As summer unfolds many parents, children, and teens are looking into dance schools for next years study. Maybe dance is a new adventure for your child, or maybe you are looking for a new place for daughter/son to continue the adventure.
In this age of reality television we’ve seen an increase in the number of dance related television shows. Its concerning to see the parents portrayed on these shows as being accepting of negative teaching situations, and creates some pretty negative stereotypes of dance schools and teachers. Seek a positive environment for your child’s dance training, trust your instincts, and be a proactive consumer!
In an effort to step beyond the stereotypes, let’s look at some proactive steps in selecting the best dance school for your child’s/your training.
Before anything else, consider what type of schedule would work best for you/your child and how much time your child, and your family, is willing to commit to their dance training. Also consider how much of an investment you are willing to make in your time and finances.
- Ask questions.
- Once you have decided on your short list of schools, call or visit those schools and ask questions. Are your teachers trained? What is the maximum number of students in your classes? Are there assistants in larger classes (especially in preschool classes)?
- Mission/mandate of the school.
- Many businesses have a mandate or mission that is set forth by CEO’s or owners, the same hold true for dance schools. What is the mission or purpose of the school? To educate? To provide competitive performance opportunities? To nurture the love of dance? Most importantly, does the mission/purpose of the school fit your principles and expectations?
- Trained teachers.
- Remember that there are no requirements that dance teachers must have training to teach. That said, there are many ways that teachers can attain training and even certification in teaching dance. Look into whether or not the teachers at this new school are trained – through a dance organization, a formal syllabus, or even a university dance program. If the school trains their own teachers, how long is the training process? Do they go through an objective evaluation before taking on their own classes? When reading a teachers’ biography look for continued professional development specific to teaching (eg. taking courses in child development, anatomy, teachers workshops, etc.).
- Ask about curriculum.
- There are existing curricula/syllabus in most dance forms. Though a school may not follow a specific syllabus specifically, perhaps they have structured their programming on the foundations of a specific syllabus. In general terms a syllabus is a codified method of teaching – often accompanied by an exam or evaluation process of some form. Does it sound like the material is age appropriate? Do teachers work to gradually accelerate the material according to the developmental level of the group? Is the readiness of the individual taken into consideration?
- Are students automatically moved on to the next level the following year?
- Every parent wants his or her child to progress to the next level each year. But, if a school is willing to hold a child back in a level this shows that there is a standard expected at each level and that observation and assessment are happening on some level. If everyone moves on regardless of an individuals’ readiness (strengths/weaknesses/ability), does the child truly benefit?
- How many performances is your child required to participate in? Are there additional costume and rehearsal costs required for your child’s participation in these performances? What is the time commitment expected when preparing for these performances?
- Visit the school and observe the studio environment.
- Are the studios well-lit and incorporate some natural light? Temperature controlled? Are the floors ‘sprung floors’ (raised up off of cement) to avoid excessive impact to the joints and lower body? Is recorded music used for all classes? If so, do the ballet students have the opportunity to have an accompanist play for their class a few times a year?
- How does the school communicate with parents (eg. emailed newsletters/handouts, bulletin board, etc.)? Can parents speak directly to the teachers after class or request a phone call?
- Are measures taken to ensure student safety in the building itself (eg. fire drills, emergency alarms,) and in the studio (eg. barres are sturdy/secure, floors are cleaned regularly, floors are free of debris, pianos are secure and on a stable surface)? Does the staff have first aid and CPR training? Are emergency procedures in place?
- Student Contracts/Agreements.
- Within any given dance community schools are becoming quite competitive, some schools have students and parents sign a contract which indicates that students enrolled in their programs are not ‘allowed’ to dance with other dance schools in the immediate area or within the city, must adhere to specific behaviour expectations, or participate in specific competitions or performances. Again, ask questions: Is my child expected to participate in competitive performances? Are there fees that will be incurred later in the year? Can you withdraw your child and expect a refund of the remainder of tuition fees? Is there an expectation of student behavior and are there consequences to negative behaviours? Be sure to read the fine print so you know the level of commitment expected of you/your child.
For more senior and advanced dance students (teens) seeking to build a career in dance: Find out if the school is able to guide you forward in an objective manner.Do they encourage their students to stay at their school?Do they support students who wish to go away to summer programs?Does the staff/director have knowledge of secondary training programs available to graduating students (in both performing and teaching)?
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Author: Jacqui Davidson