So you want to register your child in dance class? Or maybe you’re an adult who is looking for a new hobby or a good exercise regime? There are dance studios on every corner, thanks to TV shows like Dance Moms and So You Think You Can Dance. How on earth are you supposed to choose a dance studio with all those options? Why shouldn’t you just choose the studio closest to home? I hope this blog gives a little incite on the dance industry. Competitive vs recreational dance, and how you can tell the difference between a quality dance program, vs someone who just wanted to open a dance studio.
Here are some facts about dance and the human body:
- Dance is an athletic activity. The body is the instrument. Therefore careful teaching techniques must be followed to avoid injury.
- Most children don’t have fully developed bones and joints until between age 12 – 14
- Injuries among dancers are on the rise 37%
I’m not making it up…here are some articles:
10 Common Dance Injuries
Skeletal Development in Children
Intense competition drives young dancers to extremes
As Dance Grows in Popularity, Injuries Rise
So I don’t share those above articles to scare you out of enrolling in dance classes, or signing little Suzie up for her first ballet class in her sparkly tutu…I want you to sign up your kids for dance class, but, I want you to be smart about it!
What are some things you can look for in a QUALITY dance program?
- How strong is their ballet program?
Ballet is the basis of ALL dance. Yes even tap and hip hop. Most of the famous hip hop and tap dancers have had some type of ballet training. Does that mean they are professional ballerinas? No- it just means they’ve used ballet technique to train and build their muscles to properly execute advanced moves to avoid injury.So how you do you know if a dance studio has a good ballet program?
Looking at the website is a great place to start. Do they even offer a ballet class, and if so, how often? What type of ballet do they offer (yes there are many different styles: Balanchine, Vaganova, RAD, Checcetti)? These terms may be foreign to you, so here’s a great Blog Post from the Diablo Ballet Blog that explains the different techniques.
How often is ballet on the schedule?
-If ballet is only listed one day a week or not all, I would highly suggest you air on the side of caution.
– If they have a ballet program offered every day of the week, but it’s only one or two levels, that is also a red flag. There are 8 levels of classical ballet that dancers should be trained in.
Are the students required to take ballet? Or is it optional?
– If the studio makes ballet optional, it’s probably not too focused on ensuring their dancers receive the best training.
Do the students wear ballet attire?
– In ballet there is one uniform: leotard, pink tights, pink ballet slippers and hair in bun. If the studio doesn’t enforce an appropriate dress code for their ballet program; they probably don’t put too much care in the technique that is being taught.
- What is on the Teacher’s Bio?
Have you thought about reading your teacher’s bio? What type of dance experience do they have? In general a quality dance educator should have at least 3-5 years of pre-professional dance training with an additional 2-3 years of assistant teaching experience. (No a STUDENT should NOT be teaching dance classes). A lot of studios will employ their students as the teachers to save money. This is a huge RED FLAG. Students can assist a professional dance teacher, but should never be in charge of a class on their own.What should I be looking for in my Teacher’s Bio?
– Where did they train? Do they list the studios they have trained at in their bio? Are the studios prestigious companies (ie: Julliard, Joffery, Alvin Ailey etc) or did they train at a Dolly Dinkle Studio…ie: Jan’s School of Dance (not to say that every Jan’s School of Dance is Dolly Dinkle…) So how can you find out? I would google the studios your dance teacher lists on their bio or resumé and check out their websites. If you want to see an example of a professional dance instructor bio, please read mine.
Who were their teachers?
– Does their bio include who they trained with? Obviously there are big names in the dance world that would indicate someone has received quality training. Did their teachers have successful careers of their own? Of course if you’re a mom just looking to enroll Suzie in her first dance class, you may not have any idea of “big” names in the dance world. So I would suggest that you Google the people your teacher has trained under.
What if my teacher doesn’t have a bio listed?
– Red Flag! I’d ask to see a copy of their resumé or ask the questions above.
What about a degree?
– Most professional dancers do not have time to attend college to earn a teaching degree. A degree does not necessarily indicate quality training.
3. What kind of dancers has the studio produced?
Take a look at the studio’s website. Has the studio produced any professional, performing dancers? How many? While this can be a benefit to a studio, a studio that hasn’t produced professional dancers may not necessarily indicate poor training. For example my program, Dance Exploration, is non-competitive. So it’s very unlikely our program would produce any professional dancers. Our program is designed to instill a love of dance in our dancers and we hope they will go find a professional dance studio to continue their training once they’ve graduated from our program.
4. Can you Observe a Class?
I would suggest you always call the studio and ask for a class observation. Let them know you’re considering enrolling your child (or yourself) and want to observe before you commit to registering. If they don’t allow you to observe a class it’s definitely a Red Flag. I’d be immediately wondering why they won’t allow an observation.
How many injured dancers do you see?
-If they do allow you to observe, I would look at the kids waiting in the lobby/dressing rooms. Do you see braces, crutches, boots etc. Are any kids sitting out to observe because of an injury? You don’t want to pay for injuries…they are expensive and they can ruin a career!
How is the studio maintained?
– Observing will also allow you to see how the studio is maintained. Are floors well taped? Mirrors clean? What does the office look like? Is it organized or a disaster.
– How is the office staff? Did the office staff greet you and make you feel welcome?
How does the teacher engage with the class?
– One of my pet peeves as a dance teacher is when a teacher turns their back on their students and teaches through the mirror. The mirror is a tool for the students NOT the teacher. Clint Salter, author of Dance Studio Transformation, writes in his book:
“I’m sure you’ve seen a teacher take a class where it’s almost like they’re the only ones in the room, as they spend the whole time looking at themselves in the mirror.”
At Dance Exploration, our teachers always teach facing the students. We also teach in circles rather than lines so all students can see the teacher and feel included.
Is the instructor patient?
– Most dance studios are NOT like the TV Show Dance Moms and Abby Lee Miller. If you’ve ever seen the show, they portray Ms. Miller screaming and barking at her students (now of course this is made for TV…but it’s a perfect example of what NOT to look for in a dance teacher). Nothing is worse than a teacher who spends the whole class screaming and yelling at the students. Corrections should be applied in a positive way. Students should be encouraged to reach their full potential and should have trust in their dance teacher. This can’t be accomplished in a hostile environment.
How are steps taught and corrections applied?
– Dance is learned first through imitating the instructor. If the instructor is marking combinations or sitting down and not demonstrating at all, it’s hard for the students. An exception can be made for more advanced level dancers who should know the terminology well enough to perform steps without necessarily seeing them performed.
– I am a big believer in hands on corrections. Dance is also learned through feeling. If you’re performing a move incorrectly a hands on correction can help you fix the mistake. For example if a student is standing in sou sou with a sway back, the teacher placing their hands on the lower ribs and back can help the student “feel” the correct way to stand.
Recreational vs Competitive vs Pre-Professional
There’s a difference between a recreational, competitive and pre-professional dance studios.
Dance Exploration is a recreational dance program. We operate by traveling into the local schools. We do not participate in competitions nor do we host big recitals. Our dancers do have the chance to perform in private showcases for their families. Our program teaches beginning to intermediate levels of dancers through elementary school.
A competitive studio usually participates in big competitions. They may offer recreational programs in addition to competitive dance teams. Competitions can be team or individual based. Competitions all have different standards by which they judge routines. Now a days many competitions focus more on the tricks performed rather than the technique. There’s a blog post by Bree Hafen circulating the internet which discusses the difference. (In case you’re wondering, technique should always be taught before tricks. I call this teaching progressively and it’s the best way to avoid injury). Competitive studios usually put on big recitals for their students which include the costumes.
Pre-Professional studios are usually big named studios (Alvin Ailey, Joffrey, Juilliard etc). Most states have a Professional Ballet Company with a Pre-Professional dance academy designed to produce the next generation of professional dancers. I was trained at the Colorado Ballet Academy which is the Pre-Professional training program to the Colorado Ballet. Schedules may be more rigorous and tuition may be higher as the training is considered more prestigious. Most Pre-Professional ballet companies do not participate in competitions besides the major ballet competitions. They also provide opportunities to perform in professional productions such as the Nutcracker.
Hopefully this helps you decide how to pick your dance studio! I hope you don’t just choose the studio across the street. Do some research and be sure the program is right for you! If you have any questions about picking a dance studio, leave me a comment! I’d love to help!