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Evaluating Dance Schools-Performance vs Training

concerned parent

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When comparing and evaluating dance schools, is it reasonable to place much emphasis on the quality of their performances?

We have been looking for a step up from a recreational program for our 14 yr old DD.

We found a school that seems to offer better teaching.

Our main reason for hesitating is that we saw one of their performances last year, which was underwhelming. It was small (the school is small-basically a one person operation) and, except for a few selections, the dance performances did not seem very challenging. It could reflect what the teacher has to work with and the amount of time devoted to it (class time is usually not used for rehearsals), but nevertheless, it was not as impressive as some of the shows our DD has been in.

Are we placing too much emphasis on performance (vs training)?

Changing schools is scary enough and this issue really has us (including DD) worried.

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Concerned parent, in my opinion this would depend on what the child wants from her dancing. Is she taking it to have a good time, or is she taking it to learn ballet technique and perhaps become a classical dancer? At 14, it is already late to be leaving a recreational program if she is a serious dancer. The shows are not the criteria. Training has to come first.

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Thanks for your reply. It is very helpful hearing this from someone with your credentials. DD does want to learn ballet technique properly. The teacher at the school wants to work with her. We are going to make the move.

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This Sticky: Evaluating a Ballet Program may be helpful to you.


I guess it depends upon how educated your 'eye' is for ballet. The more you know and understand about ballet training, and what it takes to train a dancer, the better informed you'll be and the better you'll be at judging what is really impressive, and what is just flash- all icing/no cake.


I agree with Miss Leigh that if she is serious then yesterday she needs to be training somewhere that offers serious ballet training.


Has she auditioned for and been accepted to Summer Intensives? That is another way to measure where she is.


Good luck. I know this is tough on parents... but hang in there!! :shrug:

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When my dd switched schools, we found taking a class to be the most helpful way to get a feel for the training. We are also in NJ and visited many schools in our local area. Fortunately, we eventually found our way to one of the local ballet schools. There are several to choose from in the state depending on where you live.


I do have to say that we were accustomed to seeing a very polished end of the year recital at dd's former dance school. However, that school had a number of competition teams and even in the non-competition classes, the recital numbers were practiced for several months. At dd's current school, there is an end of the year performance but they don't begin practicing until maybe 6-8 weeks beforehand. So, while the training is miles ahead of the previous school, the performance was no where near as polished. But, the dancing, especially by the older students, was definitely impressive. Dd winces when she sees on video what passed for upper level ballet training at her previous school. So... I do think there is a little something in looking at performance, but it shouldn't be one of the main issues.

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I second the opinion to use classes as the most helpful criterion (as well as data on where the graduates go, if your DK is aiming for further training or a job).


If you saw our school's performances, you probably wouldn't say they were polished. They certainly don't have lots of sets and props, or fancy costumes. The children are as carefully rehearsed as possible, but they have a wide variety of bodies and abilities and motivations. The emphasis is on dancing as well as each person is capable of, which means that overall the performances can be uneven. Nevertheless, the training is solid and the environment is very positive. Dancers attend good SIs, even some top ones, and two graduates are pursuing further training at Alvin Ailey and in the Joffrey NYC post-graduate program (passing up, or maybe deferring, admission to Yale ...).


Bottom line, I wouldn't use flashy performances as a useful guide; I would look for evidence of careful training and appropriate choreography.

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I'm not sure if I'm allowed to post here - excuse me if I'm not.


I think that school performances can be deceptive as everyone has to perform and that can pull down the standard - if I could choreograph a dance with a select few it would definitely look better than what I can get out of a whole class. Having said that I do think that if you understand what you're looking at you can get an idea from the performance what kind of a school you are looking at, but ONLY if you are able to look beyond the fancy costumes and flashy lighting effects to try and see what the actual technique is like. We have had several students who actually joined our school because they had done just that. They had gone to see several end of year performances in our local area and recognised that our performance was the only one where you could see that the kids had had "formal" dance training.


However, I remember that I once went to see a show where they had spent a fortune on costumes and even on scenery. Sadly what I didn't see in the whole show was an identifiable dance step! When I said as much to my friend whose young daughter was performing, she in her blissful ignorance said that she thought it was wonderful and was very surprised that I wasn't impressed! I am quite sure that the parents on this board are not of the blissfully ignorant type and certainly your dancing children know what is what, but I have to say that I agree with most of the other posters - even if a performance is impressive, well rehearsed and interesting, the only way to know if a school is decent is by watching a class.

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  • 1 month later...

I think performances can be very deceptive in terms of evaluating a school. You are seeing a very limited and a selective view of the school. The best thing is to visit several schools/studios and not just once or twice. If possible, have dancer take a couple of classes before actually committing to a new school/studio.


AD of dau's studio has asked me to be her parent volunteer so I'm the person most people meet when they come to the studio as studio is still rather small - AD plus four student teachers. The studio's policy is you visit and tour the studio first, then you come to at least one class, if not two before you fill out paperwork. For the older dancers, it's not such an issue but for younger students - it can be.


Also you need to determine what type of dancer your dancer wants to be - if she wants to be a competitive dancer then a studio that doesn't compete isn't the one for you. If dancer wants to concentrate on technique then a competition dance school, isn't the right choice. It's all a matter of what you are looking for. Remember it's a big change from recreational dancing to being a serious dancer.


It sounds like you have already made the move. But one thing I would and do recommend is to talk to the instructor and keep talking. If you find the instructor does not have the time or want to talk to you, take that as a red flag. This doesn't mean trying to talk to the instructor before or after class - it means scheduling an appt.


Also if dancer is serious and looking at summer intensives, you will want to pay attention to whether or not the si's have a performance at the end of the si. Personally, I'd shy away from those stating they have a performance at the conclusion.

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We have made the move effective Jan 2 and are convinced we are making the right move with no regrets.

My daughter has been taking classes on a part time basis at the school we moved to for awhile so we knew what we were getting into. The level of attention and overall professionalism at the new school is much better. One of the attractions to the new school is that the teacher does go out of her way to talk to us and give us feedback about how she is doing and what she needs to do. I have spoken to other parents who verified that this is the way this teacher is and it was not a ploy to get us to enroll full time.

I have been unduly influenced by the performances at the old school because I don't know much about dancing (I have learned a lot here) and the old school gets a lot of publicity because one of the moms is a local newspaper reporter. Also, the old school devotes a lot of class time and money (for costumes) to their performances.

My daughter wants to study ballet seriously. She has attended SI's at the American Academy of Ballet and last summer she attended ABT-Austin. She will be auditioning for several SI's during the coming weeks. Her new teacher will be working with her to get her ready for the auditions (something her old teacher would never do).

Even if she does not become a professional dancer, she will have a much better experience being at the new school.

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Hey, don't beat yourself up for being unduly influenced. It happens to all of us at some point or another. You were wise to try the new school part time for awhile and to talk to the other parents. From the sounds of it, your dau is well on her way to becoming a serious dancer. Good luck with the auditions. Experiences are what count in the end.

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Kellinger, I'm curious as to why you think a performance at the end of an SI should eliminate it from consideration. There are many well respected programs with performances at the end; and I think it would depend on what the dancer is looking for. Training is most important, obviously, but some dancers have very little opportunity to actually perform, especially in the teen years, and seek these opportunities in the summer. It is, after all, a performing art. Anyway, I am interested in your thoughts.

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Along the same lines...I'm wondering what you all think about "performance opportunities" as an evaluation factor. One family left our studio because there were not enough performance opportunities for the company dancers. We only have three the entire year. Other studios do a lot of community performances and such. Is this really an important factor?




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Ballet is a performing art form, as quill said, however, she is also totally right in that the training must take priority. For the older teens, if all things are equal in terms of training, and one school offers a few more performing opportunities, fine. However, if the training is not equal, then it is not a valid change. Select an SI in the summer months which has performances. Many, if not most, of the major programs do present a performance at the end of summer, and personally I have no problem with that at all. I do not think it takes away from the focus on training, and I think it's important for the upper level teens.

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Thanks Victoria,


I have considered this quite a bit. Another studio is as strong, maybe stronger, in technique and does more performances. It is really hard to think about leaving as you begin to feel a certain amount of loyalty to the studio that trained your child and got them where they are today.


Would you say that the reason performing is better (all other things being equal) is because of the extra attention to detail that goes into getting ready for a performance, or the actual performing on stage and the experience that offers the dancer. I'm wondering where one receives the benefit.




Edited by havyn
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