Addie K. writes:
I teach ballet in a community where there are two other dance studios, both of which have been in business longer than I have. I own my studio and employ two other teachers. I’ve never had a problem with another studio until recently when a teenage student told me in tears that she would no longer be able to study with me. She had been taking class three times a week at another studio, where she has trained for several years, but when her family moved and her school schedule changed, she could only take class there twice a week. My studio’s location was convenient for her, so she started taking once a week with me. When her main teacher found out she had been taking my class, she called her a “traitor” and told the girl that if she didn’t stop taking class at my studio, she would have to leave hers.
Then she wrote a letter to all the parents laying out her “policy” that no one was allowed to train at other studios because her training method “comes directly from the top Russian companies” and she “couldn’t guarantee the standards at other schools.” Those are quotes from a copy of the letter which I was shown. She has a contract with her students and she is adding a “loyalty” clause to it.
I was shocked. I would never tell a student not to take class with another teacher. I also have a contract with my students. It’s very short and only requires that students make a regular commitment, follow the dress code, behave with decorum in the studio, treat their teachers and each other with respect, and speak personally to me or to one of their teachers if they have a problem.
No one gets rich running a ballet studio but as far as I can tell, there is enough business in our town to support our three studios. I considered calling the other studio owner and giving her a piece of my mind, but I didn’t want to stoop to her level. I spoke to the student’s parents and told them that I thought the ultimatum was unreasonable and unprofessional. They thanked me, and apologized (Lord knows for what) and I haven’t seen them since.
I’m interested in other teachers’ opinions. I wonder if this behavior is more common than I imagined. If so, what is the ballet world coming to?
Ballet to the People responds:
The ballet world isn’t going anywhere it hasn’t already been.
Monstrous egos have popped up since the time of Louis XIV.
On the subject of violently insecure ballet teachers, you might find these words wise and grounding: Amanda Niehaus’ advice to her students. My favorite lines:
You as a student owe me nothing. You may thank me after class, you may credit me on your first performance DVD, you may remember me when you are touring with Jillina, but you do not owe me anything. (You paid for your class, I taught you, we are even.) I am an emotionally mature adult (for the most part.) I do not require your “loyalty” or allegiance… You will not be “cheating on” me by taking classes with another instructor. – Amanda Niehaus, courtesy Shira.net
This professed betrayal by an innocent student may not be the only thorn in your rival’s side; she may have more reasons to feel threatened. She may be getting some very bad advice on how to manage her business. Or she may just be a control freak. But that’s speculation. The only way to find out and change her behavior would be to reach out to her. However, life is too short, and the world too full of wonderful things and decent people, to bother with the petty and spiteful.