As a dance teacher, chances are you strive daily to be a great role model for your students—cheerful, enthusiastic and motivating, offering plenty of positive reinforcement as well as a sense of clear control over your classroom. But what happens when your personal life gets in the way of those good intentions?


By nature, dance teachers—and dancers in general—are a hardy and resilient group, with stamina that helps them through a physically grueling schedule, not to mention the discipline and dedication that dance requires. That devotion likely spills over into everything they do, meaning that when the going gets tough, many teachers buckle down and keep going, however stressful that may be.

Maintain mind over matter.

For many teachers, the strategy is to first and foremost commit to leaving those personal issues at the door when teaching class. “We all have problems outside of the studio. Who wants to take class from someone who has their problems hanging out all over the place, or who has a negative attitude? No one," says Maria Triano, owner of the PA Dance Network in Pennsylvania. “So with that in mind, I focus only on what my job is while I'm at the studio." Sometimes, she admits, it comes down to good old-fashioned mind tricks. “When other thoughts come into my mind, I allow them to pass by without getting attached to them or the emotions they create. It's not easy, but I have no choice," says Triano, who names divorce, family issues, self-doubt, problematic home renovation and monthly hormonal changes as things that have affected her mood while teaching class.

Triano cites yoga and spending quiet time reading as ways she maintains her mental health in her busy life. “I do a guided meditation at home before leaving for the studio, even if it's a three-minute one. It allows me to relax my whole body and it takes my mind elsewhere, giving me space to be more present when I walk through the door of my studio. And I make sure to get outside every day," she says. “It's like filling up your gas tank and using up all of the gas. If you don't have ways of refueling yourself, you are empty."

Try reflective thinking.

For times when emotion gets the best of you and you feel overwhelmed, take a minute to reflect on the situation before acting out emotionally, recommends Dr. Harlene Goldschmidt, a psychologist who also serves as director of arts education and wellness at the New Jersey Dance Theatre Ensemble. “Strong emotions push out logical thinking," she says. “When you feel yourself getting worked up over a situation with a student, take the time to be reflective and ask yourself: Is there an underlying reason why I'm getting upset? Is this situation representing something else?" For instance, maybe a disobedient student is reminding you of the way your children have been acting at home, or it's triggering a memory of your childhood when a classmate was mean to you. “Try to figure out what larger issues are at play, and you'll feel that much more in control and equipped to deal with the situation," she says.

Talk it out—but be professional.

Goldschmidt also advises keeping a sense of humor, because it can relieve tension. When you're feeling upset, make a joke or say something lighthearted that will make you and your students laugh for a few minutes, while still being respectful and class-appropriate. And she says it's imperative that every teacher put a support system in place. “A teacher should have someone she can talk to—not necessarily a professional, but a colleague, a friend, a spouse. She needs a place to vent, to put it out there." Talking to someone who is understanding and not judgmental, who will listen and take the time to help you sort out your problems can be one of the best ways to help keep the problem out of the studio, she says.

But Goldschmidt says think twice before blurting out at the studio or during class the frustration or problems you are having. “This varies from teacher to teacher on what their comfort level is on sharing with students what may be going on in their lives. Just be sure you aren't mentioning your problems to solicit sympathy or help from your students. Maintain clear boundaries between yourself as an adult and your students. You could just say, 'I'm going through a stressful time in my life,' if you don't want to get into details." Above all, she says, “Always respect the boundaries between teacher and student. Keep it strictly professional, and be consistent."

Sending Out An SOS

What happens when it's the students' life issues that threaten to spill over into class? One teacher, Dalana Moore of Encore Performance Company in Vestavia Hills, Alabama, found a unique—yet perfectly fitting—way of helping her students: She encouraged them to express their emotions through dance.

“As teachers, we know immediately when children are simply not themselves. While it is unprofessional to get too involved with the personal lives of your students, because we do care, it is nearly impossible to ask them to just leave their issues at the door," she says. “As educators and mentors, we need to let the children know that their feelings are natural and normal. I wanted the students to be able to face their emotions in a positive way."

So to help a group of her students deal with jealous bullying at school, Moore created a dance project with them. “We designed a piece that represented the vicious circle of jealousy and how kids will often follow the bad just to fit in," she says. “I chose an upbeat '80s song that could carry many of the emotions associated with typical pre-teen and teenage school drama. Each week, we dealt through dance and discussion with the different feelings and scenarios associated with this teenage tragedy. There was a positive message in the story, too, which is always a plus. And the choreography primarily consisted of strong movements, which we all know helps to release frustration. In the end, it proved to be a very healthy project."

The Conversation
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Here, Clough shares her best advice for new studio owners, and the answers to some common questions that come up when you're getting started.

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Facebook. Twitter. Instagram. Snapchat. The list goes on—and you have to decide not only what type of presence you'll have on each platform, but also whether you and your faculty will network with students and family members. How can you set boundaries for yourself and your faculty on social media?

The easiest option may be to prohibit these interactions entirely. At the Harid Conservatory in Boca Raton, Florida, staff and faculty may not "friend" or otherwise connect with current students or those under the age of 18 on social media, explains Gordon Wright, Harid's executive vice president and director.

At the Dance Zone in Henderson, Nevada, the handbook states that social media should be handled "in a professional manner." Owner Jami Artiga encourages students and faculty to share photos and tag the studio, but prefers not to "friend" kids from her personal account. "Of course, my son dances at the studio, and we have teachers with kids who go here, so sometimes the line gets blurry," she says.

Robin Dawn Ryan of the Robin Dawn Academy in Cape Coral, FL, also has a few students on her Facebook friend list, "but I don't put a lot about my personal life on the site," she says. She uses the platform more to keep track of what dancers and their parents are posting about the studio. "If they put up something they shouldn't," she says, whether that's a bullying post or an unflattering image, "I'll ask them to take it down."

Ryan tends to keep her social-media shout-outs generic: "So proud of this year's graduates!" and "Our dancers looked beautiful at prom!" That way, she can show support without spending hours online or worrying about missing any one student's achievement.

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Many a studio owner might agree that the idea of maternity leave is laughable. "So many people say, 'I was back after two weeks—we had a competition,'" says Meagan Ziebarth, a former owner who sold her studio two years ago. "If that works for you, and you feel great, wonderful. But I feel passionately that having a baby is one of the most transformational life events, and you don't need to put that kind of pressure on yourself and accept that that's the norm."

So how can you take the maternity leave you want and make sure your studio doesn't run itself into the ground? We asked three who did it for their best advice—including what they wish they'd done differently.

Be OK With Crazy

Suzana Stankovic and Natalia.

Suzana Stankovic
Wild Heart Performing Arts Studio
Astoria, New York
Enrollment: 500 (drop-in)
2 years in business

Suzana Stankovic signed the lease on her New York studio a mere 10 days before she gave birth to her first child. The space she'd been renting hourly for private and group lessons unexpectedly became available for a lease takeover, and, despite the timing, it felt like the right decision. "I said, 'This is happening for a reason,'" she says.

For the first two months after her baby was born, Stankovic recovered (she'd had a C-section). She held a soft opening in mid-November (2 1/2 months postdelivery) for existing students and officially opened her studio—with a drop-in class format—to the public the following January (4 months postdelivery).

  • Figure out your childcare. "It's the most important thing. You've got to figure that out, whether that means visiting daycare centers and finding one you're comfortable with or involving your entire family," she says. Stankovic's parents are retired and live near her, luckily, so they became her nannies. "That's the major reason I was able to do this," she says.
  • Expect to feel different after giving birth. "When I had my baby, and it came time to leave her and go to work, it was very, very difficult," says Stankovic. "I wasn't prepared for that. I was texting my mother constantly: 'Is she OK? Did she have her milk? Is she colicky?' It was hard to be fully present, initially. Be prepared for the effects of sleep deprivation and not eating well and the postpartum blues."
  • Have a support system in place. That's how Stankovic got through the roughest times, postbirth. "Have a friend or your husband or partner," she says. "And know that the very difficult times are temporary. They do abate. And if they don't, there are resources. There's help out there."
  • Be OK with crazy. "I would plan my lesson and do my combos in the shower," she says. "On my way to the studio, I'd finish up my grand allégro in my head. I'd send e-mails in the middle of changing her diaper—I'd write two sentences, change the diaper, write two more, then hit send." The result of so much multitasking? "I realized, 'Wow, I can do so much more than I thought I could,'" says Stankovic. "I'm ready for anything."
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