As a teacher or studio owner, customer service is a major part of the job. It's easy to dread the difficult sides of it, like being questioned or criticized by an unhappy parent. "In the early years, parent issues could have been the one thing that got me to give up teaching," says Cindy Clough, executive director of Just For Kix and a teacher and studio owner with over 43 years of experience. "Hang in there—it does get easier."
We asked Clough her top tips for dealing with difficult parents:
Amanda Donahue, ATC, working with a student in her clinic in the Palladino School of Dance at Dean College. Courtesy Dean College
The Joan Phelps Palladino School of Dance at Dean College is one of just 10 college programs in the U.S. with a full-time athletic trainer devoted solely to its dancers. But what makes the school even more unique is that certified athletic trainer Amanda Donahue isn't just available to the students for appointments and backstage coverage—she's in the studio with them and collaborating with dance faculty to prevent injuries and build stronger dancers.
"Gone are the days when people would say, 'Don't go to the gym, you'll bulk up,'" says Kristina Berger, who teaches Horton and Hawkins technique as an assistant professor of dance. "We understand now that cross-training is actually vital, and how we've embraced that at Dean is extremely rare. For one thing, we're not sharing an athletic trainer with the football players, who require a totally different skillset." For another, she says, the faculty and Donahue are focused on giving students tools to prolong their careers.
After six years of this approach, here are the benefits they've seen:
As a dance teacher, you know more than anyone that things can go wrong—students blank on choreography onstage, costumes don't fit and dancers quit the competition team unexpectedly. Why not apply that same mindset to your status as an independent contractor at a studio or as a studio owner?
Insurance is there to give you peace of mind, even when the unexpected happens. (Especially since attorney fees can be expensive, even when you've done nothing wrong as a teacher.) Taking a preemptive approach to your career—insuring yourself—can save you money, time and stress in the long run.
Judith Nelson led a Dance Teacher Summit session this summer in Anne Green Gilbert's rhyming BrainDance and other movement stories designed for early childhood dancers. The BrainDance is a great warm-up that strengthens neural pathways and helps to integrate the right and left sides of the brain.
Nelson danced professionally with the Limón Dance Company and David Gordon's Pick-Up Performance Co. As an educator, she worked closely with Virginia Tanner in Utah, as well as Green Gilbert. Nelson is currently on the faculty of the Mark Morris Dance Center in Brooklyn and the Helen Keller Services for the Blind's Children's Learning Center.
Those who took Akira Uchida's contemporary class in New York City last summer learned a high-energy combination to share with their students back home. Uchida's style infuses contemporary with an influence of jazz and hip hop, and he danced full-out in front of the class to demonstrate. A popular faculty member with JUMP convention, Uchida understands his responsibility as a role model for young dancers.
With a World Championship title in Latin Ballroom, Erica Marr charmed NYC Dance Teacher Summit participants with a spicy combination that focused on Latin action and leg awareness, along with elements of jazz dance. Marr grew up as a studio competition dancer and specializes in how to increase studio dancers' versatility with the basic principles of ballroom technique.
Joanne Chapman gave an entertaining rendition of what not to say during a parent/studio director conversation at the New York City Dance Teacher Summit. This panel was created by our team of studio-owner ambassadors, including Chapman and Dani Rosenberg, Becca Moore, Carole Royal, Sue Sampson-Dalena and Jody Phillips. While we enjoyed laughing at the absurd situation, it felt all too familiar to most in the room. The goal of the panel was to model constructive and proactive responses that will support a strong and successful studio business.