The Kids Are All Right

Teaching other people’s children takes you away from your own. How to make that work for you, and them.

by Thelma Goldberg

Pam Caira shares a hug with some of her Step-by-Step Dance Studio kids.
Photo courtesy Pam Caira

It’s 4:30 p.m. Do you know where your kids are?

If we’re talking about your dance school kids—i.e., your students—they’re probably standing in front of you, waiting to begin a warm-up. But what about your flesh-and-blood kids—you know, the ones who call you Mom or Dad and who leave wet towels on your bathroom floor?

If your children don’t dance at your studio—or even if they do—it can be a struggle to balance their needs with the needs of your dancers. Most academic school days end by 3 p.m. or so, and those important afterschool-to-early-evening hours are when dance educators are teaching other adults’ kids. And if we are at the studio, who is feeding, transporting, overseeing homework, and keeping tabs on our children?


Dad steps up

Many times when dance teacher mommy is at the studio, a husband happily steps into her role. “I couldn’t have done it without him,” Debbie Lamontagne, owner of North Andover [MA] School of Dance, says about her husband, Leo. “He took care of dinner, homework, baths, laundry, and rides to activities. He even did all the parent–teacher conferences and school events,” she says. “I didn’t feel guilty because we made it work as a family. We dedicated weekend trips in our RV as a special time for us to be together.”

“I set appointments for myself to leave during the weekdays for dinnertime or softball games and I always make school events a priority.” —Catherine Heldt Ebel

Getting over the guilt

Pam Caira, owner of Step-by-Step Dance Studio in Waltham, Massachusetts, says the pressure to attend her sons’ sporting events was strong. Her responsibilities as studio owner caused her to “miss some football games. There was an incredible amount of guilt. I remember watching their preschool graduation on a video because it was at the same time as my dress rehearsal,” says Caira, who would call on their father or her mother to attend her sons’ games.

“At the time they didn’t understand” why she couldn’t attend all their activities, Caira says. “There were definitely some discussions with the boys when they said they felt the studio was more important to me than they were.”

Now that her sons are older, they understand what their mother had to do to build her business. “I had to be the one greeting parents and teaching students,” she says. “The only exceptions were doctor appointments and parent–teacher meetings, when I would get subs for my classes.” Today, with her studio well established, Caira has enough flexibility in her schedule to enjoy the occasional family dinner with her sons.


What’s on the menu? Flexibility

Jennifer Cote sets aside breakfast as a special time with daughter Sophia Grace.
Photo courtesy Jennifer Cote

Endless magazine articles and experts say that sitting around a table for a family meal is essential if children are to grow up happy and well adjusted. This might seem an impossible goal for dance teachers whose prime hours at the studio coincide with dinnertime. Not surprisingly, dance educators have found creative ways to share meals and other quality time with their children.

Michelle Nardini, who teaches at four studios in northern and central New Jersey, picks up her three children from school every day and joins them for an early dinner. When she needs to leave for work, “I use the resources available to me. Every day is different,” she says. “On Tuesdays I bring them with me when I teach at the Y and on Wednesdays my husband comes home early. He or another family member can be with them on Saturdays.” On other days, Nardini’s children go to a friend’s house or a sitter comes by.

“It’s hard for my children to have me away when they know I’m with other kids at the studio, but these are life lessons,” she says. “They understand I need to work.” But because she works during the morning and early evening, she’s available midday. “I can visit the school when necessary and participate as a class parent for school events.”

Friends and family members help drive her children to Scout meetings, baseball games, or dance class, and Nardini is frank about the importance of cultivating friendships and “trust relationships” with the parents of her children’s friends. “We all agree to help each other out as needed,” she says. “It’s all about being a village, raising these kids, and being there for each other as parents and a community.”

“I make a point to sit down with my girls at breakfast to share plans for the day and to catch up with the latest news about school and friends.” —Jennifer Cote

Trust and Crock-Pots

“They get it. They understand,” Catherine Heldt Ebel, owner of Spotlight Dance Academy of New Jersey, says of her five children who range in age from 3-and-a-half to 18. When she opened her studio five years ago, her goal was to create a family-friendly business that her children could be involved with. Since it’s important to her to interact with her clients, she is at the studio almost every day. “I set appointments for myself to leave during the weekdays for dinnertime or softball games and I always make school events a priority,” Ebel says.

While she teaches all day on Saturdays, she does set a limit to her teaching hours. “The key,” she says, “is having good faculty members. I trust my teachers.”

Ebel’s oldest daughter helps by driving her siblings to activities, many of which are at Spotlight. Her family’s dinner might be pizza or a Crock-Pot concoction, but, Ebel says, “my studio offers my own children opportunities for fun activities and lasting friendships.”


Making free time count

Jennifer Cote, owner of Exhale: A School of Dance in Norfolk, Massachusetts, has two children under the age of 7. “I’m lucky to have my mom around to help during afterschool and evening hours,” she says. “I make a point to sit down with my girls at breakfast to share plans for the day and to catch up with the latest news about school and friends.” Like Nardini, Cote involves herself in her children’s days by volunteering in the school library or serving as a room parent during her free morning and early afternoon hours.


Happy parents rule

Many parents today are working parents, yet the afternoon-evening-Saturday schedule of classes and rehearsals (plus the weekends supporting students at competitions or partaking of continuing education conventions) creates an additional parenting burden on dance studio employees.

We get it. And while it’s not easy to let go of the feeling that you are missing something by not being home at night, remember: happy and fulfilled parents make great parents. If teaching makes you happy, then you are giving your kids a wonderful gift.


Thelma’s conclusion

According to DSL’s Tips for Tap Teachers columnist, studio owner, and parent Thelma Goldberg, kids raised by dance educators and studio owners learn:

  • to roll with the punches;
  • to be patient about their needs being met;
  • about making and spending money;
  • to be proud of their mother’s accomplishments;
  • to share responsibilities around the house;
  • to make good plans for family time;
  • to be independent.

And dance educators who are parents learn to:

  • make every moment count;
  • engage in family activities;
  • ask for help;
  • be efficient;
  • let go of perfection and guilt.


Thelma Goldberg’s studio, The Dance Inn in Lexington, Massachusetts, celebrated its 35th anniversary this spring.