Ask the Experts: How Do You Explain Why Inappropriate Dances Keep Beating Us at Competition?

Joanne Chapman cultivates excellence and a familial atmosphere at her Canadian studio. Photo by Don Boskovic/Exposé Studios, courtesy of Chapman

Q: As a studio owner, it's important to me to make age-appropriate choices for music, costuming and choreography. Unfortunately, when we go to competitions, the pieces that aren't age-appropriate are winning. How do I explain these wins to my students and their parents?

A: It's important to remember that views on age-appropriateness can be relative and may fluctuate depending on the demographic of where a studio is located. That being said, we all need to remember we are teaching children. We are the adults, and we must hold ourselves responsible for our music, choreography and costume choices.

I've been to a number of competitions where my students have come in second to routines that push the boundaries of age-appropriateness. Whenever this happens, I'm very honest with myself and take a hard, professional look at what those routines had that mine did not. I've found, more often than not, that those routines were on the whole stronger than mine. Maybe those students displayed a more advanced level of technique and precision than my students. Or maybe those dancers were more in sync with each other and presented a better overall performance than my students. This then becomes an opportunity to explain to my students (and their parents) that those routines were not rewarded because of the costumes they wore or the music they danced to. They won the competition in spite of those factors. I then suggest increasing the number of training hours for my students, to improve both their technique and performance, which would give them a leg up in future competitions.

Joanne Chapman is the owner of the award-winning Joanne Chapman School of Dance in Brampton, Ontario.

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Securing the correct music licensing for your studio is an important step in creating a financially sound business. "Music licensing is something studio owners seem to either embrace or ignore completely," says Clint Salter, CEO and founder of the Dance Studio Owners Association. While it may seem like it's a situation in which it's easier to ask for forgiveness rather than permission—that is, to wait until you're approached by a music-rights organization before purchasing a license—Salter disagrees, citing Peloton, the exercise company that produces streaming at-home workouts. In February, Peloton settled a music-licensing suit with the National Music Publishers' Association out-of-court for an undisclosed amount. Originally, NMPA had sought $300 million in damages from Peloton. "It can get extremely expensive," says Salter. "It's not worth it for a studio to get caught up in that."

As you continue to explore a hybrid online/in-person version of your class schedule, it's crucial that your music licenses include coverage for livestreamed instruction—which comes with its own particular requirements. Here are some answers to frequently asked questions about music licensing—in both normal times and COVID times—as well as some safe music bets that won't pose any issues.

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A 2019 Dancewave training. Photo by Effy Grey, courtesy Dancewave

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Of course, there's no easy answer, and no perfect approach. As social justice advocate David King emphasized at a recent interactive webinar, "Cultivating Racial Equity in the Classroom," this work is never-ending. The event, hosted by Dancewave (which just launched a new racial-equity curriculum) was a good starting point, though, and offered some helpful takeaways for dance educators committed to racial justice.

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The author, Robyn Watson. Photo courtesy Watson

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According to, out of the 30 top-ranked college dance programs in the U.S., tap dance is offered at 19 of them, but only one school requires majors to take more than a beginner course—Oklahoma City University. Many prestigious dance programs, like the ones at NYU Tisch School of the Arts and SUNY Purchase, don't offer a single course in tap dance.

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