Q: I just lost the Nutcracker venue that I’ve booked eight years in a row. What do I do?
A: This is a problem that’s happening more and more. For 15 years, I [held my recitals] at a performing arts high school, and then the board of education voted four years ago that you had to be from the township of the venue that you were renting. It was the scariest time of my life—what are you going to tell the parents? I picked up the phone book and began calling different boards of education. I also asked all my dance teacher friends who had studios where they rent in the hopes that there would be a free weekend.
I was looking at high schools and colleges, any theater with a raked floor. But we’re a nuisance to the schools, because they don’t see the money we’re spending; it goes to the general board of education and is divvied among all the schools. Privately owned theaters, on the other hand, are few and far between. Also, most are union houses, so you’re talking about a major investment. You don’t have control of the ticket sales, and you can’t move sets without union workers. And when you have a [limited] budget, little kids and fathers who want to volunteer backstage, that doesn’t work. The performing arts high school is the best of both worlds because you have the professional as well as the [lower-cost] aspect.
The high school theater I ended up getting actually turned out to be a better venue than our original space. The stage is a lot, but the parents are even happier because it’s closer to the studio. Also, the old place had only 800 seats, so I had to have five shows. The new place has 1,200 seats, so I have four.
Hedy Perna is the director of Perna Dance Center in Jazlet, New Jersey.
Q: My former studio manager was a nightmare. She had a sloppy work ethic and poor attitude. It was awful, seeing her everyday and wondering how to let her go. Thankfully, she quit, but now I need to hire someone else and I’m nervous about it. How do I prevent this from happening again, and if it does, how can I protect myself?
A: You’ve got good reason to be nervous. According to a recent National Small Business Poll conducted by the NFIB Research Foundation, more than 14 percent of business owners sued in liability cases within the last five years were sued by an employee. And more than 18 percent of businesses threatened with lawsuits received the threat from an employee.
Unlike large corporations, which have defined hierarchies, human resource departments and well-documented procedures, small-business owners often don’t have the resources in place to deal with problem employees effectively. So what can you do? The best solution is nipping poor performance in the bud.
Explain the obvious. Employees must understand what is expected of them, so outline what is acceptable—and what is not. You can use that as a framework to evaluate on-the-job performance (or provide discipline, if necessary). Also, provide a documented discipline policy and code of conduct, and make sure you and your managers follow procedures.
Evaluate your employees regularly. Written documentation of specific misbehavior (like absence or tardiness) is the best defense against discrimination claims. Include employees’ feedback as part of the evaluation, and use the process as an opportunity to set goals and specify deadlines for improvement.
Don’t wait to address problems; intervene early to give the employee a chance to improve. Not only does this help protect you against potentially costly litigation, you may see enhanced performance and increased employee morale. Then, if termination becomes necessary, it won’t come as a surprise; rather, it will be a culmination of progressive discipline that was clearly necessitated by the employee’s failure to meet the stated expectations.
Elizabeth Gaudio is a senior executive counsel for the national Federation of independent Business Legal Foundation (www.nfib.com/legaloundation). The NFIB Legal Foundation is a 501(c)(3) organization created to protect the rights of America's small-business owners by providing advisory material on legal issues and by ensuring that the voice of small business is heard in the nation's courts. NFIB represents the consensus views of its 600,000 members in Washington and all 50 state capitals.
Q: My classes are huge this year. The smallest class has 35 students, the largest has 43, and I teach five classes a day. Trying to learn their names is getting really tricky, since they’re all in gym uniforms with their hair in ponytails. Do you have any tips?
A: Learning the names of the hundreds of students in your dance program can be quite a challenge, but here are a few tried and true ideas:
Take attendance at the beginning of each class. While you’re learning names, the students will have a chance to get focused, quiet and ready to learn.
Play a “name game” in which each student makes up a move or pose and then says their name as they strike it. After a few rounds, you’ll be able to associate the dancer with his or her individual move.
Having students end the class with a solo jump or freeze center stage while shouting their name is another helpful strategy.
Enlist the aid of a digital camera. Take group shots and label them, then do your homework! You can also make “contact sheets” of your classes for your records.
The folks at New York City-based Rosie’s Broadway Kids, who work with almost 600 students each week in different schools, do. It’s an investment, but you’ll use them for years to come. Plastic pin-style badges with thick paper inserts can be found at most office supply stores like Staples and Office Max.
Ask students to help out by telling you their names when they see you around the building or in the schoolyard.
Remind everyone that their names are really important to you, but since you have so many to remember, it might take a little time. Just like dancing, it takes practice, practice, practice!
Lorelei Coutts is a public school teacher in New York City.