The Right Fit

Hip Hop class with Roger Lee at Park Cities Dance.

Tips on hiring and retaining the right teachers for your business

Ask dance studio owners in North Texas what their secret to success is and many will tell you it is their amazing teaching staff. But assembling and developing such a team doesn’t happen overnight.  And once the staff is put together studio owners then have to find ways to maintain and nourish teachers in order to keep the studio as a whole moving forward. So how do owners go about finding, acclimating and retaining the right people to run their businesses?  I asked some local studio owners to share their thoughts and this is what they had to say:

Guest Artist Francois Peron with 9-year-old Rachel Rohrich at Park Cities Dance.

On The Hunt. From industry job sites, newsletters and e-mail blasts to colleagues and former students, studio owners have plenty of options when it comes to finding a new teacher. Kelly Lannin, director of The Ballet Conservatory in Lewisville, TX, says she has tried many of these methods but prefers contacting colleagues for their suggestions. “I would much rather hire someone who comes with a good recommendation from someone I know,” Lannin says.

For Lisa Racina-Torre, owner and director of the Denton Dance Conservatory LCC, Denton, TX, hiring former students is the best way to go. “They know the technique, my expectations at each level and how I run my shows,” Racina-Torre says.

But these are ideal situations. Eventually studios owners will have to take a risk and hire someone they do not know. When this day comes they will have to rely on their studio principles to make the right decision. “I look for someone with tremendous personal charisma, energy and an amazing background,” says Jacqueline Porter, artistic director of the Dallas Conservatory for the Arts/Park Cities Dance in Dallas. “They must be able to teach and not just give a good class; and be dedicated to making sure students not just receive but achieve proper technique.”

Along with teaching the right technique Lindsay DiGiuseppe Bowman, director of The School of Contemporary Ballet Dallas, says she also looks for teachers who can motivate students in positive ways. “They must also be able to move forward and not get stagnant in their teaching,” DiGiuseppe Bowman says.

Ice Breakers. Faculty meetings are a quick and effective way to integrate a new teacher into your studio’s culture, according to many studio owners. Racina-Torre says she holds faculty meetings once every six weeks: three in the fall and three in the spring. “We discuss things such as my expectations, the recital process and the studio hierarchy in terms of what questions they can answer and when they should refer parents to Ms. Lisa,” Racina-Torre says.

In addition to a faculty meeting at the beginning of the year Lannin says she also holds individual meetings with her new teachers. “I have a one-on-one meeting with them where I go over the faculty manual and handbook as well as the class syllabus which explains how we operate the school and what I expect to be taught at each level,” Lannin says.

If you aren’t able to have a faculty meeting, DiGiuseppe Bowman suggests staying in touch electronically. “I use e-mail a lot to communicate with our teachers,” DiGiuseppe Bowman says. “We also have a user-friendly Web site which includes a calendar for our students and teachers to view.”

Observing class is another effective way to acclimate new teachers. “I like new teachers to sit in on another teacher’s class to see what they do and how much effort they put into teaching correctly and positively,” Porter says.

Studio owners also recommend checking in with your new teacher periodically. “I try to check in at least twice a semester,” DiGiuseppe Bowman says. “I will watch most of their class to see how they and the kids are progressing,” she adds. “I stay in close contact with them in regards to selecting costumes, helping them communicate with parents and especially with all the recital preparations,” Lannin says. “Once they have made it through their first year, the second year is much less work for me.”

The Ballet Conservatory staff from left to right bottom row: Denise Clarkston, Kelly Lannin (Artistic Director), Nancy Loch, Janet Waters. Top Row: Asia Waters, Shanon Tate, Kerry Dove, Allan Kinzie, Mary Neel (Business Director), Rachael Poole, Lacy de la Garza, Jamie Edgerton.

The Long Haul. In order to maintain a well-rounded staff studio owners must find ways to nourish and expand their teachers’ talents. Artistic freedom is one of the reasons Lannin says her teachers keep returning. “I try to give everyone the freedom to teach their classes, pick their recital music and costumes and give them opportunities where they can be creative or be part of one of our four dance companies,” Lannin says. DiGiuseppe Bowman adds that it helps to be approachable. “If my teachers have a problem or concern they know they can talk to me directly,” she says.

Unfortunately, things do come up and teachers do leave so it’s important that you have some kind of plan just in case this situation arises. For Lannin this entails finding a replacement before she makes the announcement because this is the first question parents are going to ask. “Then I send a nice letter to the specific students from myself and also one from the teacher explaining the need for them to leave,” Lannin says. Porter has also had to cope with teachers leaving a few times. “I am honest with the kids to the extent I can be” she says. “Usually it’s because someone has other top professional work to accept elsewhere, so we wish them well and enjoy our next new great find!”

This story was originally published in the Aug.-Oct. issue of DANCE! North Texas.



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