(and a few questions to ask)
With so many schools offering everything from recreational classes to competition groups to professional caliber
training, figuring out which one to choose can be a complex and often confusing process. From the very first
class attention to detail is essential to the development of a student. Bad habits formed early in training can be
extremely difficult, if not impossible, to change. When choosing a school there are many qualities more
important than location or class scheduling; we believe the following five questions are the most important to ask
prior to enrolling at a school. Positive answers to these questions go a long way to help ensure that the training
you or your young one receives is the best it can be!
1. Look closely at the background of the directors/owners and teachers, were they professionals in their
fields? In the United States literally anyone can open a dance school regardless of their qualifications. While a
professional background is not a guarantee, it is a good indicator of potential quality. Most good teachers will
have at least some professional performing experience and will have training beyond the local level. Dance, like
most performing arts, is passed down from generation to generation through many years of intense study and
training. Just as in other areas of life, it is difficult to teach something that you haven’t fully experienced and don’
t completely understand.
2. What is the atmosphere in class like? Watching class and talking with parents and students at the school
are great ways to get a sense of the overall atmosphere. A well taught class has a balance of discipline and fun in
a focused, positive atmosphere, never chaotic. Students are attentive, fully engaged and everyone in class is
treated with equal respect and caring regardless their age, ability or level of commitment. Each exercise is an
individual challenge and students compete not with each other, but with themselves to do their very best. The
class ends with students exhausted but exhilarated (at least most of the time!), proud of their personal
accomplishments and looking forward to the next class. Making sure their training is as much inspirational as it
is educational will ensure the students come away with a positive experience and a lifelong appreciation of dance
and the arts.
3. Are the teachers consistent and dedicated to quality training? A unified approach is vital to creating a
solid foundation in any type of training and dance is no exception. A consistent, dedicated staff working together
is extremely important. Schools that have teachers coming and going every few months or classes that have a
variety of teachers throughout the week create dancers with a hodgepodge of technical abilities and no real
foundation on which to grow. With this type of approach students can find their class experience confusing and
frustrating, and certainly will not develop the strength and skills needed to excel. Unfortunately some careers are
over before they start because of poor training early in a student’s life.
4. Does the school encourage students to seek out additional instruction if it is not offered? There are
many reasons a school may recommend a student take classes elsewhere. It may be that the school does not
offer a specific type of training or is not able to offer advanced level classes. A good school will not only
recognize the need for additional training, they will often be able to suggest other schools where the student can
find the classes they need to achieve their dreams.
5. Is the school environment safe? A safe floor is crucial to the well being of dancers’ bodies young and old
alike. To avoid injuries the studio floor should be sprung or cushioned, with either a non-slip surface like a
Marley* laid on top, or a hardwood floor that is completely free from nails, screws and splinters. A concrete
floor is NEVER an acceptable training surface. The injuries and damage that can be caused by dancing on
concrete for periods longer than a day or two are many and can potentially be career threatening. Also, particular
attention should be given to the type and volume of music used in class. Musical selections should be appropriate
for the students’ age and ability and, perhaps more importantly, played at a safe volume. Permanent hearing
damage can occur in a matter of moments if the volume is too loud. Speaker placement is also important. Well
placed speakers (in the upper corners of the room) provide even sound throughout the studio so students all
experience the same volume level regardless of where they are standing.
*A brand name for a type of vinyl floor covering that is the mainstay of professional dance schools and
companies around the world.
A note about “Competition Schools”. A plethora of trophies on display is a certain sign that you have found a
school that participates in dance competitions/conventions. Throughout the professional dance world the phrase
“Competition School” generally refers to a school whose primary focus is on its competition program (often
called “Company” or “Team”). The director/owner will say they attend in order to further the training of their
instructors and students. The problem is that while there are a few legitimate organizations that conduct
competitions/conventions, most do little, if anything, to help students grow and are really just thinly veiled fronts
designed to make money handing out cheap plastic trophies to all who pay the entrance fees. The focus at a
“Competition School” is predominantly on winning the next event rather than creating well rounded dancers.
Students from these types of schools can often do a few amazing steps that wow the judges, but unfortunately
will also have large gaps in their overall technique and possess limited artistic ability. Which is why, despite
claims to the contrary, the truth is that very few professional dancers receive the bulk of their training from a
“Competition School”. A “Competition School” can be a fun place to make friends, learn a few dance steps and
travel a bit but it is almost never a place to discover the true wonder of the performing arts.
And lastly, parents and students should trust their intuition! As they advance students will spend untold hours in
the studio; it is important to be sure the studio is a healthy, safe and comfortable place for them to grow and
mature, both physically and emotionally. If the school just doesn't feel right or does not offer the type of training
you are looking for, look a little further before registering. Making sure the school is the right fit will, in the long
run, be the best choice for both student and school.