What kind of classes should I take?
Most experts agree that Classical Ballet is the most effective method of training a dancer. Broadway auditions start with a ballet class. The best dancers you see on "So You Think You Can Dance" and other TV shows trained in ballet. Other styles like jazz and tap are based on ballet, so you have to learn your A-B-C's before you can go further. Even if you prefer or aspire to other dance forms, good ballet training will help you to be the best. Avoid "combination classes" where students study Tap, Jazz, Ballet, Baton, Clogging, etc. all in one hour per week. Even beginning students should have a minimum of one hour per week of ballet, and older students (who study pointe for example) should take three or more classes per week (usually 90 minutes each). Pointe work should only be done after several years of serious training and after the student is at least 11 years old.
Who should be teaching my child?
Anyone can hang up a shingle and teach dance. There are no governmental regulations or licensing. Therefore, it is very important that you investigate the qualifications of teachers. It's best if dance teachers have been experienced professional dancers. They have usually had the best training and experience and, through teacher training, experience, or talent, can pass that on to the next generation. Some teachers who have college degrees in dance may be good teachers despite not having been successful enough as dancers to have performed professionally. Other teachers may have studied at local studios but never studied in a professional situation, and are not qualified to take your child very far. Many studios have classes taught by teenage students. Make sure you know who will be teaching your child.
What should the facility be like?
Dance studios should have plenty of space for moving: high ceilings for jumping, mirrors to see yourself, and specially built sprung wooden floors several inches off the concrete with an appropriate surface covering (wood or special vinyl). Studios should not have concrete floors or wood floors that are sitting directly on concrete. This is too hard a surface and may lead to injury. Low ceilings and small spaces limit what you can do. Studios should be 1,000 square feet or more and have 60 square feet of space or more per student in the class.
What about competitions, and conventions?
Most studios participate in competitions and conventions. These can be fun and exciting ways to show off your skills and have a performing experience. Extra classes or rehearsals should be dedicated to preparing for competitions, and technique classes in all disciplines should come first. You can't stop training and expect to compete! Serious ballet students need to have at least one daily technique class before spending time on preparing for competitions.
What about recitals?
Most studios have an end-of-the-year recital. Most studios spend a great deal of class time rehearsing the recital dance. This takes away from the training that should be going on in class. Sometimes half the year's class time is spent rehearsing one recital dance. At more serious studios, several classes per week will be devoted solely to the technical training needed to produce a better dancer. Try to determine how much "training" time there is compared to "rehearsal" time. It would be better if rehearsals for productions were in addition to training rather than instead of it.
How many students should be in the class?
Ideally, between 10 and 20. This depends on the size of the studio room. Larger rooms may accommodate more dancers. In an advanced level 25 can sometimes be accommodated if the space is large enough (see above). An experienced teacher may be able to handle 20 students, whereas a novice or teenager may not be able to handle 12!
What should my child be wearing?
Good dance training requires that the teacher be able to see the entire body and what is going on. Tights and a leotard are the accepted uniform. If T-shirts, sweatpants, or other loose clothing is worn, the teacher may not be able to see that stomach sticking out or that bent knee and make a correction. Hair can also be in the way or prevent a student from seeing well enough to learn how to turn, for example. Hair is usually worn in a bun to see the neck alignment and allow full use of the head. If a studio allows students to wear whatever they want or have their hair down, this will limit what can be learned.
How can I tell if these things are being done?
Try to observe a class at your child's level before enrolling. See how attentive the teacher is, if the class is well disciplined, and evaluate the studio on the criteria discussed here. Studios should welcome parents to stay there in sufficient lobby areas and observe classes through windows or doors. If you are unwelcome or discouraged from seeing what is going on, that could be a bad sign.
Recreational or Professional?
Many dance studios are what is referred to as "recreational" studios. They are big businesses trying to make money, retain students, and make it all fun and games. They may have little concern for the safety, training, and quality described herein. Other more "professional" studios are concerned with training dancers who might go on to professional careers. A good dance education in a safe environment can be fun too. Even if your children don't want to or aren't talented enough to be a dance professionals, wouldn't you want them to have the same quality training and experience that the professionals get?