Listening to Parent Criticisms, Nationals Conflicts and Video Editing

Q: My studio has been in business for over a decade. One parent suggested that I hold an open forum to discuss any complaints my customers may have. I don’t love the idea, but I respect their opinions and I’m open to hearing their thoughts. What should I do?

A: I suggest steering clear of open forums because they seldom get to the heart of individual complaints. We’ve found the most effective way to get constructive feedback is through phone calls, regular parent-student-teacher conferences and online surveys. We use SurveyMonkey.com. Each fall, we ask families to answer 10–15 questions about our studio, teachers, classes and schedule. The site lets us review and filter responses, so we can notice trends and take action in areas that need improvement. It’s not all negative: Positive feedback helps us clarify our marketing materials so we can promote what our customers truly count on. As incentive to participate, we enter every family that completes our survey in a raffle to win a tuition credit or a $50 gift certificate to a dance retailer. While only 25–30 percent of customers typically complete the survey, the response is helpful. We also always e-mail an exit survey to students who drop out of our programs.

If a parent does not have a welcomed or easy path to direct concerns to studio management, they’ll often find anyone else who will listen. Gossip in the waiting rooms or negative comments posted on social media reach both current and potential customers. You can’t please every customer, but listening to them—instead of avoiding complaints—will make them feel valued and help foster trusting relationships, create customer loyalty and defuse studio drama.

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

DanceStudioOwner.com.

Q: One of the students on my competition team wants to attend a summer intensive. She’s already auditioned for the program and is likely to be accepted. It’s wonderful news, but the program coincides with a Nationals event we’ve planned to attend. What do I do? And is there a way to prevent this in the future? 

A: I can relate well to this problem. As dance teachers, we tend to encourage our students to take advantage of as many opportunities—like summer intensives—for their dance education as possible. But learning to honor commitments they’ve made is also extremely important, not only to their dance education but to their growth as people. Your student has made a commitment to be on the dance team and must understand that her first responsibility is to her teammates, friends and the studio. Perhaps she can miss the first week of the program to attend Nationals, or take a short break to make it work. If there are two sessions, maybe she can defer the first.

In the future, be up-front about your competitive team’s commitments and schedule. Before any choreography has been started, inform all dancers of your Nationals plans and the dates involved. Impress upon them that you must have a full commitment from every dancer, and that if they plan to audition for an intensive, they must keep certain dates reserved for competitions. A great deal of time, money and effort goes into preparing a team for Nationals—on the part of dancers, parents and teachers. No matter the excuse students may give or the opportunity that comes along, we must remember that our job description includes teaching life skills like responsibility and commitment, as well as technique.

Joanne Chapman is the owner of the award-winning Joanne Chapman School of Dance in Ontario, Canada.

Q: I want to add media to my dance class, but I’m not up-to-date with video-editing tools, or ways to include the editing process in lessons. Any ideas?  

A: Editing film is often tedious, and although spending entire classes in front of a computer isn’t ideal, creating dance videos with students is a great way to explore choreography. You can film a phrase of movement and run it backward to see a true retrograde, or you can cut and paste footage to get repetition or create an accumulation. If you teach in a K–12 setting, I recommend finding a technology teacher to partner and collaborate with. You could consider scheduling a few periods in a computer lab, though an entire lab isn’t necessary. Students can use laptops, or even shoot video on an iPad and use the video-editing app that’s already on the device. The app doesn’t have a lot of bells and whistles, but students can make simple edits—like retrograde and cut/paste.

If you’re using an Apple computer, iMovie is preinstalled. This program is considered to be one of the most intuitive video-editing tools around. It’s easy to trim footage, and its built-in transitions and filters give your video a professional look. I personally prefer Final Cut Pro products because the transitions and effects they offer are less preset than those of iMovie, giving me more control over the project. (This is why professional filmmakers choose Final Cut Pro.) Specifically, I use Final Cut Express—it’s a lighter version that’s more user-friendly, though it has unfortunately been recently discontinued. The new, available version, Final Cut Pro X, is on the expensive side: It can be purchased on the App Store for $299.99. I’d recommend iMovie, or a trusted option for PCs is Adobe Premiere (it also works on Macs), which offers much of the same functionality.

Barry Blumenfeld teaches at the Friends Seminary School in New York City. He is an adjunct professor at New York University and on faculty of the Dance Education Laboratory of the 92nd Street Y.

Technique
Nan Melville, courtesy Genn

Not so long ago, it seemed that ballet dancers were always encouraged to pull up away from the floor. Ideas evolved, and more recently it has become common to hear teachers saying "Push down to go up," and variations on that concept.

Charla Genn, a New York City–based coach and dance rehabilitation specialist who teaches company class for Dance Theatre of Harlem, American Ballet Theatre and Ballet Hispánico, says that this causes its own problems.

"Often when we tell dancers to go down, they physically push down, or think they have to plié more," she says. These are misconceptions that keep dancers from, among other things, jumping to their full potential.

To help dancers learn to efficiently use what she calls "Mother Marley," Genn has developed these clever techniques and teaching tools.

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Alwin Courcy, courtesy Ballet des Amériques

Carole Alexis has been enduring the life-altering after-effects of COVID-19 since April 2020. For months on end, the Ballet des Amériques director struggled with fevers, tingling, dizziness and fatigue. Strange bruising showed up on her skin, along with the return of her (long dormant) asthma, plus word loss and stuttering.

"For three days I would experience relief from the fever—then, boom—it would come back worse than before," Alexis says. "I would go into a room and not know why I was there." Despite the remission of some symptoms, the fatigue and other debilitating side effects have endured to this day. Alexis is part of a tens-of-thousands-member club nobody wants to be part of—she is a COVID-19 long-hauler.

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Annika Abel Photography, courtesy Griffith

When the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis last May catalyzed nationwide protests against systemic racism, the tap community resumed longstanding conversations about teaching a Black art form in the era of Black Lives Matter. As these dialogues unfolded on social media, veteran Dorrance Dance member Karida Griffith commented infrequently, finding it difficult to participate in a meaningful way.

"I had a hard time watching people have these conversations without historical context and knowledge," says Griffith, who now resides in her hometown of Portland, Oregon, after many years in New York City. "It was clear that there was so much information missing."

For example, she observed people discussing tap while demonstrating ignorance about Black culture. Or, posts that tried to impose upon tap the history or aesthetics of European dance forms.

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