Welcome to Bree Hafen, an awesome choreographer, blogger, dancer and mom! We are glad to have her guest-blogging for Dance Studios Web Design talking about things dance moms think and wish they could tell dance teachers!
As my last post has surpassed 100,000 views (!) I’ve decided it’s time to address the other side… What good dance moms and dads would like to help their teachers understand. Teachers be advised, these aren’t the cries of a squeaky wheel. These are thoughts and reminders I have solicited from a collection of 14 years worth of the quiet, kind, respectful, never-make-a-complaint-even-when-they’re-expected-to-rhinestone-23-costumes type of parents. These are legit. And if we are trying, as my previous post mentioned, to help the two sides compromise and coexist peacefully… well then, we have to listen to their list just as we hope they listened to ours!
So, it’s your turn parents! If you follow our 8 Reminders, we promise to do our best to listen to yours:
1. Please remember and respect that parents have to make decisions regarding their dancer which may sometimes (no more than rarely) impact on his or her dance life. For example: I had one particularly excellent and extremely talented student when I was a young teacher in Utah. Her mom was an amazing AMAZING woman… but their relationship would sometimes hit some rocky patches (I mean, who doesn’t have the occasional spat with their teenager?… And pray tell, what is THEIR secret!!?) Anyway, on rare occasion I would get a call from this mom saying “Danielle* will not be coming to Jazz 5 tonight. She is serving a consequence for (fill in the blank).” This would make me so angry and confused! WHAT? Keeping your daughter from a dance class? Something that is wholesome and active and developmentally beneficial? I truly did not understand this until I had kids of my own. Now I’m beginning to see – good parents are first and foremost trying to mold their child into a great person – NOT *just* a great dancer. If that means occasionally impacting something they love (i.e. dance class) when they aren’t following the expected guidelines of the family (i.e. staying on top of school work, keeping curfew, etc.) – then that’s what a good parent will do. It is not intended to make a dance teacher’s life difficult – it’s just teaching their child that poor choices will have negative consequences. And since a parent’s substantial sacrifice of time and finances to support their dancer’s training should be seen as a privilege, poor behavior should warrant limitations on such privileges. Danielle was NEVER less committed than her teammates, and she never ever missed any rehearsals or classes that would negatively impact her team or the studio in any way… but I now understand why, on rare occasions, Danielle’s mom had to gently remind her that being a good person who makes good choices is what warrants you the privileges of dancing.
2. Teachers, please remember that you are not just a dance instructor – you are a role model to your students. This may feel like a lot of pressure, but everything you say and do (and, gulp, post on Facebook) — these kids soak it all in. Please be aware of your impact on them. Nourish their passion while simultaneously helping build their confidence and character. I know many parents who appreciate a teacher who will choose their music wisely, listening for questionable lyrics and themes. Also, a teacher who does their best to highlight and compliment as well as critique and correct can do amazing things for a child’s growth. A dancer who feels his or her teacher sees potential in them will almost always work harder and have a better attitude in class. Also know that your choice of words, the topics you discuss and the way you carry yourself can all leave a lasting impression on a student. As a teacher, I have experienced this firsthand – both in a positive way and a negative way – in my own career. I have learned my lesson many times that I have to be very sensitive and selective with my choices if I want to be a positive influence on my students.
3. Please show respect to yourself as well as your students and business by not letting the “squeaky wheel get the oil”. We all know there are difficult parents out there, but there is nothing quite as frustrating as watching those parents get what they want just because they throw a fuss. It is only rewarding them for the type of behavior studios want to avoid! Having taught in several studios, I have seen this from both perspectives. I cannot describe the VAST difference between these experiences! If a studio owner, director or teacher can hold their ground and not give into the unreasonable demands of a difficult parent, you will begin to notice either that parent will learn that he or she doesn’t run the studio – and begin to cooperate, or they will leave and try to find a studio they can run! Either way, you are better off! And the great parents who are trying their best to cooperate and support will still be there – and gain even more respect for a teacher who didn’t get pushed around!
4. Please be aware of your fair treatment between students. Now, reasonable parents understand that their dancer may not always be the star of the show. This is okay with them. They realize that this builds character, and if their dancer has a true passion for their art, they will not want to quit just because they aren’t in the front row of the formations. The problem these reasonable parents still face from time to time is when a “star” dancer seems to be given preferential treatment or becomes an exception to the rules. For example – say the rule at your studio is, if you miss more than 3 rehearsals you are spaced out of that number. Well, this may seem reasonable and doable until the soloist has missed her 4th rehearsal and you are just days away from your performance. (Talk about a teacher’s nightmare…) Well, parents in this circumstance should expect that you will stand by your rules regardless of which dancer those rules may affect. A fair teacher may not let everyone have a perfectly equal part in each dance, but they should certainly be able to hold all dancers to the same standard of hard work and commitment.
5. Please do your best to be reachable. Parents who have read my previous article know that we teachers need to have a personal life. They should know that we may not answer their calls during dinner time, date night, or at 3:00 am. However, when a parent has a time-sensitive need or question, it becomes very frustrating when they are constantly ignored. Teachers, I will venture to say we are all guilty of this from time to time… I know I am! But, let’s commit to being better. One idea my husband had (GO HUNNY!) is to set apart a special time a few times a week to be available to students and parents outside class. Set yourself “office hours” that are convenient to you and your personal life. This time can be used to return calls, emails, write letters of recommendation, send out reminder emails, sign and send off those pesky off-campus PE forms…. you get the point. Just don’t leave your parents hanging for days on end. And, if you’re like me, just ask a parent nicely – “Yes! I would love to help Maddy choose the best ballet intensives for which to apply – but will you email me and remind me tonight, and maybe a few more times if I don’t respond? I tend to be forgetful when I’m busy!” Then don’t be annoyed when they do!
6. Please be reasonable when it comes to costume styles and prices. I have heard this complaint time and time again! So many parents see this little scrap of lycra next to its $350.00 price tag and just don’t understand where all that money went. Well it’s important for parents to know, a lot goes into making a great costume. From custom designing to the perfect fabric selection (dance fabric can be very expensive) to custom seamstress work… it’s definitely not like grabbing a t-shirt from Old Navy! However, good teachers will be mindful of the dent they are putting in a parent’s pocketbook. Teachers, I know most parents would never bother you about this – but any small efforts to keep costumes reasonably priced would absolutely be deeply appreciated. If you are choosing between two feasible fabrics – one at $49/yd and one $7/yd, make the economical choice! Shop around to see if there are better seamstress options, or see if there is a seamstress who would work on partial trade for tuition. And remember that there are lots of options that can be both beautiful and cost-effective! Try going retail with small additions like rhinestones or extra accessories. I have had great success with ModCloth, LuLus, Pixie Market, Asos, Victorias Secret, Topshop; then making small alterations and additions to make them unique. The same goes with catalog costumes and simple basics ordered from Discount Dance Supply rather than custom-made. There are options!
7. But for heaven’s sake, don’t let our dancers go out there looking like orphans! (Well, unless we are doing Annie…) Hah! Most parents are willing to pay a reasonable amount for beautiful costumes… they just don’t expect Coco Chanel to make them!
8. Stuff happens. Parents aren’t perfect, and neither are teachers. If and when you realize something has gone awry on your end – let’s just chat and apologize and move on. Everyone makes mistakes – but it’s so nice if a teacher has the confidence and humility to say – “Shoot, I’m really sorry about (fill in the blank). I didn’t intend for it to come across negatively.” Good parents will always forgive and move on! However, the relationship becomes awkward and strained if (and when) a teacher makes a mistake that negatively impacts a dancer – but refuses to air it out and apologize. I would hope good parents would also do the same. I doubt many teachers would purposefully say or do something to hurt their students… but let’s face it, it happens. It’s happened to me more than I’d like to admit. But I have learned to make it my practice to own up to my mistake and do what I can to make amends. And the parents to whom I have apologized are, to this day, wonderfully supportive “customers” and FRIENDS.
Well – there you have it! Both sides spoke and both sides listened. I sincerely hope these lists are beneficial to you and your studio. I have learned so much about this sensitive relationship in my career, and I have hope that the “dance mom” stigma will soon be a thing of the past.
Stay tuned to hear my take on the pros and cons of competition dance in my next blog post due around Valentine’s Day! I can’t wait to share my thoughts on this ironically ever-growing – yet deteriorating – industry.