Seen & Heard At the Dance Teacher Summit
Irmo, South Carolina
During 32 years as a studio owner, Nancy Giles has learned a lot about running a business, including how to handle parent drama and make time for herself. She shares her wisdom each summer as an ambassador at the Dance Teacher Summit.
Dance Teacher: What has been the biggest change you’ve made to your studio practices since opening?
Nancy Giles: All my studios have observation windows, where I used to invite parents to watch the children. I wanted them to see the passion and how hard we were working. Over the years, however, it became a place to gossip and argue, so then we started limiting the windows to once a month. But still, it got so bad that teachers couldn’t walk out the door to go to the bathroom without parents jumping all over them about why their child wasn’t in the front row. Now I have closed the windows and parents are not allowed in the building at all. They are typically just allowed to drop off and pick up, and now, when I invite them in to watch, it’s a privilege.
Thirty years ago, parents would say, “Do what you can for my child. I trust and respect you.” But today’s parent-teacher-child relationship is different. Society makes people feel entitled, like everybody has to win and everybody has to be the best. Because the world has changed, our approach had to change.
DT: How did you present such a drastic policy change to parents?
NG: I have a parents’ meeting every year, and that’s what I addressed that year. I said I wanted to get back on track with parent trusting child trusting teacher. I told them we wanted to make the atmosphere more conducive to learning. I said, “We know how much concern you have for your child, but with all of you being there, it keeps us from being the best teachers we can be. We feel like we don’t have the freedom to correct your child. You’re paying us to teach them, and that requires corrections.”
I expected it to be a really hard change. I was so worried that I hired somebody to sit in my lobby. I didn’t call her a bouncer—I called her lobby patrol. A few parents tried to get in, but once they saw I was serious, they respected the rule. Once we made the change, it was a clean, healthy separation.
DT: How do you make sure you’re comfortable taking time away from the studio?
NG: I’m 58, and there comes a time when you realize there’s more to life. My whole career I’ve surrounded myself with good faculty, and I’m always looking to hire graduates who have grown up in the studio and know what we do. That’s why I’m able to trust and be more free to live the other part of my life at this age. My daughter also has been working with me for the last 10 years. I can leave knowing that everything will be as if I were here. —Andrea Marks
Photo courtesy of Break the Floor Productions