Thinking about dance classes for your child? Dance can be great fun and fantastic exercise. Here is an article by AlpharettaMoms.Org’s community blogger, Tracey Ganesh. A good dance education also increases self discipline, self confidence, the ability to work well in a team environment and the ability to perform gracefully in front of an audience. However not all dance education is good. The summer is a good time for moms to find a dance school for their child if he/she is interested in dance.
As a former dancer, dance instructor, and studio owner I’ve seen and heard the good, bad and ugly of the dance school world, and as a fellow mom I’d like to share this information with you. If your child is under the age of 5 or 6 then you don’t have to worry about any of this yet. However, if your child is older please do yourself and your dancer a favor and read on. Dancers have to develop their muscles early. Age 7 – 9 is ideal and the younger the better. This is especially true for ballet, but since all dance benefits from a strong ballet background, it’s actually true of all forms of dance. Plus the type of training they get during these early stages of muscle development can make or break (literally break sometimes- as in broken ankles, wrists, necks, backs, toes..) a dancer.
So how do you determine which teachers are the good and which the bad and ugly? I have a dance-appropriate acronym to help you out, TROTS. TROTS stands for:
Teacher’s teaching and dancing experience
Your teacher should have at least five years of teaching experience. Also, she should have a deep understanding of the technique behind whichever type of dance she is teaching. It’s perfectly fine for the teacher to be old or out of shape. Some of my best teachers looked more like truck drivers than dancers (if you’ve ever seen the TV show Dance Moms you know what I’m talking about- not that I’m recommending that kind of teaching style!!). However, the teacher should have at least ten years of dance training under his/her belt. So that’s at least five years of dance teaching and ten years of dance training. If the teacher trained at a prestigious school(s) / company(ies) that’s a plus, but if she didn’t it isn’t a red flag.
Recommendations from Friends, Family, Friends of Family, Family of Friends…
I don’t think this needs explanation, but keep in mind moms are usually as good as dancers for these interviews.
Observation of the Teacher’s Dancers in Her Class and in Shows
A good studio will let you watch or even take a class for free before deciding whether you want to enroll there. If at all possible watch / take the class of the instructor you would be given if you were to enroll. Teacher styles and abilities vary dramatically even within the same studio. Make sure the class will be a technique class and not just a rehearsal. Some things to look for are:
–Intelligent corrections given frequently during the class
-Corrections given in a constructive rather than negative way and positive reinforcement is given as well
-An energetic and positive atmosphere (are the students standing around a lot or dancing most of the time? Do they seem engrossed in the training or bored?)
Also look at the pictures of their students on the studio’s walls and on their website, and if possible watch one of their performances (either live or recorded). Aside from a few here and there, the dancers shouldn’t look awkward. If their training is good then their technique will be strong, and this will show in the lines of their bodies. Even the younger ones will look cool or graceful or cute (depending on the type of dance) if their technique is good. As a side note – pictures of entire classes posing for the camera in their recital costumes always look cute (and awkward).
Talk to the Dancers and their Moms from the Class you are Considering
If at all possible do this!!! Moms in waiting rooms are excellent sources of information as are dancers in dressing rooms or parking lots. Also, it’s important that your child feels comfortable around the girls (and sometimes boys) in the class, and striking up a conversation is a good way to figure out if this is so.
Stage Opportunities Provided by the Studio
Here you have to be something of a Goldilox. Dance is a performing art, and as such you want your dancer to have opportunities to perform on stage in front of live audiences. However, they need to develop their muscles and technique, and rehearsing for shows does NOT do that. A good rule of thumb is your classes should be 75-100% technique (ie- 75-100% stretches and exercises and only 0-25% learning a particular dance and doing it over and over again). Classes taking place during the month of May are an exception to this rule. It is very common for teachers to spend class time rehearsing for the big year-end recital during May.
So that’s TROTS, and I really believe they are the best criteria to use when selecting a studio and teacher. Don’t be thrown off by trophies in the studio or dress codes. These things might give the studio a good first impression, but many great studios don’t do competitions and thus don’t have trophies to display. As for dress codes, as long as the teacher can see the lines of the students’ bodies dress codes aren’t all that necessary and many students feel better about themselves (and about having to look at themselves in a room full of mirrors for hours each week) if they are allowed to wear dance clothes of their own choosing.
One last thing, often I’m asked by moms if they should switch to a better studio or let their child stay where she is because she’s happy there and is only dancing for fun. My answer is this: As long as you are 100% sure your dancer is not going to want to teach dance or perform professionally / semi-professionally some day then it’s okay to stay put. However, keep a close eye on what the teacher is doing in class. If the teacher ever physically pushes a dancer during a stretch or makes the dancer do deep stretches before warming up the muscles then you need to get her out of that class. It’s an injury ticking time bomb. Also, no teacher should ever have a student dance in pointe shoes before the student has had a good two years of classical ballet training and is at least twelve years of age. Going on pointe before one is ready can result in terrible foot and ankle problems down the road.
Good luck now (or as we dancers say for some odd reason, Merde)!!
Article written by Alpharetta Moms Community Blogger, Tracey Ganesh. Thank you Tracey for your hard work putting the post together! I (Christy) took ballet and tap as a young child until I was 10 and my parents moved to Pittsburgh from Columbus, GA. I loved ballet and thought I wanted to be a ballerina someday. I dreamed of learning pointe. I had an excellent teacher who was always encouraging. For some reason, I had a hard time with the move to Pittsburgh and my desire to dance waned. I took lessons at a few studios and danced for a couple more years but not at the level I had been at in GA. To this day, I regret not trying harder at being a better dancer once we moved and giving up my passion. Thank you Tracey for helping moms to know how to find the right teacher and studio for their child – it makes a world of difference in the child’s desire to dance!
Images from google images. 1st image at top left from http://www.beverlyhillsballerina.com/. Second image at right from http://shoesimaginary.blogspot.com/2012/09/ballerina.html