Q: How do I manage parental expectations? This is an escalating problem at my studio. Parents put ridiculously high demands on their children, and there's no way some of these kids will meet them.
A: We definitely struggle with this, too. A few years ago, we had a very involved mom who was elated when her 12-year-old daughter received her first solo. We explained very clearly that it was for the experience and benefit of working one-on-one with a teacher. Well, at the first competition, when her daughter didn't place in the top three, they both sat in the changing room and cried. We were devastated by their reaction. Since then, we try to address unrealistic expectations before they become a bigger problem.
Here's one strategy that's worked for us to manage expectations but still give students a chance to work toward a goal. We often let a dancer try a higher-level class. We make a note in that student's fall registration schedule that they're allowed to try the next-level class, with the hope that it will be a chance for the dancer to improve her dance vocabulary and be challenged mentally. We only allow them to try these extra classes for two months, and we're very clear about that time limit. (Otherwise, parents might take this to mean that their child is too advanced for the lower-level class that they're actually enrolled in.)
When parents ask me what is realistic to expect, I tell them: that your child will get the opportunity to perform onstage, doing her best and loving what she does. The bonus is that we get to watch and be proud.
Joanne Chapman is the owner of the award-winning Joanne Chapman School of Dance in Brampton, Ontario.