Teaching Tips
Photo courtesy of King

In the wake of the murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and other Black Americans, you may be wondering if, and how, you should talk to your students about racism.

If you've convinced yourself that it's not your place, reconsider: As your students' dance teacher, you hold a unique place in their lives and offer them a powerful outlet for expression and catharsis. And odds are, they are already aware of what's going on in our country and have questions, and feelings. Here are three common reasons why you may have decided not to bring up racism—and why, instead, you should.

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Studio Owners
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When Genevieve Weeks opened her children's dance studio, Tutu School, in San Francisco in 2008, she quickly figured out that she'd hit on something good. "By 2009, I'd opened a second location, and that one also did quite well," says Weeks. "I realized that this studio could thrive in a lot of communities." At the same time, she says, the reality of opening more locations was sinking in: "It'd be double the payroll, double the rent," she remembers thinking. That's when she started to explore franchising.
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Betsy Brandt teaches at Webster University in St. Louis. Photo by Gerry Love, courtesy of Brandt
Betsy Brandt gets more than a few questions about what, exactly, she offers the choreographers she works with—the likes of Jennifer Monson and Sara Hook, to name a couple. "I help people make dances," she says simply about her role as dance dramaturg. "Sometimes, it's like being their composition teacher—except they know more than me, and I don't have the power."
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Studio Owners
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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).

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Technique
Kathryn Alter (left). Photo by Alexis Ziemski

In every class Kathryn Alter teaches, two things are immediately evident: how thoughtfully she chooses her words, and how much glee she gets from dancing the movement and style of modern choreographer José Limón. At the 2019 Limón summer workshop at Kent State University, Alter demonstrated a turning triplet with her arms fully outstretched, a smile stretching easily across her face. "It should be as if…" She paused to think of the perfect analogy that would help the dancers find the necessary circularity of the movement. "As if you live in a doughnut!" she finished, grinning broadly. The dancers gathered around her laughed—her smile and love for something as foundational as a triplet was contagious.

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Teaching Tips
Jessica Kubat (center) with her studio staff. Photo by Vincent Alongi, courtesy of Kubat

Jessica Kubat's path to becoming a studio owner wasn't typical or glamorous or the product of a family business, handed down. When she opened MJ's House of Dance in Lindenhurst, New York, this past summer, she had just turned 40, was a mom of three, and had worked at two different studios long-term. Over the last two and a half years, she'd painstakingly saved up $25,000 and had gone to the Small Business Development Center at a local college on Long Island for help creating her business plan. Her area was moderately saturated with studios, so she spent considerable time planning what would set her school apart—live musical accompaniment, for one—and hired a marketing director nine months before the business even opened. It was a methodical, careful approach—Kubat calls it "the old-fashioned way"—to opening a studio, and it's paid off: She started summer classes with 75 students and is well on her way to reaching her first-year enrollment goal of 250 dancers. "When I turned 40, I decided that it was time to do something bigger," says Kubat. "I always wanted to own a studio—it was just never financially available to me."

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Since she was hired in 2006 to create a dance program at Washington & Lee University in Virginia, Jenefer Davies has operated as, essentially, a one-woman show. She's the only full-time faculty member (with regular adjunct support). Over the last 13 years, she has created a thriving program along with a performance company—at a school with fewer than 2,500 students—by drawing on her admittedly rare strength: aerial dance.

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