As a studio owner we are constantly faced with having to talk to parents about the numerous situations that come up each and every day. One thing about our business — it is never boring or monotonous. Parents make sure of that…sometimes in a good way and sometimes not!

As a studio owner we are constantly faced with having to talk to parents about the numerous situations that come up each and every day. One thing about our business — it is never boring or monotonous. Parents make sure of that…sometimes in a good way and sometimes not!

 

More often than not we are placed in the position of having to let the parent know that we need things to be done our way in order for their children to succeed. Sometimes parents just want to voice an opinion and be heard, but sometimes they can be very inflexible with their demands.

 

Whether it is about missing clothes, an issue between a teacher and a student, jealousy of another student or just a parent wanting to push their child ahead, there is always something that needs to be discussed and resolved.

 

In my experience, it is always better to talk to parents as soon as possible regarding any issues they might have because, left to drift out there, they can become larger than life scenarios that are much more difficult to deal with.

 

Here are situations that often come up in our day-to-day lives as studio owners and suggestions of how to deal with them.

 

1)      The pushy parent who wants their child in all the advanced classes.

What can you say to a parent who is convinced that their child is being held back because you are recommending that the child continue in the level that is appropriate? The first thing that I usually point out is that at the end of each year we evaluate each student and give our recommendations as to which classes will be most beneficial for each student’s training. We send these to each family prior to our registration. These recommendations are based on each child’s age, level of technique, level of improvement and all-round capabilities as a student. I let parents know that it is very normal for a student to stay two to three years in a level, depending on the amount of classes they take. Obviously if a child is taking one class a week it is going to take them longer to advance. On the other side of that, sometimes students can take a number of classes and still have difficulty learning technique and/or style in any particular type of dance. There is no one rule because each child develops in their own way.

 

I also tell the parent is that it is not safe to put a dancer in a level that is too advanced because he or she will be asked to do technique that they do not yet understand and that is going to put enormous pressure on a body not yet ready or developed for that type of stress. Most people can understand this logical approach and explanation, but there are some who just do not want to listen. A common retort is, 'Well, I saw my child in the show and she can do just as well as those dancers!' Of course, what they fail to realize is that either you or one of your faculty gave them the technique that they were able to handle which, in turn, made them look and feel good. I let the parent know that there is absolutely no reason for us to hold a dancer back, but as teachers we have a responsibility to train the students at a pace that we feel is suitable. If, at the end of all of this discussion, we are at an impasse, I tell them that there needs to be a definite trust with the way we are training their child and if that is not there, then we are definitely not the studio for them.

 

The bottom line is, you are the professional and it is important for the well-being of the dancer that the parent understands you cannot be pushed into agreeing to place a child in a class that you know is not right for them.

 

2)      Jealousy: students and parents. Jealousy is something that always seems to rear its ugly head and can present itself in any number of ways. Parents who are overinvolved or living through their child are very often the culprits. Children, left to their own devices, are very often able to overcome jealousy in dancing just by focusing on ways they themselves can get better. A student who is jealous of another student is obviously very insecure. We have had situations over the years where jealousy has really limited students’ progress. Very often if students are given corrections and understand how to apply them, they will start to improve quickly. When a teacher is choreographing a number they will use the student who has been applying the corrections in some kind of featured way because they know she will look good and work hard to achieve the desired goal.

 

We had one student who was very gifted, but also an extremely hard worker. I became suspicious when I saw her making mistakes with steps that I knew she could do—standing in the back instead of in front, marking instead of doing everything full out. When I talked to this student, she asked me to stop correcting her because some of the other dancers were picking on her on a daily basis because they were jealous of the parts she was being given. A child sometimes does not know how to react to this kind of intimidation. I addressed all the dancers and we had a good discussion about corrections being a gift and that instead of being resentful of someone else’s corrections, it’s important to listen to all of them so that as a group everyone would improve. The other dancers responded well to this talk and this particular issue died down quickly.

 

Jealousy from a parent can be a very destructive force because not only is there a problem with the person at the receiving end, but also with the individual’s own child. If someone is constantly hearing negative things from their parent about a fellow student, it has to affect them in a negative way also. This can be very damaging. The only way to deal with this kind of situation is to have a meeting with the parent and get it all out in the open. Sometimes we can find ways to make the parent understand that this type of behavior is very destructive all around, but occasionally in this situation it is necessary to ask the family to leave the studio. If you permit this jealousy to continue without addressing it, you are laying yourself open to all kinds of problems. None of us likes to ask a customer to leave, but it is extremely important to send the right message to everyone.

 

 

3)      Parents who want to be in charge of choreography and casting! I’m sure at one time or another you have had a parent question you about your choreography or your casting choices or both. I know I have! It is not uncommon for parents to want to know why their child is in the back or not as featured as another dancer. Of course, we make those decisions when we plan the number. Or perhaps we give the students a piece of choreography and we see who looks the best doing it. Whenever I am doing choreography for the general student body, I try to move the dancers around the stage as much as possible so that actually no one is caught just being in the back. But sometimes a child needs to be placed further back or behind other dancers for obvious reasons. When a parent comes to discuss choreography with me I am very clear and very reasonable: I simply do not discuss any choreography with a parent. It would be like a surgeon discussing an operation with a patient’s family in terms that they did not understand. Choreography is part of my profession, so I do always take the time to explain that to any inquiring parent. I use my dancers in a way that will showcase their strengths and camouflage their weaknesses. I will use a dancer in a solo piece or a featured spot if they have already shown me in class that they can handle the extra responsibility. I would never put a dancer onstage doing anything that I am not a 100 perceent sure they are successful with in class. Again, it is a trust issue and most parents, once they understand how you arrive at the selection process, will be behind you going forward.

 

Dealing with parents is always interesting and usually fun. Don’t be afraid to hold your ground on issues that you feel strongly about and know are in all your students’ best interests.