by Susan Angell-Gonzalez(President/CEO ShowMakers of America / Former Texas State University Strutters Director/Choreographer)
One of the biggest challenges for dance directors is communicating to (and then reminding and convincing) students’ parents that quality training for their children includes technique, repetition, reinforcement, and age-appropriate steps and style moves, all supported with motivating choreography. Often, when schools participate in competition, winning becomes the parents’ priority. They compare their child’s competition results with those of other schools. Part of your role as a teacher is educating parents about the importance of quality training. As a dance team director, you know that parents are valuable partners when it comes to educating their children. But even the best partners don’t always see eye to eye. What parents believe is right for their kids is not always what’s best for your program. So how can you make these differences a constructive part of your team planning? Start by having policies in place, thoughtfully listening to concerns and communicating clearly and regularly with them.
Communication and establishing a positive relationship are essential. Parents must know what your policies are, and you must set boundaries. Keep a professional distance from the dancers and their parents. Familiarity makes it difficult for you to be objective and consistent when problems arise, and when you do enforce rules, students and parents may feel that their friendship has been betrayed. Those who are not in the circle of friends might feel slighted and accuse you of favoritism. With a team training plan in hand, you can sit down with parents and show them the realistic projected standard of the teams learning and what they can reasonably expect. Explaining why you follow a dance syllabus will help them understand the strategies and training standards you teach by in delivering age-appropriate, quality dance education to their children. Success or lack of success in precision dance does not indicate what kind of parent the student has. But having a student that is coachable, respectful, a great teammate, mentally tough, resilient and who tries their best is a direct reflection of their parenting. Though we strive to help our students achieve at the highest level possible, it takes time to get results. Remember: Plan the work, work the plan, and teach until the teaching is done!
Form a relationship with parents from the beginning to establish trust. Perhaps have one-on-one parent meetings at the start of each year to discuss expectations. Always have the discussion face to face (not through email). Emails can be easily misunderstood. Go over the students’ strengths, and stress that comparison isn’t wise or fair. Often people just need to be heard, and once your position is explained and reasons outlined, they will accept it as best for their child. Stay positive! A teachers’ attitude can diffuse many situations.
Establish your policies in writing and have parents and students sign a form stating they’ve read and understand where you, the program, the campus and district stand on the authority and decision-making of the rules and regulations.
Communicate regularly. But what about missing practices? Schedules get busy and parents may not understand how absenteeism affects the whole team, especially if it’s preparing a performance. When a team doesn’t perform well, the students are let down. Most dance programs have stricter absentee policies during football and competition season. Parents need to understand what these policies are, and that they’re taken seriously. You can reserve the right to make allowances in special circumstances, of course, but it is important to communicate that ultimately, to succeed, kids need to feel responsibility and ownership. Set a limit on the number of absences and institute accountability. Being consistent and following through are key to being fair to all. Demonstrate clearly how important commitment and training go hand-in-hand, and that you offer students a professional experience in return.
Think of technical training as a tool that must be utilized in order to achieve success. For precision dancers, sustained practice is not only a learning technique, it is a way of life. As directors and choreographers, you teach skills and pass on information, but you must also foster an appreciation of one another through the practice of character-building. Dance educators have the privilege as well as the responsibility to mold bodies into dancers. When the going gets tough, encourage laughter during practice. Laughter has the ability to unleash creative thinking and reduce the social distance between teammates. With a smile on your face, you will find that a sense of humor can renew attention spans and increase motivation, leading to increased practice productivity. Motivate your students to always give a full out performance and 100% effort in practice. Remember, they need to see and hear belief and confidence from you in order to have it in themselves. The next time you hear whimpers or moans and groans because you have asked your team to do something over and over again, remind them that they should be thanking you for giving them, yet again, another opportunity to attempt perfection.
ShowMakers of America® “Raises the Bar” for Performance Excellence with the Best Teachers and Choreographers in the Industry! Our company is a “vault” of collaborative innovation and matchless talent!
Our unsurpassed teachers have hundreds of years of experience between them, are exceptionally talented, utilize the finest instruction methodology, and have been trained by prominent choreographers, performers, and teachers in the dance industry. They represent many diverse performance groups and many are accomplished and experienced Dance/Drill/Pep Team Directors/Choreographers.