10 “Need To Ask” Questions When Choosing a Dance Studio

 

By Tammie Baker
Executive Director/Owner
Curtain Call Studio for Performing Arts

Dance classes for your child can have many benefits, including improved coordination, an opportunity to develop social skills, physical fitness and just plain fun.

There are many excellent dance studios but not all are a good fit for every dancer. Do you want a laid-back experience with emphasis on fun, or are you and your child interested in traveling the competition circuit? Answering that question before you begin your search will make the process of choosing a dance studio much easier.

According to the organization Dance Masters of America, here are the 10 points that every parent should consider before deciding on a dance school.

1. What type of floor should my child dance on?

Dance is a very physical activity that requires a lot of jumping, which can put stress on bones and joints. Most dance footwear does not provide any cushioning or support, so the shock of dance movement can place a lot of pressure on the knees and back of a dancer. A good way to prevent potential injury is by choosing a dance school with sprung or raised floors. Many dance floors are simply tiled or have a thin mat placed over concrete! Even the best flooring specifically made for dancing can not protect the bones when placed over a very hard surface. The actual dancing surface ideally should be a professional Marley dance surface to prevent falls and slips. Additionally, high ceilings for jumping, floor length wall mirrors, good ventilation, bright lighting and cleanliness should also be priorities in the dance room.

2. Will I be able to observe my child during class?

At many studios, parents are not allowed to view their children’s classes. You may often wonder how they did, what they learned, and most importantly how they are progressing. Look for a studio that offers observation windows for parent viewing at all times. No set dates for viewing your child’s class; you should be able to watch at any given time!

3. What is the size of the class?

If the dance class has fewer students in it, each child will receive more personalized attention, and teachers can make sure each student understands the concepts and instructions. Smaller class sizes also allow teachers to ensure that students are not developing bad habits or improper technique. Rather then crowd 20 or 30 students in a class, trying to make as much profit as possible, look for a studio that places limits on enrollment. On the other hand, when a class is too small, students are not sufficiently challenged by the interaction with peers. Ideally, classes should have at least four students.

4. What are the studio’s qualifications?

Nearly every dance school offers a Ballet program, Jazz dance, Hip-Hop and Tap but not all dance programs deliver a solid foundation in technique and artistry. Look for a studio whose instructors are Dance Education Specialists and are not purely concentrated on teaching tricks, giving stylized exercises or wowing judges. The teachers should be capable of increasing student understanding of dance terms, rhythm, performance, picking up and retaining choreography, auditioning skills, dance history and more.

The Dance Masters of America recommend the following curriculum:

Ages 3-5      A teacher for this age group should be knowledgeable about the physical, mental and emotional development of young children. Classes in dance for this age should encourage the young child’s natural ability for dance expression, develop his/her sense of body awareness and focus on the joy of participating in a variety of movement experiences.

Instruction in specific dance forms, such as ballet, tap and jazz should be directly related to the child’s physical development. Classes should have a maximum of no more than 12 children and last no longer than 45 minutes.

Ages 6-9      Children at this age are ready for a more formal approach to dance; an emphasis on increasing body awareness and acquiring dance skills. Classes should have a maximum of 12-16 children and last at least 45 minutes.

Ages 10+      Students starting dance at this age should focus on developing technique and performance skills broadening the student’s knowledge of proper movement mechanics, anatomy and dance appreciation. Classes should not have more than 16 children and last 45 minutes to one hour, with longer classes for the more advanced and serious students with several years of previous training.

After two years of dance instruction students with serious aspirations should be studying two or more days per week. They should also be encouraged to study a variety of dance forms.

5. What is the educational background of the teaching staff?

There are some excellent dancers who do not have a formal education, but the better teachers are usually those with a college degree. In a college or university, the student is trained to dance, but more importantly they are trained to teach. In addition, a formally educated dance teacher is a fine role model for students and can effectively foster a higher level of thinking through dance. College and university trained teachers also study the anatomy and physiology of the human body. Kinesiology classes provide knowledge in how the muscles work, guidelines for teaching proper alignment and injury prevention. You should also look for a studio that has continuing education for its staff, as learning should never stop with a great teacher.

6. Are the costumes, music and choreography age appropriate?

Many studios have no guidelines on these standards and children are exposed to inappropriate costumes, music, and choreography in their chosen classes. This is a MUST ASK question before you register at any dance school and don’t be afraid to ask to look as past recital photos if they’re not already posted. Don’t let a dance studio or teacher make your children grow up too fast!

7. What about customer service and parent communication?

In many studios, the teacher or the studio owner conducts classes as well as administrative duties. By trying to do two jobs at once, the class may suffer as the teacher has to use class time for customer service issues, or the studio may have no customer service available if the teacher is in a class. For parents to have a good experience, it is important to choose a studio that can assist you with details like makeup classes, costuming or schedules, even if a teacher is occupied in a class. Successful studios have office staff on hand during all regular class times so you can get immediate assistance.

8. How much are classes?

Remember, “you get what you pay for,” so don’t be on the search for the least expensive studio. A reputable studio will give you honest answers about all pricing up front with no surprises.

9. What are the “extra” expenses?

Of course, the proper apparel and shoes to meet the studio’s dress code will be required for classes, and sometimes an annual registration fee is charged to hold your spot in the class and cover insurance, mailings, etc. Most studios put on a year end show in a professional theater and may charge a nominal performance fee to cover the costs of the venue in addition to costume fees.

10. What about recitals?

The chance to perform should be a satisfying, informative experience for the child and their family. Three to four months before the show, a portion of the child’s dance class should be devoted to the preparation of this special event, however, the teacher should still be teaching technique, vocabulary and showmanship. Studios will normally order costumes from professional companies that match the artistic elements of the dance and usually require some sort of a deposit before the order is placed. While some studios allow student to wear just class leotards and skirts on stage, a beautiful costume helps dancers get into character and have the confidence and motivation to perform their best and make their parents proud.

While most dance studios will offer similar styles of classes, their business philosophy and culture will differ greatly. Remember, choosing a dance studio is a very personal decision. Do your homework, and you’ll find the studio that feels comfortable to you, makes your entire family feel welcome, and presents a positive image to you and your children. First and foremost, the studio you choose should be a safe place for your child to socialize, have fun and create lifetime memories. Good luck and keep dancing!

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