Category: For Dance Parents

Series: Developing a Dancer. The “What” and “How”of Class Placement & Evaluation

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:

  • Technique
    • Execution
    • Flexibility
    • Strength
    • Musicality/Dynamics
  • Knowledge
    • Terminology
    • Skill Set
  • Class Work
    • Focus
    • Maturity
    • Preparedness
    • Work Ethic
    • General Class Taking
  • Artistry
    • Performance

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 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…


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!

How to Choose a Dance Studio

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
Some of our teachers having fun!

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.

Studio Culture

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?

Specially designed lighting in our performance space!

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!

Dance Studio Culture.

What is it? Why does it matter?

I have had a few experiences lately that have reminded me about dance studio culture and why it is so important.

The other day I had a parent on the phone and she made the statement “…your dance studio has such a different vibe. Janie loves to dance, and for years we were at XYZ studio. I can’t describe exactly what it is, but we love the environment at The Movement Box”.

A few nights later I stood in a crowded dance studio, watching one of my soloists leave her heart on the dance floor as she showcased her piece for the upcoming dance competition season. Fellow dancers had tears in their eyes watching her (and maybe a teacher too)… of joy? of love? of simple support? All of the above. They weren’t afraid to show her how much she had moved them. And the group of adult dancers, who had their class interrupted? Well they were absorbing her in complete silence, enthralled.

Those same adult dancers later gathered for an evening drink. Women from every background. Some older, some younger. Some with children at the studio, plenty without. Some with prior dance training, plenty without. And we laughed, talked, and commiserated on nothing in particular outside of general life, our joy in seeing each other every week, and commentary on our dance year thus far. The camaraderie of just enjoying one another was strong.

This got me thinking about studio culture and how grateful I am for the environment within our space. I think that studio culture plays a HUGE role in determining whether a dance studio is the correct fit for you, your dancer, and your family. It can mentally, emotionally, and physically impact dancers and teachers on a day to day basis. However, it seems to be something that is largely difficult to assess prior to enrollment or choosing a dance studio.

Dance studio culture
Dancers from our level program, company program, and competition team enjoying each other!

What Is Dance Studio Culture?

Let’s define what constitutes dance studio culture! The best definition I have found reads like this: “The atmosphere created by the behaviors and attitudes of everyone involved in your studio family”.

The dance studio family encompasses EVERYONE within a dance studio. Dancers, Parents, Teachers, Staff, and Directors. Studio culture is created by the people within this dance family. So yes, every one of my parents and dancers are also responsible for the energy they bring into the studio. This is obviously along with what my teachers, staff, and myself are all contributing! That’s a lot of dynamics, behaviors, and attitudes!

Why Is It Important?

I believe strongly in some core values that are nonnegotiable and inherent to what we try to do within the studio on a daily basis. I believe that when we enforce these values regularly, and lead by example, with fairness and respect, magic happens…. I would like to think that at it’s root, our commitment to a certain environment has never wavered. We have created one that is founded on passion, energy, dedication, progress, discipline, respect, and gratitude.

For dancers and teachers, these values insure they are able to come to dance and work effectively, happily, and in and environment were they feel safe and supported. And while competitiveness, frustration, and challenges pop up from time to time- those aren’t negative things in and of themselves. It’s in our reactions to them that the real import lies. For instance, a little competition among advanced dancers is necessary for progression, but how we react to it, support it, and ENJOY it are the keys to that positive culture.

Adult Dancers

So when a parent calls and tells me “the vibe is different” I know what she means, and my heart does a little happy dance all it’s own. It’s that positive culture. It means she feels welcomed. It means that she feels like her dancer is as important as every other dancer in the studio. It means that she feels like she belongs within our studio family.

And when that advanced dancer performs her solo, it means all her classmates are crying tears of joy at her skill and talent, instead of focusing on any comparison. They are celebrating her for HER talent and ability, without diminishing their own. Do you know how POWERFUL that is for a teenage girl?

It is in these moments, and a million more, that I smile deeply. Never taking for granted the depth of what they mean, and being forever grateful I am part of such a community.