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.
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.
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.
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?