Guidelines for finding the perfect dance studio for both YOU and YOUR Dancer
Your youngest child has decided she wants to dance! Terrific! But EEK you know NOTHING about dance. If you are like most parents you explore local studios within a certain commute from your home, and perhaps ask a few friends where they attend classes. While this approach is easy and straightforward, you might be setting yourself, and your dancer up for disappointment down the road. While the studio just down the street could offer great instruction, what if it doesn’t? You could potentially end up wasting a lot of time, money, and energy by not doing just a little bit of research! Here are some practical guidelines of what to look for, questions to ask, and how to find the BEST fit for you and your dancer, no matter their age, level, or commitment.
If you aren’t offered an opportunity to tour the facility, ASK. Pay attention to the cleanliness of the space, the lobby area, availability of parking, restrooms, etc. Is the atmosphere vibrant and welcoming? Is there hot water for hand washing? (Seems like this should be a given. Trust me. It’s not.) Is equipment up to date and maintained safely? And perhaps, MOST important, what type of flooring does the studio use? Dancers spend a lot of time in the studio, and ideally should be dancing on a sprung subfloor covered with marley (vinyl specialty dance flooring). The more facilities you can see, the better! Not all dance spaces are created equal. Your dancer could potentially be spending every night in this space, taking some time to tour them is a no brainer!
Faculty & Staff
What are the backgrounds of the teaching staff and faculty? A dance studio is only as good as it’s instructors. Do teachers have professional experience? And conversely, do they have teaching experience? Keep in mind, the technical aptitude, and professional prowess of teaching staff does not always translate to excellence in teaching ability. Similarly, a lack of professional experience, or quality training of their own, can often mean the teachers simply don’t have the knowledge to pass onto you, and your dancers.
Also don’t be afraid to ask what current and former students are doing. Are they successful? And in what types of programs? In today’s dance market dancers need VERSATILITY more than ever, if you are attending a studio only excelling in one dance genre you are limiting your future opportunities.
This is a hard thing to pin down. But regardless of whether your dancer wants to dance every day; competitively, or once a week; as recreation, the studio culture is imperative to everyone being happy, welcomed, and respected. To understand studio culture you MUST speak to current dancers and parents (bearing in mind that everyone has different goals or perspectives). Are the studio policies clearly outlined, either in studio or on the website? What are the dress codes? Attendance policies?
Plan to visit the dance studio and pay attention to how classes are run? What’s the “vibe”? Do parents and students have a good rapport with faculty, and each other? How do the teachers interact? Pay attention to social media posts, and newsletters. Is it the same select group of dancers being featured? Or does the studio celebrate the accomplishments of all the dancers making up their entire dance community? (For more on dance studio culture and why it’s so important check out our previous blog post)
Maybe your future dancer is only four years old and will start in a basic preballet and tap class. But what will happen if she decides that she wants to progress and dance, a LOT? Or maybe, she simply wants to enjoy a single class once a week? Does the studio have the capacity to GROW with you? Look for a studio that offers multiple training tracks. Do they offer a competitive team? Company program? Recreational levels only? There is nothing more frustrating to an aspiring full time dancer than realizing they aren’t capable of progressing past a certain level within the studio they know and love. Or vice versa, a dancer that decides to pursue other activities but can’t attend an appropriate class just once a week. The older dancers get, the harder it is to transition into a new studio that might better suit their new goals.
Look at the studio schedules. Ask about the different levels the studio offers. What is involved for various commitment levels? Are there opportunities for dancers of all ages and levels? Observe the most advanced dancers at the studio. What is their skill level? Do recreational level dancers get the same quality instructors? Are there teachers dedicated to working with the tiniest of dancers?
If at all possible get to watch a studio performance or recital. (Or sneak a peek at DVDs). Some dance studios put an emphasis on competitive dance training, with performance as an after thought. Are there annual, biannual, or quarterly performances? Does everyone participate? Where is it held? What kind of emphasis is put on the quality of what is presented?
Management, Communication & Cost
When you initially contact the studio what is the process like? Are the management, staff, and directors friendly? Are they willing to assist you and answer your questions? How quickly do they address your concerns or get back to you? Dance studios are often owned by some of the most creative minds on the planet! This does NOT always translate to sound, practical business owners. Asking how the studio communicates with parents, timeliness of information, and overall organization can be a huge component to keeping you and your family feeling “in the know”. Are student events, specialty classes, and studio fun shared effectively? A studio with a strong sense of community will offer opportunities for all to be involved, and share those opportunities!
And lastly, cost. While many parents may ask this question first- I find it to be the least difficult thing to assess on this list. Every dance studio calculates tuition rates differently, but if you stop and figure out what the cost is on a class by class basis, studios in a similar locale should be within a general ball park of each other. Office staff or directors should be able to explain to you exactly how tuition is calculated. Can you pay, register, and manage your account online? Are there auto payment options? Discounts for multiple students?
One thing to be especially aware of are the “extras”. What are the registration fees? Costs for performance costumes? Additional extras of performance fees? Choreography fees? Are there last minute “must have items” that parents are expected to purchase? These can be drastically different depending on the dance studio. Getting the full picture of dance cost should be EASY to determine, upfront, and reasonable.
Great dance studios with knowledgeable faculty and an updated space will need to charge enough to maintain their professional environment. However, well run successful studios should not be break the bank, nor surprise you with hidden expenses.
And lastly, no matter what type of studio you choose, don’t be afraid to talk with studio directors and owners. We WANT to give everyone the best experience possible while teaching the wonderful art of dance. We value your insights, feedback, and communication like any other small business, and are driven by the passion to teach!