Thursday, July 20, 2006

Choosing a dance school

I have been watching "So you think you can dance?" this summer. During the first auditions there were several dancers who said they were dance teachers by profession. Some dancers were so abysmal, that the judges implored them not to teach dance anymore. They said, "Please do not take anyone else's money again to teach them dance." I thought it wise advice and I wondered if that ruined anyone's career. Can you imagine seeing your child's dance teacher on TV being told by award winning dancers and choreographers that they are awful? I am certiain that happened somewhere. And had it been my kid, he wouldn't have gone back to Miss Hazel's School of Dance anymore.

Here's my advice on how to choose a good dance school for your child:

Go to recitals. In the spring visit recitals of the schools you are interested in. See if it is a professional artmosphere. Look for good dancing. Would you want to have you kid on this stage? Are the advanced dancers good? That could be your little Susie in 10 years.

One school I danced in as a teen had terrible recitals. The owner rented out a theater and tried to have every class do a separate dance and do all the classes in one night. So it lasted about 6 hours. The aisles were constantly streaming with parents who would watch their child dance and get up and leave. Tacky, but I understand. I wouldn't want to sit there from 6 till midnight either.

Talk to other dance parents. Ask about the school's policies, classes, fees. Find out the teacher's background and philosophy of teaching. Do the teachers continue their dance education?

My mom's cousin took her kids to the aforementioned school. After a few years they quit. The costumes were $60-80 each and if you had a jazz/tap combination class the teachers would choose 2 different costumes. Like why not use the same costume for both with removeable pieces? Wear the skirt for tap and wear the hat for jazz. Some parents have 2 or 3 kids in dance - imagine how much that cost them! Same cousin said every year at the recital the dancers were no better than they were the year before and some routines were just passed on down to the class below them - same music, same choreography. Who wants to go to a recital like that? Boring! Look out for these "recital mill" schools. Is the the teacher just teaching a routine to the student? Or is the teacher creating a dancer from your child? Is your kid learning how to be a good dancer? Or just memorizing a routine? In my humble opinion, it is a waste of time for a child to take classes just to dance in a show every spring in a glitzy costume and not have learned about dance and how to dance and to perform better.

Visit schools before your kid signs up. Observe if possible a class and meet the teachers. Some teachers are very strict and "old school" about their policies. One ballet school I taught at had a policy that parents do not watch class. There were 3 weeks through the year when parents were invited to view class. You don't go to school with your kids, why go to dance with them? You don't trust the teacher? Switch dance schools. Let your child go - go and be an individual and develop on their own. They (and other dancers and the teacher) will only be distracted by your presence.

Look at the studio where the classes are taught. Is there enough room for a group to move? Is there a well constructed dance floor? Any floor surface over concrete is NOT appropriate for any kind of dance or any age dancer. The floor should be raised off concrete so as to "give" when it is jumped on. Dancing on a concrete floor at all can cause injuries to feet, ankles, knees... Any teacher too cheap to do it right is not concerned enough for the well-being of the kids and in my opinion just wants your money.

Two issues I guess I am on the fence about: age to start dancing and competition teams.

I think it depends on your child and the class offered, but I don't believe in starting a kid in ballet at age 2 or 3. I think pre-schoolers should be in a creative movement class and not expected to perform in recitals. They can start ballet at 5 or 6. I have seen too many kids who completely fell apart on stage. When they are so young, they don't know if they want to be on stage or not. Having a bad first experience could guarantee you that they won't be a dancer. There is nothing wrong with waiting and not pushing the child to do something YOU want them to do.

I was in a performing dance company from 7th grade through high school. We performed at community events and had recitals and a few times we were in contests. Then I remember we didn't compete anymore and I asked my teacher why. She said something about performing to entertain and be the best dancers we could be and not caring who won. I guess I look at dance as an art, rather than a sport although the lines are blurred around ice skating, gymnastics, ballroom dance. What do you want for your kid? What does the kid want? Competitive dance is a different arena from just performing dance. Rewards can be just as great for a dancer who danced well, regardless of if a trophy was awarded or not.

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