It's easy to characterize parents as the perpetual thorn in the side of studio owners—they can be demanding, and annoyingly free with their opinions on dance education. But they're also your customers. They deserve not just excellent customer service but an exceptional customer experience, says Annette Franz, head of a customer-experience strategy firm. "What's the difference?" you might ask. "I define customer experience as the sum of all the interactions that a customer has with a brand over the life of their relationship with that brand—plus the feelings, emotions and perceptions about these interactions. Customer service is just one of those interactions," says Franz, author of Cus-tomer Understanding: Three Ways to Put the "Customer" in Customer Expe-rience (and at the Heart of the Business).
Q: My tween is begging me to go to a faraway summer intensive, claiming "all my friends are going." How do I know if she's ready?
A: It can feel like a rite of passage for serious dancers to attend an intensive at a major ballet school. They dance all day and often explore the area's surroundings or attend performances on weekends. But living away from home, having a roommate and living the "dorm life" can be a challenge.
Q: What policies do you put in place to encourage parents of competition dancers to pay their bills in a timely manner?
Most parents start off pretty clueless when it comes to doing their dancer's hair. If you don't want your students coming in with elastic-wrapped bird's nests on their heads, you may want to give them some guidance. But who has time to teach each individual parent how to do their child's hair? Not you! So, we have a solution: YouTube hair tutorials.
These three classical hairdo vids are exactly what your dancers need to look fabulous and ready to work every time they step in your studio.
"I don't want to enroll my son in dance class because I'm scared/worried/convinced it will make him gay." We've all heard some variation on this one, right?
Someone we'd never expect to hear it from: television personality and Hollywood gossip columnist Perez Hilton.
Wait, you might be saying. Isn't he gay? Yes. Which makes this whole thing even weirder.
On a recent episode of his podcast, Hilton stirred controversy by stating that he would prefer his five-year-old son to be straight, and therefore would not be enrolling him in dance classes, because in his experience, the majority of men attracted to dance and dance-related professions are gay. He did so while emphasizing that he believes himself to have been born gay.
He posted a YouTube video on Sunday to clarify his statements. But if anything, Hilton has only dug himself a deeper hole.
Let's break this down, shall we?
Whether or not you agree with his statement that he would prefer if his son grew up to be a straight man, his logic does track: Members of the LGBTQ+ community do face difficulties that their cisgender and heterosexual counterparts do not. Not wanting your child to have to face harassment and discrimination over their gender identity or sexual orientation is an understandable sentiment.
We start running into issues when he begins using this as a reason to not enroll his son in dance class.
Are there gay men in dance? Yes. Did dancing make them that way? No.
Sexual orientation is already determined at birth—a statement with which Hilton clearly agrees. Therefore, whether or not a child is enrolled in an activity which stereotypically attracts homosexual men should have no impact on that child's sexual orientation. To state otherwise is a flabbergasting bit of mental gymnastics that only serves to reinforce stigmas around LGBTQ+ communities and tired, frustrating stereotypes about men who dance.
There are gay and straight men (and women!) in dance, as well as individuals who are bisexual, asexual, gender nonconforming, transgender...I could go on, but the point is that their identities are not a result of their dancing.
Enrolling your child in dance class will not make them gay. What it will make them is a person equipped with problem-solving skills, grit, discipline, resilience, the ability to grow from mistakes and so many other traits whose benefits stretch beyond the studio.
But here's one more: empathy. I think we can all agree that it's something the world can use more of, especially if we want to see less discrimination and harassment over people's identities.
There's more to private lessons than one-on-one instruction. Consider these practical issues as you plan for your next session.
Some schools discourage private lessons and outside coaching for fear that these might contradict their training methods and confuse the student.
Deciding a RateGiphy
Rates range anywhere from $40 to $100 or more per hour, depending on the instructor. Some studios set a flat rate, offer a discounted package or offer need-based scholarships.
Dealing With the ParentsGiphy
Parents might ask to observe the lesson, but their presence could actually hinder the child's progress. "Students work better when their parents aren't watching," says Becky Erhart Moore, artistic coordinator at Marin Ballet. If they insist on peeking in, suggest that they only come for the last 15 minutes.
Scheduling can be tough, especially since most students aren't available outside of school hours. "If I have to turn down a student because of scheduling issues on my end, I refer them to someone on my staff who is available," says Cheryl Madeux-Abbott, ballet director at the Franklin School for the Performing Arts.
Your time is valuable, so encourage students to arrive ready for the lesson. "If they're practicing a variation, they need to have done class before," says Edward Ellison, director of Ellison Ballet. "But if we're working on fundamentals, then we can start at the beginning of barre and get warm as we go along."
Q: How do you handle class placement policies? I try to factor in both age and talent level, but I often have to deal with irate parents when their kids aren’t placed in the level they want them in. How do you deal with this?
A: We do not hold auditions. When a dancer comes to our studio, we invite her to take a range of class levels for one week, and then we meet with the student and her parents to discuss where we feel the dancer is best suited. We adopted this process because it gives us a better idea about a student’s work ethic, technique and ability to pick up choreography and apply corrections. Of course, we still have parents who do not agree with where we placed their child.
If parents are being very difficult, don’t respond right away; give them a chance to cool off. Arrange to talk or meet with them in a couple of days. When you do talk, start with the positive about their child. Point out the things that you feel the dancer needs to work on in order to improve, and make suggestions on extra things they can do to help. For example, you could suggest that the student take classes that are down one level to work on strength and recommend some exercises for practice at home. Explain to them that you are a dance professional and that you have their child’s best interest at heart. Placing a child in a class that she is not ready for creates bad habits, damages self-esteem and puts her at risk of injury.
Go with your own judgment, and don’t be bullied into placing a child where you don’t feel she belongs. If the other dancers in the class see that you have allowed a dancer who is not quite ready to move up a level, they will all start to question their placement. Parents will also infer that you can be pushed around and think that they can call the shots.
Joanne Chapman is the owner of the award-winning Joanne Chapman School of Dance in Ontario, Canada.
Photo by Dan Boskovic, courtesy of Joanne Chapman