May-June 2015 | On My Mind


Words from the publisher

For years the most pressing, and distressing, issue for dance teachers and school owners has been dealing with parents. I have heard many horror stories, and I have personally dealt with overbearing “stage parents” or those who never find anything positive to say and tend to bring down the spirits of everyone connected with the school.

But because I have been involved in dance education for a long time, I am always interested in discussing why teachers at some schools don’t have problems with parents. I have come to the conclusion that a huge factor is trustworthiness.

When parents trust a school owner or teacher, they feel confident that she will meet their expectations as a business owner and/or role model for their children. In other words, when your clientele feels that you are a true professional who believes in every child, and that you stick to your word, they give you some latitude.

Even small instances of dishonesty or self-serving behavior can quickly diminish the sense of trust parents have in you. At this point, your feathers are probably getting ruffled. You’re probably thinking, or even saying, that you don’t do anything dishonest. And I’m sure you would never intend to. But sometimes these little slips aren’t obvious to us.

Photo by Mim Adkins

Photo by Mim Adkins

For example, let’s say that a school owner touts the fact that her school offers a highly trained faculty. Yet one day some parents see their children taking class from an unenthusiastic teenager who has very little teaching experience. They feel let down, and they might even think this school owner needs monitoring to ensure that she’s living up to her promises. You might feel the same way if the situation were reversed.

Then there’s the school owner who tells the world that she welcomes every child who wants to dance—but it turns out that only the best dancers at her school get much attention.

It’s hard for me to point out this kind of self-serving behavior, because I’d like to believe that no one would engage in it. But I see examples of it all the time. It happens when teachers choose to exclude children who (in their eyes) won’t make them look good. You’ve all known little girls like that—the ones who love dance and are there in class every week, arriving early, enthusiasm bubbling over. They’re the epitome of what most teachers like to say is a good student.

But what happens when one of these youngsters can’t dance as well as one would expect from a child that age? You know the answer: she is left behind while other students get all the attention. She watches the other kids move up and be given opportunities, and she loses her enthusiasm for dance. She hurts, and her parents hurt too. They might start to speak negatively about the school. Why? Because they see through the teacher’s behavior. They know she didn’t mean it when she said she welcomes every child who wants to dance. Her actions belie her words: it’s clear that she places more value on how that child might affect the school’s image than on doing what’s right for the child.

Honest. Trustworthy. We all label ourselves with those words, and that’s a good start. Next up: having the integrity to prove them true.

DSL publisher Rhee Gold has owned a dance competition, presided over national dance teaching organizations, and founded Project Motivate. His book, The Complete Guide to Teaching Dance, is in its second printing.