How To Be The Ideal Dance Parent

Cathy causes drama at Abby Lee's studio on Lifetime's Dance Moms

As the parent of a dance student, your relationship with the dance teacher is a unique and important one. If you can develop a relationship of mutual respect and trust with the teacher, you are ensuring that your child will have a rewarding and productive experience as a dancer. Here are some tips to help you develop that relationship with your child’s teacher and to make the most of being the client of a dance studio:

1. Remember that the teacher loves dance. And they expect you to, as well.

I’ve yet to meet a dance teacher who isn’t completely passionate about what they do. They do what they do and are willing to put in all the long and exhausting hours, both in the classroom and out of it. They definitely don’t do it for the big bucks, but because, for many of them, dance is their life. I would daresay that dance teachers are most often used to making large and deep sacrifices on behalf of their art. You can rest assured that they will give you everything they’ve got and then some.

As wonderful as that is know about your teacher, don’t forget that that means they are likely to not be understanding with people for whom dance isn’t everything. Those of us who grew up dancing and doing nothing else have missed countless weddings, funerals, birthday parties, and other functions throughout our lives. We completely understand that important things come up in our students’ lives, but we expect the students and their parents to prioritize. By all means, if you have to miss class to take your SAT’s, I will wish you all the luck in the world and insist you prepare for those! However, if you miss something important such as a stage rehearsal, or a final rehearsal before competition, your teacher is unlikely to understand, no matter what the reason is. I had a student once miss the only stage rehearsal for our finale because of a First Communion in her family, and her mother informed me “I’m sorry, family comes before dance.” My response was, “I’m sorry, if she misses the rehearsal, she is not as prepared as the other students and therefore, cannot be in the finale.” Regardless of how good your excuse is, if you’re not there to learn what you need to learn, you’re not going to be able to do it on stage. That’s the reality.

2. Dance is different from most service industries.

Thankfully, I’ve never been confronted with a dance parent stating that “The customer is alright right.” If I were, I think I would respond with, “Well, you were mistaken…” Dance is different from many other service-based industries. In fact, I would think of a studio as an educational institution like a school or college. Yes, you are paying to attend, but by enrolling, you are also making a commitment to perform the work that is expected of you and to follow the rules. After all, how much are you going to get out of your dance education–or any education–if you don’t put any effort into it? If you enroll at a univesity, but refuse to show up for exams or turn in your papers, it doesn’t matter how much you’re paying, they’re going to throw you out. After all, why would you spend all that money to do something you’re not going to take seriously? The same concept is true in dance. Instead of expecting the studio to cater to you because you pay the bills, think of it as if you are paying for a unique opportunity and it is in your own best interest to make the most of it and work as hard as you can. Your educational experience at the studio will be all the better.

3. Follow the rules. Yes, you.

Since young dancers often have the same teacher for years and years, close bonds can form, both between the teacher and student and the teacher and the student’s parents. Hopefully, your studio feels like a big extended family. But, just because you feel close to your teacher and feel they are an important part of your lives, that doesn’t mean the teacher’s rules don’t apply to you. Rules like dress codes, and rules at competitions and recitals, are meant to be followed by EVERYONE. For example, at recital time, teachers agree to follow the rules of the facility where we are holding the show. If they insist on no food or drink inside the theater, that means it becomes OUR duty, if we ever want to hold a recital there again, to enforce those rules. Don’t assume, “Oh, Jesse knows we will be careful.” Don’t risk the entire studio losing their performance venue over Powerade or pizza. The rules are there for a reason. If you are close to your teacher, then the best thing you can do is to set an example for the other dance families.

4. Resist second-guessing the teacher’s artistic choices.

Part of what you’re paying for when taking classes at a dance studio is your teacher’s artistic expertise. Through years of experience and an intimate knowledge of what is expected within the dance world, no one is in a better position to choose music and costumes that would be perfect for a particular dancer than their teacher. Believe me, we as teachers are under immense pressure to make sure all our pieces are appropriate and comparable to what is happening in the dance world at large. You may hear the song “Jar of Hearts” on the radio and think it is just beautiful and perfect for your daughter to compete with. It is then up to your teacher to say, “Yes, I can see why you like it but it’s been used about 8 billion times in the last year, and since she is in the 13-14 solo lyrical category, chances are there will be at least two other girls dancing to the same song. Let’s find something that will be unique and progressive.”

The same applies to costumes. Your teacher will have a very good sense of what is expired and what is over-used. Oftentimes, what a student or parent thinks is just “gorgeous,” actually just isn’t. Remember, the judges at competition are dance professionals, and your teacher is more likely to have a handle on what their opinons might be.

I don’t mean to discourage anyone from offering suggestions to your dance teacher, but if they don’t agree, there is probably a good reason and it is best to just accept it and trust their judgment.

5. Be open and honest with your teacher but choose your battles.

If there is a problem or if a student feels uncomfortable with anything at the studio, I’m sure your teacher or studio owner will want to know. We want the dance experience to be wonderful for everyone! But here are some suggestions. First of all, don’t drag your teacher into studio drama or gossip. If a parent or student comes to me and says “Oh, I can’t be in that class with so-and-so, we don’t get along.” I’m very likely to respond with, “Ya know what, I don’t have time to worry about teen drama, so you’re going to figure out how to get along.” Believe me, we don’t appreciate being dragged into feuds, and we know when we are being played. Trying to turn a teacher against another student (and it happens!) is not going to end well for you.

Be very careful what you “complain” about at the studio. Dance teachers tend to be very confident and strong-willed people and you’re setting yourself up for a bad situation if you begin a conversation with anger or resentment. The best way to approach a dance teacher is carefully and respectfully. Be careful not to become labeled a “problem parent.” If you’re routinely complaining or upset and the teacher begins to dread seeing you come in the door, you may, in fact, be ruining opportunities for your child. Since dance teachers often give up their own time for extra practices, or even to create extra teams or other special projects, and if they consider you a “problem parent,” they are likely to leave your child out of special things. While teachers never want to punish a student because of the actions of a parent, you are more likely to get special opportunities and roles by being a “delightful parent,” rather than a problem one.

6. Don’t freak out!

In moments of crisis and when things go wrong, it’s easy to let the adrenaline take over and lose control. It happens often in the high-stress world of competition dance and during performances when adrenaline is running high anyway. You are more likely to resolve the situation smoothly and avoid any further complication by remaining calm, thinking of a reasonable solution, and professionally executing it. Many relationships between teachers and students have been compromised or soured because of heated moments when things were said without thought. While the fights among parents of Abby Lee’s studio might be entertaining on TV, they actually act only to hurt the students and no one wants that. Stay calm and dignified, no matter what goes wrong.

Clearly, these tips were written from the perspective of a teacher and studio owner, but I want to assure all dance parents that their teacher has their students’ best interests at heart and we want all of them to succeed. These are suggestions that will be sure to make the dance experience the best it can be for everyone involved.

Break a leg!

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About Jesse Katen

Jesse Katen is a professor, dance studio owner, and competition judge who lives in Binghamton, New York. He opened his studio, The Jesse Katen School of Dance in 2004, which is currently in Windsor, NY. He travels extensively throughout the United States as a guest teacher and professional competition judge. In 2016, he was awarded the Industry Dance Award for Outstanding Judge by the Association of Dance Conventions & Competitions at their annual gala in Las Vegas. He is the coordinator of the Honors Program at SUNY Broome Community College, where he also teaches in the English department. Jesse's professional and volunteer work focuses on education, dance, literacy, and the arts. Check out the WBNG-TV news feature on Jesse: http://www.wbng.com/story/32879982/tales-from-the-tiers-jesse-katen This blog by Jesse Katen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Posted on November 14, 2011, in Dance, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. What a great blog Jesse……I agree on most of your points (never gonna give you a perfect score); it infuriate me to be at parent watch week with advanced dancers and see them doing ballet in shorts and a tee shirt—-I wanna slap them and then ask them if their dance clothes are dirty because they wore them to basketball practice!! And the hair in the eyes is another pet peeve…..
    And attendance is a huge issue—-so many parents hve the attitude that “I’m paying so I make the choice for my child not to go”—-think about what you’re doing to the other dancers in that class—how difficult is it for the teacher to teach a class and then the next week have to reteach it because a student “opted out”
    Too often dancers try to spread themselves too thin and unfortunately
    sports always win over dance which causes the entire class to suffer.

    Like

    • Hey Linda! Thanks for reading! I totally agree! Of course, I never understood missing dance anyway…I mean is there anything more important?! I hope to see you sometime soon! I miss everyone!

      Like

  2. I agree with almost everything… does your attendance rule hold fast to 5 year olds? I have seen people skip for minor things which I don’t agree with, but in other cases it becomes almost impossible to get the child to “out of schedule” practices.

    Then there is the parent that is so dedicated they bring their very ill child and infect the whole class – not amused with that one. By the time the long recital practices came everyone had a horrid cold.

    The other thing that kills me is the people that treat the dance teacher like a babysitter. I think you need a whole other set of rules to apply to parents of under 10 age range. Little kids are a whole new set of problems especially when at that age precompany dancers aren’t in it for the same reasons as company competition dancers.

    Like

    • Hey Kjersti! Thanks for commenting!!!

      Yes, you bring up a great point. I’m extremely lenient with the youngest dancers (ages 4-5) regarding attendance and other things. I want them to enjoy coming and not be worried about being in “trouble” with the teacher. At that age, I stick to a very limited set of goals I want them to accomplish during their first year: familiarity with basic terms (plie, releve, etc) and positions, and understand the proccess of learning choreography and remembering it, all within the context of preparing for a show, and then finally to enjoy themselves and not be nervous performing on stage. Those are my goals for those kids. And perhaps most importantly, I want the studio to be a warm and comfortable place for them so that they want to come back for years and years. Missing classes now and then for whatever reason isn’t going to derail the concepts I want them to have mastered by then.

      And of course, you’re right, if you’re sick, stay at home! No one can afford to get sick, least of all the teacher! And as you are surely well aware, if you’re not feeling well and it is a struggle to concentrate and remain focused, teaching a class full of students, where you are expected to be totally “on” every second, can seem beyond torturous.

      Thanks for reading and for your feedback!

      Like

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