by Mary Naftal, Artistic Director, Dance Connection
There are many dance schools on Long Island that it’s easy to get confused when making a choice. Most offer a qualified teaching staff and a year-end performance, so what makes one better than another? The question is, how do you know what to look for when choosing a dance studio for kids? In the end, does it really matter where you decide to enroll? The answer to that question is a big, giant YES! Not all dance schools for kids are equal. When making your selection, you should do your research and ask questions. Here is a guideline to finding the right school for your child.
How long has the prospective school been established?
When you begin your search for a dance school for your kids, check to see how long the school has been operating in the area. For a dance school to remain established for many years, families have to believe in its philosophies, teaching staff and quality of education. If a school has been in business for many years, they should also have dancers that have studied with them for many years – potentially from pre-school age through graduation. Ideally, you want a facility that can continue to train your child as he or she advances in study.
What are the dance studio’s ideals and philosophies?
Does the dance studio offer a family friendly place where your child will feel welcome? Are all dancers made to feel comfortable when they come to class? Will all of the music and costumes be age appropriate? These are some great questions to ask or think about in your search.
Does the prospective school have a qualified teaching staff?
Any dance school for kids should be able to provide you with a biography or list of credentials for all members of its teaching staff. When you’re reading through this information, look for things like memberships to reputable dance organizations (i.e. Dance Educators of America), special awards received in areas of dance and education, years of study, training, performances and other work in the arts. Just like school teachers, your child’s dance teacher should be well-trained in the subject area he or she is teaching. The teacher should be a positive force in the classroom, providing an atmosphere of fun, learning and discipline. If a school provides a student teacher, make sure that the student continues to study dance at the school. Check to see if your prospective school offers a teacher training program or an assistant program for its advanced students and make sure that your student teacher participated in these programs.
What skill levels are offered at the prospective school?
A dance school for kids should have enrollment that supports multiple levels of dance for all ages. A strong program will be able to have classes broken out for beginners through advanced. Check to see if the prospective school has separate programs for young students. Class lengths should be appropriate for the age of the dancer, and class should be structured for their specific learning styles. Children learn very differently during each of these development stages.
Did the advanced dancers receive their training at the prospective school?
When checking out your prospective school, you may want to view some of their advanced dancers. This is a good indication of what you can expect should your child continue to study at this school. However, it is important to ask if the dancers you are viewing received all of their training at the prospective school. Ethical schools do not make it a practice to try to persuade advanced dancers from other schools to study with them. It can happen, so be sure that the training you see is what you can actually expect to receive.
What type of dance floor will you find in the classrooms of the prospective school?
Due to the physical nature of dance, make sure that the prospective school offers a safe surface for dancers. Stress can be applied to bones and joints with repeated jumping and wearing of shoes that do not provide any cushioning or support. A floating or sprung dance floor is your best bet. These types of dance floors rests on a system of high-density foam, which absorbs the shock of jumping. It is rare to find this in a school, as it is a very expensive alternative. Also, find out how often the flooring is maintained.
Does the prospective school provide a recital for all students?
Aren’t all recitals the same? A recital performance is a great experience for all dancers. Besides creating lifelong memories, a professional recital can give dancers the opportunity to be in a “real” show. Try to find a school that views recital as a professional show in an auditorium setting. Many dance schools for kids will use props, wear costumes and even have show themes. However, some schools go to the extent of professionally editing music for classes, adding in professional lighting, projections, scenery, and sound systems. If you can attend the prospective school’s dance recital before enrolling, you should. You can tell so much about a school in the quality of its annual production. Observe the performers. A teacher shouldn’t be on the stage with the students after 3 years old. Dancers should be developing performance technique (i.e. personality and presence), as well as using proper dance skills.
Is there customer service available for me during operating hours at the prospective school?
Not all dance schools for kids can provide immediate assistance by staffing an office. It is a nice feature if a school does have someone available to answer questions, discuss schedules and take payments. If you can find this in a school, this is a strong indication that customer service and customer satisfaction is important. Does the studio have flexible office hours? What other conveniences can the studio’s office offer? Do they accept credit card payments both in the studio and over the phone? Does the office staff answer e-mails quickly and professionally? Does the studio make an extra effort to keep you informed and up to date on studio news? Has the studio invested in a program to make your account accessible online 24/7 – some sort of customer portal that allows you to manage information, students, and classes online as well as make payments from the comfort of your home?
Picking a dance studio for kids is an important decision and shouldn’t be taken too lightly. A dance teacher’s job is a big responsibility, they should inspire, challenge and motivate their students, while instilling in them a love of the art of dance through a fun and educational class. Our students are our citizens of tomorrow. We need to train the whole person, not just the dancer. In the words of Albert Einstein, “It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge.”
I hope this guide will help you in choosing the perfect dance studio for you and your child. Even dance schools on Long Island differ in many ways, so make an informed choice.
Mary Naftal holds a bachelors degree in education from Long Island University. She had been a dance teacher for 33 years and her work as a choreographer has been seen across the country and won numerous awards. Mary is currently the Artistic Director for Dance Connection in Islip, NY.