There was a time when the rules of dance studio etiquette were clear to students: Don't stand with your hands on your hips. Never step in front of the teacher, especially as she demonstrates. Wear pink tights and a black leotard to ballet class. Don't talk. But in today's age of entitlement and instant gratification, studio conduct codes can feel optional at best. No specific etiquette is categorically right or wrong for every studio. But clarifying what your rules are and how they'll be implemented—to students, parents and staff—ensures a consistent, effective learning environment for your dancers.
1. “I keep overhearing parents and students in the lobby debating what our makeup-class policy is."
Solution: Create a handbook. Shane Hall, owner and artistic director of Prodigy Dance Centre in Columbus, Georgia, learned the necessity of a handbook the hard way. “We started with nothing—no document or code at all. We would just say, 'Don't be late,'" he says. “But that doesn't work. People argue or misunderstand. So we created a code with simple bullet points that included agreements about dress code, absence policy and conduct. Now, the guidelines are clear."
Whether it's a booklet or one simple page, a written document detailing your procedures and expectations will let students (and parents) know what you expect. Make sure to explain these rules in an orientation meeting. Distribute handbooks, discuss the main points and post the materials in your studio.
2. “My minis won't stop talking, no matter how many times I ask them to be quiet."
Solution: Change the way you respond to their misbehavior. Instead of simply reprimanding your students, help them understand why talking detracts from their learning. Maria Konrad, assistant director at the Florida School for Dance Education, wipes out classroom conversation by involving her dancers in the solution. “If everyone is talking, I have the students go outside," she says. “Then, as they enter one at a time, I ask if they will sit quietly. That gives them investment in the process."
She also notes that oftentimes, the most talkative students are simply smart children needing more challenges. “I have to find ways to make my class move at a faster pace for them," she says. “I also find a moment when the kid is behaving exactly the way they should be, and I praise them for it right then and there in front of everyone."
3. “I don't want a strict dress code, but I don't know how to get my dancers to dress appropriately for class."
Solution: Ask students to dress the part. Rather than ban certain attire, request that students dress the part for each genre of dance. For ballet class, what's the outfit that will put them in an elegant, pulled-up mind-set? For a contemporary class, something entirely different—knee socks and booty shorts—could be a better match to the movement. Explaining the dress code this way—and being clear about what outfits are allowed where and when—will help students make mature and appropriate choices.
And remember, hair is part of that costume, too. “One group of students was repeatedly coming in with messy hair, so I did all their buns one day. Then, like magic, they attacked the movement with more verve," says Konrad. “When they look the part, they know it's time to dance."
4. "A student won't stop acting up in class, no matter how many times I send her out. She apologizes later, but then does it all over again the next week."
Solution: Define the consequences. If the consequences for breaking rules are hazy, the rules—no matter how clear—will lose their clout. For many educators, using a hierarchy of steps is helpful. In Konrad's case, if any rule is broken, she first addresses the issue with the student in class. “If it's behavior that needs to stop immediately, I address the child in front of the class and then move on," she says. “This brings the emphasis back onto what we are learning versus the negative behavior."
If the behavior persists, she calls the parents. “I use a positive approach," she says. “I explain what's happening in the classroom and ask, 'Is there something that I should know about? Is there a learning issue that prevents them from following directions or standing still? How can we build your child's love of dance while instilling discipline?'" The next step is to dismiss the student from class and, as a last resort, discuss a move to another studio.
Be sure to clarify your consequences in your handbook, so that students always know where they stand—and how many strikes down they are.
5. “My juniors won't stop texting at the barre between combinations."
Solution: Enforce (realistic) technology boundaries. While teachers might prefer students not use cell phones at all, that's no longer a realistic rule since parents expect their children to have constant contact. Try limiting their use of mobile devices instead. “Just like I could check my phone while I'm on break from rehearsal, the kids can check their phones on their five-minute break," Hall says. Some studios require students to leave their phones in the break room. Konrad allows hers to have phones (in bags) in the studio, but ensures that they're on silent—by answering any ringing phones herself.
6. “My comp kids don't know how to behave outside of a convention. When we took an open dance class in New York City, they all rushed to stand in the front, even though they didn't know the warm-up."
Solution: Discuss how to act in different situations—before they happen. At a convention, it might be appropriate to stand close to the teacher, regardless of whether you know the warm-up or not. A New York City open class operates differently. Talk over an appropriate response, such as: “Veterans get the front spots, and if you don't know the warm-up and flow of the class, standing in the middle is a good adjustment." To help your students act appropriately no matter the setting, discuss different possibilities and your expectations before situations arise. “I meet with the students prior to our trip and also before classes to encourage the students to stand where they can be seen, and get the most out of what is being demonstrated for the class," says Hall.