After a few years of basketball and soccer, and just as we were debating about registering her for either sport again, our daughter came home one day and announced, “I want to take ballet”. She was seven years old and this came as a bit of a shock to my husband and myself. We always said we would encourage our children in the direction of their interests, so; we agreed to sign her up for a class. Well, with choices in our area being limited, we signed her up for a ballet class at the dance studio nearest to us. Not knowing which type or level of instruction was important at which age, or really anything about dance for that matter, we just went with the closest studio to us.
The year progressed and our daughter demonstrated an immediate and certain love for ballet (which she possesses to this very day)! We watched as she blossomed in her delight for life and her thrill on the day of ballet class. The recital came and we, as parents, were a little astonished. We had never seen so much poise from her, so much dedication to perfection, discipline, and so much strength from her. She was never afraid of the stage, not for one moment. She went right out there and danced like she was in the living room. (This is something I still love to watch her do and still amazes me about her.) A couple years down the road, she was enrolled in every style of dance that was offered at the studio. Soon, our daughter was asking to join the competition team.
Even though we had been at the studio three years, we didn’t feel the staff knew us, or our daughter, very well. We were a little concerned that her classes were beginning to get too easy for her and noticed that she didn’t have to practice much at home, but still did quite well in class. So, in hopes of providing more of a challenge for her, we let our daughter audition for the competition team. Well, the first year she auditioned, she didn’t make it. The studio agreed to move her up a level in one of her classes, but we still had concerns that her other classes would be a little beneath her skill level. Given that my husband and I had never trained in dance or had much to do with the world of dance at all, we put aside our concerns again, believed the instructors when they said they were doing the best thing for her and that the training she was receiving was superior to what we were seeing at competition, and signed our daughter up for another year of recreational classes. This was the year we became certain our daughter was capable of doing more than what she was being given in her classes. We looked forward to auditions for the competition team again, because we believed the training for the team would provide her with the challenges she was not being given in her classes. Auditions came, and we were thrilled to learn our daughter had made the team!
Classes began early the next dance season, due to the extra training required to train for a competition team. We were excited for the new opportunities for our daughter: the extended hours of training, the advanced level of training, and the chance to participate in workshops to improve technique. We were sure this was going to be the best dance training we could get for her needs. It was during this year of dance, that our daughter would express to us her desire to do something with dance in her future.
Everything seemed to be progressing just as we had hoped it would. Then, it came time for the first competition. Our daughter was excited, I was excited. The entire team danced the dances they were given perfectly. However, they would all be disappointed with the judges’ scores, and lack of recognition for their performances, during the awards ceremony later. I watched from the audience as children with fewer years of training in dance performed moves that were much more advanced than my daughter was learning. I watched, trying hard to figure out why our daughter was not able to do the turns and leaps other dancers were doing, or hadn’t been introduced to the technique in class. Our daughter and the other dancers on the team complained, to each other, about the lack of difficulty in the choreography they were given. After this, I KNEW my daughter would be able to perform at the same level as the younger dancers, if she was given the opportunity. Let me take a moment to say, I am not just trying to brag about my daughter’s ability. This was a true concern, a noticeable mark that her training needs were not being met and, if she wanted to dance for a living, something was going to have to change.
It was at this point my husband and I started doing our research. We looked in to different studios, and with limited options, we were, more than, considering making an hour drive each way, to take our daughter to a studio capable of meeting her training needs, and frankly, her desires. It was at recital time that I started hearing of a dance studio nearby we were not aware of before. What?! Right here in our own town?! This may be too good to be true!”, was my immediate thought. I began researching. I looked at videos on YouTube to see the choreography of the instructors, I looked up the owner/director of the studio, I talked to people who knew the staff and had danced with them already. I quickly found she had been recognized many times for her choreography, her students gave her gleaming reviews, and the videos I found of her choreography looked like the dancers were dancing at an appropriate level. So, with some hesitation, we contacted the studio and arranged for our daughter to begin classes. She would be on the competition team and we were thrilled!
Our daughter’s passion for dance began to rekindle immediately after she was registered. She, once again, was stretching daily. She was practicing technique and, even though her first class was just a few weeks away, dance could not start soon enough for her. We decided to allow her to be in the performance company at the new studio and we couldn’t wait to see what the first class would be like. We had no idea what to expect, really. The day of class came and I waited, anxiously, to pick her up. We got into the car and the smile on her face said everything! Her exact words were, “I think I learned more tonight than I have in the past six years!” Yesssss! She’s been challenged each and every class since.
So, from my experience, I offer to you some tips on choosing the right dance studio for your dancer or yourself. First, it’s important that the studio show some interest in what your child’s personality type is, and what their interests are, when helping you choose a class for your dancer. Look for a studio with staff who are asking questions about your child. Second, it’s important to thoroughly research student/instructor relationships at the studio. Talk the dancers who are participating in the competition team and their parents. These are the people who have the most intimate interactions with the studio. Also, dance can be an expensive endeavor. Something I’ve learned since moving to a new studio is most studios offer compensation for tuition for students who are assisting or demonstrating in classes.
Atmosphere makes a huge difference in the experience for both the dancer and the dancer’s family. This is true not only in the dance room, but also in the lobby. Find out how parents, who spend time waiting in the lobby at the studio, feel about the atmosphere. Is it a friendly, family oriented environment? Do they feel staff makes an attempt to recognize them and their child?
Since we have changed studios, I have learned a TON about dance and the dance world in general. I have learned it is extremely important to find a studio that is keeping up with the latest trends. How much does the studio collaborate with other studios, instructors, or choreographers? Not just people within their network, but anyone they know is a fantastic teacher. Another important thing to consider is how much real-life opportunity the studio allows your dancer or provides for your dancer. For example, since we switched studios, our daughter has had opportunities to work with choreographers in larger cities and take classes from instructors not associated with our studio. It has been an incredible experience for our daughter and putting in to words how much her dance has changed since training with a new studio is difficult. Her growth has been beyond amazing!
If you already have a studio, there are some signs to look for which may indicate your child is not being challenged or just may not like dance. Is your dancer’s love of dance and passion for going to class continuing or even growing, or is it fizzling out? Do they practice at home to get moves they were unable to perform in class? If you notice any type of change in your dancer’s reaction towards dance, talk with them and find out what’s going on. In our case, a challenging, friendly environment, with a level of instruction that exceeds our daughter’s ability, was just what we were looking for. I’m sure your perfect studio is out there, too!