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Dance Best Practice and Business Ethics

Good professional practice in dance includes knowledge and implementation of ethical and compliance issues. These comprise written and unwritten codes of practice and legal legislation.

Codes of practice for teachers, dancers and choreographers exist within the dance industry. Some teaching institutions and syllabi have their own accepted codes. DANZ has recommended codes of practice on the DANZ website which studios can use as their best practice guide. Placing these on the wall of a studio lets clients and students, whether children or professional dancers, know what acceptable behaviour in the dance workplace is. It gives public affirmation to good practice and places the dialogue in the public arena where it needs to be if it is to have any strength within the industry.

Dance businesses must also comply with New Zealand laws such as tax, labour laws covering conditions of work, Occupational Health and Safety (OSH), employment contracts and laws, copyright, legal and human rights legislation (sexual harassment and abusive behaviour). APRA and Recorded Music websites contain the most comprehensive information on music copyright and both organisations can be contacted by phone or e mail for queries regarding music used in performances, studios and other public arenas and the fees liable by law.

Business ethics are a different issue. As dance has grown in popularity in recent years, so logically and unfortunately have complaints about poor business behaviour. DANZ has sometimes been called on to ‘police’ poor practice, which has proved very difficult as evidence is often hearsay and depending on the issues, the needed response can vary greatly. Much of the dance industry is unregulated. Generally it works well. This is due to the high degree of dedication and passion that teachers give to dance. Dance teachers normally see the work as a vocation (calling) rather than just simply a job.

However the lack of regulation does allow a small minority of teachers to abuse the “etiquette” of dance teaching and its traditional business practices. This happens right across the broad spectrum of dance - incidents have been reported in studio dance forms, hip hop, social dance and cultural dance.

Examples of problems which arise from poor etiquette are: teachers setting themselves up with little dance training e.g. attending one course and then starting their own classes; teachers deliberately poaching students from another class or studio to set up their own studio or dance group, which may even affect those who taught or helped them in the first instance. Many of these problems concern the issues of etiquette/protocol, respect, competition and responsibility.

Every dance form has rules of etiquette, protocols or behaviour that are core to that dance style. This forms the vital context of the dance style or code. The teacher is responsible for conveying this to their students and novice teachers. By openly discussing this in the public arena, clients and novice teachers have the opportunity to learn about the dance form as well as learning the dance itself. The teacher is not only focusing on teaching dance but teaching about dance. In doing this, the teacher is demonstrating and making public their experience and knowledge and encouraging their clients to know how to respond to the dance context and etiquette.

It is vital for the industry that respect is given to our dance teachers and mentors. The teacher(s) we learned from are the people who started us on our journey in dance. This should always be honoured and acknowledged. However, respect is earned. Good teaching, which involves listening to students and student teachers, being fair and just, reflecting on our practice and learning from this and being willing to share the richness of one’s experience, wisdom and dance knowledge, is central to building and earning this respect. Respect and integrity within the industry is essential, including respect between studios and fellow professionals. Behaving with integrity enhances the whole of the dance industry and profession.

However, much dance is a business; therefore competition is a natural part of the industry. People do start up new dance businesses and this can cause friction. The customer does have a right to choose. Students do prefer different styles or approaches to dance teaching. But the customer is assisted in their choice if a teacher gives full information on their teaching experience and qualifications and what the studio or group provides. Accurate and truthful advertising is also an essential part of business practice.

Good teaching is not just a matter of qualifications on paper but also years spent in the teaching profession and developing teaching processes and philosophy. This should also be part of the promotional information a teacher provides to clients.

Having said this, young teachers need to start somewhere and some people are natural teachers. Many young people enjoy being taught by a young teacher, whom they can more easily relate to in age and attitude. This is particularly important for some dance styles such as hip hop and krumping which are ‘youth’ dance styles – created by youth for youth. Novice dance teachers need to be encouraged, guided and supported to ensure we will have dance teachers for the future. The industry and teachers have a responsibility to ensure young and new teachers are nurtured.

Some dance genre or syllabus organisations have internal policing of teaching standards or they decide the level of training and mastership a teacher needs to have. The effectiveness of this is difficult to judge as responses, which are anecdotal, are both positive and negative. Dance genre organisations need to support their teachers from novice to master level, by making this information clear to the public and being consistent in carrying this out.

Good teaching and business practice is most commonly passed down from teacher to teacher and is part of a professional commitment to the vocation. Most dance teachers are trained in this way – a type of on job training or apprenticeship situation. Under these circumstances the ‘master’ teacher should impart not only good teaching practice but dance context information about: the nature of the dance business and how it works including introducing them to the professional networks and associations that will help and advise the novice teacher; safety and personal safety issues relating to teaching and working with students of all ages, genders and abilities; good teaching techniques and further training for dance teaching; business, legal and employment compliance requirements; good business ethics; understanding the etiquette, protocols, context, history and traditions of the dance style and profession. This latter includes an understanding of any difficult aspects of the dance context e.g. understanding child development and appropriate/inappropriate costuming or music lyrics for young students or the reasons for social dance etiquette in partner dance.

Under these circumstances it is the duty of each teacher, whether novice or master, to strive for excellence in their teaching work and business practice and ensure our industry acts in a professional manner. It is by the public sharing of this information to clients that the industry will grow strong and parents and students will know what behaviour is expected. This is a far more proactive and positive approach than trying to develop some form of unenforceable policing to catch a minority who flout the rules.

The following statements from our teachers encompass some tenets that dance professionals in New Zealand see as core best teaching and business practice behaviour:

"Dedicated teachers never stop learning – they always want to learn new approaches, update on technique, identify health and safety issues."

"Teachers need to reflect on their work practice and learn from that reflection. I recommend teachers video themselves teaching and reflect on their practice – it’s a great learning tool."

"Tradition and form should not be power and control – culture evolves."

"Teachers need to keep themselves inspired and fresh. Teachers should regularly attend courses and undergo professional development as in all professions. They should let their students know this so they know they have a dedicated teacher."

"Standard professional teaching behaviour should be fair and just. Teaching is not ego centred, it is responsive and involves reflection."

"We should not teach at people and tell them what to do, we need to listen to what the learners want and learn and adapt from that. Teaching dance is an evolving thing and we need to change our practice as society changes."

"All professionals in the dance industry have a responsibility toward professional practice and upholding professional integrity. This includes making these issues clear to their clients. In an openly informative, cooperative and knowledgeable dance climate, bad practice is less able to survive."

Studios owners/teachers need to set the ground rules for professional and business behaviour e.g. studio protocols - managing and clarifying the business processes such as when people pay their accounts, so the two aspects of the dance studio are not confused for the owner and the clients. The studio protocol can be presented as a written document for parents and students.

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Dance Best Practice and Business Ethics

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