The hunt for the right studio can be confusing. Not only are there different studios, there are different types of studios, and different types of dance. Here are some hints to help you find the perfect studio for your dancer.
First, make sure a prospective studio is willing to let you come and observe or have your child try classes. Before your visit, let’s break down the lingo and give you some key things to look for and questions to ask.
Types of Studios – These descriptions are not usually in the name of the studio. You will have to ask.
– Competition studios focus mostly on teaching choreography, perfecting it and taking it to competitions.
– Company schools are facilities run by professional dance companies. They usually focus primarily on the style of the company; i.e., a ballet company will have a school that is focused on teaching ballet.
– Non competition studios do not participate in competitions and might offer any number of dance styles. They may or may not offer performances for students.
Styles of dance – Let me give you a very brief description of and a few helpful hints concerning the most common ones.
– Ballet is said to be the foundation of all dance forms. While preparatory classes can be taken younger, formal ballet training should not begin until children are at least 7 years old.
– Tap is the one with the noisy shoes. It can be a fun, engaging way to help even very young kids learn musicality. It’s also a very safe dance form for adults that have never danced to start out with.
– Jazz dancing is energetic and fun, consisting of unique moves, fancy footwork, big leaps and quick turns. To excel in jazz, dancers need a strong background in ballet. As with ballet, formal training should not begin until children are 7.
– Modern or Contemporary consists of fluid dance movements, versatility and improvisation, and expressive explorations. Classes can usually start around 8, but this can also be a great place for older beginners to jump in.
– Hip Hop is a collection of street dance styles including breaking, locking, and popping and more and is a great way for even younger kids and adults to get moving to the beat.
– All Stars/ Dance Squad/ Dance Team/ Pom Squad is competitive dance and can incorporate different dance styles (i.e. hip-hop, jazz or lyrical), and technical work (leaps, turns, kicks, splits, jumps).
Dance classes for kids under 7 – Classes available for this age group can have any number of cute names, but there are definitely some key things to look for when finding the right studio for this precious and delicate set. Very young children are not just grown ups in little bodies. Be sure to find a studio that understands this and tailors classes for young children to their developmental stages. A positive dance experience can benefit development of motor skills, vocabulary, social skills, active listening, cooperation, the ability to follow directions, confidence, so much more. Classes should not focus on technique, but be a joyful way for children to explore movement and fall in love with dance.
If your child isn’t 3 yet, look for a class where the parent or caregiver also gets to participate alongside the child so your little mover feels safe and happy as you explore developmentally appropriate creative movement together.
“Combo” classes – these are classes that combine 2 or sometimes more styles of dance into 1 class, usually an hour in length. Combo classes are a great way to introduce young children to multiple styles of dance. For example, combining tap with pre-ballet is a fun and interesting way for kids under 7 to learn musicality and counting. Beyond that point, however, if students desire to progress in any given style of dance safely and effectively, classes dedicated to each style are of paramount importance.
Teachers – Most studios have teachers bios available on their website. Look for experience and training that are varied and extensive, but don’t stop there, an illustrious performance career or masters degree does not make someone a good teacher. The passion and ability to teach is something that great teachers are born with. Be sure to observe the teacher in action. They should be knowledgeable, positive and enthusiastic, giving both general and individual corrections and adjustments, and the class should be engaged in the instruction.
Facility – A dance space should be open and free of obstacles with enough room for everyone to move without bumping each other, with music that all of the students are able to hear and, most importantly, there must be a dance safe floor. Dance should NEVER be taught on concrete or any type of flooring placed directly over concrete as this can lead to injured joints in a hurry. Ideally, there should be what is referred to as a floating or sprung floor which means that there are multiple layers of wood suspended over foam or springs spaced at regular intervals. This is then usually covered with a vinyl floor designed specifically for dance. Be sure to ask about the floor.
Attire – Each style of dance has its own set of widely accepted attire. While clothing can look fairly pedestrian and relaxed in a hip hop class, seeing dancers wearing baggy garb or street clothes in ballet or jazz classes is a real red flag that your dancer is likely in better hands elsewhere. Proper dance wear is designed to allow teachers to see and correct the use of muscles and the alignment of the skeleton and allow students to dance safely and without distractions. Dress codes should be clear and students should be cooperating with the codes in place.
Costs – The cost of being involved in dance classes can vary greatly, so make sure that you know what you’re willing to invest and what you’re getting into. In addition to the cost of tuition, be sure to find out what other expenses to expect. These could include uniform, shoes, registration fees, performance fees, costume fees, competition fees. If you’re considering a competition studio be sure to find out how often your child will compete and where competitions will be held as many require out of town travel at your expense. Make sure you understand the length of time that you are committing to pay for and what happens if you have to withdraw early.
Now that you are armed with knowledge, I hope that you will be able to find a dance home for your children with confidence.