When researching dance schools or studios, there are certain things I consider, instruction deal-makers. Here I will investigate the possibly more controversial deal-breakers:
- An instructor is consistently condescending and sarcastic, frequently uses put-downs or yelling to get results, or is insensitive to safety and health/weight issues.
- Classes appear out of control –
little ones have no order, rules or expectations and older ones chatter, lean on the barre, etc.
- Classes are too long for small children (more than 45 minutes is too long for preschoolers) and too short for older dancers. (An ideal class length for ballet in particular is an hour-and-a-half. For dancers over 12 or who are preparing for pointe work, classes should be no less than an hour-and-a quarter.)
- Pointe work is offered to students who take less than 3 hours of ballet per week and dancers are not assessed for pointe readiness.
Three hours is the absolute minimum, and should include those in pointe prep classes who are not yet wearing pointe shoes. Hours, days, weeks, and years spent doing ballet have no true bearing on if someone should or should not be doing pointe, however. The quality of the training itself is essential and great care must be taken to assess each individual’s core, turnout, and foot strength to determine if they can begin pointe work. (Lisa Howell offers some wonderful resources for students, teachers, and parents for determining pointe readiness.)Ask to observe a pointe class. If the dancers look unstable and precarious when away from the barre, it is not simply because pointe work is hard – more likely, their training thus far in ballet has not been sufficient for working at this level. A truly quality establishment will not place dancers en pointe before they are ready, or at all if they cannot provide an appropriate course of instruction to safely prepare their ballet students. Dance studios in the U.S. (I can’t vouch for other countries) feel pressure to make pointe available to those who want it, even if it is not in their students’ best interest. Sometimes otherwise good schools succumb to this pressure. I encourage you to evaluate or re-evaluate if a pointe program is really right for you or your school. Only those considering a professional career truly need extend their work in ballet to pointe and, if you are considering a professional career, then you need instruction that will get you there.
- A class consists of nothing but drilling or repeating “tricks” (turns, jumps, leaps, etc.).
This is only conceivable outside and in addition to a normal, thoughtfully planned technique class.
- The teacher uses improper terminology for movements with children older than 7 or 8.
Even in preschool or creative dance classes, children can be taught the correct term. Imagery can, and absolutely should be applied for these young dancers, however I see no need to completely replace the vocabulary used by older dancers.
- Classes spend more than half the class on choreography and/or spend more than half the year preparing for recital dances.
If this amount of time is required, the dances are too hard for the students. And it is probably too hard because the dancers have not been given a consistent opportunity to improve their skills and technique. Rehearsal for competition choreography should take place outside of regular technique classes. Some would argue that even recital choreography should be done outside of class. I personally feel, however, that if the choreography is representative of what the class has been doing (the purpose of a recital), composition of the dance need not be overly invasive and can take place during the last 15 or 20 minutes of class which would normally be spent learning combinations or variations.
- Owners of the school are not upfront about additional costs.
Many schools charge extraneous fees for costume purchasing (on top of what you pay for the costume), recital fees, competition fees, required purchase of dancewear from their own store, etc. Make sure that it is clearly presented what you are expected to pay, tuition included, and don’t be afraid to ask exactly what the money goes toward. Some studios use such fees (or a portion of them) to keep the school afloat during summer months and to keep tuition low. Know what will be expected of you so that you have the opportunity to decide if these are fees you are willing to pay. Although this trend is increasing, not all schools require such fees. Look into this before a sense of obligation to yourself or your child forces you to pay more than you had intended.
- Students display a myriad of injuries.
Some injuries do occur when dancers are pushing themselves as athletes. However, it is a red flag when a large number of students are dealing with injury, especially at a recreational studio. Usually, these students are either not being trained properly in technique or are consistently attempting skills that are beyond their technical ability (i.e. working and drilling “tricks” that only advanced dancers should attempt). Intense and less conscientious pre-professional programs also may be overworking or pushing students to the point of injury. No matter the type of school, the occurrence of multiple students with chronic or serious injuries is a clear sign that something is missing or not as it should be within the training.
There are some things that deserve mention that I have not yet listed. These are what I consider middle ground – not ideal, but in certain circumstances not deal-breakers either. I will list these in my next post.
What are some deal-breakers for you? Have you or do you attend a school where these things take place? Tell me about your experiences.
Nichelle Suzanne is a writer specializing in dance and online content. She is also a dance instructor with over 20 years experience teaching in dance studios, community programs, and colleges. She began Dance Advantage in 2008, equipped with a passion for movement education and an intuitive sense that a blog could bring dancers together. As a Houston-based dance writer, Nichelle covers dance performance for Dance Source Houston, Arts+Culture Texas, and other publications. She is a leader in social media within the dance community and has presented on blogging for dance organizations, including Dance/USA. Nichelle provides web consulting and writing services for dancers, dance schools and studios, and those beyond the dance world. Read Nichelle’s posts.