How To Choose A Dance School

little girl doing ballet
Ballet Academy East. Photo by Rosalie-O’Connor

There’s no shortage of dance studios in New York City—this is the dance capital of the world! The number of studio options here can easily make any parent feel overwhelmed. I encourage parents to consider their kid’s unique interests before selecting a studio, which will help you narrow down the choices, as there’s no uniform “right” studio. There’s no style of dance a local studio near you isn’t offering, including theater, modern, ballet, tap, jazz, hip hop, ballroom, Bollywood, improv—you name it!

Here are some of my top suggestions for parents to consider, based on my years of experience teaching dance at a variety of studios: Decide how serious your child is about dance. Does your tot just want to twirl, or is she expressing serious interest in learning the fundamentals of dance technique? There are major differences in studios that are performance-focused versus technique-focused studios. If your tween starts randomly performing for you and guests around the house showing a clear eagerness to get on the stage, then a performance-focused school might be the way to go. If your kid is determined to be next Misty Copeland, you might want to consider a more heavily technical training school. A good pre-indicator of the level of seriousness of a studio is if it requires kids to audition first. Yes, some studios will require 6-year-olds to audition.

Ask how levels are determined Some studios will group students by age, which is perfectly acceptable for preschool-age students. However, as students grow into elementary-school age, they should really be placed by level so that everyone in the class is getting the proper amount of attention they need to improve.

[gravityform id=”13″ title=”false” description=”false” ajax=”true”]

Inquire about any extra costs Often, parents just ask about the cost of classes not knowing there are potentially many extra associated costs. For example, parents should inquire if they’ll need to purchase costumes for performances or if costumes are provided by the studio. Some studios also have strict uniform requirements in which parents will be asked to purchases specific colors and brands of dancewear. In addition, some studios require that each parent volunteer in some capacity to support the school. This is common for studios that are more affordable, as they’ll be counting on you to help offset the costs of operating. You’ll need to consider how you’ll be able to fit this into your schedule. It’s also important to understand your financial assistance options, as many studios will offer financial aid depending on need. Studio pricing can be structured by per class or per semester, so it’s important to inquire. Some studios may require a certain number of classes to be attended each week. For elementary-age dancers, many studios will also require a student take a ballet class in addition to other styles your child is interested in.

Learn how classes will be structured Studios will be diverse in how teachers decide to structure their classes. If your child is most interested in jumping over “puddles” across the floor, waving a scarf, then an unstructured, more free-flowing studio is the way to go. If your child has determined that he is bound for Lincoln Center, you’ll want to consider a studio that has more structured classes based on traditional models of teaching. In ballet studios you’ll hear these teachers use terms like Vaganova (Russian), Cecchetti (Italian), Bournonville (French), and Royal Academy of Dance (British) to describe their teaching methodologies that date back hundreds of years. Some of these styles of teaching have strict syllabuses that require formal exams to advance to the next level.

Learn about the teacher’s experience Just because a teacher was on Broadway or danced with a leading ballet company doesn’t necessarily mean she’ll be a great teacher. I’d recommend considering teachers with dance education qualifications and previous teaching experience. Or course, having a background in performing is imperative, but dancing and teaching are different specialties.

Charlotte Reardon is a former professional dancer who has danced with Merce Cunningham, the Rockettes, and Ballet Arts. She is currently a teacher at Cobble Hill Ballet School in Brooklyn.