Teaching Tips

Ask the Experts: How Do I Handle Parents Who Complain About Their Child's Placement in Choreography?

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Q: What do you do with parents who constantly complain about where their daughter is placed in choreography?


A: I think most dance teachers can relate to this question. A few years ago, I had a mom who counted how many times her child was in the front row compared to everyone else. I held a meeting with both mom and daughter, which included an honest discussion about everyone's expectations, that helped defuse the situation.

I understand that every parent wants the best for their child, but how an outside choreographer uses dancers in a piece is subjective. When it comes to in-house teachers and choreographers, we always try to create pieces that highlight all of our dancers in the best way possible. We find this is particularly important in group routines, since they are meant to represent a combination of all the dancers and what they each bring to the group.

Everyone is important; what row they are in and how many times they are featured is not. What each dancer brings to the piece, how invested they are and how much they grow from the experience is what matters. When parents choose to judge their child's value as a dancer on how many times they're in the front, it's unfair to you as a teacher, but more importantly, it's unfair to their child. Some dancers are stronger performers than others, and they will be featured more often. That is just a fact. A team is made up of many individuals who should be focused on using their abilities to make the team great.

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Photo by Yvonne M. Portra, courtesy Faulkner

It's a Wednesday in May, and 14 Stanford University advanced modern ­dance students are logged on to Zoom, each practicing a socially distanced duet with an imaginary person. "Think about the quality of their personality and the type of duet you might have," says their instructor Katie Faulkner, "but also their surface area and how you'd relate to them in space." Amid dorm rooms, living rooms, dining rooms and backyards, the dancers make do with cramped quarters and dodge furniture as they twist, curve, stretch and intertwine with their imaginary partners.

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Music
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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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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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