Q: A former favorite student of mine, who left my studio to join my direct competition, showed up at registration this year, asking if she could return. What’s your policy for dealing with students who studio-hop and then come back, asking to be part of the studio and competition team?
A: Our studio policy is “the door only swings one way.” This may sound harsh, but after 39 years of owning a studio, I know the commitment it takes to train strong competitive dancers—the hours you put in above and beyond what they pay for, how they take priority over your own personal commitments and the place they occupy in your heart after so many years of training with you. The few times that I have made exceptions have never worked out very well. Once the bond has been broken, it is hard to rebuild.
I know that some people think the grass is always greener on the other side, and as a result, many parents and dancers don’t realize what they have until after they’ve left. A lot of families leave over trivial things like jealousy or where their child is placed in levels. What parents don’t understand is that children develop at different speeds; you’re making decisions for their child that will give him or her the best results.
I think you have to look at each situation individually and ask yourself these questions: What terms did they leave on? How did they behave toward you and your studio while they were gone? How will they fit back in—will their classmates accept them back? There would be a definite loss of trust that would have to be regained.
Have a meeting with the parents and the student and hear what they have to say. The bottom line, however, is to go with your gut. Think about what kind of precedent you’ll be setting.
Joanne Chapman is the owner of the award-winning Joanne Chapman School of Dance in Ontario, Canada.