May-June 2016 | Ask Rhee Gold

AskRhee

Advice for dance teachers

Q: Hi Rhee,

I’ve had my studio for 18 years and you’ve been a big inspiration to me. This year I’ve experienced a new problem, and I need advice.

I employed a 20-year-old teacher (I’ll call her Mary) who is a talented dancer. I knew her when she was still competing because she attended special workshops and events at my studio. When I hired her last year, she was great, and all of the kids loved her. At the beginning of this year, I sat down with her and had a chat about not crossing the teacher/friend line with the students. I told her not to give out her number because she is young and the teens would want to be friends with her. I explained that I had to let a teacher go last year because she got too close to the students and had crossed the professionalism line. Mary told me she understood and wouldn’t let that happen.

A while ago, a mom of one of my students called me and said she and her husband wanted to meet with me. At the same time, Mary sent me a long text explaining that she had been texting with a student about personal issues and that she shouldn’t have done that. She said the student reached out to her, that they had been communicating for a couple of months, and that the girl’s parents were very upset.

I asked why the texts would upset them, and she told me the student was cutting herself and drinking. I was very angry and told her that she shouldn’t have been texting with any student and that the minute she heard of these behaviors she should have brought them to my attention.

Then she told me that another student was cutting too. I called that student’s mom and told her the story, and she pulled her daughter out of class.

The next day the parents of the girl who had been texting with Mary showed me the most awful texts. Mary had offered alcohol to their 15-year-old daughter at an event (not studio related). She told the student to bring a green tea bottle and that she had Crown and not to tell anyone.

The mom found texts from Mary to the student going back several months, saying she is a cutter too and has been since seventh grade, that she was raped, and that she had recently tried cocaine at a party. I called Mary in, and the parents confronted her. She didn’t have much to say. I fired her on the spot.

This happened on a Tuesday, which gave me one day to cover her classes for Thursday and Friday. I didn’t send out an email to everyone because I wasn’t sure what to say and I was scrambling to cover the classes. So when the parents and students came in, I sat the kids down and said, “Miss Mary is no longer on staff, but Miss Kate is so excited to take over and have a great rest of the year.”

The parents now want to know what happened, and all I tell them is that it’s a personal matter. (I promised the families involved that I wouldn’t discuss what happened.) But people are not happy with their new teachers, even though they are on staff at the studio and I am confident in them. They don’t coddle the kids or get close to them, so I think people interpret that as being cold. They are upset, and asking for different teachers. If they only knew how upset I have been and the potential danger their kids were in.

How do I handle this? Do I email everyone a statement? Deal with it on a one-on-one basis? I can’t let them choose their teacher based on who they like and accept that they have no regard for or trust in who I give them.

I have sent out a statement to my entire staff reiterating the importance of not crossing the line between student and teacher. I let them know that if I hear of such behavior they will be fired immediately. I also told them to delete any students’ phone numbers they have and block them from all social media.—Distraught

A: Dear Distraught,

First, I am 100 percent behind your decision to let this teacher go. No matter how good a dance teacher she is, her concept of a proper teacher/student relationship reveals that she’s not a professional. The parents and students who don’t know the circumstances may question your decision, which is frustrating—but this is one of those times when you need to know that you made the right decision and not worry about what anyone thinks.

With that said, I might make a single, quick statement to reiterate your commitment to quality dance education with a faculty of professionals who always put the safety of the kids first. Something like this:

Dear Parents,

On behalf of all of us at ABC School of Dance, I want to express my appreciation for your loyalty to our school. As you are aware, our number-one objective is to offer your children a safe environment for learning, with a professional faculty who are proper role models.

Recently we made changes to our staff in an effort to maintain our high standards and philosophy regarding proper teacher/student relationships. My faculty and I will continue to offer the best dance education possible, presented by some of the finest mentors, leaders, and teachers. Thanks again for your continued support.

Please continue to communicate to your faculty your beliefs and policies regarding their relationships with students. In many ways, teachers’ actions in this regard are more important than the ability to train great technical dancers.

Becoming the best school owner you can be is about the learning process. I would say that you have learned one tough lesson here, but it will make you smarter and better. Move on and enjoy the journey. —Rhee

Q: Dear Rhee,

I have an 11-year-old student who has been dancing with me since she was a toddler. She is one of the most talented kids I have ever taught. Her solos always win high scores, and she is in front for most of my choreography.

Recently, without my knowledge, her mother took her to audition for a Broadway show tour. The student got the job, and they will be leaving for New York in two weeks to rehearse; then they’ll be on tour for at least six months. The mother thinks this is the greatest thing in the world, but I am left with a team of students who will not do very well for the rest of the competition season.

I am so frustrated because I am the one who taught this girl to be good and now she is leaving in the middle of the competition season. I am going to make a contract for next year that will not allow students to go to auditions without my approval. What do you think I should say to the parent who obviously has no loyalty and to the other students who are affected by the situation? —Frustrated

A: Dear Frustrated,

At first I thought your question wasn’t for real, but after a quick online search I found your school. I respectfully suggest that you stop thinking about yourself and the awards your school may not win. I understand the commitment dancers make to their classmates or team when they become part of a competitive program, but your letter doesn’t mention that. Your only gripe is that your “star” dancer won’t be there to make you look good.

Also, you don’t mention being proud that you trained a student who could land a Broadway show tour. For the child, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and you have apparently failed to realize that. For many teachers, having students go on to dance professionally is the epitome of success.

In all honesty, I believe this situation is a blessing in disguise for both you and your students. It’s time for you to prove that you can train more than one good dancer. Focus on all the other children you think aren’t strong enough to carry their competition performances. It’s time to move others “front and center” so that they will know they are important to you. Don’t feature one child; instead feature many, so that you never find yourself relying on a single dancer again.

Please know that teaching dance is not about winning. Only a small number of children will be winners; the majority of them dance to experience the joy that the movement and the music bring to their soul. Not all of them know that, but we should.

It’s time for change. —Rhee

Q: Dear Rhee,

I am investigating moving my school to a new location. Available space on the main road (where the school is now) is smaller and more expensive than in an industrial park. My husband thinks I should go for the lower rent in the industrial area, but I am not sure. It’s not close to the center of town, and no one would see our sign or know we were there unless they went into the park. In my current location, new families come to our school to register because they drive by our studio every day. What do you think I should do? —Kim

A: Dear Kim,

I know several school owners who have successful schools in industrial spaces. However, you need to go with your instinct on this one, which seems to be telling you to be in clear view of your community. I tend to agree with you, if you can find an affordable rent. My family’s school is on a major route that intersects with several surrounding towns, and I know that the location and visibility are big parts of its success. Good luck! —Rhee