It is the time of year that dancer’s are enrolling in fall programs. It is also the time of year that teachers and directors are often determining dancer placements and evaluations. Within our dance studio we place dancers based on age ONLY in our children’s program, so from ages 2.5 to 7.5 dancers enroll in classes based on their age. Once a dancer reaches age 8 we start to determine placement based on a variety of other factors. To parents and dancers this can be a stressful, or joyful, experience relative to their dancer’s progression. For studio directors and teachers it is a multifaceted and complex task that we do not take lightly. Today we are going to explore the “what” and “how” of dancer evaluations, with the goal of demystifying it for parents and dancers alike! Let’s get started!
At most dance studios the “what” is the criteria for dancer evaluation. It can be broken down into some major categories, and then smaller “subsets” of those categories:
- Skill Set
- Class Work
- Work Ethic
- General Class Taking
Let’s spend some time talking about these factors and diving into what they mean. It is pertinent to understand how they all relate to one another, and how we use them in determining a dancer’s placement.
TECHNIQUE: Is the basis of all dance fundamentals. The ability to properly and correctly execute dance skills. It includes things such as placement, flexibility, strength, musicality, and the ability to pick up choreography and movement. It can be measured in straightforward ways. Does the dancer have all of their splits correctly? This would be a way to measure flexibility.
KNOWLEDGE: This is purely what dancer’s know and understand. This includes terminology and specific skills.
CLASS WORK: Class work is the dancer’s ability to take class. Are they focused? Do they come into class prepared? Do they remember choreography from week to week? Do they work hard regardless of teacher observation? Are they a supportive, respectful, and friendly classmate? How do they take and apply teacher corrections? How do they deal with adversity? How do they deal with success? Are they an enthusiastic learner? All questions we ask when we are evaluating a dancer’s class work.
ARTISTRY: The nuances of performance. It includes the ability to engage and command an audience. The capacity to emote feeling and execute dance beyond just the technique or choreography.
HOW DO THESE FACTORS COMBINE?
How do teachers and directors evaluate all these and determine placement? As you can see there are a lot of components to the “what” of dancer evaluation. This is why dancer placement is a complex task for directors and teachers. We take all of these factors into consideration when determining placement, and take the time to insure that dancers are accurately, comprehensively, and effectively placed for their long term progress and success.
To complicate the task, MOST dancers are not completely consistent across the subsets, so for instance, a dancer may have excellent flexibility but lacks the strength and control to coordinate that flexibility. Often times students may have the KNOWLEDGE of technique but have not honed the EXECUTION. This is a very important distinction. A dancer may KNOW what everything is, and understand the terminology and ideas, but that does not mean they are executing them PROPERLY.
Every studio is different in how they approach placements. Some focus solely on technique and the progression of skill set. We believe that to be the starting point of dancer evaluation, and then we factor things in like class work, overall knowledge, and artistry.
If a dancer is lacking in technique they might make up for it in class taking ability- this can result in a placement that might be above their technical level, but with the idea that their aptitude for hard work will help them progress. Conversely, if a dancer has solid technique but lacks motivation, drive, or enthusiasm this might result in a plateau with their placement; they would not be placed within a class of enthusiastic and motivated learners. And this brings us to the next key point…
THE BALANCING ACT
Directors and Studio Owners evaluate each dancer individually with the help of their teaching staff. Once they have done that, they start to look at “the collective”. Essentially, we try to balance the good of the whole class (the collective), with the progress of the individual. In every class there will be students that excel, and students that struggle. The goal is to blend the class into one where ALL students have the ability to progress, are “comfortably uncomfortable”, help each other, and grow as a collective, along with attaining personal goals.
These are the factors we use in placements. What DON’T we use as a guide for placements? The most common assumptions regarding class placement are simply differing to age alone, previous years of dance training, and/or assuming that a dancer will change levels each year.
AGE: The saying “age is just a number” exists for a reason. Age shouldn’t be the SOLE factor in class placement. Dancers that have exceptional technique MAY end up dancing with older classmates, but they need to have the maturity & focus to do this.
Conversely, older dancers who are just beginning their dance journey, may end up in classes with younger students. Oftentimes they catch up faster, and can spring forward, but they simply don’t have the knowledge to dance with their peers, at least initially, and they have to start somewhere.
Again, we go back to ALL the categories and subsets of “what” in making those kinds of decisions, and factor age into the “balancing act” at the end.
YEARS OF TRAINING: Not to be the bearer of bad news but not all dance training is created equal. It is heartbreaking to see students and parents who have invested lots of time and money in a dance studio, only to eventually realize the training was subpar, or the programs are not conducive to their current goals. This is why choosing a dance studio is HUGELY important.
We often have students looking to transfer from various other dance programs, and in most cases, we see gaps in their dance training. Also important to keep in mind! Level Five at Studio A might be equivalent to Level Two at Studio B. Years of training is a good reference point, but in most cases studio directors and teachers will not make final decisions based on this fact alone, anyone reputable will want to see that dancer in class.
LEVEL PROGRESSION: And lastly, dance studios are not structured like public schools. Can you think of a single dance studio that has twelve levels of dance classes? Therefore dancers will not automatically move into a new level each year. In fact, dancers may end up staying in the same level for multiple years. This is OK! If we are doing our jobs as teachers and directors, those class levels will be COLLECTIVELY progressing.
Hopefully this helps take some of the mystery out of the many variables that studio directors and teachers use for dancer evaluation. Class placements and leveling should never be done without a thorough and well thought out approach. Your studio directors and teachers should also be available and willing to honestly and accurately answer your questions about dancer placement. We are excited to share upcoming blog posts specifically for parents and dancers that will explore the questions & emotions that arise in developing your dancers!