Ask the Experts: The Competition Team is Causing Too Much Drama at the Studio


Q: I'm about to cut my competition team because of drama, stress and the types of parents it attracts. People keep trying to talk me out of it, but I'm burnt out. Any suggestions?

A: Running a competitive program requires a significant amount of time and energy, but it can also be incredibly rewarding, since it nurtures a core group of dancers who are engaged and invested in their training. At one time, you were inspired by your competitive program. Before you cut it, we recommend you assess the cultural value the program has for your school. The problems you're having are symptoms of underlying issues related to the structure and management of the program, and they can be mitigated with some new policies and procedures.

It's time to objectively take an inventory of what is working well and what needs improvement. Review and possibly revise your dancer participation agreement. Be sure to state the details of every aspect of your program for attendance, code of conduct, outside obligations, communication channels and parent conduct. Clearly state consequences for noncompliance. Establishing what behavior is acceptable doesn't mean you won't ever face a difficult situation again, but it does mean you can uphold professional boundaries and standards when issues come up.

At our studio, we meet with everyone prior to the start of a season to review expectations, as well as declare our studio goals, so that everyone knows where we're headed and what it will take to get there. Each team has a parent liaison to our program director, and we directly address every issue that has the potential to cause any drama, negativity or parent conflict.

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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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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, 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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