Research shows that sixty to eighty percent of workplace problems are due to boundaries issues. If you look at all the areas where belly dancers congregate, you will see all sorts of questions and issues posted that demonstrate that this is true in a dance business as well. Whether you are embarking on a new career as a belly dance instructor, or if you have been at this a long time, it pays to establish and enforce healthy boundaries so that your studio runs smoothly and avoids unnecessary drama. It will keep you from burning out, help you stay profitable, and make it a happier experience for everyone.
Signs That Your Dance Studio Has Boundaries Issues
Your studio may have boundary problems if you notice any of the following:
- someone feels her talent is stifled and opportunities for advancement are limited
- circumstances and conversations get twisted to one person’s benefit
- mistakes are laughed at or ridiculed rather than seen as evidence that something wrong needs to be corrected
- someone feels reminded constantly of publicly of a disappointing experience or unmet expectation
- someone takes credit for things she didn’t do or withholds recognition for new ideas and extra effort
- the focus is solely on meeting one person’s goals and at the expense of others
- there is little respect for personal space and time (such as calls after hours, being late for class, etc)
- there are factions within the studio- an “in” group and an “out” group
- payments are not being made on time
- rules aren’t applied equally to everyone
- one person is asked to do things that she’s already made clear she can’t/won’t
The teacher/student relationship is an important component of the student’s success. If boundaries are not healthy, it could impact the student’s emotional experience, skill development, and success. It could also negatively impact the instructor’s business. It is beneficial for both sides that healthy boundaries be in place and enforced.
Teachers owe their students a duty of caring. Caring shows up as showing interest giving time, talking, taking time to learn about the student’s circumstances, showing sensitivity and respect, nurturing, and acting in the best interest of the student.
The studio owner also has a duty of control. This means control over the classroom, the learning environment, expenses, the curriculum, the emotional environment, personal goals, professional goals, and students’ goals. A classroom that is out of control is not a productive or enjoyable learning environment. We need both in order to keep the business and joy alive.
This can get confusing when the duty of care of one student conflicts with that of another, that of the instructor, or the overall success of the studio. When the duty of care and control conflict, that can also cause boundaries issues.
Ultimately it is up to each person to decide their boundaries for themselves. Here are some suggestions that may help.
The viability of the studio requires an uninterrupted flow of funds. The best way to ensure this is to require all students to pay their fees on time. There is nothing so disruptive as finding out that one person is being held to a different standard than others. When this occurs, it makes it hard for the instructor to ask for one to pay when another isn’t.
Dance is an emotional experience. We can put our whole hearts into our performances. Yet, when we allow the events of the day to creep into the classroom, class can become about calming someone, resolving their issues, or boosting self-esteem. It can be a way of derailing class altogether for the sake of attention. What works best is when there is a moderate, appropriate showing of care that tends to put the needs of the student and school first. The teacher must lead by example by keeping her emotions in check, not bringing in outside energy, and showing support without being drawn into drama.
The more you self-disclose, the more you encourage those around you to self-disclose. This creates intimacy. This causes problems. When you are friends with your students, sooner or later there will be a conflict between what your friend wants or expects from you and what your business demands. You don’t want to damage or lose your business because your friend got upset and is now your enemy.
Everyone has the right to make their own decisions and participate in their own life. However, the classroom is the domain of the teacher. If the teacher cedes control to the students, there will be no discipline or advancement. So, it’s important that there is only one formal teacher and no informal ones – unless it is very clear that someone is an assistant. When there is an assistant, the power boundaries must be strictly explained and adhered to to avoid misunderstandings and grievances.
Everything works better when the rules are established beforehand, understood, agreed to, are fair, and are enforced. When everyone knows what is expected, you have fewer classroom problems. You can focus on dancing rather than managing conflict.
Everyone has to decide for themselves how to make this work for them. We’re all different people with different needs, values, and desires. Here is how I make it work for me: My clients are not my friends. Period. We are friendly. While we may have an after-event outing that includes the class, we do not hang out socially. They do not come to my house. I do not go to their house. We do not share the private details of our lives.
I provide instruction, motivation, and honest feedback. I am available for coaching after hours for a fee. I am available for a chat at my convenience. When there is a show, I choose soloists based upon ability and the needs of the show (for instance, if I need someone who dances Turkish style, that will limit who I can consider). Friendship, or who I “like,” never enters into it. My students don’t mumble about dance line-ups being unfair. They know that hard work is rewarded and work towards their goals.
Everybody pays. They know what they fee is. When they decide to pay, all I owe them is instruction. They are not also paying me with loyalty. They are free to go to whatever teacher, whatever workshop, and study whatever they want with no obligation to get my permission.
My studio rarely got bogged down with interpersonal conflict, money issues, or ego problems. Not everyone liked each others, but they all respected each other. They were professionals. It’s the instructor’s job to create professionals. Healthy boundaries helped to create that.