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How Do I Know Which Studio Is Right For Us?

With the mass popularity of dance today exploding all over the world, it can sometimes seem like there's a studio around every corner. Shows like "So You think You Can Dance", "America's Got Talent", "World of Dance" and so many more have absolutely taken over network television with new competitive dance and performing arts talent programs premiering all the time. So as dance teachers and studio owners, we couldn't be happier! New students are finding their way into classes every day and the passion for dance is spreading like wildfire. But for families considering dance as a new extracurricular activity for their children (or current dance families looking for new studio opportunities in their area) the abundance of training options can be somewhat daunting.

So how do you know which studio is right for your dancer?

There are many aspects that give a studio its identity - training curriculum, level of professionalism, teaching faculty, customer experience, studio facilities, and so much more. In this post we'll dive into those major elements that give a studio its personality to help you choose which type is right for you.

Training Curriculum

In this area of studio identity, the options are just about endless. There are classical ballet studios, ballroom dance schools, musical theatre and performing arts institutions, and studios that offer a little bit of just about everything. Some focus on developing well-rounded technically trained dancers while others aim to create a versatile performer ready to join the entertainment industry. The important thing for families to look at here is what type of training would be right for their own child.

As you begin looking into studios, get really specific on your child's unique reasons for wanting to dance. Do they love to sing and perform and put on shows around the house? Maybe a performing arts studio focused equally on the three big entertainment areas of singing, acting and dancing would be best for them. Are they the type of little girl who is totally enraptured with the idea of sparkling tutus and pointe shoes? If so, a classical ballet school or dance studio with a strong foundation in ballet training would likely be the best fit. Do they want to flip and jump and turn with endless amounts of energy? Look for a school with a focus on acro, tumbling or cheer programs.

It's also important to realize that as a dancer, your student's needs and desires in the dance industry may change over time. If they started out loving cheer and tumbling but are now being drawn to ballet technique or other classical dance forms it may be time to explore other options. And that's totally okay! Sticking with a studio type that no longer fits your needs will only ever lead to a disgruntled student who's lost their passion for the art form.

Which leads us to...

Level of Professionalism

This element of studio identity focuses on the level of commitment required by students, the overall quality of training provided and the general demeanor of the studio Director and faculty/staff members. When it comes to this area, I like to look at level of professionalism as a spectrum - on one end exists completely recreational programs designed to provide a simple, fun dance experience for casual students. On the other, you have professional training institutions like Julliard or the School of American Ballet. Most studios fall somewhere in the middle, but tend to lean toward either end of this continuum. 

Again, it's crucial here to ask yourself the key questions around what type of commitment is best for your student. Do they enjoy dance classes for the upbeat music, fun times with friends and casual style training? Then a recreational program is definitely the best fit. Are they the type of student who lives and breathes dance and wants nothing more than a professional peforming or teaching career? If so, a training academy focusing on classical technique, artistic development and overall theory with a high level of weekly time commitment would be best for them.

I also want to mention here competition versus non-competition studios. Competitive schools often offer both competition team commitment and recreational commitment levels, and it's important to understand both fully before diving in. Non-competition studios typically fall into two categories - pre-professional training academies, maybe with a recreational option, or a purely recreational/casual studio. 

None of these options are wrong! It's simply about finding the best level of professionalism for your dancer's personality and needs.

Teaching Faculty

With this area of focus, you'll often find that the type of teachers employed by a studio is directly linked to both the type of training curriculum and level of professionalism. However, I do want to note that no matter the type of dance or the number of hours a week your student is in the studio, a dance instructor should ALWAYS be understanding, committed and actually enjoy working with children (you might be surprised how often this is unfortunately NOT the case!)

There's nothing wrong with a teacher who expects a high level of discipline as long as they are providing constructive feedback and are passionate about what they teach. In my opinion, these are the best types of teachers out there! But anyone who is unfairly abrasive or unkind to a student, unwilling to go above and beyond to help a child understand a step, or is just plain rude to students or their parents is not someone you want teaching dance to your child. 

Teachers come in all shapes and sizes with all varieties of backgrounds, but it is important to have a look at their education and experience. Do they have any dance degrees or teaching certifications? Are they experienced in running a dance classroom? What is their level of understanding when it comes to basic child psychology, injury prevention and dance career guidance? 

Now, a teacher doesn't have to be a master in all these areas to provide a joyous dance experience to their students. However, it definitely pays to do your research and match the type of training you want for your child with the level of education and experience of their instructors.

Customer Experience

I have seen far too many instances of parents putting up with poor customer service in favor of putting their child through what seems to otherwise be an elite type of training program. Rude receptionists, hard-headed directors and poorly executed studio policies can all leave a dance family feeling discouraged and unappreciated. But excellent training or highly successful competition programs can sometimes be hard to find - so dance families put up with it.

A dance family should never sacrifice a good customer experience for quality training. I repeat - NEVER. It does not have to be one or the other, and I truly believe that any studio that has given you a different impression is doing you wrong.

So, how can you tell what the customer experience will be like as someone interested in a certain studio? Here are a couple key indicators.

1. How did the front office receptionist greet you (either in person or on the phone) and how willing were they to help with all your questions? A front desk representative is both the first impression and fielding point of all incoming questions and inquiries and should be nothing less than pleasant, helpful and patient. In my experience, their behavior is always a direct reflection of the Director's own quality and passion for their business, so a bad experience here will likely indicate a bad experience throughout.

2.Are you being kept in the loop on all studio events, programs and performances? If not, major red flag for miscommunication and lack of organization. If you are, how many ways is the studio reaching out - have they communicated through email as well as picked up the phone to check in? Do they produce monthly newsletters outlining the major events for the month ahead of time? Is there a student/parent handbook to refer to with questions on studio policies and procedures? Did they let you know three months or three days ahead of costume fee due dates? 

3.What level of feedback are you and your dancer receiving on their progress? At CNYAOD, constant feedback is a huge priority - if a student needs improvement in math, shouldn't the teacher reach out to the parent to check in? Absolutely! We hold parent observations and progress evaluation weeks once each semester, sending home a progress report for the dancer and parent to refer back to. We are always open to parent/teacher conferences and encourage students to keep dance journals to track class corrections and major milestones. Feedback is important with anything a child is learning, and dance training is no exception.

Studio Facilities 

Now this may seem like a no-brainer, but the quality of a studio's facilities often reflects a studio's overall quality. Not that everything needs to be brand new or top of the line products, but there are definitely a few key indicators that separate a high quality studio from a sub-par one. 

First, cleanliness: seems obvious, right? But with so many ages of children entering and leaving a studio premises each day it can be hard to keep up. Taking the time and effort to keep a studio facility clean shows a much higher level of commitment to quality than not doing so. When was the last time the mirrors were washed or the carpet was vacuumed? Are the garbage cans overflowing with waste? Look for these indicators when you tour the studio facility.

What is the dance studio flooring like? There are various different types of flooring needed for different types of dance, but marley is the most common vinyl-like surface to accommodate a wide range of dance classes. Is the marley peeling or ripped? Rippling or bubbling in the middle? Another question to ask a studio would be the type of subflooring installed. If a studio floor is wood then nothing may really be needed, although a sprung floor always a plus. But if the studio was built on concrete floors? A subloor is absolutely necessary - dancers should never be landing jumps on straight concrete with nothing to cushion the impact but a thin layer of marley.

Some other questions to ask are - is there an accessible restroom available? A student locker room or cubbies for bags? Is there a separate office where private consultations can be conducted? Keep these questions in mind when you visit the studio in person.

I hope these few pieces of advice will be helpful to you in choosing your own studio. Think long-term with these evaluation aspects - your dancer could be spending 10-15 years of their life here, so it's crucial to make sure the studio is the right fit for their needs as a student as well as your needs as a parent. I'd love to hear your thoughts or discuss these important studio identity aspects in person! Reach out to us via phone or email with any questions you may have, I hope to see you at CNYAOD soon!

Happy dancing loves:)

Eileen Witt

Artistic Director

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