Studio Owners

To Text or Not to Text? Your Guide to Setting Boundaries for Students and Parents

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Running a dance school requires you to build relationships with your students and their families. But being friendly and accommodating isn't the same as being BFFs with everyone, and there's a difference between making yourself accessible and being on call 24/7. How can you set boundaries for yourself and your faculty? Your choices may depend on both your comfort level and the size and type of school you operate. Here, three veteran teachers share their rules for social media, texting and more.


Staying in Touch

Should you give students and parents your cell phone number? How about your personal e-mail address? And how available do you need to be to keep things running?

"We generally ask people to contact us through our office," says Robin Dawn Ryan of the Robin Dawn Academy in Cape Coral, Florida. While a few longtime students do have her cell number, Ryan says, "Nobody abuses that privilege. If they're running late or need to check the time of a practice, they'll text me, but it's not a long conversation. We stick to business."

Similarly, the HARID Conservatory in Boca Raton, FL, has a no-texting policy between faculty and students—except for emergencies. "We recognize that there are times when you need to contact someone right away," says Gordon Wright, HARID's executive vice-president and director. For instance, he points out that when traveling, kids will often check texts before any other communication method.

Both HARID and Robin Dawn Academy have school e-mail addresses for faculty—and HARID goes a step further by creating a "harid.edu" account for every student. Not only does this keep teachers' personal and professional lives separate, "it ensures that communication between employees and students remains transparent," Wright says. "With those e-mails on our server, if we had to take another look at an interaction, it's available to us."

If that approach sounds too formal for your studio, think about setting boundaries in terms of your time, instead. "Almost all of our competitive students have my cell number," says Jami Artiga of The Dance Zone in Henderson, Nevada. "I give it out, and my instructors often do the same. But if someone's texting or calling at an unreasonable hour, or otherwise behaving inappropriately, we'll say something."


Going Social

Facebook. Twitter. Instagram. Snapchat. The list goes on—and you have to decide not only what type of presence you'll have on each platform, but also whether you and your faculty will network with students and family members.

The easiest option may be to prohibit these interactions entirely. HARID's policy is that staff and faculty may not "friend" or otherwise connect with current students or those under the age of 18 on social media. Once a dancer is no longer a minor, Wright explains, there's no longer the need for that line in the sand.

The Dance Zone's handbook, meanwhile, states that social media should be handled "in a professional manner." Artiga encourages students and faculty to share photos and tag the studio, but prefers not to "friend" kids from her personal account. "Of course, my son dances at the studio, and we have teachers with kids who go here, so sometimes the line gets blurry," she says.

Ryan also has a few students on her Facebook friend list, "but I don't put a lot about my personal life on the site," she says. She uses the platform more to keep track of what dancers and their parents are posting about the studio. "If they put up something they shouldn't," she says, whether that's a bullying post or an unflattering image, "I'll ask them to take it down."

As far as commenting, Ryan notes, "it's tempting to respond to everything, because you care about your studio family—but that can get out of control fast." She tends to keep her social media shout-outs generic: "So proud of this year's graduates!" and "Our dancers looked beautiful at prom!" That way, she can show support without spending hours online or worrying about missing any one student's achievement.

Celebrating Milestones

"If you go to one high school graduation," Ryan warns, "you have to go to everyone's." She experienced this problem firsthand a few years ago—after she attended one student's event, others wanted to know why she hadn't gone to theirs. Now, her policy is virtually set in stone: "I don't go to graduation ceremonies, birthday parties or holiday parties. I might go to a graduation party, especially if it's for a group of my seniors who've been with me for a decade or more, but that's it." She will buy a card for each graduate, usually with a gift card inside. "That's not easy to do, especially in a year with a big graduating class," she says, "but it's how I thank them for having been a part of our family."

Chances are, you can't make a big deal out of every academic award, religious rite and community honor in every student's life. Even for a small-town school, the celebrations can become overwhelming. Consider what you truly have to offer in terms of time, money and energy, and set boundaries accordingly.

The Bottom Line

Whatever rules feel right for you and your school, make sure they're clearly delineated. If you have a handbook or contract for students and parents, include regulations for interacting with teachers outside the classroom in that document. The same goes for employee manuals: Instructors should know from day one how they're expected to act.

And don't be afraid to enforce your boundaries. It's easier to nip bad behavior in the bud than to change habits far down the line. "It's an individual process, to determine what you can handle," Artiga says, "but you can't have a problem telling a teacher, student or parent, 'That wasn't appropriate.' Clear communication helps keep the studio culture positive."

Teachers Trending
Alwin Courcy, courtesy Ballet des Amériques

Carole Alexis has been enduring the life-altering after-effects of COVID-19 since April 2020. For months on end, the Ballet des Amériques director struggled with fevers, tingling, dizziness and fatigue. Strange bruising showed up on her skin, along with the return of her (long dormant) asthma, plus word loss and stuttering.

"For three days I would experience relief from the fever—then, boom—it would come back worse than before," Alexis says. "I would go into a room and not know why I was there." Despite the remission of some symptoms, the fatigue and other debilitating side effects have endured to this day. Alexis is part of a tens-of-thousands-member club nobody wants to be part of—she is a COVID-19 long-hauler.

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Teachers Trending
Annika Abel Photography, courtesy Griffith

When the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis last May catalyzed nationwide protests against systemic racism, the tap community resumed longstanding conversations about teaching a Black art form in the era of Black Lives Matter. As these dialogues unfolded on social media, veteran Dorrance Dance member Karida Griffith commented infrequently, finding it difficult to participate in a meaningful way.

"I had a hard time watching people have these conversations without historical context and knowledge," says Griffith, who now resides in her hometown of Portland, Oregon, after many years in New York City. "It was clear that there was so much information missing."

For example, she observed people discussing tap while demonstrating ignorance about Black culture. Or, posts that tried to impose upon tap the history or aesthetics of European dance forms.


Finally compelled to speak up, Griffith led a virtual seminar in June for the entire dance community entitled "Racism and the Dance World." Over a thousand people viewed her presentation, which was inspired in part by the mentorship of longtime family friend Dr. Joy DeGruy, an expert on institutionalized racism. Floored but encouraged by such a large turnout, Griffith quickly prepared a follow-up seminar, which also had a positive response.

"Teachers kept reaching out to me and saying, How do I talk to my students about this? They don't care about anything but steps," she says.

In response, Griffith designed a six-week professional-development program—Roots, Rhythm, Race & Dance, or R3 Dance—for teachers of any style seeking ways to introduce age-appropriate concepts about race and dance history to their students. The history of the art form, she points out, is the context in which we all teach and perform every day.

Griffith laughs, with eyes closed and fingers snapping to the side, as she demonstrates in front of a class of adults. A toddler is at her side, also in tap shoes

Annika Abel Photography, courtesy Griffith

"The white hip-hop teacher asking why Black people are trolling them on Instagram happens against the same backdrop as Tamir Rice holding a pellet gun and not surviving a confrontation with police," she says. "We try to see them as separate things, but they're really not."

R3 Dance isn't the first program Griffith, a 43-year-old mother of two, created for teachers. Since 2018, she has run the Facebook group "Dance Studios on Tap!," a space for sharing struggles and successes in the classroom, teaching tips and ideas on growing studio tap programs.

She has also offered a 10-week, online teacher training program, "Tap Teachers' Lounge," since 2018. Through lecture-demonstrations, discussions, dance classes and workshop sessions, Griffith helps studio instructors increase student enrollment, engagement and success in their tap programs.

"I had started to feel what so many professionals know from experience," she says. "There are huge gaps in people's training, and teachers don't get the benefit of individualized, process-oriented feedback about their pedagogy, especially when it comes to tap dance."

Griffith knew she could help fill in many of those gaps. She also suspected her resumé would appeal to a variety of tap teachers: Some might be impressed by her teaching credits at Pace University and Broadway Dance Center, while others would notice her experience with the Rockettes and Cirque du Soleil, or her connections to tap artists such as Chloe Arnold and Dormeshia.

Griffith also knew that many tap teachers are the sole tap instructors at their studios and have few opportunities to attend tap festivals or master classes. With her programs, they can learn exclusively online, without having to travel, while still teaching their weekly classes.

A key feature of the teacher training program is that participants submit video of exercises they've been working on and get feedback from Griffith. They're expected to implement that feedback and report back on their progress the following week. For Griffith, that accountability is a cornerstone of her pedagogy.

"Teaching is a practice—you have to put it on its feet, you have to do it," she says. "I want to give teachers the tools they need for their practice, and then talk about how that practice informs their preparation in the future, just like how you would teach anything else."

Griffith walks across the front of a studio, clapping her hands, as a large class of teen students practice a tap combination

Annika Abel Photography, courtesy Griffith

Griffith takes a similar approach for R3 Dance, which last year included 180 participants from around the world working in public schools, private studios, universities and other settings, teaching both tap and social dance. Teachers might bring an anti-racist statement they're drafting for their studio, for example, or a lesson plan or proposed changes to a college syllabus.

Griffith also gives teachers the knowledge to confidently structure and lead conversations about race in the dance industry. Participants typically come with a range of comfort levels in discussing race, says Griffith, some just beginning to comprehend race as a factor in dance. Others have read books and watched documentaries but don't know how to translate what they've learned into lessons. Some worry that starting difficult conversations with colleagues or students will get them fired or reprimanded.

But Griffith says she's been encouraged by the ways in which participants have reflected on everything from their costuming and choreography to their social media presence and hiring practices as a result of the program.

"It's been really inspiring to see more teachers taking this part of history with the gravity that it deserves—not in a way that makes them cry, but that makes them get to work," she says.

For instance, Maygan Wurzer, founder and director of All That Dance in Seattle, Washington, found her studio's diversity and inclusion program enhanced after attending R3 Dance with two of her colleagues. This includes a living document where all 19 instructors share materials that they're using to diversify their curriculum, such as lessons on tap and modern dancers of color, and asking teen students to research the history of race in various dance genres and present their findings.

These changes address a common problem that Griffith notices: Teachers give lessons on certain styles, steps or artists without providing sufficient historical context. For example, it's important to know who Fred Astaire and the Nicholas Brothers were, but it's equally vital to understand how racism contributed to the former having a more prominent place in the annals of dance history.

Griffith stands next to a large screen with a powerpoint presentation showing the name "Bill Bojangles Robinson" with some photos. She holds a microphone and speaks to a large group of students who sit on the ground

Annika Abel Photography, courtesy Griffith

"Topics like privilege and cultural appropriation need the same kind of thought and vision as teaching technique," she explains. "You have to layer those conversations, just like you wouldn't teach fouetté turns to a level-one student."

For educators who have finished one or both of her programs, Griffith is scheduling regular meetings to discuss further implementation strategies and lead additional workshopping sessions.

"As educators, we're excavators who bring out what we can in our students," she says. "But sometimes our tools get dull, and we need to keep sharpening them."

Ultimately, Griffith says that this work has been empowering not just for her students but also for her.

"Dance teachers are completely fine with being uncomfortable and taking feedback," she says. "I found an energy to do this work because there are so many people who are willing to do it with me."

Studio Owners
Courtesy Tonawanda Dance Arts

If you're considering starting a summer program this year, you're likely not alone. Summer camp and class options are a tried-and-true method for paying your overhead costs past June—and, done well, could be a vehicle for making up for lost 2020 profits.

Plus, they might take on extra appeal for your studio families this year. Those struggling financially due to the pandemic will be in search of an affordable local programming option rather than an expensive, out-of-town intensive. And with summer travel still likely in question this spring as July and August plans are being made, your studio's local summer training option remains a safe bet.

The keys to profitable summer programming? Figuring out what type of structure will appeal most to your studio clientele, keeping start-up costs low—and, ideally, converting new summer students into new year-round students.

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