Studio directors share viewing policies that work.
Crafting a class observation policy that makes students, teachers and parents happy is no easy feat. After all, shows like “Dance Moms” make it seem normal for parents to watch—and often interrupt—every class. But depending on your studio’s layout and your parents’ behavior, this is often infeasible. How can you keep parents abreast of students’ progress without distracting your dancers? Dance Teacher got the inside scoop from six studios with methods that work.
Watch all you want, but do not disturb
At Prestige Dance Studio in Federal Way, Washington, director Stephanie Cox has found more visibility is better. Parents are always welcome to watch class through viewing windows, plus, on three to four scheduled observation days, they can sit inside the classroom. Cox explains that the windows have mesh curtains in case of an extremely distracting family member, but that they’re still thin enough for parents to see through. “I like the curtains to be open, because the little kids love watching the big kids,” she adds. “They get to know the older dancers, and it gives them inspiration for when they’re in class.”
Kim Semmel, director of Dance With Kim in Lehighton, Pennsylvania, gives parents the option to see without being seen. She equips her studio with closed-circuit TVs in the waiting room in addition to viewing windows. “If little ones are distracted, their parents can step over to the monitors and watch there,” says Semmel, who focuses on keeping her students so busy that they don’t feel the need to look over at their parents in the window. “I like that parents can see what their child is doing in the classroom,” she says. “I want them to see the progress we’re making.”
Sneak a peek, within reason
Sometimes, giving parents permission to watch is enough to make them not need to. The Cypress Elite Dance Studio website states that, although parents are allowed to watch through viewing windows, teachers “encourage parents not to watch their child every week.” Owner Kimberley Davis says most parents at her Tomball, Texas, studio like to watch their kids at the beginning of the year, but that over time, they’d usually rather read or run errands. And, since she’s installed one-way glass in her viewing windows, she doesn’t worry about kids getting distracted during those first weeks when crowds of parents form. “The parents can see the dancers, but the dancers can’t see their parents,” she says. “As a mom myself, I like to be able to check in on my kid. These parents are paying me money, so they deserve to keep track of what their kids are doing if they want to.”
Michelle Bernard, director at Jill Listi Dance Studio in Lafayette, Louisiana, faces a traffic issue in her studio. Though she appreciates that parents want to watch their children, she says their four-studio space, which usually has four classes going on at once, just doesn’t hold that many people. So she makes class observations a carefully scheduled occasion. The school has developed a rotating system so that only one studio’s windows are open to parents for viewing each week. Teachers hand out schedules to parents at the beginning of the year, and Bernard posts them in the studio lobby and online, as well. “Logistically, if we have every student’s parent watching at the same time, it’s a nightmare, both in the parking lot and in the lobby,” she says. “We also feel that parents see more improvement if they’re not watching every week. It’s like watching a child grow. When you’re with them every day, you don’t notice it, but if you see them after a month, they look so much taller.”
The studio also uses one-way mirrors to lessen student distraction—although Bernard says it doesn’t stop some parents from trying to communicate with their kids. “We’ve had the occasional parent knock on the window to try to make their kids pay attention if they see that they’re distracted,” says Bernard. “Of course, that just distracts them more.” In these cases, it’s the individual teacher’s responsibility to take the parent aside and assure them that the teacher is the only authority figure needed in the room.
No parents allowed
Your studio parents may not be as bad as the “Dance Moms” crew, but that doesn’t mean you want them lingering, critiquing your teaching or distracting your dancers. That’s why some studio owners, like Dena Kay Botticelli, forbid parents from viewing almost entirely. At her DK Dance Studio in Webster, New York, studio doors for younger dancers are closed, unless a dancer is having a hard time transitioning to taking class independently. Parents are invited to watch twice a year. “We want the kids to develop independence, and we know they don’t act the same when Mom or Dad is watching,” she says. “I explain to parents that we don’t have them watch, because we want their kids to focus on the task at hand instead of focusing on what Mom’s doing.” Botticelli stresses that the most important step in getting parents to understand her policy is implementing it from the start of the year, so parents know what to expect.
Xpressions Dance Academy in Nampa, Idaho, also discourages parents from watching classes. Office manager Chantal Bleier says that scheduling “Watch Weeks” three times a year gets parents excited about the privilege instead of upset over the policy. “We make it a big deal. We have cookies in the lobby, and we really showcase what the kids have learned in the last two months,” Bleier says. “The parents love it, and the kids can’t wait for Mom, Dad, Grandma and Grandpa to come watch.”
Of course, telling a stubborn mom that she can’t do something can get you some pushback. But Bleier says she only hears concerns from the occasional nervous mother of a very young child who has never been left alone. To quell her fears, Xpressions will allow the mother to come back about 10 minutes before the end of class, once the child is already settled, and watch through the darkly tinted window on the studio door. “She’ll just be able to see a little bit, but it’s enough to see that her child is doing just fine,” Bleier says. “I think a lot of parents worry that their kid won’t participate in class if they’re not there, but actually the exact opposite happens, since they can focus 100 percent of their attention on learning.” DT
Rachel Zar is a frequent contributor to Dance Teacher.
Photo (top) courtesy of The Cypress Elite Dance Studio; courtesy of Kim Semmel