Ask the Experts: How Can I Create a Drama-Free Studio?

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Q: It seems like all the studios around me are dealing with falling-outs related to teacher drama. How can I create an atmosphere in my studio where this won't happen?


A: Open communication is key. Parents will naturally advocate for their children, especially if they are concerned about any unfairness coming from any member of your faculty. Listen to them so that they don't take their complaints to people who can't solve them. Gossip can escalate into a toxic culture.

Hold your staff accountable: Set clear expectations, including a set of behavior and professional standards, with stated consequences, should they be violated. You can start with a set of core values, principles of business conduct, or simply a mission statement that you declare to be the axis for all ways of being around the business. If it's difficult to gather your staff, try using a private Facebook group to host a Facebook live meeting. Be sure to record the meeting for future reference.

Annual performance reviews for teachers can set standards of excellence and accountability, as well as give studio owners the chance to acknowledge their staff's successes. If, after attempting to coach or train a teacher on repeated occasions, the toxic behavior continues, you may decide that this teacher is not a good fit for your studio. We have found that a teacher who perpetually causes drama is a serious threat to business and should be terminated.

Your good intentions and prompt actions to resolve conflict and create a supportive and positive atmosphere will be recognized and appreciated even when it can be difficult to replace a teacher.

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

By now, most dance educators hopefully understand that they have a responsibility to address racism in the studio. But knowing that you need to be actively cultivating racial equity isn't the same thing as knowing how to do so.

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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Higher Ed
The author, Robyn Watson. Photo courtesy Watson

Recently, I posted a thread of tweets elucidating the lack of respect for tap dance in college dance programs, and arguing that it should be a requirement for dance majors.

According to onstageblog.com, 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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After months of lockdowns and virtual learning, many studios across the country are opening their doors and returning to in-person classes. Teachers and students alike have likely been chomping at the bit in anticipation of the return of dance-class normalcy that doesn't require a reliable internet connection or converting your living room into a dance space.

But along with the back-to-school excitement, dancers might be feeling rusty from being away from the studio for so long. A loss of flexibility, strength and stamina is to be expected, not to mention emotional fatigue from all of the uncertainty and reacclimating to social activities.

So as much as everyone wants to get back to normal—teachers and studio owners included—erring on the side of caution with your dancers' training will be the most beneficial approach in the long run.

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