Ask the Experts: Getting Parents on Board

Q: I'm tired of parents making excuses for their children about tardiness, not applying corrections and lack of motivation. How do I get parents on board with me?

A: I agree with you that parents are too quick to make excuses for their children. The message these “excuse parents" are sending their children is: “I can do what I want—my parents will protect me." Their kids end up lacking confidence to make good decisions—the confidence that comes from dealing with consequences.

I encourage dancers to take personal responsibility for their behavior. When students come to my class late or fail to apply corrections, I comment on it openly, in front of the class and often with the door open, so anyone watching or listening can hear. I am never mean or condescending, but I make sure they know I'm disappointed in their performance.

I will not speak to parents of dancers older than 13 unless the dancer is present. This protects my relationship with my students, because they don't feel that we're talking behind their backs. At my competition team meeting in October, I let my parents know that all dancers will be held accountable for their actions. I know a 10-year-old doesn't drive herself to class, but she's still responsible for being on time. Get parents on board by clearly outlining what your expectations are, why you have them and how you'll handle the situation if they aren't met.

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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