February 2016 | Ask Rhee Gold


Advice for dance teachers

Q: Dear Rhee,

There are two boys in my school who are very talented, but neither of them has parental support. One lives with his grandmother, who is unable to help him financially, and the other boy’s father believes that his son should be a football player. For the past three years I have given scholarships to both boys and paid for their costumes, shoes, etc. Basically, if they are involved in anything dance related, it is on me. Both of these kids are emotionally strong and determined, and they work harder than most of my other students do. I am proud of them and I have felt like I was giving back to them the good that dance has brought into my life.

Recently I found out that one of my office assistants told someone at my school that I was covering the boys’ dance expenses. The gossip spread fast. Now I am being probed about why I am helping the boys and not the girls. I thought I was doing a good thing, but now I don’t know how to respond to all the questions. Everyone has made me feel like I deceived them, and that was not what I intended. Can you offer any advice? —Dawn

A: Dear Dawn,

First I want to assure you that you did not deceive anyone or do anything wrong. Your kindness has kept the boys dancing, and for that you deserve a pat on the back. You certainly have a right to offer scholarships, discounts, and so on to anyone you think is deserving of financial help, and you also have the right to keep these arrangements confidential.

In my opinion, it is your office assistant who deceived you, by sharing confidential studio information with others. Her actions were detrimental to you and your business, and for that reason you have legitimate cause to terminate her employment. If you think firing her is too strong an action, then you need to take steps to ensure that she will never again put you in a similar situation. Talk to her about this and explain the problems her actions have caused; also, either limit or eliminate her access to sensitive studio information.

As far as responding to those who question you about this matter, I might respond like this: “Thank you for your inquiry, but there is more to the story than you know.” Tell them that you would never want to embarrass the boys or their families and that you consider any student’s financial status at the school to be confidential. Of course, the financial arrangements you make with other families is none of their business—but you need to express that in the kindest way possible.

In the future, keep to yourself any kindnesses you offer to your students. Explain to the parents/guardians and the kids who are on the receiving end of your generosity that the scholarship will become null and void if they discuss it with anyone. Explain to everyone who works for you that any sharing of confidential facts, which includes all financial and personal information, will be grounds for termination.

Don’t stop helping kids who need it because of this incident. Instead, move forward having learned this: that the fewer people who know about your generosity, the better. Good luck. —Rhee

Q: Dear Rhee,

I teach at a small school with fewer than 150 students. We are trying to change the makeup of our studio from mostly once-a-week students to become more competitive and help us become better known for training winning students. We have a competition group of 11 girls who take class all year, and they do very well. But we want to compete with more students. Can you offer any input on how we can help our students and parents to understand the importance of taking more than one class each week, and that taking class during the summer will help the kids become winners? —Ashley

A: Dear Ashley,

I can offer you advice on this matter, but before I do, I want you to consider that your objective—to encourage students to take more classes as a means of becoming winners—may be the wrong approach. Why not encourage your students to take more classes so that they will become stronger dancers who can take advantage of more performing opportunities? That will help them gain confidence and become more successful in dance—and in life in general.

Right now you have a school with 150 students and only 11 who compete, so I think you might be trying to fix something that isn’t broken. What will happen to the 139 students and their parents who are only in the market for once-a-week lessons? Should they go elsewhere? And if they do, will you be able to afford to keep your doors open?

Another important factor to consider is that the dancers who do take more classes will not become immediate winners. It will take time, commitment, and financial investment on your part and your clients’ to develop these students into technically proficient dancers who are potential winners. If you sell more classes by telling parents that taking multiple classes will make their kids winners, you will end up with more headaches than joys, guaranteed.

How about this? Create a performance group for kids who want to take more classes, learn more choreography, and perform in the community. Keep things simple at first by requiring that the dancers take three classes per week and attend a prescheduled rehearsal to learn choreography. Later, if you believe they are ready to dabble in competition, you could start by taking them to one event.

If you do this, you won’t have to worry about whether your students win, and the parents won’t expect that extra classes will make their children instant winners. It is much easier to sell dance when you are not under pressure to create winners. Take your time and be thankful that your school is a success the way it is, because that means you are doing something right. —Rhee

Q: Dear Rhee,

My clients owe me so much money for costumes, tuition, and entry fees, and it’s really hard on me. I have laid out the money and now I am broke. Parents tell me they don’t have the money, then they post pictures of the expensive vacations they take or birthday presents they buy for their kids. What do I do to fix this? It’s not fair. —Frustrated

A: Dear Frustrated,

You are not alone in this; I would guess that almost all of our readers have felt your frustration at one time or another. But I do have a couple of ideas that may help you.

First, consider switching to an automatic withdrawal payment plan. This means that your clients authorize you to automatically charge their credit card or debit their bank account on a certain day of the month for tuition, costumes, or whatever. You could consider using this system for the families who compete only, or for the school’s entire population.

Another option is a bundling program. For example, calculate the expenses for costumes, entry fees, tuition, summer program, and so on for the entire season. Divide the total by the number of months your students take class. That figure is the monthly tuition payment per dancer. This helps because your clients pay one lump sum that covers the money that you are currently laying out for them. Yes, it’s the same amount of money, but because there’s only one payment to make each month, they don’t feel like you’re nickel-and-diming them. The bundling option could be made via automatic payment too.

Put one of these systems in place, and soon you’ll be able to enjoy the parents’ posts about their vacations—because you’ll be able to afford one yourself! —Rhee

Q: Dear Rhee,

I see lots of posts on social media by teachers who buy costumes, then pick their music. I have always picked my music first, then figured out the choreography, and after that decide on costumes. Am I doing this the wrong way? —Connor

A: Dear Connor,

I think you are with the majority on this one. Some teachers may purchase discounted costumes prior to making music and choreography decisions, but overall the process you have chosen is more common. Carry on! —Rhee