Once upon a time, a dance teacher opened her own studio down the road from her previous employer’s school, leveraging her previous teaching position to start her own studio. Sound familiar? This is a very common story in the dance studio business and unfortunately, this is not a fictional story.
We’ve all heard some version of this story or may have experienced it ourselves. Student baiting—the direct or indirect solicitation of other students—is a practice that thoughtlessly fragments and divides the dance community. In addition to student poaching, other subtle, but divisive, practices include: making negative remarks about other teachers/schools, misrepresenting oneself by making false, exaggerated, or ambiguous claims, and making disparaging comparisons or references to others.
What drives enterprising individuals to engage in business practices that burn bridges, sow deception, and model reckless behaviour?
Darwin. You heard me – Darwin is in charge. Well, not really Darwin himself, but the misinterpretation of his theories in the context of work is at the root of this dilemma. When the business world embraced the neo-Darwinian philosophy of “survival of the fittest,” they unleashed a ready-made excuse for immoral action.
As a culture that has witnessed the “Cola Wars” firsthand, we have co-opted the idea that anything goes when it comes to business and marketing. Ethics and ethics do not need to be applied. They say “this is business” while defending their actions. They fail to see the big picture: to look at the situation carefully. They unintentionally harm the greater dance profession and thus themselves. It is a case of one shooting with the right hand over the left and thinking that is a good thing.
Why does one feel justified in treating the dance studio business in such a careless way?
At the root of the neo-Darwinian business approach is a sense of isolation and scarcity. These teachers believe they are “against the world” – or more directly “they are against other local studios/teachers.” Add to that sense of isolation a sense of scarcity—not enough students to go around—and you begin to understand how one begins to justify why students must be robbed to survive. However, these two concepts – solitude and scarcity – are illusions in the world of dance.
Studios fighting over the same group of students creates a negative atmosphere in the community. Parents feel this negativity and choose alternative activities for their children because they seem more beneficial: the prospective young dancer plays soccer. However, in a society where more than one dance school thrives without negativity, more students enjoy dancing as an activity. This greater number of students in the future translates into more dancers, dance teachers and most importantly, audience members. If dance studios stop seeing each other more like competitors and more as colleagues, the entire dance profession will benefit.
The solution begins simply as a procedure of substitutions: replacing mindless competition with conscious fellowship, mindless isolation with conscious connectedness, and mindless scarcity with conscious abundance. We must realize that the dance profession, from the smallest recreational dance class to the largest professional company, is interdependent. The entire world of dance network is vitally connected.
For example, the dance community is rather small compared to the larger world of sports. There are many more children who are involved in sports than in the arts. Rather than interpreting this as a reason to fight over resources, we should embrace a sense of abundance. There are more than enough potential students to support each school if we focus on getting more students into the dance rather than fighting over those already there. It is in the interest of the dance profession at every level to include more of the non-dancing world within our walls than to have walls within our own.
So how can we begin to shatter the twin illusions of solitude and scarcity in the world of the dance studio and open our eyes to connectedness and abundance?
We need to base our actions and practices on ideals that reflect the world of dance as a healthy and vibrant community rather than a horrible, desperate society that lends itself to mindless behaviour. Adopting a code of ethics that promotes an informed and correct outlook will not only serve as guidance, but also help foster a positive environment for those you influence.
Moving forward, we all need to adopt a code of ethics that addresses these issues. The following list is not yet complete, but it is a place to start.
The work ethic of the mindfulness dance professional
In all professional and business relationships, a dance professional must demonstrate respect, honesty, and integrity for themselves, their clients, and their colleagues.
The Dance Professional shall refrain from making negative remarks that may denigrate, denigrate, or in any way reflect the professional standing of a school/studio or other teacher.
The dance professional must refrain from making any gestures disparaging or disparaging the services of others
The Dance Professional shall refrain from publishing, or causing to be published, any notice, advertisement in newspaper, or other matter which is likely to damage or diminish the reputation of any Associate.
Particularly in advertising materials, the dance professional must accurately portray his or her qualifications or affiliations to the public and avoid any ambiguity or exaggeration.
A dance professional should refrain from portraying his or her qualifications or affiliations to the public in a manner intended to deceive the uninitiated. For example: You danced a child’s role in The Nutcracker with a professional company and included it to film the dance professionally with the company.
A dance professional shall refrain from soliciting business directly from another teacher or studio by approaching in any way the pupil, pupils or staff of another teacher, for any reason whatsoever, to try to induce them to join his/her school.
The dance professional should refrain from soliciting business indirectly from another teacher or studio by making negative criticisms of other teachers’ methods, by offering free training, by citing the benefits the pupil would gain from a change (eg show roles/parts), or other similar methods.
With each of us taking responsibility for our own actions by embracing a conscious code of ethics, we can co-create a healthy, connected, and abundant environment in the dance school business. Moreover, with all that we have in common, we may discover that we make better friends than enemies.