January 2017 | Ask Rhee Gold


Advice for Dance Teachers

Q: Dear Rhee,

What is your opinion of using an online registration program? For 26 years, I have been registering my students by phone or at an open house because I think that it is important to personally speak with the parents and the children to determine what they want to take and to decide which level they should be assigned. I believe that being personable is the most effective way of getting these families to sign up for dance. But the studios around me seem to be registering lots of families through online registration. Am I missing something? —Grace

A: Dear Grace,

I too believe that a personal approach is important in any business. With that said, my brother’s school added online registration a few years ago and more than 80 percent of the enrollment now comes from this option. It seems that parents are less inclined to inquire by phone or attend an open house than to simply sign up online. Not only do they register online, but they pay their registration fee and their first month’s tuition without hesitation. They also offer a credit card to cover their children’s tuition and costume costs through an automatic monthly withdrawal; this alone makes online registration a valuable asset to the business.

Certainly you can add your personal touch by following up each online registration with a phone call or an invitation to join you for the open house. I don’t see anything to lose by offering online registration along with an open house; by providing both you cover your bases and keep up with what the other schools in your area offer their clientele. I wish you all the best. —Rhee

Q: Dear Rhee,

I am a studio owner in a small town, with three years’ experience. We now have some students who have good technique but who have never been exposed to anything outside of our studio. Ranging in age from 13 to 16, they take ballet, jazz, tap, and some contemporary—concentrating primarily on ballet. They are naive about the possibilities that dance offers when it comes to education and career options.

I have fond memories of my own teacher taking me to workshops and conventions to take classes. Recently I went to a couple with another teacher to see what they are like now. We learned a lot, but I am apprehensive about taking my students. We have a dress code of black leotard with tights, and I think my students will look out of place at conventions because much of the attire is “go as you please,” with students and some teachers going for skimpy and lots of skin. I was a professional dancer who wore many adult costumes, so I am not a prude, but my studio is for kids from small-town America.

I have so many questions. If I take them, will my students believe that I and my studio are “old school”? Do I let them dress like the other students for the convention but enforce the dress code at the studio? How do I explain this to the parents? I want my students to learn and to know that there is more to dance than what is happening in our studio, but I want to maintain a sense of dignity for the young ladies I teach. Thanks for any advice. —Malinda

A: Dear Malinda,

You are not alone; I have heard these concerns from other school owners. Before taking your kids to a workshop or convention, consider breaking them in by bringing a master teacher to your school. Hire someone who offers contemporary work with a strong ballet base; your dancers will feel comfortable in their home environment and you’ll have control of the dress code.

Know that there are events that share your philosophy regarding age-appropriate dancewear. A way to determine the right conventions for your dancers is to look for those that offer ballet classes along with other styles. I see this as an indication that their faculty will better relate to your students as well as to your principles regarding dress code. Think too about how you might be a little lenient about your students’ attire at conventions without letting go of your ethics. For example, you might allow them to wear their black leotards with a pair of dance shorts; your students will fit in better but you won’t have to let them dance in skimpy dancewear.

Prior to your first convention, have a meeting with your students and their parents. Explain to them the benefits you believe the kids will gain and emphasize that the objective is to learn, but also acknowledge that there will be a wide variety of perspectives on what is proper attire. Be honest and you will gain more respect because parents will know that you are looking out for what is right for their children. Good luck. —Rhee

Q: Hi Rhee,

At one of your seminars I learned how important my front desk person is to the success of my business. But I have a dilemma.

My office manager has been with me from the beginning—nine years. She encouraged me to get through the lean times when I wanted to quit, she has been a friend since high school, and she has three daughters who dance with me. But she is grouchy and always complaining about something. Often she is late and at other times she leaves early without notice, though she is paid for all the hours that the school is open.

When I bring up my concerns she tells me that she has it under control and that I shouldn’t worry. But I do worry—customers have made complaints, and I feel that we look disorganized by not having the office manager there when we are open. I want to make a change, but I am afraid of losing a longtime friend and her daughters, who are really involved in our competitive program. How do I get myself out of this mess so I can move on to a more professional experience for my customers? —Ashley

A: Dear Ashley,

I believe that you and your clientele deserve better. If you haven’t already done so, you should sit down with your current office manager and give her a list of the problems you’ve observed, a plan for her to correct them, and the date by which you expect them to be resolved. If you do this and her performance and behavior still don’t improve, then it’s time to recruit and hire a new manager. Keep your search to yourself until you feel that you have found the right person. At the same time, continue to document the issues related to your current office manager—including her tardiness, early departures, and customer complaints—so that you can explain to her why she is being replaced.

For your search, look for someone who doesn’t have children at your school. This will avoid a conflict of interest and make it more likely that you’ll hire a manager focused on doing a good job for you and your customers rather than on her children. This is the kind of professional relationship that will help your business.

When it’s time to let your current office manager go, do it in person and with someone else in the room. Explain to your departing employee that her children have the option to stay or go and that you wish them the best either way. Know that you may lose the kids and the friendship, but that you are better off with a stronger and kinder office manager.

This is not an easy situation, but once you stand up for yourself and your clientele you will feel better. That’s a guarantee. —Rhee