Tuesday, March 16, 2010

freak out ah c'est chic le freak

half a selfportrait33

I've been having a mild panic attack for the last couple of weeks which escalated into a fairly full blown one yesterday because the woman who was my first tap teacher is expanding her empire to cover my side of Melbourne.

I want to firstly make clear that it's not her I have a problem with. She's a nice person, a friend of mine, she works extremely hard and she's a very good business-woman to boot. If she'd picked a location slightly east or west of me I would have said good on her. But she is opening very nearby and I ran into her yesterday in the playground of my kids' school, about to put an ad in our newsletter. My turf, my home turf. It panicked me.

Part of the problem of course is that she was my first tap teacher, and has been something like a mentor to me. It's hard not to feel threatened by that, by placing myself mentally as grasshopper to her ninja. Or whatever the right metaphor is there. I wouldn't (and didn't) feel that way when/if students of mine were to start up classes nearby.

The other problem is to do with my own self-confidence. I automatically thought Oh this is going to kill my tap school dead. And why would I think that? My school is a going concern with a good reputation (I think) and most days I believe my students enjoy the classes and look forward to coming back every week. So on some level I must believe that I'm an impostor and have been getting away with it, presumably because nobody in this area knows any better. (I don't think I'm the only one who feels like that, deep down inside.)

And then there's this kind of feeling, when a few things have gone against you like Fixit not getting the job last year, where it seems that the hits keep coming, that maybe Fixit and I are doomed to be battlers and losers all our life. I know this is crap now, but last night in the full barrage of an anxiety attack it was pathetically easy to wallow in the Mud-Of-Poor-Me, and to forget all the really good things we have to be thankful for.

All last night and this morning, my brain skittered between worst-case scenarios and trying to think it through logically. Worst-case gloom and doom goes like this:
  • Her school is so big and mine is so small.
  • Her school has variety, mine is too specialised.
  • Her school will have a proper studio with mirrors and barres whereas I'm in a community hall with a makeshift floor and a one small rollaway foot mirror. I'm boutique in my offerings but not in my surroundings.
  • She is a really good businesswoman with 2 booming studios and I'm just me with not much interest in the business side of things, just wanting to earn a living doing what I like. And I've seen her in action, she's good at and energetic about promoting the school. She is putting up flyers and posters, advertising in the local schools. Things that I do haphazardly.
  • She has capital behind her for expansion, Fixit and I absolutely do not. I can't actually ever realistically foresee having enough business or capital to get my own premises (although I do of course daydream about it.)
  • She was the original, I'm the pretender.
Top of the doom-gloom scenarios is the fear that if my business goes under, particularly while Fixit is on his apprentice wage, we will be completely stuffed financially (we run fairly close to the edge as it is). Worse, I will be miserable because my school keeps me happy and sane even when things are going badly. Like now for instance, as Fixit wrestles with TAFE and is re-exhibiting all his stress behaviours in full force. Who is going to keep the household in good emotional shape if I go down, hmm? (And PS. While I value Fixit in many many ways, he is the worst person to have a panic attack around because he is a great big pessimist and a half. So instead of talking me through it and reassuring and trying to get me to see straight, he went one better than me to complete disaster and much worse worst-case-scenarios than even I'd come up with. Which is partly why I'm blogging this really.)

If I think about it all properly, and I've been trying to do that since yesterday in an effort to get my breathing back to normal and my shoulders down from around my ears, then I tell myself the following:
  • That she is right when she says she is offering something different to me. Her school is very girly and pink and glittery and fairy. I think I do have my own brand and style and it is one that I'm happy with. Possibly I am the anti-danceschool option, the one you choose because you want your kid to dance but don't want the rigidity of a formal ballet school or anything too over the top or too hippy-trippy.
  • That I can put up flyers and run ads too. I've been aware that I don't do nearly enough of that sort of stuff and that this could be the sort of kick up the bum I need.
  • That I don't actually think I will lose students to her. Any students I lose will be because of my own shortcomings (gulp) and not because a school with nicer facilities has opened nearby. And I think a goodly percentage of my students are with me not because I'm the only game in town but because they enjoy my classes.
  • That it is not my ex-tap teacher who will be the competition so to speak. It will be teachers hired by her and that has no psychological worries for me at all. And, to be honest, on my good days, I do think I'm good enough at what I do to be able to hold my own. We're all different, we all bring different skills to the table and I think that my best assets are my teaching skills (several of my grown-up tap students are also teachers who have taken the time to tell me that I'm good at it) and the way I can make it fun for my students.
I suppose the other worry-mosquito buzzing round my brain is that although she won't steal my current students, she could be taking (for want of a better word) my future students. And therefore, maybe, my future as a Dance Teacher. I have had vague hopes of maybe expanding one day. Not on our current wage, natch. But me, I'm always thinking my ship will come in. Not in a I must seek the ship and bring it home for myself kind of a way either, like a sensible person. More in an airy-fairy things will work out in the end way. You see now why my business is small.

But a good chat with a chance-met friend this morning helped me think more clearly about this too. Made me focus. Why I am doing my business? Is it to make money or because I love what I do? Answer: The money is nice (and some more money would be even nicer) but I do it for love. I do. You see? I'm not naturally a business-woman. I'm the child of a workaholic. I seek balance and family life and creative satisfaction and happiness and emotional sanity and fun. As Gabby put it, what price earning good money? I suspect it entails giving up dancing and teaching and taking up people management and paperwork and assets and marketing. I seriously do NOT want to do that. I just want to dance and teach dance. I'd like to be slightly more successful so that I didn't have to lug my tap boards around before every gig, but I accept that this is a pipe dream and that my life is not too hard really.

So I think I'm *almost* out of my panic attack. Moments of reaching for the metaphorical brown-paper bag. Still in need of reassurance. Might cry and hyperventilate if I have to talk to anyone face-to-face about it, but might also just hold it together with slightly leaky eyes. But shoulders almost back to below my neck, and trying to think sensibly and positively about the future. I think I can sustain my current levels. I hope I can continue to improve them. Breathe in. Breathe out.


  1. WOW! Hmmm, your first four bullet points are precisely what makes your tap classes so cool.

    I am glad that you are able to see that too, in your next list, only times that by 2 or 3.

    Also, you are a fantastic teacher and the kids adore you.

  2. That you love what you do is obvious from all the photos you post, which also show bunches of kids having a rear time in your classes! There's probably room for both of you...

  3. I can understand why you went off the deep end. I don't blame you.

    The thing is, you are absolutely right when you say that word of mouth and your good reputation are assets. Honestly, apart from the few ambition-driven dancers, students go to a dance studio for the people they know and the relationships they build. You're really good at doing that. (Hell, I've only met you a couple of times but I'D learn tap from you if you didn't live so far away. And I haven't taken a dance class in years...!)In the school I work at, we try very hard to keep the relationships and sense of community strong and positive. That's what keeps our kids turning up to school day after day.

    I think that this may be a bit of a kick up the bum, as you said, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. The boys are both at school now so your time will be a bit more freed up... this could end up being a very positive thing.

    Keep the metaphorical paper bag handy and keep on tapping!

  4. I remember the "Freak Out" song from my jazz classes way back when. Competition may be tough, but you have the advantage of a good track record - build upon your differences - market yourself a little more - to ensure that you stay upper most when people think "tap classes". I've seen dance teachers and studios come and go with the fashion.... you love what you do, and you're good at it - it will all take care of itself..... you've got to accentuate the positive .... as the song goes!

  5. Only new to your blog and so glad I found you. Things always crop up for everyone that produces max levels of anxiety and pangs of self judgement. Use a little of it to reassess to dreams and goals then pack it off! Then, make yourself a nice coffee and flick through photos of your beautiful, healthy family.
    We can't always change the things that worry us but we can look after ourselves so that we deal with the outcomes better.
    Goodluck and thanks for sharing your blog.

  6. I can see exactly where you are coming from. So, for some practical advice... have you thought about marketing yourself to highlight what makes you different from other dancing schools? I think a lot of parents would be pleased to hear you don't have full-on dancing concerts, tut-tus, make-up and fake eyelashes. I think your regular community performances at library open days and street festivals are fun for the kids and less intimidating than concerts for the parents. And not asking parents to sew costumes is a HUGE asset!

    Just something to think about. Hang in there!

  7. Well, coming from the point of view, as a parent of a young breakdancer, our son started his classes at a YMCA, which is about 20 mins from our home. We know there are now classes closer to us, at a professional studio, with the same teacher in fact! However, we have chosen to keep him where he is for several reasons. The YMCA classes are more relaxed, he interacts with all age groups - for a 9 year old, he gets a huge thrill being asked to demonstrate a move in front of some one 10 years older than him, he has more choice in what he gets to do. Just because we could get the (almost) same thing from somewhere flashy, we have chosen to continue, where our son is comfortable in his surrounds and doesn't feel pressured. I am sure all your current students & parents will feel the same & of course can tell future students the merits of your studio, as opposed to a more generic studio, where boys may feel less inclined to go to (with all the pink fairies!) Shivi1/Siobhan

  8. You have something nobody else can offer - YOU. The personality of the teacher is the most important, that joie de vivre (oohlala, the French, it is catching)you have is unique dear Stompie.

    My daughter took tennis lessons for 10 years with a remarkable teacher. There were snazzier tennis centres and more sparkly teachers, but this one teacher was one-of-a-kind. Now that Miss CB is 18 she still calls her tennis teacher for a chat, just to keep in touch.

    So tap on Stompie, tap on!!!

  9. Well, first, I LOVE that picture of a hint of you. You are just plain gorgeous. I would love to have arms like those! So gorgeous.

    And about Fixit's pessimism... ...sorry, I know you've mentioned it before, but it still gave me a chuckle because I could totally see it. Blockhead! Give the girl a hug and tell her things will be all right.


    Now, as for your business. How many people are so rich in LIFE that they can do what they love? You love what you do, and you get paid for it. That is huge! And you do it well, which is even better. Your students are a testament to that. And there are plenty of emo kids out there or just non-main stream non-fairy glitter types who have a hunger for just what you provide. You fill a specific niche. You might be less expensive too -- don't know, but am guessing that may be the case, in which you will have students who want the love of dance who don't have the resources for the glitter and fairy dust.

    And, you are GOOD at what you do. Good at it, and you love it. Priceless.

    So, go ahead and exercise a bit more of your creativity by designing some new flyers and compete a little in the advertising and marketing scene. It can't hurt.

    You will continue to do well. I know it!


  10. Miss Caroline,
    I don't know if she can say that her classes are the highlight of someones week, so much so that they are willing to drive for hours not to miss one!
    I *love* our class, and mirrors and sparkles and pink feathers/fluff would not increase my enjoyment, because what makes the class so great is the music that you choose, and the great routines and the fun and laughs that we have!
    Naomi xx

  11. I ditto most of the above comments - you offer something that others do not. I'll tell you right now - if MissM was to take your classes I would be more than happy because I don't want any of those bloody costumes etc., to deal with! *heehee*

    We all need a swift kick up the bum sometimes and maybe this is yours. Just keep doing what you are doing - you obviously enjoy it so keep at it. Let pipe dreams remain in the pipe, you will get there one day.

  12. We all need to channel our inner emo from time to time.
    Lots of hugs from me and I am sure that you will find that everything works out perfectly!

  13. It sounds like you've got a good idea of what your advantages are, which is great. And you have PURPLE, not pink. Big advantage. ;)

  14. I am sure you could come up with a list of why your Tap teacher is running her business like she is. I think it would be safe to say she is NOT doing it for any of the reasons you are - particularly if she is employing teachers!! Which is why yours will still be successful and people will continue to come to you.

    And like jac said " you do Purple!"

    You will be fine! Hugs

  15. Oh babe. Your tap school's main asset is YOU. Your teacher's school will be great probably but as you said it won't be HER teaching, it will be people she's hired, while she does the admin and money. Classes run by you, the woman who owns the business, will be far more satisfying because you're ten times more motivated teaching for your own school than anyone would be who teaches for someone's else's profit.

    That was a very verbose way of saying you'll be fine.

    I had dinner with my friend A the other day (whose kids are at same school as yours) and I mentioned something about Miss Caroline, and her face broke into a big grin and she said Oh yes she advertises in our school newsletter! So you see, your marketing works. Maybe as you said, you just need to increase/enhance it.

    Also, that photo of you is stunning. Love it.

    Also, Fixit ... FAIL this time. Must try harder.


  16. Again with echoing all everyone else has said.

    After attending for six years Pr. C-W had her ballet class cancelled at the beg. of term b/c there were insufficient dancers. Rather than go to the 'other' dance school in our little hilltop town she has given up ballet all together, it was Miss Rose's or nothing.

    Pick up the marketing, lace up the shoes and go tap your way to peace of mind and a rocking businesss.

  17. Wow, I can see why your mind is going round and round! Deep breath!

    As a former pro dancer and a CSTD qualified teacher, and as one who has watched some of the Victorian public exams in recent years I feel I can offer the following insights:

    A. The standard of tapping is very good in Victoria, by my observation.
    B. As a former Stomp dancer you obviously possess EXCELLENT skills.
    C. I am certain you offer your students enjoyment, anti-competitiveness and enough razzamatazz to satisfy them rythmically and performance wise, without stressing everyone with tizzy costumes and fake stage smiles and inappropriate trowelfuls of make-up.
    D. I have gone off trowelfuls of make-up in a big way, and find 'dancing school' stuff a bit disturbing since I escaped the cult. Lack of make-up = goodness.
    E. Your tap school is obviously boy-friendly, which is a Good Thing.
    F. Fixit is not always right. You know this, but are loyal. He is good for many other things, but his shoulder patting skills in times of crisis, THIS TIME, has let him down.
    G. You are clearly a terrific teacher. I miss tapping and am very fat and unfit, but I WANNA TAP WITH YOU!!!! Do you teach by Skype? Only say 'yes' to this proposal if the sight of a plump midwife dying of a heart attack while on webcam would not distress you (...so that's a NO then?)
    H. Some publicity never hurts. You are creative. Go push Caroline's Crew.

    Chin up, tits out honey.

  18. all you have to do is look at the photos from the post before this one to know how good a teacher you are.
    those little tappers are smiling and happy and that will bring you success.
    it's hard to do every role in your own business and it's hard to keep the enthusiasm up- take it slow and trust your instincts for how you want your business to be.
    if you aren't the 'pretty fairy' or 'hippy-trippy' style then that is going to end up a positive for your business- your point of difference (pod), the thing that is going to attract like minded people to you.
    whilst all the advertising and letter dropping might flip you out and eat up your time - how about next time you put on a performance let the local paper know, they are always looking for stories! remember never pay for advertising if you can get editorial for free! go on give it a go! email them some photos and see what happens!
    chin up girlie, it will be ok!

  19. I'd have panicked, too. (And I would have hoped a friend would have contacted me if she was going to start competing with me, frankly, to give me a heads up.)

    But you love what you do and you're good at it. Your students always look like they're having so much fun when you post pictures Your students will stay with you ... and future students will follow with a little bit more 'out there' publicity, I suspect, so long as the current crop and their parents continue to be delighted with you.

  20. Oh, dude. I'd have freaked out too, exactly as you did, for exactly the same reasons. But I have to echo what everyone else has said -- there will ALWAYS be a market for what you do, and there will ALWAYS be parents who would much rather their kids learn tap from you than from a more froofy institution-type tap school.

    As the parents of two quirky kids, DH and I have deliberately sought out teachers/instructors that are outside of the mainstream because we know those teachers are less focused on the herd mentality and better able to deal with quirks. There are swimming classes offered at the pool directly behind our house, but we drove our kids 45 minutes downtown to a funky little dive shop for instruction FOR YEARS because it was a better fit. There are plenty of guitar schools near here, but the boy child takes lessons from a nerdy young guy who just totally "gets" him. There are a plethora of taekwondo studios but we went with one that was run by a mom who treated the kids as individuals and was so encouraging and positive with them. And you are exactly the sort of teacher we'd want to teach our kids tap, if we were doing that.

    You CARE and you have passion and you are unique and that is what will keep you in business.

  21. You have done an excellent job with your positive thinking! Those are all the reasons you have and will continue to do well. Think of this as motivation to step up promoting your program and yourself!

  22. I'm a little late to this obvs.

    I can completely see why you would freak out about this, but keep up with that breathing, because as everyone else has said you have so many points of difference here and your biggest asset is you (and the purple).

    I think you're right that this should be a good motivator for getting a bit more promotion out there, and that can promote the points of difference and why it's cooler and less, well, glittery, to come out and learn from you.

    And, of course, focus on the fact that you love it and can pass that love on to others.

    In the meantime, breathe in, breathe out.

  23. I'm so sorry, I didn't realise all this was going on, but maybe you would have preferred not to talk about this today.
    I haven't read all your responses as I have to cook dinner before ukelele lessons, I am sure there is lots of very good advice and words of love and encouragement.
    I agree about the reasons your students come to you, you provide the environment, music, teaching style that they are after. Lots of people don't want the full-on regimented, concert at the end of the year type of school, they want to have fun, see their kids have fun in a Miss Caroline kind of place.
    Gotta go,
    Hope you feel better soon,

  24. Been reading your blog for a while (came over via Muppinstuff), but haven't commented before!

    I did ballet as a kid and Mum refused to let me do the competitive side, just the concerts. Now I completely understand why, and your school would be the type of school I would send my kids to.

    Saw you at the fair on Sunday too. As soon as I saw some tapping going on I thought "Wonder if that's...." Sure enough! Wanted to 'out' myself as a reader of your blog (do people do that often to you?), but then found the friends I was meeting up with and the moment was gone. So consider this an 'outing'.

  25. OMG Merryn I would have felt like a celeb if you had come up and said aren't you Stompergirl?!

  26. Dear Stomper Girl
    Please stop the negative feelings. Put yourself out there. I know the dance school you are talking about. My daughter has been going there for 7terms and 3 weeks myself before stuffing up my ankle. Yes, the studio is very girly and lovely but don't sell yourself short. I have been reading your blog for a long time and I can tell you are an ace person and from reading the comments everyone thinks so too. Keep doing what you are doing. There are many little kids out there. Sell yourself. Advertise in local schools too. Local shops, cafes, playcentres, kindergartens, creches.
    Remember - this may be a blessing in disguise. SELL YOURSELF A xx

  27. "So on some level I must believe that I'm an impostor and have been getting away with it, presumably because nobody in this area knows any better. (I don't think I'm the only one who feels like that, deep down inside.)"

    I feel like this pretty much all the time. I think mine comes from having worked my backside off to have two different graduate level professional careers, even though I am the daughter of two factory workers. Sadly in Britain in the 1990s that was still viewed by some as an enormous stumbling block to overcome. At the risk of overanalysing you, yours may stem from the fact that you mentioned you are the child of a workaholic and you appear to be having too much fun for dancing to be considered a "real job".

    Maybe, maybe not.

    However, I think there may be a great many women of our generation who are convinced, in the wee small hours, that someone, somewhere is going to rumble us soon.

    I LOVE the fact that your dancers aren't caked in makeup and where matching glittery outfits. Thos smiles look genuine, not stage school. Get photos out there in the press where others can see that for themselves.

    Take care,
    Nic at Tales from the Plain x

  28. Hey caroline, We all have those grasshopper feeling and they suck... So I am here to kick your grasshopper butt. You are fab ! The kids at your tap school ADORE you - I have seen the smiling laughing little buggers as you spray them with mortein...You are FUN, you are giving them a LOVE of tap, not a love of sparkles and jazz hands...
    Your current students will not leave and as the awareness of Tap is raised in your neighbourhood- you may even gain a few more...
    (I learnt tap for a wee while as a mature fat lady-loved every minute until they started mentioning concerts and leotard like costumes....Not particpating was NOT an option - they had no idea about just wanting to learn for fun...I quit)
    C'mon, you are a secret ninja grasshopper !!

  29. Boy, am I cranky on your behalf.
    Sorry, but moving in on someone else's turf like this woman has done to you is downright nasty.
    Even putting an ad in your school newletter? Is she really a friend, because that's not very friendlike.
    This is not helping you be calm, but I'd want to smack her. Hard.
    For what it's worth, any activities I ever get involved in, I prefer the small and homegrown and family/community based rather than the corporatey glossy money grubbing razzle dazzle stuff. Good luck darl.

  30. Stomper, that other teacher isn't you. Okay so you both teach tap and will soon be operating in the same area, but that's where it starts and finishes. You're the X factor in your set up and that's what makes you fabulous.
    I bet your current crop love you to bits and wouldn't even think about moving across to the shiny newcomer.
    Perhaps you just need to ramp up the marketing a wee bit? Buy a domain name ? A newsletter perhaps?
    And I'll put my Miss Caroline t shirt on even higher rotation.

  31. Dear Miss Caroline
    IF I had thighs that didn't wobble hideously, IF I looked less than nausea-inducing in hotpants, IF I lived less than several thousand kilometres away, I would choose YOU. You are special. Very special.
    And you don't do that pink fairy crap.
    Love and kisses,
    ps: you are also very beautiful. You could be a part-time model.

  32. Thanks everyone for supportive comments. They really are appreciated and have been helping me to gradually calm down. Thanks also for keeping on at me re the promoting stuff, because I totally need it! I'm on the case now! Truly.

  33. Your feelings are natural, under the circumstances. You're wise to keep an eye on the competition.

    You're not an imposter. You're talented and smart and gorgeous, and by the looks of the photos you post, you're a great teacher whose students thoroughly enjoy your class.

    You talked about ways you and your school are different from her offerings. That's differentiation, grist for marketing. Flog that stuff, plus the things the other commenters have mentioned.

  34. Her address please.

    Time to nail some kneecaps to the coke coated floorboards...

    You are a darling, and you will succeed. I know about these things...!

  35. Oh, just checking in, looked up our school newsletter, and just between you and me, from the add it sounds hideous, OMYGOD! the class names are making me want to puke.

  36. Let me add my voice to all that. A bit more promotion would be good but you're obviously lovely - who wouldn't want you rather than some franchised teacher?

    I could come and stand on the lady's foot if this would help. I'd love to visit Australia.

  37. OK, so I'm pretty late coming by (damnation internet), so by now - with all those spot-on things everyone has had to say, your shoulders are hopefully located where shoulders are meant to be.

    But I can't resist my own two cents...

    Doesn't EVERYONE think they are faking it? OK, maybe not everyone. But I always take heart that my 60 year old boss back in London (so you know, around for a long time, with a whole lot of ridiculously big jobs to his name) is still waiting to be caught out. And he's an official designer to the Queen! Sheesh.

    I have had your kind of panic attack many times before. Nothing you can do about it except glean the good stuff, I reckon. Like taking an opportunity to look at what you really want and then evaluating what you are prepared to do to have it.

    And I'd come to your tap class any day.

  38. I can offer full empathy with your relationship woes (in terms of support and encouragement in times of need - rather than oh my god we're gonna be on the street!), but I will offer the option to advertise in our school newsletter. Send me the info and I'll blurb about it!

    You could probably do the school fete too if you want to spread your wings that way????


    Fat Mumma's xxx

  39. Love your way! I am sure your style will win through. I send goodvibes your wayXX

    OMG, WV is 'bitshes'

  40. Personal and committed is better than big and flash any day. Differentiators are critical to business. Your differentiator is that you are the tap school that mothers of nice children go to, or the children of nice mothers, you are personal, committed and loving.

    Make sure you advertise these facts (in the nicest possible way of course).


Don't let the cat get your tongue.