By Paul Henderson.
I’ve had a few names in my lifetime. I was named Paul when I was born. When I married a dancer 16 years ago who now owns 10 dance studios in California, my name became “Tiffany’s Husband”.
I’ve recently had a new name change. Husbands of studio owners can probably guess why my new name is “Mr. Tiffany.” For everyone else, it’s because the children in the studio call my wife “Mrs. Tiffany”, so they assume my name could only be “Mr. Tiffany.”
Hey, it’s better than my previous moniker, “Leotard Man”. I’ll save that story for another time…
From my nightly perch on the barstool in my kitchen where I sip only organic herbal tea and nibble on cheese and crackers (wink, wink), I’ve listened to hours and hours of Mrs. Tiffany’s thoughts and feelings about the daily happenings of Tiffany’s Dance Academy. It’s a great perspective. I am close enough to the action to really understand what’s going on, but not so close as to cause any bodily harm.
I’ve figured something out in the past 16 years of owning the studio with Tiffany.
First of all, Tiffany, and all dance studio owners I know, care deeply and passionately for their students. It’s all they care about, really. Tiffany’s goal in life is to create dancers and make their dreams come true.
Dance parents (and by that I mean anyone in charge of paying the tuition and driving their dancer to dance class), here are 6 ways to ensure your dancer achieves his or her dreams:
1. Wait. That’s it. Just wait. I’ve discovered that it doesn’t matter at all how amazing your dancer is at age 5, 10 or 15. It only matters toward the end of their junior year of high school. This is when she or he will begin auditioning for dance companies and dance programs in college. This is also when nearly all of her peers, who may have been “better” dancers, have succumbed to the pressures of high school popularity and switched their focus from technique to high school dance team. From what I’ve been told, dance team is okay as long as it doesn’t interfere with technique classes, which it almost always does. Because of attrition, if your dancer is a senior in high school, and still working hard in all of her technique classes at the studio, she or he will be one of the top 3 or 4 dancers at the entire studio. And, think about this. It’s the same all over the world! When your dancer is 8 or 9 there are hundreds and hundreds of amazing little dancers bending, leaping and twirling all over the place. Take a moment to look at exactly how many seniors in high school are still dancing. Not very many, right? Waiting it out while training consistently ALWAYS works. And when I say “always”, I mean always.
2. Back off. There is probably a more eloquent way to say that, but in the interest of time, I’ve kept it short. Once you’ve done your research and made an informed decision about which dance studio to attend and trust, your job is done. Kick back, put your feet up and pat yourself on the back! You’re literally paying professionals to help your child achieve her dreams. That’s all that is expected of you and it’s all you’re capable of because a complete education in dance involves post high school training and performance. Since you probably don’t have your own complete education in dance (which is precisely why you’ve hired professionals to do the job), your opinions in regards to the following are grounded mostly in drama, gossip, rumors, speculation and hypotheses and not rooted in any sort of fact-based foundation. These ideas; therefore, are not likely to be received fondly by the dance studio faculty. Avoid chiming in with opinions on:
Which group you are in (or not in)
Which dancers are in your group (or not in your group)
3. Stay put. It’s inevitable that at some point in your dancer’s education, a popular teacher will leave the studio. She may even open her own studio nearby. In the dance industry (which is a very small and close-knit community of professionals), this is ethically and morally unacceptable. Following one of these teachers will teach your impressionable, young dancer something very dangerous. If you teach your dancer that loyalty does not matter, her career in dance will be very short and maybe non-existent. Remember that the teacher who quits and poaches students from her previous employer is the type of person you and your impressionable dancer should avoid at all costs. These people are morally bankrupt. Your dance studio owner will, in all cases, replace this person with someone who is better. Wait it out and you will see.
4. Perform. Take every single performance opportunity that you can, but pursue trophies with the right frame of mind. Dance is an art form performed by artistic, emotional and gifted athletes. Their bodies look the way they do for a reason. I know this because I took a ballet class once. Once. It’s incredibly hard work. That’s why everyone’s always running around the studio yelling “Werk”, or “Werk it”. “Winning” at “art” is an oxymoron. A component of your dancer’s score is subjective and since there is no objective way to judge art, the whole premise of a dance competition should be categorized as a great performance opportunity. Competitions are a venue to gain extremely valuable stage time. I’ve heard Mrs. Tiffany say a thousand times, “performing on stage is how they get better faster. It’s so much more intense out there.” So, for that reason, competitions and conventions are a necessary and very important part of their education. Winning the Overall High Score doesn’t matter a bit in the long run, though. In fact, going for the “win” can sometimes actually compromise their overall education.
5.Long-term goals. Training a complete, versatile and employable dancer requires a very long-range plan. Understand long-term goals versus short-term achievements. Your dancer’s education in dance is a LIFE-LONG pursuit. Mrs. Tiffany still takes class for herself and she’s been dancing for over thirty years! Your short term goals should be something like this:
- Take dancer to class, performances, competitions and conventions
- Pay tuition, fees, etc. on time
- Don’t gossip with the other parents – I know it’s fun, but it’s poison. It can and will kill your dancer’s dreams.
- Encourage your dancer and the other dancers at the studio to always try their hardest.
Your long-term goals should be something like this:
- Attend some conventions
- Attend some summer camps
- Perform as much as possible
- Do a solo or two (great one-on-one training/extra performance experience)
- Stay at your studio until your dancer graduates high school
- Take a lot of ballet
Don’t skip technique classes
6. Zip it. If you ever hear yourself starting a sentence with, “I’m not one of those parents”. Stop. You are one of those parents, or at least in that very moment you have become “one of those parents”. As a parent of three, I know it’s very hard to know when you’re about to cross the line, but the sentence above is a good indication. Also this one, usually tacked onto the end of a complaint, “everyone else feels the same way”, is a sign that you’ve dipped your toe into the Dance Mom category. Take a day or two to think it over before you actually get involved. Nothing that follows those words is likely to be helpful to your dancer’s long-term education or even his or her short-term goals. There are obvious exceptions, of course; like a costume has left your child half naked on stage, or a particular piece of music still has some curse words that haven’t been edited out. But think about it…if a costume were truly exposing your dancer, you wouldn’t need to say “I’m not one of those parents, but my daughter’s costume is so tiny I can’t even see it from 30 feet away.” No, you would just say, “Dang! That costume’s too small!” And your studio owner would say, “OMG! How embarrassing! You’re right! I’m so sorry. I’ll take care of it.”
Every year Tiffany’s Dance Academy graduates only a handful of dancers whose parents have trusted Tiffany and her staff completely. These are the young men and women who were not always the amazing prodigies at age 10, rather, they are the dancers who loved it enough to keep “werkin’ it” day after day, week after week, month after month and year after year. They are the ones who will perform on Broadway, in theaters, in the movies, on T.V. They are the future choreographers and master teachers. They are the ones who will come back to teach at Tiffany’s one day when they are finished dancing for themselves.
They are the dancers whose parents simply let them love to dance.
About Paul Henderson
Paul Henderson is an expert on administrative technologies for the dance industry and has been around the business for almost 30 years. His sisters were elite state champion gymnasts and dancers and his mother owned a dance studio and eventually a dancewear store. He managed the dancewear store for a few years before moving to the San Francisco Bay Area. He and his wife, Tiffany, currently own and operate Twinkle Star Dance™ – an online choreography and curriculum system for recreational dancers ages 2-11; seven successful dance studios in Northern California (www.tiffanydance.com) and one in Southern California. Tiffany’s Dance Academy’s annual enrollment of over 4,500 students caused Paul to invent ways to automate most of the day-to-day business transactions that take up so much of a studio owner/instructor’s time. Paul’s goal has always been to smooth out the business side of the dance studios so that his wife can spend more time in the studio doing what she loves…teaching. Automating online registration and monthly automatic tuition payments was achieved eight years ago but perhaps the most revolutionary invention is his web-based application – CostumeManager.com.
For the past six years, Paul Henderson has worked tirelessly with most of the major costume and dancewear manufacturers to consolidate their catalogs into one searchable website. Developing relationships with these companies has been crucial to the success of CostumeManager.com and his efforts have paid off for studios all across the United States and Canada. By creating one searchable website, it is possible for a studio owner to browse all catalogs simultaneously, assign items that they like to a dance class, establish their profit margin, create an online store or print a color worksheet for dancers explaining how they can order their required and or/optional items online or via toll free telephone. Dancers purchase their items securely online and CostumeManager.com orders, receives, sorts and ships the individually packaged items to the studio owner. The studio owner or instructor cashes their “commission” check, hands the bags of goods to the dancer and goes back to teaching. CostumeManager.com eliminates 90% of the work and all the worry associated with distributing costumes and dancewear to dancers while preserving all of the profit margin…if not more.