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Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Finding the Right Dance School

     A typical dance student in suburban America  has a myriad of options when it comes to choosing a place to learn dance. There's the big studio with flashy competition trophies in the window, the small school with a heavy emphasis on end-of-year recitals, and the ballet school which may or may not be tied to a professional company of some kind. While each studio owner will declare his or her training method the best for your student, you need to take special care to make sure you're choosing the right dance environment for yourself or your child.
    I've taught at many different kinds of dance schools over the years and trained as a student at many more. To help new students and parents without a dance background feel less overwhelmed when deciding where to spend hard-earned money on dance lessons, I've put together a little guide based on my own experiences.

Step 1) Determine what type of training style suits your goals.

While no two dance studios are entirely alike, I've divided types of schools into two major categories, for simplicity's sake: the dance studio and the ballet school. Some schools (like the one I own*) blur this line by offering different kinds of programs, but most of the time you can use the following lists to determine into which category your neighborhood studio falls.

     Think about your child's goals and personality types to decide what kind of school to look for. Is she interested in ballet primarily, jazz or hip-hop, or even many different styles equally? Remember that you don't need professional aspirations to benefit from the more focused training offered by ballet schools, though they do tend to require more commitment even from recreational students, especially as children get more advanced.
      If you opt for a dance studio with combination classes, make sure adequate time is given to teach style. I have taught at schools who have required teachers to teach as many as three different styles in 45 minute classes for teenagers. With that little time, the teacher is only giving a sample of each style, not full instruction. In my opinion, combo classes for students older than 8 should devote at least 30 minutes to jazz and tap and 45 minutes (preferably one hour) to ballet. Students older than ten studying ballet need at least a one hour class each week (preferably twice per week) to develop proper strength and technique.

Step 2) Get to know the studio owner and teachers. 
Ask questions about the owner's training history and teaching experience. Dance related degrees and certifications are great, but the teacher should also have solid training (never study dance with a teacher who has no formal training of his or her own) and a teaching philosophy that's compatible with your goals and desires for your child. Ask to observe a class. Look for the following qualities of teaching excellence:
  • A thorough warm-up. If you're watching a ballet class, this should include at least five to ten exercises at the barre (depending on the age and level of the class). Teachers who don't include a warm-up in their class are setting students up for injury. 
  • A balance of praises and corrections. A teacher should give encouraging and constructive feedback to his or her students. Be wary of teachers who seem constantly negative or--to the other extreme--do nothing but praise students without offering suggestions for improvements. 
  • Friendly, but commanding respect. I'm not a fan of teachers who try so hard to be their student's friends that they lose control of the classroom. On the other hand, a student should never be afraid to approach her dance teacher. 

Step 3) Practical considerations. 
      How far are you willing to drive? What is the cost of classes? Keep in mind that dance classes can be pricey but rates vary greatly depending on location and years in business. You may spend as much as  $100/month on a 60 minute weekly beginner class or as little as $25. You should also ask about recital or performance costs and registration fees (which many studios, including mine, charge at the beginning of the year to cover administrative fees). In my experience, recreational recital-focused studios can be even more expensive than prestigious ballet schools once you factor in the costs of recital costumes and participation fees.
      If you feel strongly that your student belongs at a school but are worried about associated costs, it never hurts to ask the owner or office staff about other options for covering expenses. Many studios offer fundraisers, scholarships or invite parents to volunteer office hours in exchange for free or discounted classes. Remember, though, that studio ow ners are still business people and have a reason for charging what they do. I personally make a lot of sacrifices to keep costs low for my clients and nothing is more frustrating than someone claiming that I'm overcharging.

Step 4) Dance!
Some studios offer trial classes for new students, but if yours doesn't and your research has indicated it may be a good choice for you, go ahead and sign up. I encourage you to stick to your chosen studio for at least a full year  (unless you discover something is very wrong with the program) so you get the full experience and to teach your child the importance of following through on commitments.

There are so many factors to consider when choosing a place to learn to dance, many more than I can discuss in a measly blog  post!

What is the most important quality in a dance school to you?


  1. The dance is very helpful to burn human body calories and gives a good health. The dance is necessary for human. Thanks you so much for posting this article.
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  2. I hope this suggestions will be of help to all dancers..!!

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