Who doesn’t love to watch a little ballerina, up on her tiny toes, twirling around? Or hear the tap, tap, tapping of a dancer in his first bow tie at a recital? For many parents in the region their kids first request to be in dance class comes with some trepidation and lots of questions. Where can you find a good studio—and what does “good studio” even mean? Is my child ready for regular dance classes? How much are classes and all the equipment needed?

Fortunately, there are several dance schools for aspiring dancers right here in the Dayton area. According to Erin Robbins, co-owner of the South Dayton School of Dance, getting your child into a program is easy and should be focused on making dance fun for all. Robbins, who has spent most of her dance career in teaching, also suggests parents remain flexible as a young dancer’s goals may change over time from dancing for fun to dance as a career.

A Time to Dance

So when is the right time to enroll your child in their first dance class? Robbins believes the child will tell you. “Most children will ask to be in dance classes or you’ll notice them dancing around the house often.” She cautions parents to do some research before just enrolling in the dance school down the street. In the United States no license, credentials or even experience is necessary to open a dance school.

She recommends asking potential schools the following questions at a minimum to determine the best option for your young dancer.

Are students placed by age or skill level? The answer should be skill level after the age of 6 or so. You want your child to be challenged, but not overwhelmed.

What are the teachers’ credentials? Do they have degrees? Have they danced professionally? Be aware that many of the best dance teachers in the country, especially of the older generation, may not have danced professionally and many do not hold degrees in dance. That doesn’t necessarily mean that they aren’t fabulous teachers.

What types of dance do they teach? The best dance schools center on ballet training which is the foundation for every other dance form.

Are you part of a nonprofit organization? Most, but certainly not all, serious schools are all or partly nonprofit. This means that their emphasis is on dance education, performance and community outreach, not on charging outrageous tuition and hidden fees.

Robbins also suggests asking for a copy of the school’s curriculum and mission statement. “This will give you an insight on how in-depth the training is and what the owner(s) think should be the emphasis of dance training. If the school does not have these things that can be a big red flag.”

Athletes in Training

Training level for young dancers depends on the child and their goals for dance. Robbins believes there is nothing wrong with only taking one or two dance classes a week for fun if it’s something your child enjoys. For some children, dance does not ever need to go beyond that.

However, should your child decide they want a career in the dance world training is intense and must start early since a dance career is a short one.

“Most professionals started their training at age 7 or earlier and took multiple classes every day, not including rehearsals, to hone their skills,” says Robbins. In fact, most ballet schools recommend as many as 10 classes per week for training to be a professional.

Dancers also learn early on that competition is a way of life in the dance world. Like other sports, dancers must compete for jobs, for roles and for spots in summer programs. Inevitably, your child will not get something they want and they will be disappointed. You will be disappointed, but Robbins suggests that it’s important to empower your child to stand up for themselves.

“If they didn’t get a part they wanted, but are understudying, make sure they dance on the side the whole time to the best of their ability,” she adds. “They’ll make a good impression while learning and the choreographer won’t overlook that. They have more power than they think.”

Again, similar to other athletes, dancers will experience injury in their careers. Injuries are very depressing for a dancer. It’s important to get medical attention right away. If a dancer can’t walk or has been in pain for over a week it’s time to seek medical help. Robbins urges that both parents and the dancer be on top of things so the recovery time is as quick as possible.

Working with the Staff

Robbins believes open communication with instructors, choreographers, partners and fellow dancers is key to a successful dancer’s career. “The dance teacher will probably have the longest relationship with your child outside of yourself as the parent during their childhood years. They teach your dancer for many years and sometimes multiple times a week.”

There needs to be respect on both sides of the equation. If you have an issue she suggests scheduling an appointment with the teacher to air your concerns before things get blown out of proportion. She also suggests getting to know the instructor by being around the studio so they recognize you, coming to parent observation when it’s available to you and volunteering to help benefits your child as well as the organization.

Bottom Line

Costs really range from studio to studio. Robbins cautions that parents should be aware of hidden costs. “You might have to pay for rehearsals, costumes, competition fees that can make the prices come up quickly.”

Most schools charge a small registration fee at the beginning of the year and then they have monthly installment payments. Many will also have performance and costume fees, but they should be reasonable. Finally, most schools have uniform requirements for things like leotards, tights and shoes specific to a student’s level of training and type of class.

Ultimately, your child will greatly benefit from time spent in dance class. From learning how to listen to a teacher and the teamwork required to produce a piece for recital, to setting and achieving goals and making friends, dance class can be a fun way to teach your kids lifelong skills. n

For more advice from Robbins, check out her dance blog at atthebarre.net.

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