Ask the Experts: When Parents Expect Too Much

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.

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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Teaching Tips
Getty Images

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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