What’s To Love About Dance Competition Drama?

We have drama at our dance studio.

Maybe not the Lifetime network level of drama but we have the par-for-the-course level of intensity that comes with having multiple dance teams. For many, many years we avoided the ‘scene.’ We actually thought that by not having a competitive dance program we’d have fewer “dance moms” and diva syndrome. It turns out we were wrong!

As long as a studio is serving parents, their children, and all their expectations, dance drama happens.

Competition will test you, though.

You’ll occasionally sigh an internal, “why-do-I-do-this?” when you have a program for dancers who are on the competitive track.

The good news is that those “can-you-believe-this-mother?” moments and the “shake-your-head” problems with students you have to solve are great opportunities to make positive improvements to your studio.

We’ve come to love participating in dance competitions and the positive impact it’s had on our business. If you’re struggling with drama at your studio, I want to help you find the silver lining.

Star award against curtain background#1. Drama proves that teamwork is essential for staff, too.

Parents naturally want their children to be successful and happy. There are some, though, who will do anything for their children, including asking you to bend your rules or make an exception for them. The ones that always get our emotions running high are the parents who give us the “I’m-paying-for-this-so-I-should-get-what-I-want” attitude. Cue the drama.

This phenomenon is usually a symptom of unmet expectations. Whether it’s a comment seen on another person’s Facebook feed, waiting room gossip overheard by a teacher, or the parent who comes to speak ‘on behalf of a lot of the other upset moms,’ you cannot control people’s reactions. 

You CAN control your reaction, which is one of the biggest tests we endure as studio owners and teachers.

At our studio, we know now that we can’t manage our dance teams successfully on the dance floor without a team of our own off the floor.

Our motto is ‘teamwork makes the dream work,’ aptly said by John Maxwell. This doesn’t mean you have to go out and hire more staff or incur any extra costs. It does mean you need to make time to communicate regularly with the people that bring out your greatness, help you re-focus when you are down, and allow you to fully share when things are going great – and when they’re not.

Our team meets regularly, either in person at the studio or by conference call (free conference calls are possible via FreeConferenceCall.com) to problem-solve, delegate the to-do list, plus celebrate little victories. If you’re a one-person studio, you can still create a team through the power of networking and technology available today. We make sure to always wait 24 hrs before a reaction. Your team can help you take your customer service to a higher level – which will make your studio stand out and be the talk of the town for the right reasons.

Gold Trophy#2. Drama revitalizes your role as policymaker and enforcer

I do not wake up in the morning looking forward to the tears from a teenage girl when I veto the Justin Beiber solo music choice, or the insulted look on a parent’s face when I suggest Intermediate contemporary instead of Advanced, but it’s part of the job sometimes.

It is often in those moments of frustration, when you realize you cannot put up with certain behavior anymore, that a new appreciation and commitment to your studio policies arises.

The power to say “No” with grace and professionalism is one of the greatest assets you have as a studio owner and teacher.

Thanks to our participation in dance competitions we have had many chances to swiftly put policies in place. These make it clear what our expectations will be on everything from costume and music choices for solos, to behavior that will get you removed from our teams. Even though a policy around costume choice may seem like over-managing or stating the obvious, it sets the expectations in advance.

In our Competition Choreography Agreement for solos, duos, and trios it states for participation: “You will discuss costume choice(s) with studio director, student, parent and choreographer. You may use old recital costumes, rent archived studio costumes, self-costume, or purchase new from a catalog. All costume choices must be approved. A shipping, handling & processing fee will be added to any new costume ordered.”

Each year we review our policies to make sure they reflect what we’re committed to and sometimes they get revised based on what worked and didn’t work. This process triggers a new appreciation for and commitment to the policies that absolutely need to be in place.

changenew#3. Drama highlights potential income opportunities for you and your teachers.

Studios set up their dance teams in a multitude of different ways. I’m convinced there is no ‘right way’ to do it, except that it will be the approach that builds your business, not the one that tears it down.

It was this principle that prompted us, personally, at our studio to open up competition to every student who wished to compete. Before you say, ‘whoa’, that’s crazy, let me explain. We have four teams set up in what most people would call a traditional model. But, we have some really great dancers at our studio who play soccer, cheer, or participate in theater who could not meet the requirements to be on a team.

The kids and parents were frustrated! They were asking for private lessons, they wanted our teachers to set choreography, and they were happy to pay the entry and costume fees plus follow our policies surrounding participation.

We were worried opening this up for them would undermine the success of our teams but, guess what, it had the opposite effect!

Now might be a great time for you to create some new or improved offerings for private lessons.

Your teachers may be thrilled about the chance to earn extra income while helping students reach for their goals and parents will be happy to see their children succeeding. Thanks to Alli Thornton, the co-owner of the Dance Club of Utah, who created Rehearse With Me, you have a very cool way to manage all the private lessons, rehearsals and payments.

Dramatic Rewards

In intense situations like performing, we teach our kids to dance their heart out and go for it. Likewise, for you, intense situations (drama) is your chance to better your best and feel the joy and excitement of managing your dance studio.

When you know you’re taking it to the next level you just might fall in love with your business all over again!

Have you experienced other silver linings to the drama at your dance studio?

Tell us about them in the comments!

Suzanne Gerety
Suzanne Blake Gerety is not only the very busy mom of two young children but is the owner and co-founder of DanceStudioOwner.com, and the Vice President of Kathy Blake Dance Studios. She is a regularly featured contributor in various pieces for Dance Teacher Magazine including, "Ask the Experts", business articles, and has presented live workshops at Dance Media's Dance Teacher Summit New York City. Suzanne experiences the ups and downs of studio ownership too, which is what inspires her to help studio owners and teachers keep their passion for dance alive as they grow their business. You can connect with Suzanne on Twitter @SuzanneGerety and at DanceStudioOwner.com.
Suzanne Gerety


  1. Janette Henning says:

    THANKS! What a positive input…just as I needed it.

  2. As a studio owner, I always thought, I wonder if other studios are going through “drama mama” stuff, now I feel better, it’s not just me and I am thankful for this article!!

  3. Karel Clements says:

    I used to take dance classes when I was a child…a little over nine years to be exact. I love the attitude that you have here. As a former student, I can’t count how many “dance moms” really needed to be educated on how to behave. I used to have some of my classmates crying because their moms were downright mean to them, expecting them to be perfect. These would often be the same moms that would tell some of the other students that “they should quit” because they had no talent and were no good. These moms seemed to forget how to be moms once they got to the studio. The main thing they forgot to tell their children? Have Fun!!!! You CAN have competition, and still have fun
    Brava to you, Suzanne!

  4. Am I the only dance mama in the world with a talented child who doesn’t want to do competitions? She’s ten and been asked to do private (ballet) lessons next year. She wants the lessons but not the pressure of competing. I can’t seem to find any advice about this ‘problem’! She’s good and reliable and happily takes the lead in class dance items on stage. She’s a fairly cautious child so I’ve just said let’s play it by ear, and if her teacher thinks she’s ready, try one competition and see how it feels. #firstworldproblems!

    • No Cara, you’re not. But you are very possibly in the minority as more and more studios offer or make them a priority. I’m wondering what kind of advice you are looking for… how to find a non-comp studio? how to let your teacher know you’re not interested? what are some good reasons not to compete? Other questions?

      While there are some potential benefits to competing, there are lots of advantages to not competing too, so I wouldn’t feel pressured to do it if you don’t want to. Just say no thanks. If you are receiving pressure from someone or feeling pressured because you want more intense instruction but it’s only available to the competitive kids at your studio, I’d look into other schools out there. A school associated with a dance company or maybe a non-profit may be one place to look.

      • Thanks Nichelle, we are at the best studio in our town, but I guess my concern was that private lessons seem to be conditional on entering competitions. Is this to enhance the reputation of the studio? And what about the kids who aren’t asked? There is one girl who’s very keen (but a ‘showy’ dancer) who hasn’t been asked, and her mum was asking us about competitions… I guess I’m wary of getting into this world when she is only ten!