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!

1 comment:

Nichelle said...

In college when I studied the teaching of dance it was expressed to me this way: there is a difference between giving a class and teaching a class. And throughout my years of teaching I've seen a lot of both. It takes much more than what one lists on a performance resume to be able to teach a class - frankly any dancer can 'give' a class. Some of my best teachers have never been famous or even worked in top companies. Kudos to you Robin, for wanting more for your students than just an experience. At $400/hr you have the right to want more. I wish all great teachers could command such a price!