Studio Owners

4 Ways to Cultivate a Loyal (and Happy) Faculty

Studio owner Jill Athridge with her employees at a staff member's wedding. Photo courtesy of Athridge

Support your faculty with these suggestions – so they'll continue supporting you.

Pay more than you have to "When I was first hiring teachers, I read that if you pay people what they're due, they will stick with you," says Karen Daggett Austin. "So I've always paid way over the top, especially for our community in Oregon—it's double what they would make anywhere else. It makes them feel valued, respected and honored."

Team-build When Jennifer Jarnot noticed that her faculty members were operating more as independent contractors than members of the same education team, she created a monthly theme to unify them. "This month, we're focusing on building enrollment," she says. "They're responsible for coming back in a couple of weeks to say what they're doing to spice up their classes—like asking the kids to bring a friend." Jarnot thinks the monthly theme creates solidarity and gets everyone on the same page.

Predict their needs Chip and Melissa Morris provide every resource their faculty members might need, from a steady roster of student assistants to a large CD library to a sizable, well-organized costume closet full of tutus for ballet variations classes.

Offer flexibility Forty percent of the Morrises' faculty members still perform professionally, so Chip and Melissa do their best to honor occasional requests for substitute teachers so that they can perform. "It's tricky—obviously we don't want them gone a ton—but having faculty who are serious about their performing lives gives our students a good model," says Melissa.

Nan Melville, courtesy Genn

Not so long ago, it seemed that ballet dancers were always encouraged to pull up away from the floor. Ideas evolved, and more recently it has become common to hear teachers saying "Push down to go up," and variations on that concept.

Charla Genn, a New York City–based coach and dance rehabilitation specialist who teaches company class for Dance Theatre of Harlem, American Ballet Theatre and Ballet Hispánico, says that this causes its own problems.

"Often when we tell dancers to go down, they physically push down, or think they have to plié more," she says. These are misconceptions that keep dancers from, among other things, jumping to their full potential.

To help dancers learn to efficiently use what she calls "Mother Marley," Genn has developed these clever techniques and teaching tools.

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Teachers Trending
Alwin Courcy, courtesy Ballet des Amériques

Carole Alexis has been enduring the life-altering after-effects of COVID-19 since April 2020. For months on end, the Ballet des Amériques director struggled with fevers, tingling, dizziness and fatigue. Strange bruising showed up on her skin, along with the return of her (long dormant) asthma, plus word loss and stuttering.

"For three days I would experience relief from the fever—then, boom—it would come back worse than before," Alexis says. "I would go into a room and not know why I was there." Despite the remission of some symptoms, the fatigue and other debilitating side effects have endured to this day. Alexis is part of a tens-of-thousands-member club nobody wants to be part of—she is a COVID-19 long-hauler.

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Teachers Trending

Annika Abel Photography, courtesy Griffith

When the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis last May catalyzed nationwide protests against systemic racism, the tap community resumed longstanding conversations about teaching a Black art form in the era of Black Lives Matter. As these dialogues unfolded on social media, veteran Dorrance Dance member Karida Griffith commented infrequently, finding it difficult to participate in a meaningful way.

"I had a hard time watching people have these conversations without historical context and knowledge," says Griffith, who now resides in her hometown of Portland, Oregon, after many years in New York City. "It was clear that there was so much information missing."

For example, she observed people discussing tap while demonstrating ignorance about Black culture. Or, posts that tried to impose upon tap the history or aesthetics of European dance forms.

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