Dance studio owners and their teachers build their companies from the ground up—welcoming students at an early age and developing them into beautiful dancers. But, inevitably, those dancers that spent years dedicated fully to dance grow up into adolescents where high school and other extracurricular activities begin to compete for priority.
Most adolescent dancers are pulled in a million directions. Activities like show choir, dance team, drill team, and sports all begin to conflict with dance class. And other academic and educational events like the ACT, SAT, or college visits also vie for their time. So how can dance studios and teachers keep up when a packed dance schedule of recitals, competitions, end-of-year performances, and auditions are always around the corner?
Two dance studio owners with over 20 years of experience share their tips for allowing dancers to be well-rounded academically while also holding them accountable to their commitments at dance.
Set Expectations From the Beginning
Aggie Eidson, owner of Studio A in Pleasant Hill, California, sets expectations early. She has the parents come in for a meeting before students even audition for her company team and outlines the time commitment and attendance expectation. Absences in the recreational program are encouraged to be made up, but on the company team, they are required.
Shannon Owens, owner of Centre Stage in Mt. Vernon, Illinois, goes a step further to reiterate why attendance to class is important. “We communicate to our students and parents that attendance is important because we learn so much in a year, especially when we get to setting choreography,” Owens explains. “Every class pushes forward in some way, so each week is important to attend as many classes as possible.”
Work to Eliminate Major Conflicts
Preemptively eliminating schedule conflicts can also make the dance year run smoother. “We contact coaches for schedules, schools for event dates, and students for weekly practice schedules,” Owens says. She then sets her dance schedule to minimize conflicts.
Eidson eliminates major conflicts in a variety of ways. She gives the students all the important dates in her handbook before the start of the year so they can address issues right away. She also holds classes for older students later in the evening so they can attend after-school activities. But she doesn’t hold classes on Friday nights so that students can make it to football games or school dances. “We want them to have a life outside of dance,” she says.
Enforce an Attendance Policy
While Eidson and Owens try to prevent major conflicts, they still have strongly enforced attendance policies.
For her company members, Eidson gives students one “free” absence each semester to use for any reason. All other absences must be made up. Students can do this in a variety of ways: attend another class, perform in a community show, or participate in a dance convention. Eidson also allows teen dancers who miss a technique class to attend a lower level to make up the class. She explains that “it’s your work ethic, not your level, that matters.”
Owens’ attendance requirements prevent dancers from missing more than 25 percent of technique classes and 10 percent of rehearsals. Owens does not offer makeup classes, but she does take videos of choreography and uploads them to an app called Band.
Be Flexible When You Can
Eidson’s makeup-class system allows her dancers to be involved in other activities while keeping them committed to their dance technique. She works to accommodate students in different scenarios. For instance, she allows a dancer who is coming from dance-team practice to arrive a little late to class because the student has been dancing and is already warm from practice.
When it comes to mandatory school events, Eidson aims to be supportive. “I want the kids to know that school is really important,” she says. And she encourages them by saying, “We can make this work and find a balance.”
However, if a student misses dance class too frequently, Eidson questions them to understand whether the school activities are truly mandatory. And when there are important events happening at the studio, she may ask students to work with their high school coach and make adjustments to their schedule. “There is a little give-and-take.”
Remember You Are Teaching Valuable Lessons
Accommodating dancers’ schedules can be a pain, but remember that it’s teaching them valuable communication and time-management skills. Eidson expects her high school students—not their parents—to communicate when they will be absent and when they plan on making up the class.
But there are consequences. If the students have unexcused absences, they are not allowed to perform in the showcase. “We really promote being a team.” Eidson explains, “That’s why I encourage them to make up classes: to be accountable to their teammates.”
While Owens goes to great lengths to eliminate conflicts, she stresses that ultimately a dancer who is stretched too thin will have difficulties. “They will struggle to keep up and experience physical and mental exhaustion,” she says.
Owens encourages dance educators to be supportive but also make students and parents aware of the consequences that come with missing multiple dance classes. “If a student ends up choosing a different activity over dance, we have to be okay with that. In the end, they will have learned to commit to the activity they are pursuing.”