Q: In August I hired a new hip-hop teacher. We were really excited, because he seemed to be very professional and a great dancer. However, parents have expressed concerns over his choreography, and now his classes have dropped from 15-plus to 4 or 5. Should I keep him until May or let him go now? Will this affect my school’s reputation?
A: Good reputations are built on business management, artistic direction, capable faculty and staff, and commitment to customer service and successful students. It is clear you must take action as soon as possible when a situation like this occurs. The red flag is the sharp drop in enrollment and, as the studio owner/director, it’s imperative to meet with the teacher to address the concerns that parents have expressed over the choreography. Did it cause safety issues? If so, there is a legal liability. Was it not age-appropriate? It would be helpful to assess through a meeting or an exit survey with dissatisfied parents/students exactly what they dislike about this teacher and his style.
If the teacher is open to suggestions, willing to be coached and interested in aligning with your school’s culture, this may be an opportunity for a second chance. In that case, create a plan, make adjustments and communicate immediately with all current and dropped students to let them know of the positive changes you have made. Mentoring and shadowing from you or your director are helpful in making sure the standards are upheld.
Though if you’ve determined that this teacher is not a good fit for your studio, the sooner you replace him the better. Your students and parents will respect your ability to maintain a quality program that meets their expectations. You may immediately want to reach out by phone if you think that is best, or distribute a letter just to the students past and present in his classes. It can be handled with a simple statement: “We have chosen to replace Brian with Chris beginning on [date]. We regret any inconvenience this change may cause, but we feel Chris is a better fit for our studio and our students’ needs.” This statement maintains professionalism and respect for everyone involved and minimizes rumors and gossip.
Kathy Blake is the owner of Kathy Blake Dance Studios in Amherst, New Hampshire. She and Suzanne Blake Gerety are the co-founders of DanceStudioOwner.com.
Starting this Saturday, the Children's Museum of Manhattan on the Upper West Side will have an interactive dance exhibit called "Let's Dance!" Basically every facet of dance is featured in the exhibit: kids can explore lighting design with a special child-friendly lighting box; choreograph with the use of props, signs and costumes; create accompaniment with percussion instruments; manipulate posable figures; see incredible dance photography and video; and, best of all, interact with the dance portal, where they can watch, learn and interact with professional and student dance companies like Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Dancing Classrooms, Mark Morris Dance Group and Martha Graham Dance Company. Whew. That's a LOT of great stuff.
Kathleen Kelbe, Pembroke School of Performing Arts | Pembroke, MA
Total budget: $100,000
Project timeline: 3 months (ongoing)
Kelbe expanded from 1,600 to 6,000 square feet. She used Rosco's SubFloor and Adagio vinyl and broke her extensive renovation into three phases.
Ellen Marshall, Off Broadway Dance Center | Fulton, NY
Total budget: $60,000
Project timeline: 3 months
Marshall renovated a Methodist church into a 4,000-square-foot studio, with Stagestep Flooring Solutions' marbleized gray Timestep in her two studios.
Diana Griffin, Fusion Dance Company | Palm Harbor, FL
Total budget: $40,000
Project timeline: 45 days
From restaurant to studio! The checkerboard ceilings were a restaurant leftover that Griffin decided to keep. Her O'Mara sprung floors were self-installed in her 7,000-square-foot space.
Barclay Gibbs, Dance Conservatory of Maryland | Bel Air, MD
Total budget: $10,000
Project timeline: 2 days
Gibbs chose Gerstung Floor Systems' AirBase 600 for her 2,000-square-foot studio. This semi-permanent flooring will travel with her, should she change locations in the future.
Nigel Burgoine, Ballet Theatre of Toledo | Toledo, OH
Total budget: $4,000
Project timeline: 1 day
In her work as director of physical therapy for New York City Ballet, Marika Molnar relies on tools like bands, balls and Pilates equipment to rehabilitate and strengthen dancers. She says there's a place for such tools in daily dance classes, as well. Resistance and stability tools can help students develop strength and even break bad habits. "Say someone is compensating because of a weakness or restriction—that's what they're always going to do," she says, even after a teacher corrects them repeatedly. "If you give them something that makes things a little unfamiliar, their brain has to participate more. It becomes not only a physical exercise but a cognitive one." The dancer learns in a new way, and improves.
Molnar has collaborated with Pilates expert Joan Breibart and PTs at Westside Dance Physical Therapy to create a series of tools and exercises with dancers' training and recovery needs in mind. Here, she shares three of her favorites.
Christy Wolverton had a student who often either missed class or seemed to be sick. "When you're in our pre-professional company, attendance is huge," says Wolverton, owner and director of Dance Industry Performing Arts Center in Plano, Texas. She tried to be patient with the dancer and communicate with her parents to get a better idea of what was going on at home. "When she was diagnosed with a serious illness," she says, "we were relieved that we didn't come down on her for something that wasn't her fault."
Laura Glenn can still remember the excitement she felt watching the Limón Dance Company perform at Central Park in the summer of 1962. "I turned to the person next to me and whispered, 'He's going to be my teacher!'" she says. Two weeks later, she started as a Juilliard freshman, where she indeed studied under the legendary José Limón before joining his company in her second year.