Each person you hire will either make your dance business stronger or hold it back. So hiring well is at the very heart of good “people management.” To find someone who’s a great fit, begin laying the groundwork long before any interviews.
Hiring the right staff for your dance studio can seem overwhelming. Where do you find the most qualified candidates? What are the best interview questions to ask? What’s more important, experience or attitude? Do references matter? Questions like these—not to mention assessing someone’s actual teaching or choreography skills—can leave many studio owners scratching their heads.
A human resources (HR) department isn’t a requirement (or even a possibility) for most dance studios, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t implement professional hiring practices. To ensure that your next faculty member is a great fit for your studio, here’s how to lay the groundwork for sound hiring decisions.
1. Define your studio’s culture.
Each studio has its own focus and atmosphere. It pays to spend some time nailing down your studio culture specifically, if you haven’t already. Being able to articulate your unique mission will help when it comes to hiring. Natalie Molter is the owner at Noble Dance, a ballet-focused studio in Kalispell, MT, and she has spelled out her vision for how things should run very simply and clearly. “Our culture is ‘hard work and sweat will pay off, so stick with it no matter what you are doing,’” she says. “There is little drama or politics within our space.”
From a casual, recreational, community-based feel to a laser focus on a pre-professional-track program, it’s smart to know exactly what you are trying to cultivate so you can hire people who mesh with your ideas and ideals. Take the time to write it all out so you have a solid grasp of what you’re looking for in a teacher’s philosophy when you interview them.
2. Be clear what the job is.
You’ll never find the right fit for a position, or be able to judge whether someone’s likely to do it successfully, with a short, breezy job description. Take the time to write a detailed description of all the job entails: the experience, knowledge and credentials needed to do it well, the responsibilities and tasks, even the attitude and behaviors that will make someone successful in it. Write down all these elements—they’ll make it much easier to evaluate each candidate. For instance, if you’re looking to find someone to both teach classes and direct your junior-level competitive team, you’ll need someone who feels at home in the hyper-scheduled, detail-oriented world of competitions and conventions.
3. Search strategically.
Hiring the right faculty involves knowing where to look for them. Kristine Smith, co-founder and artistic director at InSpira Performing Arts & Cultural Center in New Brunswick, NJ, says tapping into her own network—including faculty and former colleagues—is the best route. Facebook is also a valuable resource, filled with local dance groups (public and closed) that are easy to join and inquire within. Or you might consider posting an ad at a local college’s dance department. “Even if our studio doesn’t have openings, we’re always looking,” says Suzanne Blake Gerety, co-owner at Kathy Blake Dance Studios in Amherst, NH. You never know when you might need a new staff member, so keeping prospects on your radar will ease any future hiring.
Stephanie Clemens is the founder, studio owner and director of The Academy of Movement and Music in Oak Park, IL, and she has had success with hiring teachers who have trained at her school. “My ‘good fits’ have been with the Academy for years or even decades,” she says. This makes for an easy relationship, since those who have attended the school are already steeped in her studio’s culture and instinctively understand the overall training/teaching philosophy.
4. Interview carefully.
When interviewing a candidate, start with the basics. Ask questions regarding their dance background, experience, teaching philosophies and problem-solving techniques. Inquire about their strengths and weaknesses and how they collaborate best with others.
Establishing that they possess the general skills for the job is necessary, but even more important is asking the questions that will help you determine if they’ll fit within your culture, says HR recruiter Ashley Meunier. The most important question? According to Meunier, it’s: “Why do you want this job?” Today’s job market is competitive. Pinpointing someone’s motivations and passions will separate the good contenders from the great ones and reveal if their goals are aligned with your studio’s philosophy.
During an interview, in addition to discussing experience and credentials, Gerety looks for these three top qualities: Do they have a positive attitude? Are they coachable? Are they a self-starter when it comes to troubleshooting and choosing music and costumes?
A required interview standard is avoiding questions about race, gender, nationality, age, marital status, etc., says Meunier. If the candidate brings up a touchy subject on their own, don’t continue the conversation. (You can always research the legality of a question or topic later.)
5. Offer a trial period.
Even with a careful interview, a trial period can be a good way to see if you and the instructor work well together in real life. Clemens often uses possible new instructors as substitutes first, asking other teachers or accompanists for feedback on how they did rather than watching the class herself. She will also ask older students how they liked a substitute, to get a feel for the candidate’s ability to engage in the classroom. “Sometimes a person who subs ends up with a contract, and sometimes they really just don’t seem to be a fit,” she says.
The Bottom Line
Hiring someone is only the beginning. Keep your staff invested. Check in regularly with your teachers about how their classes are going. Give them time and space to discuss everything from student behavior issues to choreography ideas. Create goals together and help them make a plan to work toward achievement, so they have a sense of ownership of their job. Consider offering them education stipends for further study, too. An investment in a faculty member’s skills is an investment in the quality of their teaching. Many studios offer half-price or free classes for teachers’ children, as well.
And don’t forget to express your appreciation—in everyday comments that show you notice the good things happening in your studio and also with occasional surprises. For example, an end-of-semester or holiday gift, however small, can visibly demonstrate that you value someone’s contribution. A note and something like a gift card to a nearby restaurant will always be welcome to an on-the-go teacher.
Reporting contributed by Betsy Farber and Catherine L. Tully
Last updated January 9, 2020