March-April 2017 | Ask Rhee Gold

Advice for dance teachers

Q: Dear Rhee,

I am 58 years old and I have taught at the same studio for more than 20 years. The director has treated me very well and I love the children I teach.

My training was excellent and very traditional. My goal has always been to pass on what I learned from my teacher. Lately, however, I have begun to question myself: I worry that what I teach is out of date and that I might be too “old-school” for the current generation of students.

I overheard some parents comparing my class to one taught by one of the school’s newest and youngest faculty members (who is very good but who has a totally different teaching style from mine). My overall impression was that these parents think that my class is antiquated. I worry that they think the same about my music, my choreography, and even my classroom rules, which the parents had always respected.

I’m contemplating making this my last season of teaching; it’s not that I am ready to stop, but I don’t want the children or their parents to regret that I’m their teacher. The hardest part is that I have had dance in my life since I was 5 years old and I don’t know how to live without it. At the same time, I get that we have to make way for the next generation of teachers. How do you give up something that you love to do? —Shattered

A: Dear Shattered,

Do not quit, please! The dance world needs teachers like you.

Think about this: those parents reinforced something that you were already thinking. If you love teaching as much as you say you do, then it’s time to take all of the valuable traditional knowledge that you possess (and that the younger generation doesn’t yet have) and apply it to a fresh, 21st-century classroom and curriculum.

This is your time to evolve while still bringing your values with you. It can be done. I know many mature dance teachers who have expanded their teaching horizons in order to remain relevant. One way to start is by attending teacher workshops and training, especially those that offer new teaching techniques; ballet teachers also can benefit by studying methods other than those in which they originally trained. And choreography workshops can be particularly effective in helping you recognize what is new and fresh.

Be confident in your ability to hold onto your values as you open the doors to new ways of passing on your expertise to future generations. You’ve got this. —Rhee

Q: Dear Rhee,

In its fourth year of operation, my studio has 242 students and is doing well, but I’m unsure what to do next. If I could offer more classes during prime time I believe that I could continue to add students, but I am limited to two classrooms at my current location. If I move to a new location, the rent will more than double (my uncle owns the building where my studio is located, and the rent is below market price). And that’s before the cost of a build-out in the new space.

It wasn’t until last year that I paid off my loans for my school and saw enough of a profit that I could quit my other job. If I expand my school, that profit won’t be there—and I don’t want to work another job when I need to focus on growing my business.

I don’t know what to do. Any input would be appreciated. —Shannon

A: Hi Shannon,

First, pat yourself on the back for building your enrollment to a very impressive number. You have done well. If you have just begun to see a profit, it might be smart to stay where you are to accumulate some savings and live without debt for a while before expanding to a new, larger space.

Many studio directors who have roughly the same number of students that you do make a great living and don’t feel the need to grow beyond that; others have a thousand students but can’t keep up with their overhead. The goal shouldn’t always be to get more students, but to get your current students to take more classes and to be able to cover your expenses without adding too much stress to your life. Regardless, you should always build where you are before you consider moving to a new location.

If you do want to expand, sit down with a calculator. Start with how much you estimate your new rent will be. Add the expense of the additional faculty and staff to cover the new classes and the operational costs associated with more classes and students. Once you have estimated your total expenses, you can determine how many students you will need to make up the difference. Then, try to get as close as possible to that number at your current location. If you’re not offering classes every day of the week, consider doing so. Encourage your current students to take additional classes. When your income is closer to where it needs to be to support a new location, you will be able to make the move without the fear that you have now.

Keep working hard; the day may come when you have both the confidence and the dollars to make the move without breaking the bank. Good luck. —Rhee

Q: Dear Rhee,

For years, my school has been closed for the summer except for a required two-week summer program for our competitive students. Next summer we are adding two three-day summer camps for children who are ages 4 to 5 and 6 to 8. We are excited to expand our offerings, but I’m a novice at marketing and I need some advice on how to best promote the new camps. —Michelle

A: Dear Michelle,

My first thought is that you need to begin today. Many parents start to plan their children’s summer activities in January. That doesn’t necessarily mean that you are too late. Get the word out with social media posts using graphics that feature the age levels you are trying to attract. Send your teachers and staff copies of your posts to share on their social media accounts. Get everyone involved.

Send email blasts to your current students and to those who may have inquired about your school or programs over the past couple of years. Consider offering a discount to parents and students who register by a certain date or a discount for friends and family of students who are already registered for classes. Create coupons that you and your team can hand out within your communities.

Send flyers to the preschools and children’s organizations in your area. Send press releases to the local newspapers and follow up with a phone call. Use your post office’s Every Door Direct Mail service to send a mailing to selected mail routes (which you can target by location and by average age, income, and household size). And be sure to promote your camps at your performances and in your recital program.

This is a good start, but it’s important to remember that it takes time to build a profitable summer camp program. Think about this first year as an investment in your future; offer an awesome experience and you will grow your registration, guaranteed. All the best. —Rhee

Q: Dear Rhee,

I have attended a couple of your seminars where I have learned the value of a strong preschool program, but I am having a hard time getting my teachers to understand how important this age group is to our success. They are younger and seem to want to work with only the kids who already know how to dance. I’ve thought about taking back the preschool classes from my teachers and teaching them myself, but I already have a full schedule. What can I do to improve my situation —Kaylyn

A: Dear Kaylyn,

I do believe that most school owners in the private sector should offer a quality program and faculty for their preschool students. Consider it an investment in the future—these are the children who will be dancing with you for the next 10 to 15 years if their early experience is a positive one.

Teachers who like working with only the best dancers are not the best choice to teach your preschool classes. They do not have the experience or understanding of what is appropriate for this very special age level.

That said, I believe that younger teachers can be good at the preschool level, but they need guidance and nurturing to achieve success. I suggest that you create a syllabus with appropriate movement, objectives, and strategies for teaching preschool children. When the syllabus is complete, require that your preschool teachers join you for teacher training. Enhance this training by videotaping their classes so that you can offer specific critiques. Take these teachers to workshops that focus on curriculum for preschool dance.

You say that you already have a full schedule, which I certainly understand. But I know that parents of preschool children really appreciate it when the school owner teaches their children. Your expertise and experience usually assure satisfaction from your clientele. —Rhee