March-April 2016 | Ask Rhee Gold


Advice for dance teachers

Q: Dear Rhee,

I grew up at the dance studio in my hometown, then moved to New York where I have been performing for the last 10 years and where I got a degree in early childhood education. Dance has been my life and I believe that I am ready to take it to a new place. By chance, I was hired by a community center to teach children with disabilities. I had no idea what I was doing when I started, but I registered for a couple of seminars that offered parents and teachers insights to better understand different learning styles and how to set objectives for each child’s individual needs.

Two years later, I have shaped a program that has grown to three classes with more than 30 students and a waiting list. I love working with these children more every time I teach them. They are thrilled to be there, and even a minor achievement means so much to them. Another benefit that I never expected is how proud the parents are that their children can experience the joy of dance.

I have been considering opening a studio specifically focused on children with disabilities or special needs, but I can’t find anyone else who has done it. Do you think there is a need or that it could be a viable option in the dance studio world? I appreciate any input. —Kylee

A: Hi Kylee,

Although I would never want to predict absolute success, I do believe that it is a viable (and an admirable) option in the dance studio world and I have a feeling that you’ve got what it takes to succeed. There is a need—I encourage you to go for it. Take every class, course, or certification available so that you become an expert at your craft. Remain focused on noticing the joy that dance brings to your students and their families. To learn about how others have started similar programs, see the three Dance Without Limits stories from the magazine’s November 2014 issue, available on the website at

As you go through the process, create a syllabus of your program. That way you may be able to pass your experience and knowledge to others who share your passion for working with special children, too. You are an inspiration and I wish you all the best. —Rhee

Q: Dear Rhee,

In building close relationships with dance students and their families, how can you avoid parents taking advantage of the relationship by expecting that you will always give their child special consideration? Any feedback is appreciated. —James

A: Dear James,

Honestly, I am not for building close personal relationships with the parents of the kids that I teach; my premise for this philosophy is based on the dilemma you have described. As a teacher who is also a decision maker, I need to distance myself from the chance that parents would expect special consideration for their child because of our personal relationship.

I am always willing to discuss the reasons for my educational and placement decisions with any parent who asks, but in most cases I only pursue a professional teacher-parent (or teacher-student) relationship in order to maintain the respect that I believe that our clientele must have for us; this allows me to preserve an unbiased dance education for every child. —Rhee

Q: Dear Rhee,

I have owned my school for nine years and this year is the hardest. I am frustrated because I deal with parents who don’t understand why their child hasn’t moved to a higher level. One parent is upset because I won’t let her daughter, who has only two years of training, take class with her friend who has been here for seven years. I try to explain that my class placement policy is based on the amount of previous training and ability. No one is listening to me and I think that they believe that I am trying to hurt their children, which is the opposite of what I am trying to do. Do you have any words of wisdom that I could share with them to help them better understand the process? —Carla

A: Hi Carla,

You are not alone on this issue. I run into many teachers who are struggling with parents who believe that their children are being held back. Several years ago, I created a message for parents to help them better understand class placement. The following is an excerpt that you can feel free to share with your parents. It won’t eliminate the issue altogether, but it may make parents think a bit before they question your decisions.

“Dance is an individual art form and children need to be allowed to achieve at a pace that’s comfortable. No two students will progress at the same rate, even if they experience the exact same training. It’s important to encourage children to focus on themselves, give their all, and be satisfied with their own accomplishments.

“Dance education encompasses far more than technique and the steps your children learn. We believe the discipline of dance training gives young people a better understanding of commitment through learning, experiencing the spirit of teamwork, and discovering what they can accomplish through hard work. Our goal is to educate the minds, bodies, and souls of our students, teaching them the skills needed for a successful life, whether or not they stay involved in dance.”

I hope this helps and I wish you all the best. —Rhee

Q: Dear Rhee,

What are some techniques for helping students remember their recital choreography? I have several students who seem to forget everything that they learned the week before, so I am constantly going over what we did in the past rather than moving forward on their choreography. The kids who do remember are frustrated and so am I. What would you do in this circumstance? —Vanessa

A: Dear Vanessa,

I do have a couple of ideas that may help. Try to teach the steps that you will be incorporating into the kids’ choreography during the first part of the year. Teach them combos (to different music from what you’re going to use for their choreography) and then incorporate the movement that they already know into the routine. The fact that the students are already familiar with the movement should speed up the process greatly and will relieve some of the frustration that you (and the kids) are feeling.

Another option I have used successfully is to have the kids first learn the choreography facing away from the mirrors. This will help the kids who rely on the mirrors to follow the other dancers. The process forces them to think for themselves and better retain the movement being taught. All the best to you. —Rhee