Show Time!

Sept. 1, 2000
Take a tip from the world-famous Rockettes: Before you can perform, you must rehearse, rehearse, rehearse!

Take a tip from the world-famous Rockettes: Before you can perform, you must rehearse, rehearse, rehearse!

Gregory L. Ayers, DMD, PA

You have tickets to a performance by the legendary Radio City Music Hall Rockettes in New York City. As you wait for the early show, your excitement builds. At last, you`re in the fabulous Grand Foyer. It`s like no other place. The Music Hall has been completely restored to the original elegance that made it a showplace in the 1930s.

You`re soon greeted by a smartly attired young woman who confirms your ticket and escorts you to your seat. She asks where you`re from, if this is the first time you`ve seen the Rockettes or been to Radio City Music Hall, thanks you for coming, and then moves on.

You`re comfortably settled into your seat, listening to the stirring music of the giant Wurlitzer organ. Suddenly, an entire orchestra rises from the floor as if by magic. The house lights dim. The conductor`s baton strikes the down beat, and the curtains part. The stage lights become brilliant, and the strings, woodwinds, brass, and percussion reverberate with exhilarating sound.

Before you is what you have come to see - a long line of beautiful young women exquisitely costumed, moving with a precision that is difficult to imagine. You scan the line, and notice every Rockette`s face is wreathed in a genuine smile that projects her enthusiasm. It`s all so fresh and new that you find yourself wondering how they can perform like this, time after time after time.

The audience is spellbound, then suddenly breaks into thunderous applause. At last, it`s show time!

What you`re experiencing is the culmination of incalculable hours of practice, rehearsals, adjustments, and changes spanning generations.

While that long, precise formation of dancers functions as one unit, it is nonetheless made up of individuals. They are not Disney-style robots. Surely each Rockette must have her own set of dreams, goals, and ambitions, as well as fears, doubts, and worries. Yet, before the first cue, all of the "stuff" in their lives is blocked out of their minds and they become the professional dancers that they are.

How do they do that? Linda Haberman, the director and choreographer, will tell you, "It`s not only the love of dancing that makes a Rockette. We are also looking for each woman`s smile. Is there a sparkle in her eyes? That is what comes across on the other side of the footlights." Executive producer Howard Kolins adds, "It`s a mixture of enthusiasm, precision, personality, and teamwork."

What does all of this have to do with a dental practice? Just about everything (except the dancing)!

Presentation, smiles, sparkle, enthusiasm, precision, personality, and teamwork are a pretty good credo for any dental practice. Dental staff members are not Rockettes, but they too have invested months and perhaps years of learning and practicing highly specialized tasks - not under Kleig lights, but under operatory lights.

True, our reception areas may not be as splendiferous as the Radio City Music Hall foyer, and it`s also a fact that our patients are not patrons expecting to be entertained. It`s not easy for us to project a broad smile through a mask and a pair of scary-looking opti-goggles while we mumble something to the chairside assistant. All the while, the patient is stretched out flat, staring at a light that`s too bright with his or her mouth propped open!

Dental treatment hardly compares to a matinee performance of the Rockettes. Perhaps this is all the more reason we must try harder to emulate their audience-relations skills.

I recently found myself thinking about how we come across to our patients. What is the total image we project to the patient as he or she leaves the office? I finally decided just thinking wasn`t enough. I wanted to discover our projected image so we could take definite steps to ensure our rapidly expanding practice would not endanger the patient-relations efforts we had become noted for. Continuing these efforts despite occasional glitches and growing pains was something I was determined to do. I sought help.

That much-needed help came in the person of one of my patients. This man was about to retire, but I convinced him to take a look at where we were and where we were going, particularly in keeping the "personal patient touch," now that our patient base and staff were growing.

Our consultant was well qualified, with some 30 years of experience working with very successful corporations, organizations, and professions. After we reviewed our practice`s major issues and my goals, we closed the office for a day, took the entire "cast" to an upscale country club. There, our consultant gave an overview of what it would take to accomplish our goals.

He prepared an excellent participatory workshop. He introduced us to Human Asset Management Concepts such as a simple and proven method of determining behavior patterns in ourselves and our patients. This would allow us to continue to relate to them as individuals.

Using charts, graphs, and short lectures, he explained the links between human values, feelings, and behaviors. He gave us practical information on the "people dynamics" of productivity, particularly while under the stress of a busy schedule. We created our own workbooks from his notes, comments, and ideas, plus the ideas and thoughts we shared with each other.

I was so impressed with his knowledge and presentation skills that I could hardly wait for Monday to come so we could put some of those valuable insights into action. I could just picture the smiles and enthusiasm of the staff. I knew we were on the right track.

Monday came and went, as did Tuesday, Wednesday, and the rest of the week. Nothing changed!

"Suzie," a hygienist, came to work looking sad and dejected. She had broken up with her boyfriend the night before, so it was the topic of conversation around the water cooler. "Martha" was upset because she had to work late on Wednesday after Mrs. Johnson`s crown came loose. "Janie" was grumbling because you-know-who hadn`t loaded the bur block correctly.

I faced a dead battery Thursday morning. By the time I arrived at the office, Mr. Mitchell was already in the chair waiting for me to begin his root canal. The first thing I heard as I bolted through the back entrance was that "Phyllis" called in to say she quit!

We took care of all the patients that week, but I had the uncomfortable feeling that some of the emotions attached to these incidents were becoming obvious to our patients. So much for the day-long workshop! I called our workshop consultant posthaste.

With his usual diplomacy, he reminded us of what we had agreed upon. Eliminating the problem of bringing our "hidden agendas" to work was going to take some time and follow-up training. In my haste to see results, I overlooked the thing the Rockettes do in between every performance - rehearse, rehearse, rehearse!

We were technically competent that week, but our challenge was to change how we were going about our work. The "non-verbals" - the silent language of turned-down muscles at the corner of the mouth, knitted eyebrows, drooping shoulders, and heavy sighs - were detracting from our professionalism. If one Rockette showed any of those telltale signs over the footlights, she would stand out like a missing incisor.

In our workshop, we learned that we indeed teach each other how to behave. Which means if we can stay upbeat and positive (even in adversity) while we`re "on stage," it will come across to our patients, and they will probably react in kind. Our consultant calls this "psychological reciprocity."

There`s no need to reinvent the wheel. Training programs are available to help with the kinds of patient-relations problems we faced. But be sure to ask the training company or consultant, "Does your program include an on-going follow-up and follow-on component?" If you don`t hear a clear, positive answer, look for another source.

We learned that the one-shot, one-day, Band-Aid treatment doesn`t work. Tapes, charts, cassettes, disks, and books are not effective unless you have a built-in mechanism to effect change. Behavior modification is difficult to accomplish. It will only come if it is repeated as often as it takes to accomplish the desired result. Short and repetitive is better than long and infrequent.

So let`s look ahead. It`s now tomorrow.

The parking area has been policed. It is free of hamburger wrappers, straws, and such. Your entrance door shows not a smudge nor a fingerprint. The reception area is immaculate. The magazines are neatly arranged. There are no magazines dated June 1998, and the dog-eared issues have been discarded.

The sign-in book is open to a fresh page, and a good-quality pen (without advertising) lies across its pages. The pen is not attached to a chain. Yes, these pens cost more and they are more likely to disappear from time to time, but your practice office is not the post office.

Your entire staff has completed the daily briefing and 10 minutes of personal "bonding," both of which are very important. Uniforms or career apparel are fresh, shoes are gleaming, operatories are sterilized and spotless, trays are loaded, and workstations are set up and stocked. The X-rays are in the view boxes, ready for the first patients. Schedules have been posted, and the thermostats and music are at the right levels.

Your entire staff is wreathed in genuine smiles. There`s a sparkle in each member`s eyes. Hidden agendas have been set aside. Everyone is enthusiastic and upbeat. It`s 7:45. The doors open. The patients enter. It`s show time!

From Rockets to Roxyettes to Rockettes

According to, the Rockettes were founded in 1925 when Russell Markert of St. Louis selected dancing girls to form the "Missouri Rockets." This precision dance team was so well received that they began to tour the country, ending up in New York City, where Roxy Rothafel had a chance to see them. Deciding that he wanted them for his new Roxy Theater, he doubled the size of the troupe and renamed them "The Roxyettes." When Roxy opened the Music Hall, he expanded the line to fit the Great Stage, and eventually changed the name to the "Rockettes."

Today, there are more than 150 women dancing as Rockettes, enabling the troupe to go on tour, perform at sporting events, corporate events, and make special appearances on film and television.

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