Discipline in the Dance Studio

Students come in all shapes and sizes and all experience levels.  We recognize that our dancers and theatre students all handle direction and discipline in very different ways.  Most of the time family dynamics play a part or experiences in school (including arts training).  A child that comes to us to build their self-esteem isn't looking for teachers to put them down; so as a teacher we need to balance how to give direction and discipline. When students respond negatively though are they over sensitive or is there some truth to their uncomfortable feelings?

Honestly, as a director, I can say I am the first to be very passionate about the art I am trying to create.  There's a time to have fun and fool around but there are times that you have to buckle down and get the work done.  Kids are there to have fun and learn, and teachers are there to mentor and teach.  At times, they may not be on the same page and in order to accomplish all that we have for our students, that sometimes means being firm and making sure we are on the same page.  This conflict is where this question begins.

Is discipline bullying?

A teacher is like a parent.  There are some really fun bits and then there some teaching through direction and sometimes through consequences.  Children don't know everything that they need to learn, and sometimes they step outside boundaries that are set up for them to help them succeed. Discipline has to be implemented so a student can learn and develop.  There is a right and wrong way to discipline, and everybody gives discipline differently to individuals who react and perceive things differently.  All of it takes time to understand the two relationships.

Ultimately if your teacher is caring and wants the best for your child's learning and development, you will have a great teacher. Even caring teachers sometimes need to raise their voice or be firm and change their tone in order to get the classes or students attention. Strict teaching does not mean bullying; setting expectations, rules, and consequences do not mean bullying.

Here are some red flags to watch for:

  1. Your teacher’s behavior benefits them, not you. - Strict teachers have high standards, but the behaviors being enforced are for the benefit of the student.
  2. Your teacher repeatedly targets specific students. - Teachers are only human, and may occasionally raise their voice to the class. Bullying, on the other hand, is an ongoing pattern of behavior that targets a specific student or group of students by manipulating, mocking, excluding, humiliating, controlling, ignoring or lying to them.
  3. Rules and consequences are unofficial or unreasonable. - A healthy studio environment has established rules—and reasonable consequences for breaking them. A bullying teacher may have irrational penalties for poorly-defined transgressions like "disrespect," or give informal punishments like public humiliation or the silent treatment.
  4. Reprimands are used to attack rather than educate. - Good teaching includes giving caring direction with encouragement and kindness but also knows when they need to step in and address the concern.
  5. Your teacher is preventing you from learning. - Some bullying teachers target students by giving them less rehearsal time, fewer corrections or no chance to finish class combinations. Since dance skills grow primarily through practice, consistently preventing students from practicing is a powerful way of harming their dance training.
  6. When other adults are in the room, your teacher behaves differently. - Teachers will behave slightly different when parents are in the room, but aren't afraid to step in to discipline should the need arise or at the very least address misbehaviour.  Students will also behave differently when a parent is in the same room.  However, if a teachers personality completely changes, then this could be a red flag.
  7. There’s pressure to remain at the studio. - The most effective way to protect yourself from a bullying situation is to leave it. Implying that students who leave the studio are "quitters" or "traitors" discourages targeted students from walking away persuading students to stay out of fear rather than solid dance teaching.
  8. Your teachers comments or actions are causing you to struggle with body image issues or disordered eating. - Body shaming is a classic sign of bullying.  When a teacher makes comments on your weight, size, or shuns you - this should be a red flag.  It is not appropriate for teachers or other students to comment on someone's body image. A good teacher teaches you how to dance and helps you to feel proud of what you have accomplished - period.
  9. Confronting your teacher makes the problem worse. - A performing arts student is developed through discussion, discipline, and consultation with the student, parent, and teacher.  A bully who feels they are being "questioned"—no matter how respectful your approach—is likely to retaliate. This doesn't mean you should not address their behavior but can be a clear sign of a bullying teacher rather than a strict teacher.
  10. You feel anxious, ashamed, or constantly “on guard” even outside of class. - If your child's personality has changed and they seem to be feeling uneasy, something may be going on.  Bullying authority figures may dismiss their behavior as "how the real world works," but they're actually undermining students' professionalism. An abusive studio environment trains students to use submissive body language, feel ashamed of their appearance and abilities, and remain on guard against the constant threat of mistreatment.  Students can't grow in this type of environment.

I would love to hear from you - If you have a specific concern about bullying in the studio and are not able to bring the issue up 1-1; I encourage you to reach out privately to myself.

-Darla Lemay, Arts Director-


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