What kind of studio is it?
There are “professional” dance schools that train students to be dancers, and there are “recreational” dance schools that give children the experience of wearing costumes and performing on stage. When learning how to choose a dance studio, you’ll see that these recreational schools have “recitals” where parents pay extra for costumes and students spend half the year preparing their “recital dance” for the recital (during what should be their technique class time). Many also do competitions where parents spend a lot of money sending students to “compete” against other studios so the student can take home a trophy. Again, students spend much of the time preparing dances and not training. It’s like memorizing one book and being able to “recite” it, rather than learning the skills needed to read any book. You may get very good at “reading” that particular book, but you won’t be able to read other books very well. At professional schools, students spend every minute of dance classes doing exercises and stretches and learning the technique. If students participate in performances, there are extra rehearsals, but class time is not spent on the performance numbers.
What type of classes should I take?
Most experts agree that Classical Ballet is the most effective method of training a dancer. Broadway auditions start with a ballet class. Other styles like jazz and tap are based on ballet, so you have to learn your A-B-C’s before you can go further. Even if you prefer or aspire to other dance forms, good ballet training will help you to be the best.
When thinking about how to choose a dance studio, avoid “combination classes” where students study some combination of Tap, Jazz, Ballet, Baton, Clogging, etc. all in one hour per week. Even beginning students should have a minimum of one hour per week of ballet, and older students (who study pointe, for example) should take three or more classes per week (usually 90 minutes each). Girls should only do pointe work after several years of serious training and after the student is at least 11 years old.
Who should be teaching my child?
Anyone can hang up a shingle and teach dance. There are no governmental regulations or licensing. Therefore, it is very important that you investigate the qualifications of teachers. It’s best if dance teachers have been experienced professional dancers (although that is not the only training they will need to teach well). They have usually had the best training and experience and, through teacher training, experience, or talent, can pass that on to the next generation. Some qualified teachers may have college degrees in dance despite not having performed professionally.
Other teachers may have studied at local studios but never studied in a professional situation, and are not qualified to take your child very far. Many studios have classes taught by teenage students. So when you are deciding how to choose a dance studio, make sure you know who will be teaching your child.
What should the facility be like?
Dance studios should have plenty of space for moving: high ceilings for jumping, mirrors to see yourself, and specially built wooden floors with an appropriate surface covering (wood or special vinyl). Studios should not have concrete floors (even if covered with wood or vinyl). Low ceilings and small spaces limit what you can do. Studios should be 1,000 square feet or more and have 75 square feet of space or more per student in the class.
What about competitions, and conventions?
Most studios participate in competitions and conventions. These can be fun and exciting ways to show off your skills or improve them. However, in a professional school (like my alma mater Canada’s National Ballet School) three hours a day would be spent on technique before any time would be spent preparing for performances or competitions.
Extra classes or rehearsals should be dedicated to preparing for competitions, and technique classes in all disciplines should come first. You can’t stop training and expect to compete!
Serious ballet students need to have at least one daily technique class before spending time on preparing for competitions. If you choose a competition school, try to find one that emphasizes ballet training, and if it doesn’t, consider getting ballet training simultaneously at another school.
How many students should be in the class?
Ideally, between 10 and 20. This depends on the size of the studio room. Larger rooms may accommodate more dancers. In an advanced level 25 can sometimes be accommodated if the space is large enough (see above). An experienced teacher may be able to handle 20 students, whereas a novice or teenager may not be able to handle 12! Sometimes too small a class size lacks excitement and camaraderie.