Poaching Dancers and Toxic Ownership of Students

Published on August 8th 2019 by Hillary-Marie

Today, we’re talking about poaching students. This is a pretty hot topic I see on Facebook groups and forums all the time. 


Stealing students or “poaching students” is a dirty practice. It involves randomly approaching students and saying, “They can’t give you what I can give you, your teacher sucks, come on over here.” I’ve heard crazy stories of teachers who roll up to the recital of the studio down the street whispering into parents and dancer’s ears! We can not concern ourselves with crazy, with the type of people who do this, because if that’s how someone chooses to build their following, how they choose to build their student base, than imagine what their class and studio environment is like. Imagine what they are teaching their students about life and the dance. Singing a siren’s song in the ears of students - if they have to use tactics like that, chances are they don’t have the education offerings to back it up. So we can’t consume ourselves with these people and their crazy. 


What I really want to talk about, is toxic ownership. I have a major concern when I see things like this: Teachers and studio owners who post and say, “I just found out that one of my senior competition dancers went to a dance class down the street. Do I bring it up to them? Do I wait for them to mention it to me? Do I kick them off the team or give them a warning? How do I lay down the law?” 

WHAT?! This is NOT an example of student poaching, this is an example of toxic culture in which teachers declare ownership over their students. This is a BIG difference, my friends.

I don't feel that it's appropriate for teachers to get angry with their students when they are looking to study with other teachers or seek additional opportunities to learn. Many of my students who are in FutureSTEP Tap Company or attend classes at Grooves Unlimited Dance Studio drive 30 mins - 2 hours to study with me. A lot of them came from a competition background, and if you want to hear more about my thoughts on the competition scene, check out Episode 027: Are Dance Competition Broken? Some of these dancers started studying with me while they were on competition teams. And the backlash they received was insane. 

One time it got so crazy, that a student asked their studio owner for more tap - a high level student who had pretty much out grown their studio’s tap program. They came to their director and said, I want more tap dance what can I do? They lied and said "you're getting the best training around, there's nothing else out there". Parents found me online through Google, came for a drop-in class and told the studio, Hillary-Marie was great, you've gotta have her as a guest artist, hit so much fun. The following week, they literally received an updated contract for comp team members saying that they couldn't study with anyone else in the tri-state area without explicit written permission. I've seen this happen time and time again to students. I've seen people discuss this online and endorse this behavior, saying things like, “I didn’t train them well so they could just go to another studio and have them take all the credit,” or, “How ungrateful that my students would sneak off to another studio.”

These types of reactions are inappropriate and we need to encourage our students to study with other people. I have an open door policy - even when a student wants to study with someone that makes me cringe. I keep it to myself because I don't know what source of inspiration that person can serve as for my student. I can hope that the training I’ve given my students will give them the knowledge necessary to filter out good and bad teachers and good and bad tap dance training. In my heart I’m like “Oof… here we go…,” but I tell them to have fun and let me know how it goes. Because that is honest. I want them to have fun and to share with me how it goes. 

The whole toxic ownership over students has gotten so out of hand that I’ve had kids jump out of photos after master classes because they’re afraid of backlash from their teacher or studio owner, afraid of getting put in the back row, back corner of a dance, because that’s what happened to their friend who got caught taking class at Broadway Dance Center. 

The truth is, Students who study at those types of studios, studios that threaten them - will leave - they will fade out of those programs. They will find a new home, with another teacher that is supportive, kind, nurturing, catering to their level and giving them what they wish for. 


So if you’re the teacher that they’re running to on the side… just teach a good class. Be there to support them. They’ll most likely, eventually fade out of their other studio, but don’t tell them what to do. That has to be their decision. They need to discover and decide for themselves and if you encourage them to leave, even if they’re truly in a poor training ground or toxic environment, and they choose to leave on your advice, they might resent you for the backlash that they experience. 

If you’re a teacher who is fearful of students being poached, I encourage you to focus your energies towards giving your students the best class experience possible. Meet their needs. Listen to them. If they’re seeking training elsewhere, it’s because you’re not giving them what they need. Maybe that means it’s time to adjust your class - or simply, that it’s time for that student to move on. We can’t hold onto our students forever. Trust that you’ve equipped them well for the next step in their dance journey. 

If you’re a teacher who is feeling stuck, feels like they need to refresh their class material or restructure their approach to the dance, I invite you to apply for my 99 Day iTapOnline Teacher Training Program. You can find more info at www.itaponline.com/teacher.

If you’re the teacher that’s whispering false gossip into dancer’s and parent’s ears to build your following… you’re not a nice person, and that’s not going to end very well for you. 

I want to hear from you

I’d love to hear from you! Have you had your students poached? What ended up happening? Did they stay, did they come back to you? Are you a student whose teacher tried to claim ownership over your education and training? Comment in the iTapOnline Community and let me know!

Suggested Next Episode:



50% Complete

Want Access to 10+ Free Tap Dance Resources?

Fill out the form below and I'll send them to your email right away.