Saturday, June 26, 2010

"This Year's Love"

Well, it has almost been a week since our Recitals and I think I have really now had a chance to reflect on how truly successful they were. This isn't a brag blog today... well maybe a little. But I do put on one heck of a professional show for a studio!

Of course in the days following our shows I get tons of messages congratulating me, thanking me, and basically a whole lot of stroking my ego emails! However, I seem to get the same comments annually about wanting to see me dance in the show?!?!?!

This year for my Competitive/Teen Show I decided to hire some professional dancers to guest perform to help ease the need of the staff performing! In fact, one of my younger staff actually was one of the soloists, which was fantastic, but I guess that prompted everyone to think that I would be making some special appearance next... not going to happen!

I don't know how studio directors or anybody running Recitals can find time during a busy show to even worry about performing themselves. I'm concerned about the class on stage, pinning in the tiara of the next little class, cuing the lighting change and making sure everyone is in sync. I'm not saying that the show would fall apart without me for two and half minutes, but it's not something I want to add to my plate of things to do that day.

To be honest, I don't want to take the focus off of the kids by performing myself or having other people steal the spotlight. In our Recreational Recital this year I even had very few performances by our Competitive students. It's supposed to be a time where those respective parents can celebrate their child's accomplishments and enjoy them performing. Sure, I can do more pirouettes than a 10 year old, but does that really matter! I want the kids to feel like the stars, and I really don't need that self satisfaction anymore. I actually get more excited seeing the psyche screen change in exact unison with the music cue now!

I do realize that the parents at my studio wouldn't be judging me as a dancer if I did perform. It's not like they're going to tell me I was horrible! I even understand their curiosity and desire to see the staff perform... but I'm quick to remind them that I'm a teacher now. I teach their kids how to dance, so they can perform well on stage. It's a totally different state of mind, and one that has taken me a long time to embrace. For a lot of teachers/studio owners it might be the only time of year they ever get to perform, and I can understand that itch. However, I think I'm proud to say now that I have students who are exceptional enough dancers that no one is wondering how good I am. They know how good of a teacher I am, based on what they see on stage, and that's enough for me!

I feel really fulfilled about the shows that I put on this year, and now I have to start planning next year's show already! Maybe if I started practising now I'll be in good enough shape to dance next year... but don't count on it!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

"Another Opening, Another Show"

So it's 8:00am on the morning of our show and I've been awake for hours! I have the car packed, all of my stuff in order, and I even laid out my clothes last night just in case I missed my alarm and then had to rush out of the house. Well no such luck!

I'm excited for my upcoming shows over the next two days, but also really nervous. As a dance teacher working at a studio you can see how important a Recital is to all the students. However, as a studio owner you realize that your entire year and all your clients are depending on this one day to be outstanding! It's a whole different sort of pressure. I obviously deal with pressure by drinking a lot of red wine, and then not sleeping all night... but to each their own!

I realize the importance of this show as the first Recital for a lot of our younger students, who may just look back on this day when they're professional dancers as the beginning of it all! It's also just as important to the 12 year old Recreational Jazz student who has been anxiously awaiting to show off her new and improved split jumps on stage. And I know that a lot of my Competitive students view this as a fun type of show in comparison to a regular competition, but they're also looking to impress!

So, cross your fingers for me, that nobody wets their costume and the ring pops I purchased with suffice for crying 3 year olds backstage.

It's a tough job... but somebody's gotta do it!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

"Hot Lunch Jam"

Today I met up for a wonderful lunch date with two of my dance industry friends, Mitchell and Eryn. We had the most delicious meal complete with mimosas, eggs every way and a side of the best homefries in Toronto... oh, and the company was pretty good too!
I'll just do a little plug here for Insomnia as the place to be for brunch on a Sunday in downtown Toronto!

What's interesting about the three of us being friends is that we each bring such a unique perspective regarding the dance industry to the table... yet we all have the same goals and integrity in regards to it! I am a dance studio owner, who teaches and choreograph as part of owning a studio, while dabbling in adjudicating and choreography for others. Eryn is a free lance choreographer, who does teach at several studios, but concentrates her talents on professional choreography and has hopes of starting up her own company. And Mitchell is a teacher, who works at several studios, and is still working as a professional dancer. So, pretty much you're getting every perspective at one table!

We talk about our studio work and the kids we teach, but we talk equally as much about dance outside of the studio walls... for those of you who didn't think that existed! Being a studio owner I am very involved in every aspect of my studio, where as Eryn and Mitchell are both employees of studios who can walk in, teach, and then walk out. It's not saying they're not emotionally attached, but we are coming from different angles in relation to topics regarding the dance studio business. What I like about talking to these two is that I get to hear their interpretation of a lot of my decisions and learn other ideas from different studios they teach at. It's really enlightening, and I generally walk away feeling really motivated to do great things!

I'm not clear on how the conversation started regarding hiring teachers for my upcoming summer intensive, but it did, and we found ourselves equally as aggravated in this regard. I get a lot of inquiries and resumes every spring from people who are looking to teach at summer intensives, or offering their services out for workshops at my studio. I also get a lot of contacts for things like this through Mitchell, as I know his phone is a dance rolodex! I started throwing out names of some of the people that I had spoken to, or whom had contacted me and I realized they all had one thing in common... they weren't actually teachers!

I don't mean that they've never taught a class before necessarily, but these people are all young dancers making the most of their recent fame. I would say I've spoken to or been put in contact with a half dozen people recently who have all been on So You Think You Can Dance Canada. That's kind of cool right! As a business owner I'm going with the idea that having these people teach at my studio automatically draws more students. Kids want to take class from that dancer they saw perform on television, and that would give me an edge popularity wise. Then the dance educator side of me says, WAIT! The majority of these people are very young, 19 or 20 years old, and really don't have any teaching credentials to bring to the table, they were just dancers on the show. That doesn't automatically make someone a great choreographer or teacher, does it?

Neither Eryn or Mitchell disagreed with the fact that as a business owner they can see the selling feature of coming from a popular television program. So You Think You Can Dance has done great things for our industry, and for that we are all grateful. However, it also comes with a price to those of us who are helping to educate the next generation of young dancers. My major hesitation in hiring all of these people is due to the fact that their teaching rate is completely beyond my budget. I had one 19 year old female dancer from the show tell me that her rate for teaching at my studio was $400/hour. Maybe someone out there doesn't think that's unreasonable, but in comparison to professional teachers and choreographers that I have had teach at my studio I don't even know what to say to that. In my opinion, Eryn is one of the best freelance studio teachers and choreographers we have here in Toronto and besides her rate being well below that, I also know what I'm getting. I'm getting a seasoned teacher in my studio who has put in the work before class to make sure that my students will gain something from her class, besides learning a cool combo. She watches them during the entire class, makes corrections, develops a relationship with them, and helps them grow as dancers. It goes back to one of my main issues with hiring professional 'dancers' as teachers in my studio in general. I'm not really that interested in your fame or your personal dancing abilities, but I'm mostly interested in what you can teach my students.

I will be the first to admit that dance on television has produced some amazing choreographers who were on shows originally as dancers. I'm not saying that you can't be good at both, but becoming a great teacher and choreographer takes as much work and dedication as it did for you to become that talented dancer. Teaching is a skill... some people have it, and some don't. If you're a choreographer who is looking to use a type of television program to launch your career by you dancing on it, then that's your choice. Eryn made a bold statement to me that she won't ever be auditioning for anything as a dancer, as that is not her path or ultimate goal.

As studio owners, I think we need to sit back for a second and really decide what we are saying when we hire dancers like this to teach in our studios. Are you hiring them to get more business at your studio? Or, did you really just never think about the fact that they might not be the greatest teacher to have in! Admit it, you were starstruck too! I have learned that in general I can hire two or even three really great teachers to come to my summer intensive for the same price as one of these really great dancers from a tv show. So then I have to decide what is most important to me as a dance studio owner, but also as a dance educator... since I do harness both roles. Now, maybe a $400/hour teaching rate is what these people think they deserve, and I can respect that. But, maybe it should just make all of the freelance teachers rethink their rates. I know it made Eryn think about hers!

Regardless of whether I hire some of these people or not, there are lots of other studios who will. These dancers also need to find work beyond dancing on television, and I can see how teaching/choreographing is a popular path to explore. However, I also don't think it's fair to consider every great dancer a great teacher. I will probably hire one of these popular dancers for my summer intensive this year, but I have also hired 7 or 8 professional teachers/choreographers for the week as well. That way I can fulfill everybody's needs. I'm giving the kids a little bit of what they want... but also giving them a lot of what they need! I hope that this professional dancer will inspire the kids in a totally different way than a regular teacher might be able to. They will have stories and experiences to share with them that I will never have, and for that I see it's value. It's a fine line to navigate, and I think that as the dance industry grows in popularity and stature we are all still trying to find our way. But, if you are a professional dancer who is looking to transition into teaching, or even if you just want to make some extra money to fund your dance career, read my previous blog about selling yourself as a teacher!

So after a wonderful four hour lunch date I was full of yummy food and new a found pool of information about many issues. I think it would be refreshing for a lot of people who have labelled themselves in the dance industry to talk through their ideas or concerns with people coming from another angle. Even if you don't see eye to eye with someone else on every issue, you can at least say that you had a great mimosa. Besides, everybody can make a good point after a few mimosas!

Thursday, June 3, 2010

"Put It In A Love Song"

It's that time of year again... the month where I put out ads looking for new teachers and get hundreds of resumes sent to my inbox!
I'm trying to get a faculty together for September now so that I can utilize the summer to really form relationships with these new staff while getting them on board with my studio philosophies. It will also help me sleep a bit better at night knowing that my classes are all taken care of when I have Early Registration in June!

I always post an ad on a website in Toronto that plays hosts to teachers and dancers a like looking for work. It's a really useful website and I'm happy to pay my membership fees to every year so that I have access to posting ads and meeting new people. Then almost immediately that day I'll receive dozens of resumes, head shots and bios from people looking for work.

I find it really easy to sift through them at first glance. I weed out out the dancers, who are looking for a teaching gig to help pay the bills. Those are the people I know are not going to be dedicated to my studio or really teaching the students, since they're still concerned with their own dance careers. You know... those 'teachers' that spend the entire class doing every move full out and only watching themselves in the mirror! Teaching is about educating the kids who are in that class, and that's the kind of person I'm looking to hire! I quote Rhee Gold on this one, "the weaker you become as a dancer, the better you are as a teacher!"

If you're applying for a specific type of job in any field, why don't you tailor your resume for that. Kind of like when you apply for a job at The Gap, let's say. You want to show that you have experience in retail or customer service, and some knowledge or comfort in fashion. So when you're applying to a studio as a dance teacher, why don't you focus your resume on your teaching/choreography skills. I don't care that you were a dancer in the cruise ship version of "The Pyjama Game", and neither will the kids in your class. If those experiences on the cruise ship have led you to become a better teacher, let me know about that. I'm not interested in how many pirouettes you can do, but how many you can teach the students to do!

I get a lot of resumes with an objective at the top, basically stating what they are looking to achieve. If your objective in applying for a teaching job is something like, looking to become a working professional dancer, that's a red flag to me. Try something more like, looking for a teaching job where I can apply my years of knowledge and experiences as a dancer to better the education of my students. Then I will get in touch with you for an interview!

So when you hire somebody for a teaching job, do you have them come in and teach a class for you? You should! It doesn't make sense to me any other way. I want to see how you teach, I want to see your style, I want to see your objective as a teacher first hand, and I want to see if you will be a good fit in my studio. Just sitting down with you over coffee and going through your resume tells me nothing. I'm going to be paying this person a lot of money every week to come in and teach students how to dance, so I want to see you in action before I sign a contract with you. I've been hired for several teaching jobs in my life where teaching a class was not part of the criteria. Luckily for those people I am a really great teacher, but they didn't know that when they hired me! People can sometimes be impressed with what studio you trained at, who you've taken classes from, or what competition awards you have won, but I'm not.

Most importantly in terms of interviewing prospective teachers at your studio I think you should offer them a bit of a challenge. I get a lot of people wanting to come in every year and work with only the competitive students. I get it, they're easier to teach, they're more advanced, they learn quicker... I hear ya! But, at my studio I've logged the hours to get those kids to that level and you're not just going to come in and choreograph routines for them. You have to earn those stripes with me! Letting a prospective teacher do a class with your Senior/Advanced Competitive class is actually not going to tell you anything about their teaching skills. They'll just do a combo, and the kids will probably make it look good. I want this teacher to come in and teach my Junior Jazz Class of 7-9 year olds who need discipline in class, structure and 100% of the attention. Let's see how good of a teacher you really are! You keep those kids amused and enthusiastic about learning for an hour then I really know what you'll be able to accomplish with the more advanced students.

At my studio I am personally looking to hire people who have expertise in at least one style of dance, but who can also teach other styles. I have a Ballet Teacher at my studio who teaches all the ballet classes. That way I know there is consistency across the board and I'm getting the same level of classes for every age. Some studios may have the luxury of having more than 1 great ballet teacher, but I'm a firm believer that somebody should be the leader of that group. Maybe that's the studio owner, or Artistic Director, but maybe even you can have 1 of the ballet teachers in charge of the others who sets the tone. So, when I'm hiring teachers I want to know what you're really great at teaching. You can't be a jack of all traits, but a master of none! If you bring several styles and skills to the table, it makes you more appealing to hire. My ballet teacher is also an amazing jazz and tap teacher, but that is not her focus. So, when I ask you what you are looking to teach, don't just say, I'll teach anything! It makes me think you're actually not sure of what your strengths are. Be clear, state the truth, and be proud of it.

I always write in my ads that my studio is looking to hire teachers for both Recreational and Competitive level classes, who are strong teachers and can choreograph as necessary. That way I feel I'm being open to the different types of people who can apply, so I can be more selective. I have yet to receive a resume or teaching reel highlighting to me that somebody enjoys teaching Recreational students, but I'm not really shocked about that. When you send me your choreography/teaching reel, know that I'm not looking to hire just a choreographer, or I would have just put out an ad for that. I'm looking for a teacher who can choreograph, for all levels (key point here!) I'm glad that you can choreography a foitee turn section to go with the music for a Senior Company, but that's not impressive to me. Why don't you show me a DVD of what the routine of this group of kids looked like 2 years ago and where you have gotten them to now. That's impressive to me... really impressive! If you've taught them strong technique, gotten them to progress really quickly and showed improvement with your choreography, then I want you on my staff. You're an asset to me and my studio. Maybe I should be more specific when putting out an ad, but I bet I'd still get the same number of resumes regardless.

In my opinion I think people need to be more creative when it comes to applying for teaching jobs. I probably just gave away a great tool there in presenting videos showing what you've done with a group of kids over a year, so hopefully someone will do that for me this year. I'd love for someone to walk into my studio with some originality, enthusiasm for what the prospects of my studio bring, and be happy that they get to show off how great of a teacher they are. I actually had one teacher once come in and hand me an invoice for them teaching for that hour of the interview right away. I don't normally pay a teacher coming in for an interview, since I don't know of any job interview where they pay you to go in and apply. I know some people might disagree with me on that one, but that's my opinion about it. If someone let's me know in advance that they do charge for teaching interview classes I am generally more than happy to accommodate them within reason, but I tend to steer away from that.

It's really telling to me when I ask someone what their expected pay rate per hour is. Of course, I get varying answers each year, but you as a teacher should know what you think you're worth. Don't just say, I'm open to whatever. Decide what you think your teaching is worth, or what your bottom line is at least. What is the minimum amount of money you feel you deserve per hour? For everyone that will vary, but it's a good thing to at least know. Are you going to be travelling far to work, gas money, transit money, planning time outside of class, it all ads up, so know your bottom line that includes all of that taken into consideration.

As an employer I don't like people who are uncertain of themselves or wishy-washy with their answers. It's not like the questions I'm going to ask you are so out there I've thrown you off guard. If you're going to a teaching interview they're going to ask you about your past experiences in dance, maybe your favorite/most challenging teaching moment, what your schedule is like and what you want to be paid. Know the answers to those questions! I've even started asking people those types of questions in response to their emails right upfront, or on the phone before I meet them. I like to get that kind of stuff out of the way, so when they come in they can focus on teaching the class and I already know in the back of my head what the answers are. That way I'm not shocked afterwards by your answers and I haven't mis lead you in terms of my studio expectations and what I have to offer you.

That's not saying I haven't received a few great resumes lately, but they are few and far between. This isn't meant to hurt the feelings of people who might have recently sent me a resume, but the reality is that this is a job like any other and I'm looking for some professionalism. Just because you're a dancer does not excuse you from having a proper resume. For me, I'm not biased when it comes to the age or sex of the teacher applying, I am just looking for quality people. You can be 19 or 39 for that matter and what is still the most important thing to me is that you love teaching and you have skills to bring to the table that can benefit my studio. It's not necessarily the person with the most experience on paper either, which a lot of people can confuse with skills. Maybe you've taught at 17 different studios for a reason, you can't keep a job at any of them!

I will share with you the best line I recently received in an email with a resume attached, applying for a job at my studio... I saw your studio competing at competition this year and I knew that I had to be a part of your teaching staff. Your students were well trained, you had great choreography and I loved their passion for dance. I think I have a lot of skills and experience to share with your students of all ages, but I also would love a chance to learn under you as a choreographer. Please find attached my resume, including words from my former employer, current and former students and their parents regarding my classes and my dedication to them.

Flattery won't always get you noticed, but I'll just point out that this teacher is coming in for an interview next week... just sayin'!