Making room for the right kind of students

I built my studio from the ground up, literally. Like many other dance teachers, I built my own studio, swinging a hammer next to my husband, in my garage. I started with just a of couple classes one day a week. I had my two sons and a few of their friends in my first class and believe me, every student counted. I worked overtime to make sure that every student was happy and every parent was happy. I built a reputation one dancer at a time. Flash forward fifteen years and I now own two successful studios and my handful of dancers have blossomed in to hundreds. I still make it my mission for every dancer to leave my class with a smile. My perspective on making sure that every parent is happy though has definitely changed. In September of this past year, I had a class that was problems from day one. Two of the parents had a falling out and they were determined to hash it out through their daughters’ dance class. I had one mom march in to the class and yell at the teacher because the other girl was touching her daughter. The same mom confronted my office staff to say that she didn’t want her daughter in the same class as the other little girl. Soon they were dragging other parents in to the situation to choose sides and bad-mouthing the teacher and the studio. It was ridiculous. It was disruptive, immature, petty, and in no way supported our studio policies or the learning environment. And I’d had enough.

Now in my younger years, I may have tolerated the behavior, or even tried to appease these moms, but there is wisdom in my years. I have learned that it is not my job to make every parent happy. In fact, for some parents there is just no making them happy. And when making them happy is in direct contrast to the needs of the dancers, it’s time to take a stand.

I called this particular mom and told her politely, yet firmly, that her behavior was not in line with our studio policies or the climate that we promoted within the studio. I told her that therefore, I did not feel that our studio was a good fit for her family. It was amazing how fast she tried to back pedal and did not want to leave the studio – the same studio that the week before she had publicly trashed. But I held firm. I knew she would probably continue to talk badly about our studio, which she did, and try to pull other students to leave with her, which she did, but I was willing to accept that rather than allow the behavior to continue.

When all was said and done, five students left the class as a result of this debacle. At first, I was frustrated, upset, and feeling defeated that I had lost so many students. First of all, I felt as if I had failed those dancers, and secondly, the studio is a business and losing students is a financial blow. We moved on though, and focused on making the class a fun, positive learning environment for the remaining dancers.

This past week, I walked in to that same class and had a moment of clarity. I now have a full class of fifteen dancers. These young ladies come in each week with smiles on their faces and are working incredibly hard. They are quiet, focused, hard-working – and I’ve never heard anything but compliments from their parents. In fact, this class that was such a terror earlier in the year is now one of my favorite classes to teach. It is filled with talented, happy, cooperative dancers – and parents who support their dancers and our studio.

If I had tried to make that one parent happy, I know that this class would not have existed. As dance teachers, we need to stop being afraid of losing students. We can not sacrifice our integrity for the will of the “customer.” If we know that we are treating our dancers well and genuinely invested in their dance education, then we need to stand strong.

If you know who you are and stand by your principles, then you will attract people who want what you have to offer. Sometimes letting students go is just making room for the right kind of students.