Before going into how to select a dance school, it’s worthwhile to look at a more basic question: Why dance?
Mostly for fun. Dancers also reap many other benefits from their training, for instance:
- a Strong, Lean, Well-Coordinated Body
- Agility and Athleticism
- Grace, and in time, a Presence
- Enhanced Ability to Remember Verbal Instructions, keep them straight and carry them out. (Many dancers are reported to be A-students; perhaps this is why.)
- an Uncommon Ability to Concentrate
- Confidence Gained from Conquering Challenges
- Self Respect
- an Appreciation for Hard Work and its Rewards
- a Way to Blow Off Steam or Nervous Energy
The next reasonable question might be: Aren’t all schools pretty much the same? What does it matter where I send my child?
Dance deals with your child’s body during critical years of growth and development. Poor training can cause lasting physical damage, while with proper training, your child can grow to be strong and graceful. A school’s emotional atmosphere can also affect your child’s self-esteem and happiness.
We frequently get students who have studied for up to ten years at second-rate schools. It’s very sad to see how little they’ve learned and what poor value their parents have received for their money.
Alright then: How can I sort this all out and make a wise decision?
- Decide what your goals are
- Gather information
- Develop a “short list”
- Visit the schools on that list, dancer in tow
- Get and carefully check references
- Make your decision
What you want for your child will depend on his/her age and previous training, if any. This is a good time to ask your child what they’d like to get out of this. Try to take into account everyone’s dreams – dreams make everything happen! (Of course, your dream and your child’s dream won’t always be consistent.) Is your child serious about being a great ballet dancer? A Rockette? On MTV? Or do they just like the dancing, the music, or being with their friends? And what about your goals for your child? Grace, fitness, involvement in a challenging activity, or just their special time?
After you’ve sorted this out, you’ll be able to efficiently whittle down the list of schools, once you know what they’re all about.
Search the internet for Dance Instruction or Dance Schools in your area and call those schools for information.
Use your goals and the information you receive to prune your list to two to four schools. Here are some questions that might be helpful:
- Does the faculty consist of people who have been trained to teach or who have extensive teaching experience? Do they use students as teachers?
- Are there performing opportunities beyond the end-of-year recital?
- Is the school affiliated with a professional dance company?
- Are there competitions? Do you want competitions? Do you want to learn a routine and compete with that routine for the year or learn technique?
- Has the school produced any professional dancers? With whom are they dancing now?
- In ballet, how many levels of training are offered? Children need approximately 8 levels of classical ballet training; not just beginner, intermediate, and advanced.
- Which methods of training are used? While there are many acceptable methods of training, watch for: quizzical looks, blank stares or responses like “no one ever asked me that before”. An example of a tried and true training method includes the Royal Academy of Dance syllabus—a safe, methodical and progressive teaching technique whose roots date back over 75 years. Other time-tested methods include Cecchetti and Vaganova syllabi.
Things to look for when visiting a school:
- What type of flooring is used? It should be sprung wood. Is there a professional non-slip dance surface installed? Or is it wood or concrete?
- Are there pianists in the ballet classes or do the students hear the same old CDs over and over—thus never developing their musicality?
- Are the advanced dancers’ muscles lean and long or are they under or over developed? Are their ankles strong or are they rolling and weak? Are the shoulders relaxed or are they hunched and strained? Are they standing with an overly swayed lower back causing unnecessary pressure on their spine?
- Does the school work only on a recital or competition dance from November through June or do the students learn and develop their technique throughout the year – learning how to dance; not just a dance?
- Are the children on pointe at ages 9 or 10, long before the bones in the foot are fully formed? (this may cause deformities later on in life).
- Does the teacher treat the students with respect, giving constructive criticism, or is it negative and demoralizing?
- Did you find watching the children’s class a good experience? Were they having a productive, enjoyable time?
If, after your visit, you’re still interested, you may leave a request for a parent of a current student to call you to answer such questions as:
- What is their overall impression of the school? (Are they content and completely satisfied?)
- What is the focus of the school? (Would they say the central focus of the school is teaching and a love of dance?)
- Who really teaches the classes? Older students or qualified teachers?
- Are classes interrupted by the teacher taking phone calls or conducting other business?
- When a student makes a mistake, is there yelling or a gentle correction?
- Is their child fond of his/her teachers? Does he/she have fun and look forward to the next class?
- Has their child learned a lot?
- Is the school a “revolving door” or do most students stay?
Choose the school that places your child’s physical and emotional well being above all else. Glitzy costumes and mega productions are not as important as your child’s health and happiness. Another consideration is whether you feel you’ll be getting safe, quality training for your money.
We hope this has been helpful. Printed versions of What to look for when choosing dance instruction are available from the Academy of Dance Arts at no charge. Just call or write: (732) 842-9262 or (email@example.com) laclassical (at) theacademyredbank (dot) com