Ask The Experts: Dealing with Hostile Teachers

Q: How should I deal with a teacher who is hostile or defensive anytime I need to ask what’s happening in class or discuss a parent’s concern? How do you know when a teacher isn’t the right fit versus giving him or her another chance to follow your studio policies?

A: Building relationships with teachers and helping them feel like part of your team requires ongoing conversations that both offer praise and identify concerns. Create a culture of respect based on clear guidelines. It is important to put your expectations and methods of holding teachers accountable in writing with a contract or agreement. This way, teachers can expect communication regarding any issue that would interfere with the overall success of the studio or their classes.

In this document, identify the roles and responsibilities of the teachers, staff and management, regarding your studio policies and procedures, mission statement and code of ethics. Delineate the expectations you have for professionalism, such as ongoing evaluation and review of customer feedback. Consider adding an artistic direction clause that states all programs, methodology and conduct of the teacher are subject to evaluation from the director/owner.

If you already have a contract with clear guidelines and are still having issues, set a private meeting and give this teacher an opportunity to choose whether he or she is onboard with your employment terms. If this teacher generally has a negative attitude or difficult personality, the potential damage this may cause to studio morale must be considered. In that case, it may be the time to let this teacher go.

Kathy Blake is the owner of Kathy Blake Dance Studios in Amherst, New Hampshire. She and Suzanne Blake Gerety are the co-founders of

Photo by B Hansen Photography, courtesy of Suzanne Blake Gerety

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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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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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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