Once upon a time, a dance teacher opened her own studio down the road from her former employer's school, taking advantage of her former teaching position to start her own studio. Sound familiar? This is an all too common story in the dance studio business and unfortunately, this is no fairy-tale.
We have all heard a version of this story or perhaps experienced it first-hand. Poaching students – direct or indirect solicitation of another's students – is a practice that mindlessly fragments and divides the dance community. In addition to poaching students, other subtle, but just as divisive, practices include: making negative remarks about other teachers / schools, misrepresentation of the self by making false, exaggerated, or ambiguous claims, and making disparaging comparisons or references about others.
What drives otherwise enterprising individuals to engage in business practices that burn bridges, sow the seeds of deceit, and model mindless behavior?
Darwin. You heard me – Darwin is to blame. Well, not really Darwin himself, but the misinterpretation of his theories into a business context is at the root of this dilemma. When the business world adopted the neo-Darwinian philosophy of "survival of the fittest", they unleashed a ready-made excuse for unethical action.
As a culture that witnessed the "cola wars" first hand, we picked up the idea that anything goes when it comes to business and marketing. Ethics and morals need not apply. "That's business" they say while defending their actions. They fail to see the big picture: to look mindfully at the situation. They unknowingly hurt the larger dance profession and therefore themselves. It is a case of one's right hand shooting one's left and thinking this is good.
What makes one feel justified in approaching the business of dance studios in this mindless manner?
At the root of the neo-Darwinian business approach is a sense of isolation and scarcity. These teachers believe that it is "them against the world" – or, more directly, "them against the other local studios / teachers." Add to this sense of isolation a sense of scarcity – that there are not enough students to go around – and you start to understand how one begins to rationalize why stealing students is necessary for survival. However, these twin concepts – isolation and scarcity – are illusions in the dance world.
Studios fighting over the same group of students create a negative atmosphere in the community. Parents sense this negativity and choose alternative activities for their children because they seem more wholesome: the potential young dancer takes up soccer. However, in a community where more than one dance school thrives without negativity, a greater number of students enjoy dance as an activity. This greater number of students translates down the road into a greater number of future dancers, dance teachers, and, most importantly, audience members. If dance studios stopped seeing each other so much as competitors and more as colleagues, the entire dance profession would benefit.
The solution starts as simply as making replacements: replacing mindless …