September 11, 2013 by Nicole
This year, your back to school shopping may include choosing a dance school. Whether you’re an adult beginner, a current student or a parent looking to sign your child up for dance class for the first time, choosing a dance school is an incredibly important decision for your dance life. How do you find “the one”?
What Are You Looking For in a Dance School?
In other words, know thyself. Before seeking your school, think about what you need from the experience and what’s important to you. Having a good understanding of your/your family’s needs is the best way to set yourself up for success.
Finding a dance school is easy – Google practically does the work for you! Choosing one is the harder part. Don’t let the school that’s closest to you become your choice by default. Dig a little deeper to find out if they can meet your needs by asking questions. Most of the time, there are no right or wrong answers – it’s a judgment call, depending on what’s important to you. But here are some good ones to consider.
What is Your Dance Education Program?
Put another way, what’s your philosophy? What are your primary goals as studio? What makes yours different from others in the area? Do you teach multiple techniques or single in on just one? How many styles are represented in your studio? It’s not uncommon for ballet-focused schools to primarily teach in one style. Are there performance opportunities? Do you emphasize performances/competitions, where halfway through the year, class time becomes nearly singularly devoted to rehearsing those routines? If so, a competitive-focused school may not be a good fit for someone who wants to dance just for fun/fitness, in the same way that a ballet-focused school may not be right for someone who also wants to learn tap, jazz & African. How do you evaluate student’s progress?
Who will be my Dance Teacher?
There are many ways dance teachers make their way into a classroom. Some have degrees in Dance Education from accredited universities. Maybe they spent 15 years dancing with a professional ballet company. There’s also the possibility that they grew up in the studio themselves, progressing from student to assistant to teacher. It’s important to know your teacher’s background to help evaluate the quality of class they’ll be able to conduct.
Aside from qualifications, what kind of teaching style can you expect? Does the teacher show an interest in working with every student, regardless of age or ability? Does the teacher inspire students or are they more commonly referred to as a drill sergeant? And, if you’re looking on behalf of your child, is this teacher used to working with children of the same age? Do they have the patience and approachability to connect with kids? Conversely, are they accustomed to working with adult beginners, who require a different approach to the basics?
What Are Your Dance Classes Like?
How large are your classes? Is there class time devoted for individual attention? Is class time ever devoted to rehearsals? Do you have to sign up in advance or is there a drop-in option? How do you determine placement? Age or ability is probably the most common way, although a combination is typically used for younger students. How many classes are offered for those groups? Are there mixed-age or level opportunities? Some adult beginners may feel more comfortable in a class with other adult beginners, while others would be just fine in a class with young students. An advanced student would not be best served at a school that only offers one or two advanced classes. Likewise, an adult student passionate about learning dance would probably want a studio that offered more than one adult class. Schools with a variety of adult classes are rare, but not impossible to find.
How Would you Describe the Dance School?
What’s the facility like? Is it clean and comfortable to spend time there? What kind of floors does the studio space have? Proper flooring helps prevent injury and indicates the school’s commitment to quality and the overall health of their students. (This is one of the few times where I feel there is a right or wrong answer.) Is there someone to help answer administrative questions or provide appropriate referrals? Does information about the studio seem easily available? Does the staff seem organized? Is there someone there who can handle an emergency, like being first aid or CPR certified?
There are other studio policy questions you may want to consider. Is viewing available? Dance schools may offer parents access to a viewing window, closed circuit television or a more limited opportunity to observe class, like a Parent Observation Day/Week. Tuition will also be a very important part of your decision making process. Price and how classes are paid for – upfront or by the class – will vary from studio to studio. Are trial classes offered? Will you have to sign a contract? If so, what does that entail? Are students required to participate in performances?
How has your Dance School Been Recognized?
Has your school been recognized by any national or local organizations? If you’re interested in the competitive arena, you may want to ask which competition the school typically goes to and about their track record. If you’re looking for a school that “wins it all” at competition, you’ll want to know how their last competitive season went.
A quick note on awards: always consider the criteria for the award. An award bestowed by the National Endowment for the Arts is more meaningful than a local “Best Of” contest, where awards are often determined by a simple popular vote and the voters may know nothing about dance, the school or perhaps even live in the area. Awards alone are not a good way to select a dance school. Consider them “bonus points” in your decision making process.
The Bottom Line
There really is no one size fits all approach – the best school for you will depend on your priorities and finding the program that best matches up with your criteria. Google will definitely be your research buddy and most schools will probably have answers to questions like these on pages like this. But don’t be afraid to call or visit a potential school! Any quality dance studio should be receptive and eager to answering any and all of your questions.
Talk to me! How did you choose your dance school? Which questions were important questions to you? Any other questions about how to choose a dance school?
Photo credit to Pink Afterglow Photography.