How should I handle 'drama' at my studio?

Q: How do you handle “drama” at your studio? Our dance company policy manual states that bad-mouthing, arguing and general lack of respect will not be tolerated. My co-director wants me to come down hard when we feel that someone has broken these rules, but I know people want to feel validated and understood. I’m struggling with the balance of being assertive yet understanding. I feel that if I sound accusatory, they will be on the defensive and nothing positive will be accomplished. How do you define the difference between entitled opinions and drama/gossip/bad-mouthing?


A: The fear of losing students will often have us back down from confrontation; however, inaction will not make negativity disappear. Gossip and drama are often the result of exaggerating the facts, a misunderstanding or an unmet expectation. If you are accused of playing favorites, unfair class placements or general insensitivity, for instance, you must take action to get to the bottom of the complaint.


If someone violates a stated policy or clearly impacts your studio culture in a negative way, you must stop the behavior from escalating to drama. Take action immediately and make a phone call or schedule a meeting to get to the bottom of what is wrong. Always include parents and others involved and let all parties know you want to move forward in a positive way.


Manage drama by encouraging parents, teachers and students to take a concern directly to the person who can to do something about it, rather than complaining to others or spreading rumors. Be available to discuss issues about teaching styles, audition results, solo choices, costume picks, music selection, personality conflicts, payment plans and rehearsal schedules. This does not mean you will necessarily change your choices or decisions, but it conveys that you value their opinions, both positive and negative. In this way, you and your co-director will display solidarity and leadership to ensure a respectful and professional environment.


Kathy Blake is the owner of Kathy Blake Dance Studios in Amherst, New Hampshire. She and Suzanne Blake Gerety are the co-founders of

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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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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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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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