The Story of Sally and the 45 Minute Dance Classes - Dance,Teaching, Opinion
Updated: Dec 22, 2019
A forty-five minute class is not as beneficial as an hour class. This is why an hour is the industry standard. It's better for the students and more worthwhile for the teachers. For children 5-7 yrs old, yes, they begin to burn out after forty-five minutes, but for the rest of them, students and instructors, the forty-five minute class format short changes everyone. Except for the studio owner, that is, who gets...long changed?
When you "assembly line" your product you inevitably produce an inferior one; When you treat an art form like a sport, a mere physical activity, you get athletes, not artists; When you hire professional dance instructors and pull that 45 minute classes with multiple "breaks" bullshit, you get an angry blog story.
The Story of Sally and the 45 Minute Dance Classes
Once upon a time, Sally, a professional dancer and instructor of 10+ years receives a message through the Facebook messenger from a dance studio in the far off land of the suburbs. They are looking for a substitute dance instructor. Sally, excited that she may be able to buy actual groceries and not just a bulk case of Amy's burritos this week, quickly agrees to teach.
"Wow," Sally says to herself, "They are willing to meet my $40/hr rate and it is five classes from 4pm-9pm. That's $225! I can really use that to afford my rent, buy food and socialize with my friends. Score! She gets to work preparing her lesson plans for 5 classes: beginner, beg/int, intermediate, int/adv, and advanced. She has different warm ups, technique drills and combinations for each class and she is so prepared that there should be extra time for some improvisation, to learn about a famous dancer or historical dance event and maybe watch a short video on her computer. Sally is an amazing teacher!
Sally leaves the city at 2:45pm and arrives at the studio in the burbs at 3:45pm only to be told that the first class ACTUALLY begins at 4:15pm. Okay, no big deal, so she waits. At 4:15pm the "bitsies" struggle in. It is 4:20pm by the time the bitsies tie their shoes seven times each, the pig tailed one stops crying, and all the parents leave. Sally finishes the warm up and across the floor by 4:40pm and starts a fun combo. She is ready to have them run it with music at 4:55pm when the one bitsy who knows how to tell time says, "We have to go." As Sally checks the clock in disbelief, the receptionist/owner's mother-in-law pokes her head in, "We let the little ones go 5 minutes early to get ready for the next class." "Ooooooookay," says Sally, and they run off.
Sally expects the next stream of students to come barging in only to be met with an odd silence and lack of activity. Now it is her turn to poke her head out and ask the receptionist, "Is the next class coming in, or..." "Oh, they don't begin until 5:15." Instagram gets Sally's attention for the next 15 minutes.
Then the beg/int class tumbles in. They take 4 minutes to put on shoes and settle down. It turns out that this class is about the same level as the last one, but the kids are slightly older and they added /int to the class name so they wouldn't feel bad. Sally gets it. She had something prepared, but it's too much for this group so she just repeats what she did last class, minus the across the floor so that she can finish the combination this time.
At 6:00pm the next class begins and is a true intermediate level class. They are already piled up outside the door and all but trample the more awkward dancers attempting to escape to their next class. These dancers take three minutes to get their shoes on. Warm up, across the floor, combination, though no history or improv. Whatever. Sally is killing it.
At 6:45pm the receptionist pokes her head in again to tell Sally that the next class doesn't start until 7:00pm and is a choreography clean up for a trio of dancers. "So, like, a semi-private lesson?" Sally asks, hoping to get a glimmer of sympathy from the receptionist, only to be met with an unblinking stare and a "That's right" before returning back to her desk. The three children arrive right on time with their shoes on, but there is a problem. They learned the entire dance last week, no one remembers more than 30% of the choreography, and there is no video for Sally to reference. The entire time is spent with the children arguing, "No, I think it was like this," only to do a combination of steps that Sally knows can not be correct. She tries to guess what it is supposed to be, but the trio of dancers repeat, "No, I think it was like this," and the farce continues. The trio's parents are watching Sally struggle through the viewing glass and she feels very embarrassed and unprofessional. Finally, this travesty of a class comes to an end.
The time is now 7:30pm and Sally has just been told that the next class does not start for another thirty minutes. Sally searches her dance bag for a rolled up half of a Cliff bar, brushes off the lint as best she can and takes very small bites.
At 8:00pm the advanced class comes in and there are eighteen 15-17 yr olds in a too small space. However, they are more mature and capable then the previous groups and Sally gets through her lesson plan and manages to squeeze in four minutes of improvisation and suggests to the students a famous dancer to look up on Youtube. This is the best class of the evening, but Sally is exhausted. The receptionist takes down Sally's address - the pay cycle JUST finished - and they will mail Sally her check in two weeks. Fine. After changing, Sally leaves by 9:pm and gets home by 10:00pm.
Two weeks later, Sally finally gets her check for... $150.00. Sally was paid per hour of teaching, not per hour that she was there. There was the preparation that Sally did before hand, taking 2 hours that morning to search out music and prepare original combos and dig through her archives for some old favorites. Never mind that she didn't even get to use two of these lesson plans. That brings it down to about $22.23/hr. But let's say we count all of the hours Sally was actually AT work. Remember those little "breaks" she got? That brings it down to an even $20/hr, half of what Sally expected to make, plus gasoline for travel and the taxes that she will have to pay on it later. Sally sighs and pops in an Organic Black Bean burrito into the microwave, using only the saltiness of her tears as a condiment.
Meanwhile, the studio owner is making 25% more income by saving 15 minutes per class and running them back to back. So what if this makes the schedule super wonky? As long as they can churn out those cookie cutter routines and bring home a trophy from Starpower their constituency seems to be pretty pleased with this schedule.
I'm on to you, dance studios. I'm hip to your game, wise to your con, and keen to your angle. You have a thriving business in an affluent suburb. You drive a pink Cadillac Escalade that reads "ILVDNC" on its license plate with those t.v.s in the back seats so you don't have to talk to your own children while driving. Your third location has just opened up and attendance is already booming. Happy happy happy, joy joy joy, $$$ $$$ $$$.
But that's not enough for you, is it? You've gotten a taste of the good life, but you want more. MORE! You only want to shop at Whole Foods and buy the facial cleanser with little plastic beads that kills local marine life. You know, the GOOD SHIT. But how are you going to maintain a life of such extravagance? Four words come to mind. These four words are akin to good dance instructors as the words death, disease, pestilence and plague are to God-fearing, apocalyptic conspiracy nuts. The four words are thus:
FORTY. FIVE. MINUTE. CLASSES.
Okay, maybe forty-five is actually one word, but I'm here to throw feather and tar, not worry about gram-mar.
That's right, a forty-five minute dance classes allows you to pack in more classes of kiddos per hour which equals more money per day. Way to go, Capitalism! Your constituency is kept busy moving from one room to the next, never mind that switching shoes and rooms eats up a chunk of those forty-five minutes, and as soon as you track down those two goobers who are hiding in the bathroom because they think that their teacher is a moron and get THEIR shoes on, you still have a good 37 minutes of class time. Way to business, business owner!
There is one person who is not having fun, however, and is slowly growing resentful of life, the universe and everything with each disappointing class that they teach. It's the dance instructor, the least valuable member of your business that you can't live without.
Tristan Bruns is a Chicago Hoofer, founding member of Chicago Human Rhythm Project's BAM!/Stone Soup Rhythms, professional company member of M.A.D.D. Rhythms and director of Tapman Productions.