Category: For Dance Students

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!

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.