So I think I got copied on an email recently from a parent that might not have been intended for me to see, but it actually got me thinking!
It wasn't a negative email, but it was from a parent who moved from out of town to our neighbourhood this past summer and her daughter joined our competitive program. She was just sending an email update to all her friends back home and I somehow got on the list, which may or may not have been on purpose!
She was just mentioning to her friends that her daughter was dancing in our Intermediate Company, which she compared to the levels they had at her previous studio. I guess she was in the "Junior" Company, and she assumed this was a promotion to the "Intermediate" Company at our studio. To any objective outsider, this would seem like the case, but prior to this year I had never had an "Intermediate" Company!
Before this dance year began I decided it was time to change the names of all my class levels and Competitive Companies. Previously, I had used letters to identify to Competitive levels, such as Company A, Company B and so on. I actually had never equated such stigmatism to each letter as the parents and students at my studio had. They became obsessed with being 'moved up' into what they deemed a higher level company. Truthfully, they didn't necessarily correspond in order, but it doesn't take the kids long each year to figure out which company they most desire to be in. I decided this year to go with the names Senior, Intermediate, Junior and Mini for the Companies and then divide them into letters accordingly... so for example Intermediate A Company, and Intermediate B Company. I understand there is still a letter attached to it, or a division in general, but at least the association of the familiar letters from previous years had evaporated.
But honestly, regardless of what I call each Company there is always going to be a division based on ages and abilities. Kids are not always going to dance with their friends or the kids they were in a group with in previous years, but that's just the reality of what Competitive dance is, or any sport for that matter. It actually has made a huge difference with my Recreational Program as well. Every year the kids and level of a paticular "Junior Jazz" class might change, and thus a student could end up in that class for several years. However, to a parent, that may appear like their son/daughter has never moved up, when in fact they might be progressing right on track.
It is hard for parents to understand that every studio runs their Programs very differently, and thus the levels at each studio might not correspond. Unlike hockey, dance does not have a governing body that proclaimed what the "Junior" level means for every studio in terms of skill level. Each studio owner has to distinguish a scheme that works for them, and it might only work for that one year.
I want to help all my students feel like they are progressing in terms of levels each year, but also give them something to aim for. When I had a 'Company A', the younger students all realized that this was the oldest and most advanced Company that they should strive to be in. I don't want to diminish the fact that the students all need to have something to work towards in terms of the level they want to be in. However, I have quickly realized that it doesn't matter what I call that elite level Company, it really just matters about the kind of kids in that Company the younger students have to look up to.
I have been to a competition with a studio that uses colors to distinguish their Competitive team. They had the Red Team, the Blue Team and so on. I thought this was a really great idea, as colors are very neutral when it comes to distinguishing levels on the surface. Nobody knows right off the bat if the Green team is more advanced than the Orange team. I'd give my teenage students about 5 minutes to have that all sorted out, but at least then there would be no stigmatism associated with each color for that year. You could easily change the colors every year and thus rid of those associations annually.
My staff was quickly brainstorming before we left the studio tonight about other ideas for the name dilemma. Some of the not so great ideas we had... names of Countries, names of Restaurants, Braille letters, or the name of the teacher who wants to work with that Company! We didn't really come up with any useful ideas, so maybe my fellow dance teachers out there can help me out!
But regardless of what color, letter, or animal I name them, I want them to all know that they're part of the Dance Fusion Company... which is the only team name they all wear on the back of their studio jackets!