A dance mom recently came into our studio with several complaints. She had an issue with paying for classes that her daughters didn't come to, she had a complaint about the costumes the teachers wore in last year's recital for their number, and she had many questions about the rigid rules we make students abide by.
Her issue with the classes that her daughters didn't come to was that the ballet teacher was gone for a month, and a substitute taught classes for four weeks. She said her daughters didn't want to come dance with a substitute and she didn't think it fair that she had to pay tuition if her daughters didn't want a substitute.
Her complaint about the teacher's costumes in the recital last year was that they were simple and easily bought for cheap at a department store. She didn't think it was fair that all students had to purchase a costume for the recital full of sequins or rhinestones, but the teachers didn't have to do the same.
Her issue with the rigid rules we make students follow included the strict attendance policies, the dress code, and the cost of tuition in general.
Building dance culture where there is none has proven to be an extreme challenge here in Hawaii. Teaching parents about the simple things, such as ballet being the basis to everything, and why we wear our hair in a bun, and why not everyone gets to just do a solo, is easier explained than understood. Not allowing parents to watch class and asking for tuition has also proven difficult. A lot of parents see dance as an activity like soccer that should be free through the school or a club, however the school hasn't provided us with any space, so we have to charge tuition in order to pay our rent and offer your child a safe space to come and dance. We had to pay for good dance floors – cement is not a healthy surface for dancers. We had to pay for mirrors – yes, glass is THAT expensive. We had to pay for barres, and marley, and rights to play music – all before even asking for tuition to pay the teachers.
Let me tell you from deep down in my heart, we aren't trying to get rich – we're just trying to do it right.
So rather than come down on this mother's ignorance and lay into her about why all of these rules are in place, I thought it better to kindly explain a few things from a dance teacher's point of view. Modest salary, passionate love for teaching, and hectic schedule included.
1. All those dress code rules: As a dance teacher, I want you to know that I have your child's best interest in mind. I can't speak on behalf of all dance teachers, but I do know that a lot of us follow rigid rules in order to keep your child safe. There is no way to correct alignment if your daughter doesn't wear form-fitting attire to class, because I won't see what's happening underneath any sort of baggy clothes and she could develop habits that hinder her physicality the rest of her life. Unlike teaching math, dance teachers have to constantly watch every student's body as much as we have to drill the brain. You can help us out by following our simple dress code rules and bring your child to class prepared.
2. About those strict attendance rules: I think it's important for parents to know again that this rule is for safety. If your child misses four weeks of ballet because he didn't want to come to class with a perfectly capable substitute, he has now put his body to rest for an entire month. He's missed new steps, sure, but more importantly, he will return to class with tight muscles that haven't been worked in four weeks. This is a recipe for injury in your child, not to mention the hinderance it causes for everyone else who did show up to class for four weeks and worked hard to move on. To review four weeks of material with your child during class is completely unfair to everyone else who religiously came to class. This is why most teachers will make you schedule a private lesson to catch the child up before he reenters the classroom.
3. Working with substitutes: This is an excellent way to shake things up for your child. Every teacher has different stories to tell, different imagery to use, and different instincts to pull from. Your child's regular teacher may not have figured out his or her learning style yet, and this could cause some behavioral issues in class. Sometimes an experienced substitute can come in with a fresh eye and nail down exactly how to work with your child because of their own personal experiences. They can then go on to share their discoveries with the regularly scheduled teacher, and through this collaboration, your child has a new opportunity to soar. Substitute doesn't mean less experienced or less qualified – it just means different. And different can be a good thing.
4. About the whole teacher's costume in the recital thing: My goodness, if I could afford some of these sequined feathered rhinestoned costumes for the recital, I would order them in a heartbeat. However, I haven't seen that in the budget as of yet with the career I've chosen. Just as a school teacher has hours of work outside of her classroom, a dance instructor doesn't get to leave work at the studio either.
I spent twelve unpaid hours searching for costumes this week alone. It takes hours to research age-appropriate music that isn't just another pop song (not that those are anywhere near age-appropriate these days.) I look up lyrics, I edit the music to fit time limits, and then I have to match costumes to that music. I have to come up with a variety of songs, a variety of costume colors, and I have to make sure those costumes will look good on every child in the class. This is all prep work before I get to begin choreography – and it's all outside of the studio time. Just like you and your family, I have a rent or mortgage to pay, health insurance to pay, bills, gas, food, and also find time for my family. So does the studio owner and all the other teachers at the studio. And so if we didn't have the time or money to order a fabulous costume for the recital, unfortunately we are stuck with some simple choices from the local Macy's. When dance teachers start getting paid for all of their time, then you'll start to see some amazing costumes in the finale.
5. Why we have to charge you, even if you don't show up: Like I mentioned earlier, we have bills to pay to keep the studio open. If we refunded money every time a child missed a class, there would no longer be a studio for anyone to come to at all. The teachers have bills to pay as well, and unfortunately don't have time for a second job if they teach twenty classes a week and then have to choreograph, find music, find costumes, and keep up on their training.
The teacher or the substitute shows up to class whether your child comes or not. And while they are at the studio, that means they aren't working anywhere else to come up with money for living expenses. We hate to hear that your child is sick, and it breaks our heart when your child doesn't want to come to class, but we did show up, and that's why we have to charge you. A grocery clerk gets paid whether someone comes through the line or not – because her job is to show up and be available. The same is true for dance teachers. Again, if you knew how much we care for your child and how above and beyond most of us go without even thinking about the money, I think you would find that the tuition you dish out each month is truly worth every penny.
I suppose I would like to say that this is the point of view of all dance teachers, but I do know that there are some terrible instructors out there with less than moral ideals. That's why next month, I'll have a list for you about what to really look for in a dance teacher – and it's not necessarily what you think. For today, I'll just speak for myself.
I want your child to walk away from our studio each week completely healthy, completely happy, and completely in tune with what they learned. I want them to feel confident and eager for more.
I never signed up to get rich. I never signed up to wear Macy's tees in the recital. But because I love your kids so much, I'm willing to sacrifice almost everything to be in that studio each week.
All I ask is that you do the same.
About the Author:
Amanda Trusty currently serves as the Artistic Director for Kona Dance and Performing Arts, a nonprofit performing arts center on Hawai'i Island. She studied musical theatre at Shenandoah University and the American Musical and Dramatic Academy, and currently studies tap dance under Gregory Hines' protégé Andrew Nemr. With a decade of professional performance and choreography credits from theaters both inside and outside of New York City, Amanda is passionate about using her artistry as a vehicle for change, with a sharp focus on empowering the next generation. As a freelance writer and activist, Amanda was recognized in 2015 by the Huffington Post as one of nine women bringing body positivity to dance.