Dancer : Maggie Carey
Photo by : Geek With a Lens

Okay, so I have written what dance teachers should never say to students and what students should never say to their dance teachers, so I guess this is the next progression.

The other day a colleague of mine turned to me and sighed, ‘If only all our students were orphans, this job would be so much easier.’  Well, I’m not sure about that, but it did get me thinking that this article was long overdue.

Yes, all these things have been said to me over the years.  When I was a young teacher, I would just stare in shock at these comments.  However, as I grew older and more confident in myself and my profession, I used them as teachable moments to explain to parents why these aren’t exactly appropriate to say to professional dance teachers.  I learned that most of the parents weren’t trying to be rude or offensive; they just didn’t know how their questions and comments sounded.

Do you have a real job?  Excuse me, but you did pay for your child to learn from me.  Teaching dance, or any art form for that matter, is a calling that all of us teachers take very seriously…for us it is a very real job.

I know I don’t know anything about dance, but….  Please, stop right there.  In fact, that’s usually when I hold my hand up.  That’s right you don’t know anything about dance which is why you pay a monthly tuition for me to teach your child.  If I say the child isn’t ready to be moved up a level, have pointe shoes, or dance that role, I am not saying that to be cruel or unfair.  I’m saying those things to keep your child safe and because I know what I’m doing.  If you don’t trust my expertise, judgment and that, just like you, I want what is best for your child, then you really should find another teacher that you deem more trustworthy.

 I don’t appreciate you disciplining my child.    The good news is that I have only had this said to me once in all the years I have taught. The truth is I don’t really appreciate the fact that your child needed to be disciplined. The arts are called disciplines.  Dance, ballet especially, has a strict code of conduct that dates back from its beginnings in the 1500’s and many of those rules of etiquette still apply today.  When you ask me to teach your child ballet, you are asking me to teach them all the etiquette that goes along with it.  I am never cruel when I correct misbehavior, but it is my job to address it. I never raise my voice with my students; I never humiliate them or threaten them.  I am very clear the first day about the rules in my classroom and I make sure my expectations are age appropriate.  Besides, it is not all about your child, there are usually over ten other students in the class that are paying tuition as well and they need a quiet and structured learning environment and it’s my responsibility to provide it.

I know she’s (or he’s) really talented at dance, but it would be a shame for her (or him) to be a dancer because she (or he) is so smart.  Okay, did you realize you just called dancers stupid?  Dancers have to be able to learn complicated movements quickly and accurately. They need to portray an emotion or character.  They need to control their entire body, move in a very specific way in an intricate floor pattern to music.  They need to be able to coordinate their legs, arms, feet, hands and head, keep their balance, problem solve on the fly when something unexpected happens on stage and they need to do it all in French.  In fact, in a major study, dancing ballet is the only thing that’s been found to slightly reverse the effects of Alzheimer’s and dementia. Kinesthetic, rational, musical and emotional parts of the brain light up when you dance.   This can increase the amount of neural paths in the brain making you smarter. Dancers are highly intelligent.

I pay for classes, so you work for me.  Yes, you pay tuition every month and a small percentage of that goes to me as the teacher.  However, you are paying for my expertise in something you do not know about and you are paying me to pass that information along to your child.  I am not your personal employee.

Why didn’t my kid get that part?  This one always hurts my heart.  Unfortunately, the fact of the matter is that your child may never dance a lead role.  Each role has a specific skill set that a dancer needs to have in order to dance the role well.  Sometimes that is technique, sometimes that’s stage presence and sometimes it’s just personality trait like perseverance.  You might think that we are hurting your child’s self-esteem by never giving them a lead role, but do you really think it would be better for their self-esteem for us to give them a role at which we know they cannot possibly be successful?

You don’t really understand kids since you don’t have any of your own.  That is true, I don’t have children of my own.  By the way, that was by choice so that I could give all my energy and attention to my students. (Before anyone gets on their high horse, no I’m not saying that teachers that have children are not as committed to their students as I am. This is just what I know works for me.)  I have worked with thousands of children in my career and for many years, so I have actually had more experience dealing with children in a professional setting than most parents.  I know what it takes to get them what they want, if what they want is a job in the profession.  The relationship between teacher and student is different from that of parent and child and it needs to be.

My daughter went on and on about how nice it was of you to come in and coach her on her audition, but I told her that you were just doing your job.  How is it that the child understands and the parent does not?  I get paid for the classes I teach.  If I come in early, stay late, have a conference with you or your child, fill out evaluation forms, help you take audition photos, write a letter of recommendation, create an audition video for college or summer programs, or coach you on a role you have not yet earned, it is on my own time and out of the goodness of my heart and the love of my students.  You do not pay your tuition once a month and then own me.  Private coaching before an audition was not part of what the parent was paying for and can cost up to $100 an hour.  I was very happy to do it, but it was NOT my job to do that for her child and her child should be very appreciative of what I did for her.

When can my child move up? or When does my child get pointe shoes? When the teacher thinks they are ready, he or she will let you know.   These questions are not going to make the teacher look at you and say, ‘Oh my goodness, I totally forgot.  I meant to do that three weeks ago!  Thanks for reminding me!’  

I can’t possibly volunteer, I work.  Number one, most parents work. Number two, by not volunteering, you are expecting other parents to take care of your child. Number three, your tuition does not begin to cover the hundreds of hours it takes to stage a production, which means the teacher is volunteering too.  Besides if all parents thought this way, we would never have the resources to put on productions.  The teacher cannot be expected to run the light board, the sound board, line the kids up to go on the stage, be in the dressing room, pull the curtain, make and fit the costumes, run the boutique table and the concessions, run the prop table, make the programs, hand out the programs, usher, sell the tickets and call the cues for the show all at the same time.  It takes many people to make all of this happen.  If you want your child to have a great experience on stage, it’s your responsibility to help.

And here’s an extra one for the college dance parent and something you probably don’t know:  What is my child’s grade?   Regardless if you’re paying for the college class, college professors are not legally allowed to share your child’s grade or attendance records with you. Asking this question puts us in an awkward situation and answering in any way can have severe legal consequences for us.     

The teacher/parent relationship is an important one and it is important that respect is shown on both sides of the equation.  I love most of the parents I work with and have found them a real asset when it comes to supporting the learning of all my students and, for that, I am very grateful!