If you’ve ever taught creative dance, or concept-based movement to children, you’ve probably encountered parents who just don’t seem to “get it.” A room full of children improvising, imagining they are first a floating feather and then dancing like they are colorful balloons popping all over the room seems like rich, educational fun to us, but can look like a waste of money to some parents.
As a culture, we tend to value product over process and it can be a challenge to assure parents that process-based exploration of movement is actually great preparation for, and an integral part of the art form of dance. It’s frustrating to feel like you spend much of your time convincing them, or worse, defending your program to parents who want you to make changes.
I don’t have foolproof answers but I’ve been there.
First, I’ve found that it helps to lay out for parents what they can expect in a creative dance class before their child ever enters the studio.
Most parents are much more familiar with a dance class structure that includes a lot of follow-the-leader and imitation of stylized movements. If parents know exactly what kinds of activities you WILL be doing and why, you’ll have less explaining to do later.
I’m including a handout that I think you’ll find helpful for your studio or classes. It is based on a post, found here on Dance Advantage, that was actually taken directly from something I used to give my creative dance parents. I welcome your feedback or ways this might be improved. You are free to use and distribute the pdf at your school or website, I just ask that you keep the report intact.
When you feel like you’ve done all you can
Even when parents have been prepared and you’ve made your case for what seems like the millionth time, you’ll probably still encounter someone with the familiar criticisms.
Whenever complaints arise, it’s always valuable to step back and analyze your teaching.
- Am I offering enough opportunities for children to put their skills together?
- Are there simple choreographies they can create from their explorations and skills learned?
- Is there a way to periodically show parents how far the students have come?
- Is there value in mimicking or imitating movement, and if so, how can I incorporate this in a way that will be in alignment with my values as a teacher?
It’s not giving in to look at your teaching with fresh eyes. Consider any complaint a chance to grow. Parents may just want to see some kind of result or progress; that the exploration and time creating has led somewhere. Combinations and choreography are familiar to them and they’ll feel comforted knowing that this is still part of your class. Plus, combining and putting movements in a sequence is good for the kids, too.
Parents want to feel acknowledged and heard.
If you’ve done a lot to back up your perspective, understandably, parent complaints can put you on the defensive. But have you tried listening or asking questions about their perspective?
If parents are stopping you after class, let them know there is a better time but that you are willing to hear them out:
“You know, I want to hear and understand more about what you’d like to see during the class. I’m not able to give the conversation the time it deserves right now but can I e-mail/call you?” Be sure to follow up!
Whether there have been direct questions or complaints about your methods or not, a survey is another good way to get inside the minds of parents.
The most common complaint I’ve heard from parents of creative movers is “I want to see more dancing.”
“More dancing” is not really descriptive. To you, the children are most certainly dancing, so what does this mean? Ask survey questions that dig into how your parents define dance and what they want their child to learn or gain from participating in dance class.
You might assume that “more dancing” means that they want to see more formal or traditional instruction but that may be assuming too much. You can’t know if you don’t ask or seek to understand where parents are coming from. From there, you’ll be better able to explain or address future concerns.
At some point you’ll have done all you can do.
Maybe you are already at this point with parents who truly may never “get it.” These are parents who you’ll need to thank for their perspective and assert that you don’t share it. It is scary as a teacher or business owner but all that’s left to do with parents unhappy with your instruction is suggest that there are other dance schools which provide what they are looking for.
Some unhappy customers will stay because your price or location is better and meanwhile try to bend you to their will. Kathy Blake of DanceStudioOwner.com used a phrase in a seminar which I find applies to so many things: “What we put up with, we give permission to.” If parents do not support the work you are doing, or are spreading negativity about your program to other parents, it’s time to part ways.
You can’t be everything to everybody but as someone offering a creative dance program, you are giving a unique and special gift to your group of young dancers.
If you teach creative dance, we’d love to hear your strategies and ideas!