December 2015 | Ask Rhee Gold


Advice for dance teachers

Q: Hello Rhee,

A student’s parent emailed me to say that her daughter (an intensive dancer, and a student of mine for seven years) is taking private gymnastic lessons at a local gym. I don’t care about that, but the mother asked me not to work on specific skills with her daughter because she is worried about injury; the gymnastics coach doesn’t feel she is ready for those things. I feel as if this shows a lack of trust in myself (her tumbling teacher), and I told the mother I think it is best that the child does not take tumbling here anymore.

I am furious. When did parents become bold enough to tell teachers what they can and can’t work on with their children? Shouldn’t they trust us? That is why they come to us, right?

I’m afraid I overreacted, but this mother has been dictating to me how to train her child for years, and I have had enough. I am looking for some sort of validation. —Amanda


A: Dear Amanda,

If you are looking for validation, then yes, I think you did the right thing, because you say this mother has been dictating what you should teach her daughter for years. But there’s more to this picture.

I am all for allowing students to take classes at other dance or gymnastic schools; if it can be done without conflicts, it’s a win for the child. But here’s what should have happened: the gymnastics coach would have called you to talk, teacher to teacher, and she would have understood that the parent shouldn’t be involved.

Had the situation been handled this way, I’d want to hear what the gymnastics teacher had to say. Perhaps she’s observed something about this child that would be valuable for you, as her teacher, to know. And if that’s not the case, by discussing what’s best for the child you might have been able to establish a mutually workable training plan for her with the gymnastics teacher.

Another reason to take this approach is that it’s not good for students to hear conflicting messages about what is right or wrong for them to do. A conversation with the gymnastics teacher and the child’s mother might have been the best option here. I wish you the best. —Rhee



Q: Dear Rhee,

I’m getting feedback from a ninth-grade company dancer that her choreography isn’t challenging enough and she leaves rehearsal feeling dissatisfied. She definitely belongs in this group of children and with this semester’s choreographer. But I’m having a hard time communicating to her that sometimes the challenge isn’t in doing the material, it’s in refining the technique, perfecting the dynamics, and finding the right performance quality. She’s hardworking and generally reasonable, but she’s immersed in a culture where harder means better. Do you have any wisdom? —Elise


A: Dear Elise,

I understand the culture issue, but what makes this child feel comfortable enough to tell you this? Did someone ask her what she thinks of the choreography? Is she repeating what a parent has said to her? This is important because it could be that a parent or other important person in the child’s life doesn’t think she is in the right class. If that’s true, then you need to communicate with the child and the parent.

Let this student know that you are always watching students and contemplating where you place them. Explain that your instinct and expertise tell you that she is in the right place for now, but that you will watch her progress throughout the year, and if she reaches a certain level or goal you will consider moving her up.

Have this discussion with the child and parent together, to make sure everyone is clear about what you say. Be open to questions that will help the dancer and her parent better understand the process of level placement, and be confident about your explanations. If they are not happy with your answer, let them know that your school might not be the right place for them. Sometimes this is hard for school owners to do because they don’t want to lose a student. But you have standards that you must adhere to, and if you let someone manipulate you there will be far greater issues down the road. Good luck. Rhee



Q: Hi Rhee,

I opened my dance school in 1994 and absolutely love teaching. Finding good instructors has been extremely challenging the past few years, so I decided I would teach all the classes I could, with the help of a couple of instructors who have been with me for years and who have their specialties. As soon as I made the decision and had our fall schedule printed, I received a resume that blew me away. Experience has taught me that a resume doesn’t say it all, so while I was tempted, I didn’t act. The instructor (let’s call him Steve) called my studio and left two messages with my office manager. I finally decided to call him, and I hired him.

I began promoting him and his credentials, and our students were excited. I enjoyed the rest of my summer and turned down other opportunities to hire people, thinking we were set for the school year.

Steve was hired to teach Monday and Tuesday classes. We began the school year on a Tuesday, and he was there. The following week (the first Monday classes) he sent me a text saying he was sick and didn’t show that day or the next. The following week he taught both days; the next Monday he emailed to say he needed a permanent sub. The contract allows for two subs during the school year, which he already had used. I reminded him about his contract and said he would disappoint the students and their families, so he decided he would teach on Mondays but not Tuesdays.

I made arrangements to cover the Tuesday classes. Of course, those students were sad. The following Monday Steve showed up 30 minutes late to the first 45-minute class. The following Monday he sent an email saying that he just couldn’t commit (though he already did).

I’m beyond furious! He is such an amazing teacher that he raised the bar, and now my parents/students don’t want anyone else. I want to hold him accountable. He thinks I’m selfish and ridiculous to try to force him to teach. By the way, he is well into adulthood and clearly able to know what he can commit to. This frustrates me and breaks my heart. I don’t want to hire another instructor, ever! What are your thoughts? —Missy


A: Hello Missy,

Yes, this teacher signed a contract and knew what the commitment was, but he has proved that he really doesn’t understand what that means. It’s probably not worth the effort to hold him accountable. It is obvious that his work ethic, commitment, and respect for your business and students are not his priorities, and I don’t believe you would be able to change that. You are better off moving on and creating a permanent, reliable teaching environment for your students.

You say he raised the bar and now the parents and students don’t want anyone else. The reality is that he may be a good teacher, but he must be present to be good at what he does, and that’s not happening. So the reality is that he is not raising the bar in terms of being a reliable person or an example of commitment to the kids he teaches.

With that in mind, whether or not the parents and students understand your decision to let him go, you would be doing the right thing for all involved. That fact needs to outweigh what anyone thinks, because he has proved that he is not good for your business or your students.

Don’t let this one experience discourage you from hiring faculty in the future. The situation that this teacher put you through is not typical, and there are good teachers out there who will respect their responsibility and commitment to your business. I suggest that you cover these classes for the rest of the season, and in the meantime create a jobs or employment page on your website. When you collect resumes from potential teachers, look for those who have the needed skills and ask them to teach one of your classes, or set up a special class for them. This will give you time to evaluate their work ethic and capabilities before you offer anyone a permanent teaching opportunity.

Hang in there. You can’t do it all, and there are good people out there who would be an asset to your business. I wish you the best. —Rhee