Families have lots of choices when selecting a dance studio. One of the first things many parents ask is, “How much will it cost?” But there are many equally if not more important things to consider when selecting a school. Here are a few questions to ask before enrolling your child.
1. Are the instructors qualified?
One of the first things to ask when selecting a dance school is the qualifications of the dance instructors employed there. Not all dance teachers are the same, and there are no laws governing who can teach your child and who is not qualified. So, this should be the very first question you ask. A quality dance studio will be affiliated with a state or national organization that certifies instructors, such as Dance Masters of America. Instructors can also be college graduates with dance degrees or equivalent experience in the field. There are many ways in which dance educators can be qualified, so make sure your child is in the hands of a professional educator.
2. What are the safety standards at the studio?
A quality studio will require instructors to be CPR and first aid certified. A great studio will have an on-site AED along with staples such as a fire extinguisher and first aid kit. These items should be centrally located and easy to reach in an emergency.
3. Is the goal to help students reach their potential, or to enhance the studio’s reputation?
Teachers should never force students beyond their natural flexibility or encourage ballet students to “turn out” their feet farther than their natural rotation will allow. These practices cause injury. Safety should be paramount in any extracurricular activity.
4. What type of flooring does the studio have?
A dance class should never take place on a concrete floor or flooring laid over a concrete sub floor. This is dangerous for a dancer’s joints when they jump and land…which happens a lot in a dance class. The ideal flooring for a dance studio is a sprung floor. This specially made dance floor allows some motion in the flooring to protect and cushion a dancer’s joints as she lands from a jump. The sprung floor can be covered with wood or vinyl dance flooring. (Ideal for many types of dance such as ballet and modern.)
5. Can I watch the class every week?
While it would certainly be distracting to allow parents to sit in on each and every class, there are other ways in which parents can view their child’s weekly progress. Some studios have windows into the classroom. This can be a great way to see the students in action, but also allows the students to be aware they have an audience. The best way to view class is through a monitor into the waiting area. Low-profile cameras in the dance room can allow parents to be comfortable knowing their kids are participating and learning.
6. What is the dress code?
It is important for the instructor to be able to see the student’s body alignment. Therefore, baggy clothing, jeans, sweatshirts and other street wear is not appropriate for dance class. A leotard and tights will allow the instructor to give constructive feedback to the student (which will help develop strong technique) while still covering enough of the body to be modest. Some studios require all students in a class to wear identical colors or styles, and some allow the dancers more personal choice and comfort by requiring dance wear but not dictating specifics. Either way, dance wear should be required for class.
7. How are students placed?
Dancers can be grouped by age, ability, or a combination of both. Students should not be held back because of their age nor advanced simply because of it. A combination of age and ability that allows dancers to be in a challenging environment yet still with peers is ideal. Some studios achieve this by having several overlapping levels so that staff can guide each student to the combination of age and ability that suits them best.
8. Do students compete?
Dance studios can be competitive, non-competitive or a hybrid with groups of each type of classes. Competition focused classes will require a higher level of commitment of both time and money, and not all dancers will be included and advanced. It is important to understand where your dancer may be headed if she continues in the program so that you can make the choice that feels right for your family.
9. Are there any additional performance opportunities?
Most studios will have an annual recital regardless of whether they compete. Some studios have an every-other-year schedule for recitals, and some have less formal in-class presentations. If your child is taking a combination class (tap and ballet for example), will she have the opportunity to perform two numbers? Are there community performance opportunities for older dancers?
10. How long is each class?
For a preschooler, 45 minutes can be a great class length. As dancers get older, more time is necessary for the dancers to learn and retain information. Especially when more than one genre is included (tap and ballet for example), an hour or more will be needed to have any meaningful instruction. By the time dancers reach third or fourth grade in school, combo classes are no longer feasible. Each genre will need sufficient class time for proper training. Ballet classes at the intermediate and advanced levels will need an hour or more to complete a proper class.
11. Is a syllabus followed for each level?
In order to have consistent training for all dancers in the studio, a set syllabus should be followed by all instructors. A director can set her own syllabus for the studio or follow one recommended by an umbrella organization such as Dance Masters of America. The classes should be structured according to a plan and organized so that dancers can progress from level to level regardless of which instructor they have.
12. And finally… how much will it cost?
Great studios with great educators will need to charge enough to maintain a professional staff and facility. However, a studio that is well-run and successful should not break the bank. Ask about tuition rates, costume prices, recital fees, competition fees, required dance wear and any other fees that the studio may charge so that you have a full picture of what you’ll be paying before you enroll.