Top Ten

The Top 10 Questions To Ask Dance Schools.

Before you give them your money.

Excellent questions to ask as you search for a great dance school and a healthy perspective to have when asking.

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Everyone appreciates that a wonderful learning experience inspires enthusiasm while a bad one can turn us off. Dance schools are no different. This guide was written to help you find a dance school that truly inspires.

Today’s popular TV dancing shows have created a surge of interest in dance instruction and it seems that dance schools are popping up in every neighborhood to suit. You’re to be forgiven if you think that all dance schools are pretty much alike and being a busy person, think why not attend the school closest to home, right? Schools are not alike and choosing one base on convenience alone could be a huge mistake.

How do you know which schools are fantastic, or just good and which are awful?

How do you know if the one near you matches your values, budget and goals? Well, you have to search a bit. You have to ask around. You have to talk to the schools themselves.

This guide will give you the important questions to ask in your search. It was written to benefit adults, teens and parents, all looking for a wonderful experience at a wonderful school.

1. What if after a class or two or three, I realize

the class or the school is not a good fit?

Some schools will schedule you into another class or offer a refund if you aren’t happy. Other schools will tell you that you're out of luck.

Some schools offer a free trial class or classes. After you’ve narrowed down your search, this may be an ideal way to learn if the school is right for you.

If they don’t offer free trial classes then try to negotiate an exit strategy before you sign up. It’s important because a bad teacher or a bad instructor/student fit can kill an otherwise wonderful educational and cultural experience.

Ask what their refund policies are and choose a school that is flexible and accommodating, especially if your kids are just starting out. How are you going to know what they like if they haven’t taken a dance class before?

2. What if I miss a class? Do you offer refunds or make up classes?

Some schools have flexible up policies, others do not.

Find out ahead of time what their policy is.

You are going to miss some classes because life happens.

How will you feel then, knowing that class’s tuition is lost?

3. Do you offer any discounts on tuition?

Many schools offer discounts if more than one family member attends the school. Attending multiple classes may entitle you to a discount too.

Some schools offer an early bird discount on tuition if you register and pay for classes early.

4. Are there any hidden costs besides tuition and registration fees?

This is a great question and has to do with the kind of school they are. Here are brief descriptions of the different types of dance schools and what to ask about.

A. Competition Schools (that compete against each other) are very expensive to attend when you add in multiple costumes, travel, lodging, competition fees, etc.

You’d better love it and be confident that this is really going to serve your child’s long term development needs because it is a big commitment for the child & family. Ask a lot of questions until you have a clear picture.

B. Non-Competing ‘Neighborhood’ Schools (as opposed to franchised

Schools, like Arthur Murray):

  • Both for profit and non profit, some put on big lavish annual recitals. If they do a big stage recital every year, expect to shell out extra cash for costume fees, tickets, CD’s and photographs. Multiple children in school or one child in several classes will require purchasing a costume for each class that performs.

  • Some studio’s do in-house studio recitals. These often require small or no costume or tickets fees. They are great for young children who are much happier performing in a small intimate, familiar environment as opposed to on a big stage and auditorium which can be quite overwhelming. And be sure to calculate the cost savings here when comparing tuition prices.

  • Other schools perform at community events which are usually free if local.

  • Dance is performance art and should be performed. Insure the format and costs associated with a school’s recital make sense for the age and ability of you or your child.

5. How big is the time commitment for recitals?

For the schools that put on a big stage production, the majority of recital rehearsals are usually done during normal class time; so there shouldn’t be any extra time requirement initially. However getting closer to ShowTime requires Dress rehearsals and Tech rehearsals. Some schools combine them into one very long day and other schools do not, thus requiring two or more long evenings.

Schools that do in-house studio performances normally don’t require additional rehearsals since they are learning in the space they will be performing in.

While there needs to be some prep time for any performance, it’s important that the emphasis on performance does not negate the Creative process. If students are spending half of their class time for 4-5 months perfecting one dance for recital, they will not be learning new skills or perfecting dance technique.

6. What if the class I want conflicts with soccer (or another sport) that my child also wants to participate in?

Some schools will make you wait until the next dance session starts, saying that total devotion to one activity or the other is required if a child is to realize their full potential.

Other schools, recognizing there is also benefit to cross training, are flexible and will allow you to join late and prorated tuition. If it is a technique class, sometimes a private lesson or two might be needed to shorten the gap of what the student missed so as not to hold the other students back. It is always worth asking if they accept late comers.

7. What are the attitudes of the students in class?

There is a definite culture in dance schools. Fellow students can be warm and welcoming at one end of the spectrum or snooty, competitive and backbiting at the other. And it’s not just the students; management and instructors are part of that culture.

Look for schools that foster values important to you. Students learn best in an environment of respect, empathy and acceptance.

Visit the schools you are considering during class time. Y0u can usually feel the vibe.

8. What if I don’t have a dancer’s body?

This question also speaks to the culture in dance schools. Some schools say everyone is welcome but instructors and fellow students may make you feel otherwise. At best, you’ll be ignored; at worst, you’ll be ridiculed. Other schools truly are accepting of all body types. Again, visit some schools and feel the vibe. And don’t be afraid to ask direct questions.

9. How clean and safe are the floors?

Floor to body contact is very common in dance classes. Even without street shoes being worn on the dance floor, there is sweat, skin, and chemical residue everywhere. Some schools just give floors a daily sweep, some use harsh chemicals on the dance floor.

Check and see what kind of cleaning products are used. You want to choose a school that sanitizes the floor surfaces without using any harsh chemicals that come into body contact.

10. Can I stay and watch my child while they are in class?

Some schools allow you to watch, others do not. If it is important to you or your child that you watch them, be sure to ask what the school’s policy is.

Some schools feel that parents are a distraction to the children in class. Some schools recognize that parents are not a distraction all the time; that there are certain times a child needs to see mom or dad to get a little reassurance, especially if they are having a bad day.

Sometimes getting that reassurance from a viewing parent is the difference between a lost class and a successful one.

11. How consistent is the quality of instruction or does it vary from teacher to teacher, class to class?

Of the many dance teachers hired by a studio over time, some are excellent, some just okay, some uninspiring and some are downright awful. Ask what criteria go into a school’s hiring. Ask what training and ongoing monitoring methods are employed by school to insure consistency. Listen carefully for substance in the answers you receive.

Truly excellent teachers are very few and far between. Great teachers make an enormous difference in what your child gets from class. Only the best teachers can produce great results consistently over time.

12. Do your studios have ‘sprung’ floors?

A sprung floor is designed and built to move or flex a little under the weight of a dancer landing on it after a fast paced walk, run, jump or leap. Dancers risk serious injury to their feet and ankles practicing on hard, stiff floors. Dance floors must give or move and in a reliable and predictable manner.

Even cushioned floor mats are risky. They offer an unpredictable response or unwelcomed ‘surprise’ to the toes & feet. Studio floors of hardwood, concrete, linoleum, tile and cushioned mats can cause serious injury.

13. Do they offer good customer service?

We all appreciate great customer service. You’ll get a good indication when you call around asking these questions. Even the best schools make occasional mistakes when it comes to scheduling, invoicing and communicating. Better find out now how they handle the basics. Did they answer the phone enthusiastically? If you left a message did they return your call or email promptly? Were they polite and respectful? Did you find them accommodating?

If yes, then wonderful!

If not, then…

In Summation

Most folks think dance schools are all pretty much alike. Nothing could be further from the truth and it is in your best interest to ask questions before deciding. Don’t choose a nearby school just because it is convenient. Every dance student should find the perfect school, perfect instructor and have a wonderful and rewarding learning experience. The criteria for choosing a school require much more careful consideration. Make an informed decision.

About the author

Elizabeth Chayer founded American Dance Institute in 1989 in Seattle, Washington. She currently serves as its director. American Dance Institute has taught over 13,000 students to dance in a school environment that is relaxed, friendly and dedicated to excellence in dance instruction. Elizabeth has also mentored hundreds of instructors to master teacher status in the school’s 31-year history.

She has cataloged the most often heard questions from thousands of student/parent school inquiries over the years. She shared her wisdom here so that every dance student- children to adults- can find the perfect school and have a wonderful, rewarding learning experience.

One more thing to keep in mind…

“It is you who must be served by the dance school, not the other way around.” Elizabeth Chayer, American Dance Institute

Below is a chart we created to help you record and track information gathered talking with dance schools in your area. We hope you find it helpful.