Complaints and criticisms, while inevitable, offer opportunities to make your operation more solid and grow your studio.

Need a timeout from incessant parent problems? We’ve got solutions to help you keep your sanity.

As a studio owner, you know that parents are valuable partners when it comes to educating their children. But even the best partners don’t always see eye to eye. What parents believe is right for their kids is not always what’s best for your studio. So how can you make these differences a constructive part of your business?

By having policies in place, thoughtfully listening for what’s behind parents’ concerns and communicating clearly and regularly with them. “We’re also in the business of training adults,” says Phyllis Balagna, owner of Steppin’ Out, in Lee’s Summit, Missouri. “Communication and establishing a positive customer relationship are essential. Parents must know what your policies are, and you must set boundaries.”

Here, we break down three common parent problems—from the parent’s perspective—and offer straightforward solutions. As a studio owner, you’ll always encounter problems. Instead of considering them obstacles, think of them as feedback: opportunities to gain new insight and improve and refine your business.

#ParentProb: “Why isn’t my kid ____?”

Disappointments happen. Not everyone receives a solo, makes the competitive team, gets the OK to start pointe or earns the coveted front-and-center spot for recital dances. And often, parents feel the disappointment more keenly than students do. While you can show understanding for a parent advocating for their child, you can also educate them about what will serve their child as a dancer. An important part of dance training is helping students deal with disappointment in a mature and constructive way.

#SOS (Studio Owner Solution)

Form a relationship with parents from the beginning, to establish trust. “I have one-on-one parent meetings at the start of each year,” says Balagna. “I make myself available to parents, sans kids, to discuss customer needs and expectations.”

Discuss student expectations. Amy Blake, who has run Amy Blake’s Academy of Dance in Friendswood, Texas, for nearly 20 years, requires each member of the studio’s competitive and performance company to write an essay about why they are in the company. “I learn their wishes separate from their parents’,” she says.

Establish your policies in writingand have parents and students sign a form stating they’ve read and understand where your studio stands on the authority and decision-making of the faculty. Then post your policy in the studio, publish it on your website and send out friendly reminders at key times, such as just before casting.

Set up a form online and on paper at the studio for parents to request a private meeting. This will allow you to review any concerns in question, create a plan of action and arrange a time to talk. Channeling concerns into a structured discussion helps parents feel their kids are being taken care of.

Always have the discussion face to face; e-mails can be easily misunderstood. Go over the child’s strengths, and stress that comparison isn’t wise or fair. Often people just need to be heard, and once your position is explained and reasons outlined, they will accept it as best for their child, too.

Stay positive. A teacher’s attitude can diffuse many situations. “When a child has a breakthrough moment, I tell the parent personally,” says Balagna. “If parents know I’m excited and pleased, 99 percent of the time, they’re happy.”

#ParentProb: “What are all these fees for?”

Most parents worry about balancing their family budget. And, particularly if they’re new to dance, they see fees—recital fees, registration fees, competition and convention fees, costume fees, choreography fees, master class fees—as a mounting set of bills. But you know you need to balance your studio’s budget, too—and your business has many expenses parents may not be aware of.

#SOS

Be clear. Explain each fee and what it covers. Remind parents that a lot goes on behind the scenes, like developing concepts, selecting and editing music and choosing costumes, and that fees cover these real costs of running a business. Emphasize the value of your business—the best teachers, classiest recital venue, most stunning costumes, top customer service—to reassure parents that these fees are money well-spent.

Communicate regularly. “A parent meeting once a year solves most of the issues regarding money,” says Balagna. “I also give parents whose kids are enrolled in competitions 10 months notice on those fees.”

#ParentProb: “What’s the big deal if my kid misses class?”

Schedules get busy and parents may not understand how absenteeism affects the whole class, especially if it’s preparing a performance. When a class doesn’t perform well, the kids are let down—and so is your business. Most studios have stricter absentee policies for competition team students than for recreational students, but in both cases, parents need to understand what these policies are, and that they’re taken seriously. You can reserve the right to make allowances in special circumstances, of course, but it is important to communicate that ultimately, to succeed, kids need to feel responsibility and ownership.

#SOS

Set a limit on the number of absences. At Jane Carter’s studio, Dance Academy USA, teachers take roll for the competition team, and missing students are put on probation. They get an e-mail notification stating that if absences continue, the student will be dropped from the team. If a student is absent the week before a competition, she is staged out. “We tell them to consider trying next year when they can be more fully committed,” says Carter. “You’re only good to that team if your body is there.”

Institute accountability. Blake’s Code of Conduct, which every student must sign line by line, stipulates that students must notify the studio by e-mail of any absences; this e-mail is printed out and given to the teachers. If a student is gone three weeks in a row, the office notifies parents. “If a student anticipates a few absences, we place them on the end of the routine,” says Blake, “so if they don’t come or they quit, we can exit them and it doesn’t affect the entire recital.”

Treat your students (and their parents) like pros. Demonstrate clearly how important commitment and training are—and that you offer students a professional experience in return—and see them respond like pros. DT

Charlotte Barnard is a New York City writer who frequently covers retail and design.

Let It Go (Positively)

Sometimes your relationship with a parent may reach the point of no return. Maybe her child has missed several competition team rehearsals without explanation, or she’s being very vocal around other parents about her plans to take her child to another studio. Meet with this parent and address your differences in a positive, constructive manner. Thank her for the time she and her child have devoted to your studio, acknowledge that their needs have changed and let the parent know you understand it’s time for a change. You’ll be letting them go with your reputation and dignity intact.

 

Thinkstock (2)

Dance Teacher Tips
Photo by Jayme Thornton for Dance Magazine

When choosing music for tap, Jason Samuels Smith encourages teachers to start with classic jazz music. Improvisation, call and response, and syncopated rhythms embedded in the genre and its history, in general, help students to understand the structure of tap, which is different than other styles of dance. "Tap dancers have the responsibility to be more than just a visual artist," he says. "They're an instrument and a sound."

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Success with Just for Kix
Bill Johnson, Courtesy Just for Kix

Running a dance studio is a feat in itself. But adding a competition team into the mix brings a whole new set of challenges. Not only are you focusing on giving your dancers the best training possible, but you're navigating the fast-paced competition and convention circuit. Winning is one goal, but you also want to create an environment that's fun, educational and inspiring for young artists. We asked Cindy Clough, executive director of Just For Kix and a studio owner with over 40 years of experience, for her advice on building a healthy dance team culture:

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Photo Courtesy of Ballet Next

In 2011, when former American Ballet Theatre principal Michele Wiles departed the company and formed BalletNext, she found an artistic freedom she'd been longing for. Along with new collaborations with choreographers and musicians, she began working with trumpeter Tom Harrell, who introduced her to the multilayered sounds of jazz. "The dancers are another instrument to a jazz musician," says Wiles. Pairing this music genre with her classical foundation has been pivotal in defining her style. "I have this classical facility, but my mind is more contemporary. Jazz is a good intersection for my work," she says.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by The Studio Director

As a studio owner, you're probably pretty used to juggling. Running a business is demanding, with new questions and challenges pulling your attention in a million different directions each day.

But there's a solution that could be saving you time and money (and sanity!). Studio management systems are easy-to-use software programs designed for the particular needs of studio owners, offering tools like billing, enrollment, inventory and emails, all in one place. The right studio management system can help you handle the day-to-day tasks that bog you down as a business owner, leaving you more time for the most important work—like connecting with students and planning creative curriculums for them. Plus, these systems can keep you from spending extra money on hiring multiple specialists or using multiple platforms to meet your administrative needs.

So how do you make sure you're choosing a studio management system that offers the same quality that your studio does? We talked to The Studio Director—whose studio management system provides a whole host of streamlined features—about the must-haves for any system, and the bonuses that make an excellent product stand out:

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Summit
Photo by Rachel Papo

Martin Harvey brought a little movie star charm into morning ballet class at our New York Dance Teacher Summit. (His acting credits include Gossip Girls, All My Children, Dirty Dancing, A Chorus Line, Carousel, plus Metropolitan Opera productions of Carmen and Manon Lescaut.) Educated at the Royal Ballet School in London, he danced many principal roles for The Royal Ballet during his 12-year career.

Mark Your Calendar

Join us in Long Beach, CA, July 26–28, or in NYC, August 1–3, for our 2019 Dance Teacher Summit.

Dance Teacher Tips
Thinkstock

Q: What suggestions do you have for dancers to get their shoulder blades to lie flat on their backs?

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Turn It Up Dance Challenge
Courtesy Turn It Up

With back-to-back classes, early-morning stage calls and remembering to pack countless costume accessories, competition and convention weekends can feel like a whirlwind for even the most seasoned of studios. Take the advice of Turn It Up Dance Challenge master teachers Alex Wong and Maud Arnold and president Melissa Burns on how to make the experience feel meaningful and successful for your dancers:

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Summit
Photo by Sarah Ash, courtesy of Larkin Dance

Ask Michele Larkin-Wagner and Molly Larkin-Symanietz what sets them and Maplewood, Minnesota–based Larkin Dance Studio apart, and they immediately give the credit to their mom. Shirley Larkin founded the school in 1950 and continued to oversee the growing business until she passed away in 2011. "She put Minnesota on the map for dance training and made other local studios step up to the plate to become as strong as we are," Michele says. "A lot of people's lives are better because of Shirley Larkin."

For Michele and Molly, following in their mom's footsteps was a no-brainer. "I knew I was going to be a choreographer and take over the studio," Michele says. To Molly, seven years Michele's junior and the baby out of six siblings, the studio was always a second home. The two sisters trained across genres but had distinct specialties: Michele found her niche in jazz, musical theater and lyrical, while Molly excelled in tap. In the summers, they'd travel for workshops in Chicago, New York City and Los Angeles. While Michele was in class with jazz legends like Gus Giordano, JoJo Smith, Luigi and Frank Hatchett, Molly was taking tap classes with the likes of Brenda Bufalino and Phil Black.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Summit
Photo courtesy of Gandarillas

In Macarena Gandarillas' jazz class at California State University, Fullerton, a sign in the studio reads, "Never underestimate the power of determination." This simple mantra embodies what has made this self-described "danceaholic" such an impactful teacher.

When Gandarillas came to Los Angeles at age 6 with her family from Santiago, Chile, the language barrier was beyond overwhelming—until her mom enrolled her in ballet classes. Gandarillas found an instant love. "There were no Spanish-speaking kids at my school," she says. "But with dance I could communicate with my body. I'd finally found my voice."

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Getty Images

Q: Is teaching for an after-school program a good way to find a job in K–12?

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Summit
Photo courtesy of Inspire School of Arts and Sciences

It was the morning of November 8, 2018, and Jarrah Myles' first-period choreography students were in last-minute rehearsals for their fall dance concert that evening. "All of a sudden my students' phones started ringing like crazy," says Myles, a teacher at Inspire School of Arts and Sciences, a Chico, California, high school whose dance and theater programs Myles helped establish in 2010. "And once they answered, I saw these tragic faces staring back at me."

Keep reading... Show less

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox