Unlike many other professions, dance is a profession that doesn’t have any regulations regarding who can open a dance studio, so you’ll want to ask questions about who is teaching you/your student. Find out their background and experience. Most teachers have some “claim to fame,” so you’ll want to be informed and ask questions about this. Do they have a degree or certification in dance? Most degree programs in dance require classes in pedagogy which means your teacher has learned how to teach others. Obtaining a college degree or other certification in dance also shows the investment the teacher has to the art form and his/her openness to being a lifetime learner. Does your teacher have professional experience? College is a great platform to learn about dance but there also many great dance lessons learned by applying them to your own body as a professional dancer. Professional experience also gives the teacher knowledge of how the industry works and current trends, therefore better preparing you/your dancer for future success. Professional experience can be defined as getting paid to dance by a notable dance company—not a one time gig or your own company. Some red flags to look for in biographies are “danced with…” followed by a list of celebrated dancers/instructors. Many times this means that the instructor took one class at a convention or during a trip to New York. What you really want to know is? Did you perform with their company or in one of their works? The most important thing is, to ask questions—lots of them!
Is the facility safe for dance?
There are many shapes, sizes, colors, and types of dance studios, but it is important that the facility your dancer trains in daily or weekly will aid in the longevity of his/her dance career.
Look for these things:
Does the studio have mirrors? It is imperative that students are able to view their alignment and body postures at least periodically to help them improve their technique. Mirrors can become a crutch at times as dancers tend to rely on the mirrors and not on their own knowledge. Teachers will often reverse classes or cover mirrors to encourage dancers not to look at their peers or get “glazed” eyes; but mostly dancers need to see themselves as their teacher sees them in order to make corrections and improve.
What type of floors does the studio have? Sprung, or floating floors, are the most desirable floor type for any style of dance that requires jumps, leaps, and impact on the knees. These floors absorb the shock that would otherwise transfer into the ankle, hip, and spine. Many studios have wood floors which are excellent for percussive styles of dance like Tap and Hip Hop. You NEVER want to dance on concrete or tile over concrete floor. These floors tend to result in many injuries as the body is forced to endure the impact that the floors should absorb.
The basic stuff: Is the place in good repair? Are the exits clearly labeled? Is there a first aid kit? Is there a place to change? Can strangers watch me/my dancer in a leotard while walking by? Is there a place for parents to wait? These are by no means deal-breakers, but they are definitely important things to consider when choosing a school. And if the school doesn’t have them, maybe you can suggest them.
What is the mission of the school?
Does the school’s mission and program align with your goals as a dancer? There are many wonderful schools but each one has a unique culture: that’s why there are so many. Just like Publix, Winn Dixie, and Whole Foods all sell groceries, they each have distinct characteristics that make them preferred by some and not by others. Are you looking to have fun or dance professionally? Align with a studio that focuses on your goals and has staff that have done the same. What is your interpretation of age-appropriate or positive? This may not match your ideas, so ask. Does your studio exist to win competitions or do they desire to create employable dancers, or neither, or both? It wouldn’t make sense to train at a professionally focused studio if you desire to compete on weekends, or vice versa.
What is the culture of the school?
What are folks saying about the school? Hopefully, they love it. Are they willing to tell their friends and spread the word? This is typically a good indicator that positive things are happening. How do the teachers handle discipline in the classroom? Do they yell at students or do they approach discipline with positive enforcement? Dance is a profession that tends to bring out the passion in people, so it is important to know how students will be treated. Do the students, staff, and parents show respect for one another? You/your child will want to learn and grow in an environment where factors like gossip, cliques, and bickering are not distractions. When you walk into the lobby or the dance classroom, how do you feel? Be sure you feel welcomed, respected, and energized. Dance, while challenging, should be a fun experience!
What additional fees are involved with your participation?
Most studios charge a registration fee annually that is due upon registration. But what other fees are there? Will I need to buy a recital costume? Will I need to pay a separate recital fee? Do I need new shoes for recital so that they look fresh? How much are your concert/recital tickets? I recently learned that one studio charges around $50 per person for recital tickets. You’ll want to know up front how much of an investment any performances are so you can factor these costs into your expenses. You can expect concert fees (which often cover facility rental, production staff, photographers, videographers, etc.) to range from $75-200 per child in most studios. An average costume will range from $40-80. Dance company costumes often cost upwards of $75. Some teachers require that you buy new shoes and tights for concerts so that they look clean and uniform, while other studios are okay with shoes from class. Some studios will want specific brands of tights and shoes as well. There may also be optional expenses like photos, videos, master classes, workshops, and merchandise.
While this list is not exhaustive, it’s a great start of things to look for and ask about while considering new schools. Choosing the best dance school is an important decision that should be met with careful consideration. A great school will foster artistic expression, stretch and strengthen the dancer technically, help avoid injury, inspire a love for the art, build confidence, teach skills that connect to other aspects of life and ultimately prepare the dancer for future work and experiences. Now let’s get moving! Happy dancing and happy choosing!