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Dance Parents: 8 Tips for Managing Parents at Your Studio

dance parents

Every studio, at some point, has to manage difficult situations involving dance parents. The Dance Exec’s Studio has been in that position numerous times, and parent management is a skill that must be continually honed and evolved in order to be effective and productive.

Before sharing information that The Dance Exec’s Studio has found beneficial, it is necessary to preface this topic with the disclaimer that many dance parents are perfectly reasonable, rational, understanding, and nice. For parents that may not be as reasonable, there are measures that can be implemented to protect yourself and your business. These tips are most certainly not the definitive pinnacles of dance parent management, but they have helped The Dance Exec’s Studio greatly and will likely help you, as well.

TIP 1: Define Communication Methods

Your ability to communicate and interact with dance parents is critical to the success of your business. You must be confident in your business, staff, methods, and service, and you should have written materials to back-up your rules, policies, and procedures. The combination of confidence and written materials will deter and quickly dissolve many of your studio’s potential conflicts. You are providing your studio parents the tools to succeed, and if they choose to neglect the materials presented, their failure is no longer your fault.

Within your communication infrastructure, your studio should have a single point person (ideally, the Owner or Director) that handles resolving serious concerns and issues. This point person should be accessible to parents. When there are too many people to go through, resolutions feel impersonal and unimportant. It is imperative that the point person take the time to respond to emails, field phone calls, and speak to parents that request meetings.

Concerns and issues should be addressed in a timely manner and should not be avoided. Issues should be addressed within 24 hours. Many times, people assume avoidance will resolve an issue; instead, this assumption often backfires and the issue magnifies and may even escalate throughout the studio (parents love to convince other parents to “take their side”). Take every initiative possible to prevent miscommunications and misunderstandings, and when a situation arises, defuse it immediately.

TIP 2: Set Professional Boundaries

When studios blur the lines between friendship and clientele, opportunity arises for conflicts, accusations of favoritism, and disrespect towards the studio. If everyone is treated equally and no favoritism is shown towards any particular family, then no one can comment or complain on unfair situations (whether they are accurate or not). Since the students and families of your studio are your clientele and the livelihood of your business, they should all be treated in an equal and respectful manner.

Often, studios will accept lavish gifts from particular dance parents or will give certain families scholarships. Ask yourself if engaging in these acts influences the way you treat these students and families. When relationships become overly personal, it is difficult to see situations from an objective perspective, which can negatively influence the relationship and the culture of your business.

Treat everyone as equally and professionally as possible. Apply the rules to everyone and only make exceptions if you are willing to equally offer them.

TIP 3: Be Confident in Your Knowledge

Parents have opinions on how classes should be taught, who you should hire, what costumes should be worn, and how recital should be organized—and, that is only the beginning of the list of their opinions. You have to be confident enough in what you offer that you are unwavering in your decisions and choices for your business.

You are the expert, and you must approach each situation from that perspective. Parents are paying to have their students enrolled in your training program. And for the training to be successful, they have to trust your judgment and qualifications.

For this relationship to be successful, you have to maintain your qualifications. Stay current, know what is happening in your studio and in the dance industry, and be quick, confident, and knowledgeable about any questions regarding dance, the dance industry, your studio, your class disciplines, dance apparel, dance music, etc. If it happens in the dance world and is related to dance in any way, you should know how to answer the question. Not knowing is unacceptable and will damage parental confidence in your brand.

(As a side note, if you do not know the answer to a particular question, you should research and find the appropriate answer. Making up an answer is unacceptable, too.)

TIP 4: Be the Leader

Your studio culture depends heavily on your leadership and behavior. Dance parents will follow your behavioral cues. If you easily lose your temper, parents will be on edge. If you stress winning over learning, parents will buy into that philosophy. If you employ an inner competitiveness over a nurturing facility, that will be the environment within your studio. If you teach improper technique, your clients will think that you are right.

The bottom line is that you are the professional, and you have the highly important duty of setting in motion the values and culture that will influence each and every one of your students and parents during the time spent at your studio. You must be very careful in your daily interactions, continuing education, networking, and communication because it all intertwines to define your studio. How do you want to be perceived? Be sure your behavior sows the seeds you wish to reap.

TIP 5: Take the Higher Road

There will be sensitive situations, criticisms, and feedback that will be difficult to hear. It is absolutely unavoidable, and the more people and clients you encounter, the greater the likelihood of such situations. Even if a client is losing his/her temper, it is imperative that you remain calm, professional, and collected regardless of the situation. With such situations, it is important that you handle them in a discretionary manner; gossiping about clients will only make you appear unprofessional and immature.

TIP 6: Prepare for Stressful Situations

Identify high-stress times for parents during the dance year and take extra measures to ensure they are prepared and ready (Per Tip #1, eliminating the surprise element and communicating explicit details are keys to your success). For The Dance Exec’s Studio, the highest-stress times are competitions and recitals. Be sensitive to parental needs and realize that their stress is likely stemming from being in an unfamiliar environment. If you approach the situation with confidence and reassurance, the stress will likely diffuse.

TIP 7: Sometimes It’s Better to Let Go

Sometimes, clients will be dissatisfied with your business, and often times, it has absolutely nothing to do with you and everything to do with them. Our studio operates under the policy that everyone deserves to be a part of a studio or extracurricular that is the “best fit” for his or her family.

With some situations, offering the person the opportunity to receive a refund and attend elsewhere is the ideal option. It allows them the opportunity to leave your studio on a positive note (in most cases) and removes their toxicity from your studio. An overly negative parent can affect other clients, and it is much better to let them go than to hang on to them.

Money is not necessarily everything in regards to your business, and it is important that you recognize when it is time to let someone go from your programming.

TIP 8: Rely on Your Networks

Dealing with dance parents and clients can be stressful. Rely on your network of business and studio owners to discuss problematic situations and read books about interacting and managing people to maintain a fresh perspective. The Dance Exec is also happy to help discuss handling case-by-case scenarios. Do not let parental problems effect the way you operate your business; be confident, be strong, and be proud of what you have created.

Chasta Hamilton Calhoun

Chasta is the artistic director and owner of Stage Door Dance Productions in Raleigh, North Carolina. She is also the founder of The Dance Exec, a website and organization that provided resources and training for dance studio owners. The resources from The Dance Exec have a new home on the TutuTix blog, giving dance studio owners an even more in-depth library of free tools and information with which to grow their business. Chasta contributes to the TutuTix blog from time to time, offering her perspective as a studio owner (and TutuTix client!).