November 2016 | Ask Rhee Gold


Advice for dance teachers

Q: Dear Rhee,

I would appreciate your thoughts on a situation that occurred this week. During rehearsals for our production number, 15 students have consistently shown up and worked hard on choreography and staging, but two others skipped two and a half months of rehearsal. Their mother feels that six hours studying a video of the dance is good enough; I disagree, and I removed these two students from one part of the production. I told them that they could continue to practice the choreography for the first part and that if it looked acceptable and up to the level of the rest of the group, I would gladly add them back at a later date.

Throughout, I kept thinking: mentor, leader, and teacher. I know I did the right thing for my dancers, but the studio owner does not support my professional decision, which is hurtful and disappointing. I am frustrated and hurt because I want to teach my students more than dance. I believe they need to learn about responsibility and commitment, but my boss thinks otherwise.

The situation is unfair to the dancers who show up and work hard, but it’s also unfair to these two girls to give them false expectations and let a poor work ethic slide.

This family also has opted out of mandatory company events, workshops, trainings, etc. They want the benefits of performing without the work and commitment. This sends the wrong message to the other kids we teach. I don’t want to let this one family take our shine, but it’s been a very disheartening experience. —Ann Marie

A: Hello Ann Marie,

I have always believed that a big part of what we do is teach our dancers the importance of commitment—not only to the art, but to their classmates, teachers, and school. Sadly, however, there are parents who believe that their child should be an exception. These parents think that because they are paying tuition they can do what they like without considering how their actions might affect others. And they don’t realize that the message they are sending to their children is that if you pay enough, you can do whatever you want.

Moreover, when a school owner doesn’t take the proper action in response to an unsatisfactory work ethic or a lack of commitment, she’s telling parents that she cares more about money than about the life lessons young people need to learn. From there it can only snowball as more and more dancers and parents embrace the message that it’s OK to slack off, because there are no repercussions.

The fact that you were willing to allow the dancers to be in the other parts of the production was very generous. I agree with you 100 percent that these dancers let you and their classmates down and that they should not have been allowed to participate in the whole production. —Rhee

Q: Dear Rhee:

Recently, without my knowledge, two of my teachers set up a photo shoot with a photographer friend of theirs and members of our senior company. The photographer wanted to take pictures of dancers to help build a portfolio. I found out when some of the pictures were posted on Facebook and Instagram. The teachers contacted these students’ parents and arranged the photo shoot, yet no one consulted me first.

When I confronted one of the teachers about the photo shoot, she saw nothing wrong with it. I tried to explain potential liability issues, pointing out that these students and parents were my clients and the teachers were my employees. She still didn’t understand. I told her this was not appropriate professional behavior and that it’s not allowed.

I also contacted the parents and told them that these teachers should not have done this without my knowledge and that it was against studio policy to set up events outside the studio. I feel that they needed to know the policy as well.

Please tell me that I am right here. I am disappointed that no one respected me enough to tell me about this outing. I am sure the parents thought I knew about it—the kids probably did too. So they are all innocent. But the teachers? They should know better. Thoughts? —Elise

A: Hello Elise,

I agree that these teachers should have cleared the photo shoot with you before they contacted dancers or parents. At a minimum, their actions suggest a lack of thoughtfulness and respect. You note that these actions also violated studio policy; are your policies written down, regularly reviewed with teachers, and shared with clients?

Just as important, how did the teachers get the students’ and parents’ contact information in the first place? If you let your teachers contact your students at all—even just to schedule lessons or rehearsals, for example—then you may be opening the door for teachers to believe that they have the right to contact students for any reason—such as organizing a photo shoot. And you may be giving teachers and parents opportunities to build relationships that can negatively affect your business.

School owners—or their designated front office staff—need to manage all communication with clients in order to maintain proper teacher/student (and teacher/parent) relationships. Once you open the door to faculty contacting parents, it is hard to close it again, because then teachers may feel that you don’t trust their relationships with your students; even so, you must pull in the reins by telling your teachers not to contact your clients without your consent. I hope this helps and I wish you the best. —Rhee

Q: Dear Rhee,

I need your insight. We are a small studio with a recreational competition team. Props are made by team members’ parents and my husband, either separately or working together, and my competition team contract explains that all prop costs are shared by the team and that props become the property of the studio. We keep all props—along with our gymnastics and incline mats, balance beam, and parallel bar—in a trailer in our parking lot.

A month ago, the trailer was stolen. Our insurance company depreciated its contents by 50 percent; they will pay replacement costs if the prop or equipment is rebuilt or purchased. Insurance will not cover the trailer, so that alone is a $6,000 loss for me.

One of the stolen props was a pop-up house and greenery on a cart, with witch’s legs attached. A student’s mother had purchased the house at a garage sale for $50. The cart, greenery, and legs were additional purchases.

After the theft, the mother sent me an email requesting that I pay her the replacement costs for her daughter’s props, and then she will purchase the replacements. She wants me to sign a contract stating that I will pay her within 30 days; if I don’t agree, then she will not allow her daughter to perform with us this fall.

She is asking for $200 to replace the house, the cart, the greenery, and the legs. I know we can rebuild or replace them for much less. She is the only parent who is making an issue of this; everyone else has been willing to help rebuild or purchase without making demands.

How should I proceed? My husband says no to paying her, and our competition contract supports this position. Either way, in the end, I know this will be a loss for my studio. Any suggestions will be helpful. —Patricia

A: Hi Patricia,

Because you’re in the middle of this situation, it’s hard for you to see clearly, but for me the solution is simple. Sign no contract, and let the parent know that you will replace the prop. But please rethink how you handle props, because parents will become resentful when you get to keep what they have paid for. This situation would have been avoided if the parent had not invested in the prop.

If the studio purchases props or the materials to make them, then you clearly own them and the parents have no financial interest in them. These expenses can be added to the cost of choreography, without explicitly stating that in your literature or contract.

I wish you all the best. —Rhee