Once upon a time, a dance teacher opened her own studio across the street from her former employer’s school, taking advantage of her old teaching position to start her own studio. Sounds familiar? This is a very common story in the dance studio business and sadly it is not a fairy tale.
We have all heard a version of this story or perhaps we have experienced it first hand. Student poaching, the direct or indirect solicitation of students from others, is a practice that mindlessly fragments and divides the dance community. In addition to student poaching, other subtle but just as divisive practices include: making negative comments about other teachers/schools, misrepresenting your identity by making false, exaggerated, or ambiguous claims, and making disparaging comparisons or references about others.
What drives entrepreneurial people to engage in business practices that burn bridges, sow the seeds of deception, and model mindless behavior?
Darwin. You heard me, Darwin is to blame. Well, not really Darwin himself, but the misinterpretation of his theories in a business context is at the root of this dilemma. When the business world embraced the neo-Darwinian philosophy of “survival of the fittest,” it unleashed a ready-made excuse for unethical action.
As a culture that witnessed the “cola wars” firsthand, we embrace the idea that anything goes when it comes to business and marketing. It is not necessary to apply ethics and morals. “That’s business” they say while defending their actions. They fail to see the big picture: look closely at the situation. Without knowing it, they harm the dance profession in general and, therefore, themselves. It is a case where the right hand shoots the left hand and thinks this is good.
What makes one feel justified in approaching the dance studio business in this mindless way?
At the root of the neo-Darwinian entrepreneurial approach is a sense of isolation and scarcity. These professors believe that it is “them against the world” or, more directly, “them against the other local studios/professors”. Add to this sense of isolation a sense of scarcity, that there aren’t enough students to go around, and you begin to understand how one begins to rationalize why stealing students is necessary to survive. However, these twin concepts, isolation and scarcity, are illusions in the world of dance.
Studies fighting for the same group of students create a negative atmosphere in the community. Parents perceive this negativity and choose alternative activities for their children because they seem healthier: the young potential dancer is dedicated to football. However, in a community where more than one dance school thrives without negativity, a greater number of students enjoy dance as an activity. This larger number of students translates in the future to a larger number of future dancers, dance teachers, and most importantly, audience members. If dance studios stopped seeing each other as much as competitors and more as colleagues, the entire dance profession would benefit.
The solution begins simply by making replacements: replacing mindless competition with mindful companionship, mindless isolation with mindful interconnectedness, and mindless scarcity with mindful abundance. We must realize that the dance profession, from the smallest recreational dance class to the largest professional company, is interconnected. The entire network of the dance world is vitally linked.
For example, the dance community is quite small compared to the larger world of sports. There are many more children participating in sports than in the arts. Instead of interpreting this as a reason to fight over resources, we should embrace a sense of abundance. There are more than enough potential students to sustain each school if we focus on getting more students to the dance instead of fighting for those who are already there. It is to the benefit of the dance profession at all levels to include more of the non-dance world within our walls rather than building walls within our own.
So how can we begin to break the twin illusions of isolation and scarcity in the world of the dance studio and open our eyes to interconnectedness 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 terrible and hopeless community that lends itself to mindless behavior. Adopting a code of ethics that reinforces a conscientious and healthy outlook will not only serve as a guide, but will also help promote a positive environment for those who are affected.
In the future, we must all adopt a code of ethics that addresses these issues. The following list is not complete, but it is a place to start.
Business ethics for the conscious dance professional
In all professional and business relationships, the dance professional shall show respect, honesty and integrity towards himself, his clients and colleagues.
A dance professional will refrain from making negative comments that may disparage, defame or in any way reflect the professional position of another school/studio or teacher.
A dance professional will refrain from making derogatory references or disparaging comparisons to the services of others.
A dance professional shall refrain from publishing, or causing to be published, any advertisement, newspaper advertisement or any other matter that could damage or disparage the reputation of any colleague.
A dance professional should accurately present their qualifications or affiliations to the public, especially in advertising material, and avoid any ambiguity or exaggeration.
A dance professional will refrain from presenting their qualifications or affiliations to the public in a way that is intended to mislead the uninitiated. For example: having danced a child role in the Nutcracker with a professional company and classifying it as to portray having danced professionally with the company.
A dance professional shall refrain from directly soliciting business from another teacher or studio by approaching, in any way, another teacher’s student, students, or employees and, for any reason, attempting to induce them to join his or her school.
A dance professional shall refrain from indirectly soliciting business from another teacher or studio by making adverse criticism of other teachers’ methods, offering free training, citing advantages the student will gain from the change (for example, offering roles/parts), or other similar methods.
With each of us taking responsibility for our own actions by adopting a conscious ethical foundation, we can co-create a healthier, more connected and abundant environment in the dance school business. Plus, with everything we have in common, we might find we’re better friends than enemies.