When it comes to teaching Pre-K to fifth-graders, behavior issues are inevitable. Whether it's a child who wants to run around the room or a student who just flat-out refuses to follow instructions, knowing how to respond can be challenging. Compound that with the added obstacles of a K–12 school environment—where you may have an unusual dance space to teach in, limited class time or students who are just not interested in dance—and taking care of behavioral problems quickly and compassionately becomes even more essential.

Here, two Pre-K–5 teachers and one mental health professional offer their best strategies for dealing with four common behavior issues.


For the child who doesn't want to participate…

Take a moment to check in with where your students are coming from. "Because it's a school and not a dance studio, I'm very aware that not every student wants to dance," says Omar Rodriguez Diaz, the exploratory arts teacher at the New School of San Francisco. Likewise, Esmeralda Kundanis-Grow, who works with 2- to 3-year-olds at Temple Emanu-El Preschool in San Francisco, points out the importance of recognizing how students might be arriving to class. "It takes time to acclimate to any new experience and new environment," she says. "Sometimes the shy may not really be shy. They may have just woken up from a nap or are self-regulating from separating from a caregiver. They may just be wary of what the room holds."

In these situations, taking the time to get to know your students and earn their trust can work wonders. "I work to build a relationship with them by playing games, doing warm-up activities and a lot of yoga and breathing exercises," says Angélica Medina, a mental health consultant with Oakland Unified School District. "Even just being silly or allowing yourself to be vulnerable with them will help build that trust."

For the attention-seeker…

The squeaky wheel often gets the grease, but in a dance class, turning your full attention to that one student who is working hard to distract you or others can be detrimental to the rest of the class.

Medina explains that children exhibiting attention-seeking behavior are yearning for a connection. When confronted with this kind of behavior, she takes it as a learning opportunity in communication. "When I see children who are wanting to connect with me, I prompt them to ask me for what they need: 'Do you need a hug?' 'Do you want me to read a book?'" Medina explains that this reinforces their ability to express themselves, rather than the negative behavior itself.

For the tantrum-thrower…

Temper tantrums are the ultimate disruptive classroom behavior and can signify a lot of different problems. First, check in with whether the student is overstimulated, says Kundanis-Grow. Outbursts might just be a response to sensory overload, so having a safe space off to the side of the room where the student can calm down often works wonders. "I like to offer the space for them to feel their feelings," she says. Rodriguez Diaz calls this the "Cool Down Corner" in his classroom and only has students sit out for as many minutes as their age.

When addressing a student throwing a tantrum, be mindful that the words you say and how you say them are extremely important. "Don't underestimate the effectiveness of a change in tone," says Rodriguez Diaz. Medina tries to avoid phrases like, "No, don't do that," opting instead for positive language that recognizes what they're experiencing and offers a choice. "For example, I might say, 'It looks like you are really upset. You might need to take a break. What would you like to do for that break? Read a book or take a walk?'" Because students aren't thinking rationally when they are upset, keeping the choice to only two options works best.

For the hyperactive child…

"Stay calm," says Rodriguez Diaz. Because children learn so much by observing their teacher, modeling the behavior you want to see from them is paramount. He points out that some hyperactive children might be bored and just need an additional challenge. Try offering different levels of difficulty in your games and exercises throughout class.

The Conversation
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When it comes to running a thriving dance studio, Cindy Clough knows what she's talking about. As executive director of Just For Kix and a studio owner for more than four decades, she's all too aware of the unique challenges the job presents, from teaching to scheduling to managing employees and clients.

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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When ballet star David Hallberg sought out the medical team at The Australian Ballet to help him recover from his ankle surgeries, one of the things rehabilitation specialist Megan Connelly had him learn was to jump from his hips. By doing so, he learned to put less stress on his lower legs and feet and access the powerhouse group of muscles surrounding the hips, most commonly referred to as the glutes. While many parts of his rehab were particular to him, understanding how to properly engage the glutes is something many professional and pre-professional dancers can stand to gain from.

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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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