Maintaining respect for the art of dance while instilling a passion for it, and to see dance in its many forms continue into the next generation, is a great mission for any school. Dancers, patrons, and future audience members are formed from a genuine love of dance which begins with a positive experience and consistent exposure to quality art. Specifically, I will write about ballet because it is the foundation of all dance. Ballet is an art form that must be respected and taught in it’s purest form, whither the intention is to become a professional dancer or not.
If you are depending upon the opinion of a friend who has a child in dance class, television shows, or even perhaps what you are viewing on stage at a spring performance to determine your choice of studios, perhaps you should rethink your approach because…
A. Friends probably don’t have a large knowledge of the dance world, perhaps only the information they acquired as a child dancing 20 years ago. And though standards of good quality dance haven’t changed, and never will, the dance world is not the same as it was twenty years ago.
B. Reality TV dance shows have done more harm than good for the dance world.
In New York City this spring a ballet teacher for modern dancers asked me if I had a “Competition Studio.”
I replied, “No. We go to competitions for fun occasionally, but I would never substitute that for quality training.”
Her reply was,”Good. Because I can’t do anything with those dancers.”
C. Children don’t always look good on stage, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t developing as a dancer in a quality school. Growth and change don’t always look or feel good. When a young dancer, 8 years of age, begins formal training in Ballet One at the barre, it takes 10 years to build a dancer. It’s normal to put in the time on the dance floor and look awkward. Dance doesn’t fall out of the sky and land on their body. It takes a long time to paint a beautiful picture. Many, many times a child will understand what a teacher is asking, but they can’t make it come out of their body. And then one day, like magic, they can. Development. Maturity. Self confidence. Finally their discipline and technique sets them free to fly as dancers. Those who have accomplished this know exactly what I am talking about.
Here are 10 answers you should know when looking for a studio:
1. If ballet class isn’t a requirement at the studio you are researching or attending your dancer will not under any circumstance receive a solid dance foundation to build upon.
Ballet is the foundation for all dance. Yes, ALL DANCE.
If your dancer is taking a Jazz class once a week without any ballet training chances are they are slowing the class down. Knowing ballet technique is a prerequisite for jazz. Good teachers and dancers know this. Most of the technique in jazz comes from ballet, and it is never the other way around. And no, “lyrical” is not a ballet class.
2. Dress codes should be used in the school to delegate levels and line.
Professional quality schools have dress code standards for each grade level. A teacher will know the dance level of the student by the color they are wearing. (For example, white may be Ballet One, and navy Ballet Five)
Teachers need to look at a dancers line in class. If baggy sweaters, warmers, tee shirts, and sweat pants are worn to cover the body of young dancers a teacher can’t see the body and make corrections.
3. You should know what style of ballet technique is being taught.
Repeat after me: Vaganova, Cecchetti, Bournonville, RAD, French, or Balanchine.
Vaganova is a ballet technique and training method devised by the Russian dancer and pedagogue Agrippina Vaganova.
Cecchetti is a ballet technique and training method devised by the Italian ballet master and pedagogue Enrico Cecchetti.
Bournonville is a ballet technique and training method devised by the Danish Ballet master August Bournonville.
The Royal Academy of Dance (RAD) is a UK-based examination board specializing in dance education and training with the emphasis on classical ballet.
Ecole-Francaise, The French Ballet School, is unique in that is places less emphasis on strict technique and more on fluidity and elegance. Rudolph Nureyev defined this way of movement, and the school unfolded into the Nureyev School of Ballet.
The Balanchine method was founded by George Balanchine and originally used for the New York City Ballet. This technique has unconventional arm positions, rigorous choreography, and is extremely difficult. The preferred physique is one with the calf and thigh being the same circumference.
In the United States multiple techniques may reside under one dance studio roof, but a good school will have a dominate technique used to create a strong corps de ballet.
4. Does the school have a syllabus for the teachers to follow?
The ballet methodology mentioned above is the starting point, but the truth is, an annual syllabus to follow must be established so that dancers may flow from one teacher to the other seamlessly within the same school. A teacher must be able to pick up where the other left off.
5. Dancers should be able to drop classes without a financial crisis at home or in the studios checking account. 30 days notice usually works. Watch out for hidden fees, tuition, and costume costs that you may owe whither you drop class or not.
6. Are dancers placed in classes by age or ability?
Young children should be with peers for social development. And a talented dancer should never be held back because of their age.
7. Dancers should be required to “suit up and show up” on time for class and rehearsals. Hair should be properly secured and the correct shoes for the class on their feet. Dancers who are late usually are required to watch or notate the class. In a good school a notebook for corrections and choreography is required.
8. Understand the unspoken requirement of dance: your time. Dancers should be expected to live as their word and not over commit. Many a family has under estimated the rehearsal time required above and beyond the classroom experience to develop a strong performance.
9. The person placing the child in dance class should have a comprehensive knowledge of how to build a dancer, not just run a studio as a business. Yes, it’s important to have bodies moving in the studio, but it’s more important to have them in the correct class for proper development of technique and artistry.
10. Understand that as your dancer matures they may spend many hours with their teacher at the studio. Make sure this person has character and qualities you admire.