Dance schools are like snowflakes--no two are alike. Each teacher is an individual, with different training, values, goals, beliefs, and 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 will bring different things to the table. Your job is to find the one that suits you and aligns with your needs the best.
Did you know that in Canada, anyone can hang up a sign and open a dance studio as
there are no regulations for a person to be “trained” in order to call themselves a dance teacher? As dance is a physical activity and injuries can occur, it is 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. So: Make sure to look for teaching credentials, with a recognized school or association--the main ones in Canada being RAD, CDTA, BDTA, etc. Perhaps look at what teaching workshops/courses, etc has the person taken to improve themselves as a teacher. Also, 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 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--especially if they are going to be spending a lot of time there. What is important to you and your family?
Are you interested in a "real" dance experience? Then, the attitude of the school should exude a disciplined and serious 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 “competition” is emphasized...too much rehearsing for competitions 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.) 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. It pays to do your homework, and make sure your child’s first dance experience is a wonderful one!