Gold


Advice for dance teachers

Q: Dear Rhee,

I am new to creating choreography for the dance school where I teach, and I’m having problems making the students look clean. It seems like they all hear different beats or counts, and their arms are never in the same place at the same time. The owner of the school has told me that I need to learn more about the process of cleaning choreography. Do you have some tips to share? —Coryn

A: Hi Coryn,

Cleaning choreography is an acquired skill. You will become better as you experiment—guaranteed. I do have a few secrets that I’m happy to share.

First, in planning your choreography deadlines, give yourself enough leeway to dedicate time to cleaning each count or phrase in the music. Determine where the arms, feet, focus, body line, and so on should be, then pass that information on to the dancers. Take it one eight-count at a time.

Often, the cleaning process is a dancer’s least favorite activity. Always remain calm, cool, and upbeat throughout the process. Also, try to be as creative with the cleaning as you are with the choreography—in other words, shake things up a bit. One way to do that is to have the dancers face away from the mirrors. Mirrors are the safety net that allows them to follow their classmates without really knowing the details of the movement, whether they’re learning or cleaning the choreography. No mirrors, no safety net—and if you handle it right, the kids will laugh at the same time they discover what they need to work on.

Another shakeup strategy is to switch classrooms. A new environment offers students a fresh perspective and helps them get used to performing outside of their comfort zone. Often, working in a new environment eliminates boredom and increases the students’ ability to retain corrections.

Also try setting a section of the choreography to different music (with the same tempo and time signature). Dancing to new music is fun for the kids and it freshens the choreography and cleaning process, which could facilitate retaining the movement.

Ask someone to help you clean. Students get used to their teacher’s comments and tend to let them go in one ear and out the other. However, having a fresh face and perspective in the room during the cleaning process can increase students’ attentiveness, which in turn can help them correct their movement.

When two groups are performing different steps at the same time, it is important to separate these groups in the cleaning process. Clean each group’s choreography independently or have another teacher work with one group while you take the other.

It’s important to realize that when the kids seem overwhelmed it’s better to move on; you can come back to the problem section later in the rehearsal or on another day.

My final piece of advice, which I learned the hard way, is to not lose your cool. When kids feel pressured, believe you think they are stupid, or think they’re letting you down, they get frustrated—and so do their parents. End every rehearsal on a positive note and encourage your dancers to strive to be the best they can be. All the best to you. —Rhee

Q: Dear Rhee,

I feel like I am losing control of my school. My faculty members have become friends with the parents of my students and have overstepped their bounds. On one occasion a parent called one of my faculty members because she thought her daughter’s solo wasn’t good enough—yet I was the choreographer. Recently I discovered that two of my teachers attended a meeting with a student’s parent. The parent was upset with her child’s class placement and decided to go behind my back to try to get my employees to override my decision.

More and more often, the parents call the teachers directly when they need answers. I consistently remind my staff to tell the parents to call the office for information, but the reminder seems to fall on deaf ears. How do I make changes and regain control? —Casandra

A: Dear Casandra,

I often hear about this kind of dilemma, and it’s important that you understand one thing: you allowed it to happen. How did the parents get your teachers’ telephone numbers? Was it because you allowed the teachers to call the parents to arrange rehearsals or private lessons? Always remember that only you or the office manager should communicate with the parents. The office, not your faculty, should be the information center for your clientele.

Below is some text from my Faculty and Staff Handbook that I think will be helpful to you. Please feel free to share it with your teachers and staff.

To avoid a conflict of interest or the impression of favoritism, we discourage personal relationships between teachers and students or their parents. Class placement and other important educational decisions are less complicated when a teacher has no personal ties to a student or parent.

A teacher’s success is based on maintaining a professional student–teacher relationship. Young teachers who socialize with students can lose the respect they need to be effective teachers and role models.

Do not give your personal telephone number to students or their parents. All communication between students, teachers, and staff should be made through the school office.

Parents may approach you between or during classes with concerns or questions. Explain that you can’t disrupt your class or start late and tell them to direct their comments to the school office. Remember that even if you are a young teacher, you are in a professional role and it is perfectly acceptable for you to keep your focus on the students and the classroom. This also gives you time to consult with the director before discussing class placement or other potentially sensitive issues with a parent.

I hope this helps you to regain the control you need. Good luck! —Rhee

Q: Dear Rhee,

What is your opinion about students becoming friends on social media with kids from other schools? I am beginning to feel insecure because my kids are hanging out with students who attend the school owned by my biggest competitor. Could it be that her students are trying to get my students to switch to their school? Or am I being paranoid? —Anonymous

A: Dear Anonymous,

How do you know that the other school owner doesn’t share your concerns? She may think you set up your students to solicit her kids. Instead of feeling threatened, think about this—you could take a positive approach and set an example for your students by becoming friends with your competitor. You could join forces for a benefit or other activity that would bring together the two of you, plus your students and staffs, to celebrate your common love for dance.

With social media and all the other communication options available to our students, we can’t keep them from having contact with kids who attend other schools. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing; in fact, I think it’s healthy for kids to appreciate other kids who love to dance. Often, what’s unhealthy is that the adults stress out, while the kids are doing exactly what they should be doing—making friends. It is when we become paranoid or teach our kids that our competitors are the enemy that problems begin. Take a deep breath and muster up your confidence; things will be OK. —Rhee