Choosing a Dance School

Fact: Dance training is expensive.

Fact: Dance training is a rather large time commitment.

Fact: Dance training is working with muscles/bones/developmental growth.

Fact: It is important that you research schools, ask questions and choose one that fits what you are looking for in a school and for your child.

This isn't the easiest task in the world to do, especially if you do not know a lot about dance. Perhaps you don't know the questions to ask or certain things to look for. Here is our guide to Choosing a Dance School! Plus download our special checklist for parents!

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Photo: Southeastern Regional Ballet Association - Photo by Richard Calmes

Things To Know & Look For


Ballet technique will show the studio's "temperature."
Look for their older students and observe their ballet technique. Even if you do not know a lot about ballet, their older dancers' ballet technique will show the school's efforts.

Schools with a set structure will help you navigate your child's education. For example, something as simple as a dress code can bring a level of professionalism to the school. This is what you're looking for: Levels, curriculum, exams. These are all stepping stones which make the education process clear. This way you know where your child should be and how to track their progress.

Recreational Programs: Recreational programs will offer classes of varying styles and some will offer "combo" classes. These classes will most likely be once a week, and the child will be placed with students based on their age level and not based on their personal experience level. Recreational dance studios offer annual recitals as part of their season. Many dancers start this way. Also, recreational dance studios focus on "fun" while pre-professional studios focus on "proper dance technique." The experiences will inevitably be different, and each comes with their own expectations and requirements.

Pre-professional training will require significantly more in the time commitment department, as well as financial commitment department. Pre-professional training will have students in class multiple times a week, for many hours. Most of the hours will be dedicated to ballet classes. Class sizes tend to be smaller, and teacher qualifications tend to be at a higher level. Pre-professional schools do not usually offer annual recitals, but they offer performance opportunities through showcases, galas or even parts in ballets with local professional companies. A pre-professional experience will ask more of the student and the parent.

A professional setting is important. Does the studio look clean? Safe? Inviting? Does it look like a welcoming place to learn?

Qualifications of the teachers are important. Check on the studio's website and review the schools where the teachers studied. Also review the companies they may have worked for. Do your research. It is important that the student receives good information as well as an experienced teacher who can teach your child safely. Since dance is not "monitored" (meaning no certifications are required to work for recreational studios), you want to make sure the studio is hiring teachers who are properly trained.

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Questions to Ask

How do you place children in classes? Their answer will be: "By experience" or "By age." If you are looking at a pre-professional school, they will have your child audition or come for a placement exam. This will help the teachers assess where your child is technique and developmental wise. Recreational schools base their placement on age. When placed on experience, your child will be challenged by the surrounding dancers based on where they are in their dance training. When placed by age, your child will be socially "with" the group, however, this may mean you have an experienced 10-year-old dancer with a non-experienced 10-year-old dancer.

What class do you feel will be best for my beginner child? While the answers may vary here, what you should be looking for is a teacher or studio representative wanting to know: 1) What you are seeking? 2) Your child's experience 3) What you hope to accomplish. We feel starting a child with ballet or creative movement will help beginner dancers learn the basics of dance. While a child may be more interested in hip-hop or jazz, ballet is where they learn important skills which carry through to other styles of dance. You want to make sure the studio believes this to be true!

When do you suggest putting a child on pointe? The correct answer should be: "Around 11 - 14 years old." An even more correct answer would be: "We assess each child before putting them on pointe." Putting a child on pointe too early can be dangerous for the child. Growth plates need to close, ankle alignment needs to be checked. After it is determined the child is ready, exercises should be taught to address strength and mobility of the ankle, hip, core muscles and feet.

Can you tell me about your dance floor? Cushioned dance floors is the answer you're looking for. You want to know the studio went to extra expense to protect your child's body. Dance puts stress on bones, especially leaps. Floors designed for dancing absorb the shock of the landing. If the studio has a "regular floor" or "concrete floor," do not allow your child to dance there.

When do you start "serious" training? This question is gauging the studio's expectations of a child. "Serious" ballet training begins around the age of 7. This is when the body is more prepared and ready for the demands of ballet (and making sure the moves can be done safely). Before the age of 7, teachers should be working on body awareness, posture, weight shifting and the child's understanding of high-low, left-right, positions and basic movements.

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Are there any cross-training opportunities for my child? You are looking for answers that involve the following words: Yoga, Pilates, Workshops, Intensives, Guest artists, Trips. You want to know the studio is up-to-date with their dance training efforts, and that they feel it is important to bring in artists or trainers from different fields to help your child receive a well-rounded movement education.

What are your expectations for my child? This is a great question to ask to get a sense of the studio's understanding of dance. For example, you don't want a 4 year old attempting a grand plié (this is usually introduced around age 7 or 8 - and even then, only in first and second position). You don't want a studio that "pushes" a child into a split (splits take work, but not forceful work. The body will get there on time with regular, healthy stretching). It will also help you gauge what you're looking at time wise, rehearsal wise, etc.

Do you do competition? If the studio is a competition studio, you will want to know the difference between the training your child will receive should you opt out of competing. Does the studio "favor" the competition students? If you choose to compete, what will this mean financially and for your child's time? Competition dancing is intense, however, it does come with good lessons (friendships, hard work, performance opportunities, scholarship and audition exposure). You want to understand how the competition team interacts with the studio experience.

What school or method of ballet do you teach? French? Russian? Cecchetti? Vaganova? Royal Academy of Dance (RAD)? School of American Ballet (SAB)? While most American schools will teach a mixture of these methods, it is important to get a feel for what the studio knows and aims for.

What method of Modern dance do you teach? Martha Graham, Lester Horton, Merce Cunningham, José Limón, Katherine Dunham, Erick Hawkins. Again, most schools will "cut and paste" from various techniques, but it's important to know the studio is aware of the different techniques.

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Photo: Lake Shore Dance, LLC

Figuring Out What Your Child Wants & Needs

1. Start your child early. We suggest around age 3 or 4. (Note: If you try age 3, and your child isn't ready and won't dance, try again next year. There is a large difference between a 3 year old and a 4 year old).

2. Watch and see how your child does. By age 6, 7, 8, start asking your child how they feel about dance. If you have been hearing from teachers that they "have potential" or they "have talent," you may want to consider looking at pre-professional schools.

3. Get them in ballet. Ages 7-8 are when they will start learning "serious" ballet technique. They will start working on tougher barre exercises which will help condition their bodies for even tougher dance moves. Make sure they are in quality ballet classes (check teacher references, request to see video of their highest-level ballet dancers).

4. Figure out what their interests are. Around 8-10, they may want to start training in other styles. This is great news! Other styles will help them be well-rounded dancers. Help them figure out their interests and talk with their teachers about opportunities for further growth, but keep telling them the importance of ballet!

5. Always stay involved. If you feel like your child isn't improving, start wondering why! Ask questions, seek out opportunities, and stay involved with the education process.

6. Figure out what your child is willing to do. If your child loves dance, they may want to be there Monday through Friday, taking every available class! Figure out what your child wants from dance, and what they are willing to bring to dance class. This will help you tap into their interest.

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Ballet Shoes & Bobby Pins
Checklist for Parents

We know this can seem overwhelming! So we've created a checklist: ParentsGuideDanceSchools. You can print it off and take it with you.

The goal is to find a place where your child can learn proper technique safely, be happy, and your financial investment can shine through! (Dance classes really are a gift! You are providing your child a marketable skill set!) What you don't want is to spend a lot of money and time for a poor dance education which could result in injuries for your child.

Print off our checklist: ParentsGuideDanceSchools. And HAPPY SEARCHING!

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