Ideally parents and studio directors would see eye to eye on everything but we all know that it doesn’t always happen that way.
Dance parents invest almost as much (if not equal) time as dance students in their dance school. Not to mention, the financial investment for lessons, costumes, private classes, competitions, and more. It isn’t unusual or surprising, therefore, that as a parent, you may feel you have a lot to say about how a studio is run.
Parents, it is not at all unreasonable to ask questions or express your concern over the policies at your school if it is in the best interest of your child to do so. If you are hoping to discuss your concerns with a teacher or director follow this plan for making your approach.
- Take a breath
- Collect your thoughts
- Time your approach
- Buffer your complaints and opinions
- Be willing to listen
- Be willing to walk away
Take A Breath
Often when there is a problem or we’re upset about something, our feelings get all jumbled up with our reasons for wanting to see change happen. For example, a dance mom recently contacted me with concern about the attire (bra tops and booty shorts) which older company dancers are wearing for class or for assisting with younger students. When she expressed her concerns to me, she gave one reason she wants to see a change – the attire is not morally upstanding, and then added several ways it makes her feel – she finds it embarrassing, believes this makes the girls poor role models, and maintains that it does not match the values she wishes to uphold for her daughter (a younger student at the school).
Whether or not you agree with the reasons or her feelings, attire is a legitimate concern for this parent. However, if she were to approach the director with only one reason and a whole jumble of feelings, you might see how this could be a problem, especially if the director doesn’t agree or feel the same way.
Imagine the director feels the girls are good role models and that they show this in ways outside of what they wear. Imagine the director of the school does not share your value system, or disagrees that wearing this particular attire is morally incorrect. Imagine he/she is not embarrassed by the attire – many dancers don’t have the same uncomfortable feelings about the human form as others because they spend so much time on study and analysis of the body. Imagine no other parents or teachers at the studio have expressed concern on the matter.
Always take a moment. a breath. a day. a week. or two! to think through your reasons and separate them a bit from your feelings.
Somewhere between taking a breath and collecting your thoughts, you should consider if the problem or concern you have is a matter of studio policy or addressed in the school handbook.
Policies are typically in place for good reason and if you have an issue with something you have already agreed to or have been notified about, bringing the issue to studio management should be very carefully considered. Always read a studio’s policies before enrolling and question anything you don’t understand or have concerns about at that time. Constructive criticism of the rules is usually welcome when delivered appropriately (see below) but if you knew the policy and agreed, it is within the business owner’s right to simply restate the policy. That’s what written policies and handbooks are for.
Collect Your Thoughts
Before approaching a studio owner/director with a concern it is a good idea to think through the varying reasons why you feel a change may be in order. You can include the personal reasons you would like to see things done differently but support your ideas and concerns with logical examples.
Going back to the problem with attire, our concerned dance mom could argue that girls struggling with weight or body insecurities (like breast size) may feel additional pressure or inadequacy when surrounded by girls in clothing that hides (or supports) nothing. She may even present alternatives. The dancer uniform of leotard and tights allows the instructor to see what they need to – it won’t solve any difficulties a student is having with body image, but the wide variety of class appropriate leotards, support garments, and warm-ups means greater likelihood that young women of varying body types will find something that works for them.
When you present well-thought out arguments for how or why the director might handle something differently, you are more likely to be heard. The director can listen and consider your opinions. That doesn’t mean that change is inevitable.
Time Your Approach
This is so important! I can speak from experience as one on the receiving end of parent concerns (for a variety of issues) that the way a parent approaches me can have a tremendous affect on my response. Think about the ways this is true for yourself, in your work or at home!
The timing of your approach can make or break your argument. Set a time that is convenient for the teacher/studio owner to sit down for a discussion rather than confronting her between classes or while she is “on duty” with other responsibilities of the work day.
Hopefully your studio has a publicized protocol that sets clear guidelines for studio parents and students and makes communicating problems and concerns easy.
If your studio does not have such a protocol established, you may need to go forward much more carefully. Thoughtfully decide to whom, how, and when it is best to address your concern. Please, don’t talk, gossip about, or sway opinions on the issue with other parents, students, or teachers. It won’t help your case and it will lead to negative feelings on every level.
Buffer Your Complaints and Opinions
I’ve spent years teaching and, like most jobs worth doing, it is a thankless one. Someone who has taken the time to offer compliments along the way, or who approaches me with positive things to say about the tremendous work I’ve put in, gets further than those who approach me only to say something negative or tell me when I’ve done something wrong. Dance teachers and studio directors are no different from anyone else in their desire for criticisms to be delivered with care. So, making yourself heard is often a matter not of what you say but how you say it.
Be Willing To Listen
Most instructors think and debate with themselves on every choice they make. We are heavily invested in your child too! A teacher has a right to her opinions, feelings, and choices just as you, the parent, have a right to yours and a business owner can and should run their businesses according to their own values in life and in dance. Once you have had your say, stay open to the counter-arguments presented. The reasons behind certain policies or decisions may be very good ones!
Be Willing To Walk Away
You may do all the “right” things when you approach the studio owner and still not receive the desired response. It is okay to request change as long as you are willing to also accept that it is the director or teacher’s prerogative to run things according to his values and/or the prevailing attitude of her customers, and leave the school respectfully if this studio’s choices will in any way compromise the values you seek to uphold. If you no longer feel comfortable in the environment or it is not a good fit for your child or your family, the only thing left to do is make a change.
Nichelle Suzanne is a writer specializing in dance and online content. She is also a dance instructor with over 20 years experience teaching in dance studios, community programs, and colleges. She began Dance Advantage in 2008, equipped with a passion for movement education and an intuitive sense that a blog could bring dancers together. As a Houston-based dance writer, Nichelle covers dance performance for Dance Source Houston, Arts+Culture Texas, and other publications. She is a leader in social media within the dance community and has presented on blogging for dance organizations, including Dance/USA. Nichelle provides web consulting and writing services for dancers, dance schools and studios, and those beyond the dance world. Read Nichelle’s posts.