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Choosing the perfect ballet school for your child in an informed educated way
Ballet is much more than picking out a leotard, slipping into some tights, and strapping on ballet shoes. It’s about developing skills through dedication and perseverance.
Ballet is beneficial for the whole body, improving flexibility and muscle strength and tone. In particular, it strengthens abdominal muscles and improves posture.
Since classical music is used in ballet lessons, it also serves as training of sorts in music from the Baroque era and Viennese Classicism (particularly Mozart).
Ballet class can be particularly beneficial for a child as it is a great exercise and helps them develop social skills. Dancing also develops other life skills which in turn nurtures children academically and creatively.
While the benefits are self-evident and numerous, there are several questions that parents grapple with when considering enrolling a child in ballet lessons. Here are our top ten things every parent should look into while selecting a ballet school.
Ballet teachers differ in teaching styles as much as they differ in personality. Ballet becomes more challenging and demanding as students improve, and knowing a teacher's style and principles would be beneficial.
Read the teachers biographies on their websites and get a sense of their background, education, qualifications, and experience.
Although a teacher may have experience as a professional dancer, this is no guarantee of the quality of instruction.
Do ask around and find out where current and former students of the studio are and what they are doing. And of course, the more diverse the teachers employed the better.
Dance education is a lot like academic education. Both require highly qualified, skilled and motivated educators and teach by way of a well developed, age-appropriate curriculum.
A well-developed syllabus created by dance education specialists is imperative to maximize the learning potential.
It is also necessary for the faculty to continue to participate in training and courses to keep themselves abreast of new teaching principles, learning styles, safe dance practices and content.
Aside from the regular classes and the year-end token concert (usually at a professional theater), most schools offer other performing experiences throughout the year.
While students do enjoy these performing opportunities, parents must be aware that participation will incur additional rehearsal time as well as expenses - entrance fees, costumes, and travel to mention a few. Some studios separate class fees and the rest of the costs towards costumes, tickets, playbills, etc. These expenses and their educational benefit to your child's dance experience should be considered.
Deciding what type of class is best for your child can be a challenging thing to figure out. Is it the exposure to movement that excites your child? Or the opportunity to compete and perform? Does she enjoy to dance for herself or to build other skills? These are questions you need to ask your aspiring dancer.
Register for a weekly recreational class that may or may not include a performance component – typically a recital or informal event.
However, if your dancer is eager to be involved in large-scale productions and commit to a conservatory-type of training in various genres for several hours a week, you may want to audition for placement in the studio's youth company.
Finally, schools offering a competitive class usually offer students an opportunity to audition to be on a competitive team that also travels a fair bit.
Observing the dress codes in place at a studio will give you a fair bit of knowledge of a studio's approach to teaching. A good school will mandate form-fitting clothing, appropriate footwear, and a no -jewelry and hair secured off the face look.
Form-fitting clothing and appropriate styles help the instructors to see body alignment, a crucial element in dance instruction. The uniform dress code also ensures proper coverage and support of the body during class.
While dress codes for a recreational class may be less formal than for the conservatory or competitive class, it is common to have color leotards that denote accomplishment of a level. For example, the youngest dancers beginning in ballet pink, the eldest and most accomplished dancers graduating to navy blue.
You can observe the hygiene level, safety, parking and studio arrangement by visiting the school. Additionally, check to see the availability student dressing rooms, accessibility to water and adequate lighting. The studio environment must spell well kept and neat with the materials (mats, barres, floors) being in good condition.
The flooring system deserves special consideration as this is what your dancer's developing body will be spending hours training upon. The gold standard for studio flooring is a floating floor covered with marley. A vinyl composite "marley" floor is accepted worldwide as the best surface layer; a marley floor allows dancers to slide, with a degree of "controlled slip", but is not slippery, so there is less risk of slips and falls.
A bulletin board at a good school speaks a lot. Take time to read through and hope to note these - evidence of individual and group accomplishments being celebrated via a newsletter or bulletin board posting, or a listing of programs in place that promote inclusivity, or a mentorship program of sorts between the older and younger dancers.
Note if the studio promotes open studio days, flash mob participation, fundraising activities and other recreational events.
Timing your visit during the bustle of classes can help gain a view of how disciplined the classes are, what the rapport between studio faculty, students, parents and staff is like and generally if Do people seem happy to be there and at ease.
Many schools share performance samples online. If they are not available, they are bound to have a recent recording of a performance, ask to see it. These samples are a great way of assessing the age appropriateness of the choreography and costumes as just the overall quality of the performance. The quality of a studio's faculty can be gauged by how well rehearsed and polished the performance is (regardless of the technical ability of the dancer(s).
Understand how a studio communicates with its students and their families; is it via a website or social media? Do they keep families informed of up to date news, weather-related closings and general announcements?
What is the school's expectation regarding payment of fees and what are the payment options for classes? Are students who pay for a half-year or a full year eligible for a discount over those who choose to pay monthly? Is an online payment option or auto payment option available and what is the cut off date to pay without a late payment fine (if any)?
Observe if the studio publishes audition postings. Notice if they have handouts on special courses of summers, newsletters with dance-related news, health tips and dance industry related articles and at what periodicity they are made available to students.
Ask for the methodology employed by the school to correctly assess the level of the child when he or she is being placed in a class. Is an audition required or will the child be asked to participate in a few sample classes for the management and faculty to decide where he/she best fits?
What evaluation method will be used for goal setting and tracking milestone achievement? Is there a system in place for student reflection about his/her progress and a counselor to guide on improvement areas, if required?
Most schools include a week where parents are invited to watch their wards at school in a regular class environment. A few progressive-minded schools will also offer one-way mirrors or live video feed from the studio to the lobby for interested parents. Make use of this opportunity to learn firsthand what goes on in the class and observe your child.
In conclusion, all schools carry their unique brand of perceptions. Avoid the extremes and stick to your principles.
If I had to sum this up, the following three factors would ultimately decide your final selection.
Convenience: The school nearest you will likely be a Recital school as they far outnumber Professional schools.
Time Commitment: The professional school requires a more significant commitment due to higher expectations.
Future Expectations: All skills learned at a Professional school are more likely to carry over into any career, dance or non-dance, and may help contribute to future college academic scholarships.
Take the time to talk to other parents and make the best possible choice, having considered the factors mentioned in this post.
If you have any queries not addressed in this post, do drop me a note and I'd be happy to answer.