8 Things Dance Teachers Wish They Could Tell “Dance Moms”

by admin on January 14, 2014

Dance Teacher

We’ve all heard of the infamous TV show that has given dance parents the world over a bad name.  But what is it really like being a dance parent?  What is it like for teachers aiming to keep peace and contentment among these parents?  How can the two sides begin to see eye to eye and coexist peacefully?

One thing we should ALL know is that the TV show Dance Moms is not reality – or at least I will assure – not normal.  As with all reality TV shows, a lot of it is scripted or at least staged and obviously there wouldn’t be a show in question if they were attempting to be civil and mature.  The show should not give any parents or teachers a feeling of entitlement or become a gauge for what assume they are “allowed” to get away with.  Let’s just all agree to use it as a poor example, and carry on our merry way trying our best to prove it’s inaccuracy.

As a teacher of 14 years, I have been VERY fortunate to have only dealt with a small handful of situations where a parent and I have had a “run in”.  Literally, I think I could count them on less than one hand.  (Fellow teachers, I know you are jealous!) 😉  The studios at which I have been privileged to teach have not attracted “that type” of parent; and have usually nipped any sparks in the bud before they became an explosion.  In fact, the current group of parents with whom I work are completely phenomenal – each one goes above and beyond to adjust and cooperate and help out to make our studio great. This is why I can say from experience, “Dance Moms” is certainly not the norm!

All that said,  between my own few past experiences and those of dozens of teachers with whom I’ve discussed this topic nationwide, I have compiled this list of helpful reminders for parents.  The things teachers wish they could explain to the outlier “difficult parents”.  It’s a touchy subject, but I’m not afraid… bring on the moms! ;-P

In order for us to keep the peace and work toward the best parent/teacher relationship possible, I will address both sides with some thoughts and experiences in a two-part blog post.  As a teacher AND a dance mom (ok, she’s only in combo 1… but still!) I feel like I can speak from both angles to help smooth things out! Tonight will address the parents. But moms and dads, don’t you worry – part two, addressing teachers, will follow shortly behind!

A guide for parents:

1.  Please be mindful that your dancer, as beautiful and special and talented as he or she is, is not the only dancer at your studio.  The average dance studio has between 100-300+ students that all need a portion of our time, care and attention.  This reminder implies that:

a. We cannot make everyone happy. Most teachers really do try – but at the end of the day, we have to make decisions based upon what will be best for the studio at large, the majority of the students, and take us all in a direction that achieves our long-term vision. Please do not get upset because a decision was made that does not directly benefit your dancer. I assure you that there will be many other times that you will benefit and another dancer may be in the minority.  Over time it evens out and rest assured, all good teachers are doing their best, no matter how impossible, to keep everyone happy.

b. Your dancer may not get individualized attention/praise in every class. It’s a numbers/time principle. If your dancer is getting ignored every class week after week- bring it up as a concern in a private email and see what can be done to help her get more instruction.

c. Teachers cannot work around everyone’s personal schedule. This should be obvious, but it still comes up a lot. If your dancer is committing to a performance company or competition team, there will be a SUBSTANTIAL time commitment. Your teacher should do their best to get schedules out in a timely manner and keep the schedule reasonable and consistent; but they simply cannot work around multiple dancer’s needs. Please do not ask to be an exception to the schedule unless it is truly an exceptional case. Otherwise, save headaches by asking about scheduling conflicts well in advance. That way you have a better chance of your teacher being able to work around it.

d. Your dancer should not expect more than his or her fair share of studio time/private lessons/seamstress work/guest choreography, etc. Even if you are willing to pay every fee for these extras, there are limitations to what a studio can provide you. Remember, there are 100-300+ other dancers. There are a limited amount of studios, teacher time slots, seamstress availability, guest choreography time. Please be realistic and remember that you may not be able to get everything you want.

2. Your teachers (though most of us sincerely wish we could,) cannot work for free. Please do not expect or ask for numerous favors. Please understand that we only get paid for a tiny portion of what we actually do. I don’t know any teacher getting paid for the hours researching techniques, choreography and dance history; preparing lessons, progressions and combos prior to class; brainstorming concepts and choreographing pieces; searching for, selecting and editing music; designing or selecting costumes and working with a seamstress; and the list goes on and on. We get paid for the actual time we spend teaching class. Please do your part to pay what you sign up for. We truthfully aren’t trying to become rich! We just have to pay our heating bill. 😉

3. Please try to be mindful that teachers too have a need for a private life. I know that most of us love you, your dancers and our jobs more than is actually healthy. However, we are also people with families, friends, and non-dance priorities. Please be conscientious about what time you call or text. Is it right during family dinner? Date night? After bedtime? In the middle of the bloomin’ night? (Yes, it’s happened to every teacher once or twice…) I always say, email is best – unless either A. It’s a true emergency, B. Your teacher has expressed he/she prefers texts or calls, or C. It’s a quick “When does rehearsal end tonight” sent between 9am-8pm. 🙂 An email is a nice way to say “I need a question answered, but go ahead and answer it when you have a free moment”. Another option is to email to ask “When can I come in and talk to you about [fill in the blank] in person?” It’s common courtesy, and it shows that you have respect for your teacher’s private life. I promise, they will appreciate that!

4. Teachers are certainly not perfect. We make mistakes like any other human! If you have an issue of any kind, please help us by doing a few things: First, in some circumstances it’s best to let things simmer over night. Something that may seem atrocious at 10pm, may seem a little less so in the morning. It may still need addressing at that point, but you will probably be able to get through the confrontation in a more reasonable manner after a good night’s sleep. You don’t want to call in the heat of passion and say something you will regret later. Next, please consider the situation from all angles. Like I said before, your dancer is not the only one a teacher is trying to help and please. Put yourself in his/her dancing shoes and try to understand the climate before you get angry. And finally – referring back to #3 above – please consider the “WHAT/WHEN/WHERE/WHO” rule. Carefully articulate WHAT is bothering you in clear terms. Discuss beforehand a TIME and PLACE to meet to discuss the issue. And, possibly most important, carefully consider WHO to involve in the issue. (Usually the rule of thumb on that one is – the less you involve the better!)

5. I would venture to say, one of the most common parent-teacher issues arises when a dancer is not cast/chosen for a dance and/or is not made the “star”/soloist/front-row-dancer. This is always a tough pill to swallow, and I can say from my experience as a mom, all of us want our child to shine! However, first stop to ask yourself – is it best to call the teacher and complain that you believe they made the wrong choice? What will the repercussions be? In my experience, it usually doesn’t help anyone in the situation. I totally understand the mommy bear instinct. When my son was placed on the bench for football I wanted to scream and cry and kick the coach where it counts. But the more I thought about it – I realized that all of those things would detriment me AND MY SON (and, let’s face it – his coach) more than help us.  I strongly believe that it is important for children to learn to accept and work through disappointments. *Soapbox time* The rising generation, generally speaking, is one bathed in entitlement. One that gets bailed out of mistakes and expects preferential treatment. This is not a good thing. Watching my boy on the bench cheering on his teammates and working hard to become better each practice was inspiring to me.  And guess what – he started playing more and more each game, and the coach didn’t end up resenting me (or kicking us off the team altogether) for giving in to my motherly instincts! Just be there for them – hug them, wipe their tears, affirm how amazing you know they are, and watch them grow and become stronger. Disappointment happens. Help them deal with it in a mature and classy way.

6. Let your dancer be responsible. Don’t hover. Don’t immediately bail him or her out of a mistake. Especially older teens – start allowing them to set up their own private lessons, possibly even *gasp* pay for some of their training with their own money if circumstances allow. Let them do their own hair, makeup, and costume packing. This will only help prepare them as they enter the professional world!

7. But OF COURSE still re-check their costume checklist before a performance. What do you think I am, crazy?! Just do it when they’re not looking. 😉

8. Rounding our list off with possibly the most important word of advice: TRUST your teachers. You chose your studio and the teachers therein for various reasons. You need to let go and know that your dancer’s teachers are going to do the best they can to help your dancer reach his or her goals. You may not understand every decision or technique that each teacher uses, but you must be willing to accept that most teachers really do know a thing or two. 😉 Give them your confidence. You will be amazed at how much more your dancer will receive from a teacher who knows they have your trust and respect.

Well, there you have it! Ultimately, both sides have to compromise, cooperate, bend and promenade to make the relationship work. Stay tuned for the follow up: Part Two: 8 Things Parents Wish They Could Tell Teachers. Oooooh, this is gonna be good!

Dance on,

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