While judging dance competitions in cities throughout the country, I get the pleasure of meeting studio owners and directors everywhere I go. Many things vary from region to region, but one constant truth from Chicago to L.A, in Arkansas and Michigan, is that there are only two things dance studio owners really need from parents. A Denver owner said it best when she told me the story of one of her former students who grew up to become a meddlesome dance mom, “Listen,” she told the mom, “You danced all your life, so you know better. There’s truly only two things I really need from you. One, I need you to love your daughter unconditionally. And two, I need you to pay your studio bills as soon as they’re due. That’s honestly it.”
And she’s right. Whether your dancer is 7 or 17 years old, the two things all dance studio owners really need from parents remain the same from every studio owner around, and they also seem to be the hardest ones for parents to fulfill. Unconditional love, seems like it should be a no-brainer, but too often we misdirect our love for our kids into “fixing” their problems for them, which creates more conflicts than resolutions. For example, our kids don’t need us to question their instructors’ decisions about level placement for classes, but they do need us to listen to them vent, and then use these teachable moments as opportunities for growth. Instead of dashing off to the school director and demanding a meeting about why your dancer isn’t standing in the front row in the routine, why not help him draw his own conclusion by asking thought-provoking questions? You might help your dancer learn something about his work ethic, team spirit or other issues, while also prompting him develop a lifelong strategy for problem-solving. Loving unconditionally does not mean packing your daughter’s dance bag for her every week (so she can wrongfully blame you when one tap shoe goes missing the night before competition), but it might mean you help her make a “dance bag checklist” and enforce a rule that she uses it to pack on her own before she goes out with her friends. Unconditional love is not a verb. It’s not fixing or doing or being or handling . Unconditional love is a noun- it’s the warm hug your child can wrap herself in to overcome the challenges of dance-life and life-life.
The second of the two things all dance studio owners really need from parents is simple, but we should be careful not to confuse “simple” with “easy.” Parents must pay their dance bills so the studio owners can pay theirs! A dance education isn’t cheap, but that’s not because your studio owner is pocketing all the dough. Of all the studio owners I’ve ever met- from those who are barely scraping by to the others who seem to be doing rather well- I have never met anybody who’s gotten rich from owning their school. Owning a dance studio has the same carrying costs of owning any other business; there are taxes and insurance to pay, facilities to maintain, a staff to compensate for their talents, service and unique skills, and more. For every pricey competition invoice you pay to the studio, you must understand the studio has already written a check to the competition company. When you don’t pay your bills on time, the studio is forced to carry your fees- often for months- after they’ve paid out their vendors on your behalf.
I knew an extremely talented studio owner who told me it was common for his clients to ask for an extra week to pay their tuition- they had to buy new tires, or fix their roof, or pay the electric bill. He threw up his hands as he told me the story. “What do you do in that situation?! I didn’t want to stick it to my clients when they were going through hard times, but I had to chuckle to myself- I mean, we’ve got tires to buy and a roof to fix and an electric bill over at my house too. How am I supposed to pay all of that when my clients can’t pay me? Everyone has a story, man. I just sometimes wish I didn’t have to hear them all. It’s exhausting.”
It exhausted him alright, because soon after that conversation he had to close the doors because he could not afford to stay in business. We all know running a business isn’t free, but as dance parents we must remember there is great value in the service provided to our children. The dance studio is not just a place for dance lessons, it’s a place for life lessons and it’s often our kids’ second home. The studio is their safe place, their creative space and their family outside of family, so shouldn’t we do our best to keep it open? It’s hard to say “no” to your child, but take a careful inventory of all of the costs involved and avoid overcommitting to your child’s dance lessons. Make sure you understand what your dancer will need in the form of equipment- shoes, uniform, etc. and find out if there are any other fees throughout the year such as for performances, exams, or competitions. If your family makes the decision to sign up, then be certain to responsibly uphold your end of the agreement by not just paying your bills, but paying them on time. Unplanned life circumstances happen. Sometimes a parent loses a job and suddenly cannot pay, but in a dance studio where outstanding balances are not the norm, then an owner can often scholarship a student facing hard times. A healthy parent-studio relationship is an integral part of your dancer’s experience, so help your dance instructors deliver the best fine arts education they can, and do the two things all dance studio owners really need from parents: love your dancer unconditionally, and pay your studio bills on time.
This post originally appeared on BellistonAcademy.com on February 4, 2017.