When Parents Question Class Placement Policies

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

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Securing the correct music licensing for your studio is an important step in creating a financially sound business. "Music licensing is something studio owners seem to either embrace or ignore completely," says Clint Salter, CEO and founder of the Dance Studio Owners Association. While it may seem like it's a situation in which it's easier to ask for forgiveness rather than permission—that is, to wait until you're approached by a music-rights organization before purchasing a license—Salter disagrees, citing Peloton, the exercise company that produces streaming at-home workouts. In February, Peloton settled a music-licensing suit with the National Music Publishers' Association out-of-court for an undisclosed amount. Originally, NMPA had sought $300 million in damages from Peloton. "It can get extremely expensive," says Salter. "It's not worth it for a studio to get caught up in that."

As you continue to explore a hybrid online/in-person version of your class schedule, it's crucial that your music licenses include coverage for livestreamed instruction—which comes with its own particular requirements. Here are some answers to frequently asked questions about music licensing—in both normal times and COVID times—as well as some safe music bets that won't pose any issues.

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Of course, there's no easy answer, and no perfect approach. As social justice advocate David King emphasized at a recent interactive webinar, "Cultivating Racial Equity in the Classroom," this work is never-ending. The event, hosted by Dancewave (which just launched a new racial-equity curriculum) was a good starting point, though, and offered some helpful takeaways for dance educators committed to racial justice.

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The author, Robyn Watson. Photo courtesy Watson

Recently, I posted a thread of tweets elucidating the lack of respect for tap dance in college dance programs, and arguing that it should be a requirement for dance majors.

According to onstageblog.com, out of the 30 top-ranked college dance programs in the U.S., tap dance is offered at 19 of them, but only one school requires majors to take more than a beginner course—Oklahoma City University. Many prestigious dance programs, like the ones at NYU Tisch School of the Arts and SUNY Purchase, don't offer a single course in tap dance.

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