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Let’s be honest.  Keeping our students and their parents happy is essential to creating and maintaining a flourishing dance studio business. In order to thrive in an industry where your competition is virtually a few doors down, it’s difficult to balance diplomacy, client contentment and authoritative practice.  Bottom line- if you have no happy clients, you have no successful business…. and vice versa. There is a very fine line however when it comes to over indulging parents and asserting your knowledge and what is right for your business and student progress.

The first thing to be mindful of is you are never, I repeat never, going to make everyone happy at a single given time. The sooner you accept that the more realistic you are going to be. While every effort should be made to accommodate students and their families on things like yearly schedules, rehearsal times, competition dates, performances, meetings etc., at the end of the day someone is always going to have to “make it work;” and that’s OK. As long as you are doing your best for the sake of the majority and the students, that is what should take priority. Everyone at some point will have to make concessions (even you,) so if the commitment is there, a solution is always within reach through communication and compromise.

Another issue that often arises is student placement. Parents sometimes believe their little dancers belong in a higher level, deserve that feature or solo and is moving at lightening pace way beyond the other students. Of course parents should be the dancer’s biggest fan and be involved, but sometimes their objectivity is skewed and will translate into assertiveness if changes aren’t made accordingly. It doesn’t make things easier that at times parents talk and the waiting room can often become a place of gossip of whose kid got into what and which dancer has been moved into this class, etc. Nip this in the bud. Parents and students are to be made aware that while it is always encouraged to schedule a private meeting with you, the director, to discuss student evaluation and questions or concerns regarding their child, it is your job to remind them that no two dancers’ journey should ever be compared. Remember, you and your faculty are the knowledgeable ones and don’t let that be underestimated.  A parent challenging you should never be seen as an issue, remembering that they only want what’s best for their child. However, there is a reason why they chose your school in the first place and while being authoritative should never be translated into rudeness, at times you need to be confident and clear as to when it’s appropriate to bend a little and where to draw the line in the sand.

For those parents who are extremely aggressive, unhappy with how you run things, gossip and like to shall we say, “stir the pot,” use caution that this will inevitably trickle down to the dancers themselves and unfortunately is more common than not at times. You and your teachers again are to always be the voices of reason and set this straight immediately. While you may not be able to control adults and what they will discuss, trying to establish and reinforce an environment of support, collaboration and teamwork goes along way with little ones. Again, everyone’s path is different, not better, not worse, just different. Dancers will excel on their own time and sticking to that will help your dancers fair better in the long run.

Finally, while it’s always difficult and not ideal, for those parents who do threaten to take their son or daughter and leave to go to another studio, give great thought as to why? If they are simply unhappy because you are setting healthy boundaries, will not succumb to their demands of giving their child a solo or moving them to a level you know will do more harm than good, sometimes it’s better to call their bluff and let them go. None of us want to or can afford to lose business, but on these rare occasions, the environment and energy you surround yourself and your studio with is more important than losing one student. With every loss, often comes 2-3 more students you will acquire. So, always go with your gut. Do your best to accommodate your clients, but remember why you started your business and how the decisions and beliefs you’ve established is why it remains successful today. Besides, nobody likes a bully. Stay true to yourself.

Good luck.

See you in the dance studio,


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Jessica Rizzo Stafford

Jessica Rizzo Stafford

Jessica Rizzo Stafford is a native New Yorker and graduate of NYU Steinhardt's Dance Education Master’s Program; with a PK-12 New York State Teaching Certification. Her double-concentration Master’s Degree includes PK-12 pedagogy and dance education within the higher-education discipline. She also holds a BFA in dance performance from the UMASS Amherst 5 College Dance Program where she was a Chancellor's Talent Award recipient. Jess now works extensively with children, adolescents and professionals as choreographer and teacher and conducts national and international master-classes specializing in the genres of modern, contemporary, musical theatre and choreography-composition. Jess’ national and international performance career includes works such as: The National Tour of Guys & Dolls, The European Tour of Grease, West Side Story, Cabaret, Sweet Charity, Salute to Dudley Moore at Carnegie Hall, guest-dancer with the World Famous Pontani Sisters and IMPULSE Modern Dance Company. Jess has been a faculty member for the Perichild Program & Peridance Youth Ensemble & taught contemporary and jazz at the historic New Dance Group and 92nd Street Y in NYC. She was Company Director at the historic Steffi Nossen School of Dance/Dance in Education Fund and in 2008 traveled to Uganda where she taught creative-movement to misplaced children. The experience culminated with Jess being selected as a featured instructor at the Queen's Kampala Ballet & Modern Dance School. She has conducted workshops for the cast of LA REVE at the Wynn, Las Vegas and recently taught at the 2011 IDS International Dance Teacher Conference at The Royal Ballet in London, UK. She is also on faculty for the annual Dance Teacher Web Conferences in Las Vegas, NV. Currently, Jess is a faculty member at the D'Valda & Sirico Dance & Music Centre and master teacher & adjudicator for various national and international dance competitions. Recently, she has finished her NYU Master’s thesis research on the choreographic process of technically advanced adolescent dancers and is the creator of “PROJECT C;” a choreography-composition curriculum for the private studio sector. Jess is also faculty member, contributing writer and presenter in the choreography and “how to” teaching segments on the celebrated For more info, visit her website at

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