Updated: Aug 30, 2021
So, your child wants to dance. Now what? With so many choices in dance schools these days, how do you choose?
Here are some things to think about when you are considering schools so that your experience is a good one.
Dance schools are like snowflakes--no two are alike. Each teacher is an individual, with different training, values, goals, beliefs, and teaching methods. The main consideration to think about is why your child is interested in dance, and then try and match those needs to the school/teacher you are looking for. Are you looking for somewhere fun, to hang out with friends? Perhaps your dancer has a strong need to perform? Maybe competition is the goal? Maybe it is an underlying need to improve focus, manners, tenacity? Whatever the reason you have started this search for a dance school, be aware that not all dance schools are the same, and each will bring different things to the table. Your job is to find the one that suits you and aligns with your needs the best. For example--if you and/or your child thrive and learn through wins/losses, no matter how awesome and incredible my school is, you will never feel like you "belong" or that it's a good fit, as my dance school is based on teamwork and supporting each other, not on competition. You need to find a school that is into competitive dance so that you can get what you want out of your dance experience and keep it positive.
After you have figured out your overall needs for your dance experience, you need to consider the teacher(s) training and experience. Did you know that in Canada, anyone can hang up a sign and open a dance studio as
there are no set regulations for a person to be “trained” in order to call themselves a dance teacher? You don't even need to have ever stepped inside a dance studio! Now, that may seem ridiculous as you read that, but it does happen! Always keep in mind that dance is a physical activity and injuries can occur-- it is really important to find the right school that will not only look after your dancer's health and well-being, but also teach a progressive syllabus. Although not the be-all and end-all, but it does prove that the person is at least qualified and has studied what they are teaching: Make sure to look for teaching credentials, with a recognized school or association--the main ones in Canada being RAD (Royal Academy of Dance), CDTA (Canadian Dance Teacher's Association), BATD (British Association of Teachers of Dancing), etc. You can also look at what teaching workshops/courses, etc has the person taken to improve themselves as a teacher. It is important to keep in mind that the ability to dance/perform brilliantly is much different from the skills that make a great teacher; the ability to analyze, to break down steps, to explain, and to inspire.
Being properly trained, the teacher will not be forcing “turnout” (the rotation of the leg in the hip socket) in the students, nor allowing students to go “on pointe” unless they are the proper age and at an appropriate level of training. He/She will also understand the importance of learning steps in order, like building blocks, and not jump into moves that are above the training/age of the dancer.
If the teacher is certified, the teacher will be using a progressive syllabus that the organisation he/she is accredited with has developed. Ultimately, having similar abilities in the class so that every student can get the most from their class is the best, so check for classes that are grouped by ability rather than age. (note: Although there are many differing opinions in the dance world, many reputable schools will not allow young children (under 7) into jazz or hip hop classes due to the stress they put on little undeveloped bodies and muscles. Instead, they offer an age-appropriate dance program up to age 7)
The studio atmosphere and philosophies
This is another area where you should look carefully, as realistically, this atmosphere
is where your child will be influenced, shaped, and trained-- students usually will spend from when they register to the time they graduate high school at the same dance school. Does the school's philosophies and ideals align with your families? For example--If you are a modest family, being in a school that has skimpy costumes is going to make you (and your dancer) uncomfortable.
Are you interested in a "real" dance experience? Then, the attitude of the school should exude a professional, disciplined but cheerful atmosphere. If manners and morals are important, make sure you find a school that also aligns with your own. Is making friends important? Then be sure that the studio offers extra activities that will build and form new friendships, not just class time. What is generally the main focus? It takes time to build a healthy, strong dancer. Performing opportunities are valuable, but beware if too much choreography is emphasized...too much rehearsing for competitions or just learning dances can distract from building solid technique. As in life, everything needs to be balanced.
Studio Safety-- no matter what you are looking for in a school, this is important. Overall, the studio should give emphasis on proper health and safety, inside and outside of the classroom, both mentally and physically. (Part of this should relate back to the teaching credentials to ensure class syllabus is safe for the age and ability of the student, as well as knowing and understanding proper teaching methods.) Also, ensure that the studio floor is "sprung" (moves or gives when the dancers jump), as this helps prevent long-term injuries to the knees and lower back.
Try not choose a dance school just because it is close, convenient, or cheap. Remember: A good school and teacher will improve your body and your self-esteem; nurturing the student, and instilling a love and enjoyment of dance. A mediocre or negative one can ruin the magic of what dance is all about.
It pays to do your homework, and make sure your child’s first dance experience is a wonderful one!