A Parent's Guide for the Serious Dancer
For the young dancer who has moved beyond the basics and is ready for more serious dance training, there are many factors to consider when choosing the right dance school or program. Here is a simple guide of practical tips to help you find the dance program that's right for you and your child.
In dance, the term technique is used to refer to the method or process of executing steps with detailed precision. A teacher that understands good technique will emphasize proper placement, posture, form, arm & leg coordination and most of all dance terminology will be used. Some schools label classes specifically as "technique" classes, which may mean that other classes are not technique classes. In this case, class time may instead be used to practice routines for a performance or competition. For the more serious dancer, all dance classes should be "technique" classes. Practicing for performances or rehearsing dance routines should be separate — either saved for the end of class or done outside of class time, so as to not disrupt class progression.
Dance competitions vary in quality, organization and the level of talent that they attract. Participation in dance competitions is something that every dancer and parent should give careful consideration to. A reputable dance competition should be well organized, provide professional flooring, adequate clean dressing room facilities and have well-informed "friendly" staff on hand to answer questions. Beware of the competition that gives everyone a prize. They may only be encouraging you to come back. Competitions often have enormous entry fees, numerous hidden costs and multiple "categories" for entry. Spending endless hours of class time preparing for competitions can sometimes become counter-productive.
At a quality dance program geared for the "serious" dancer, the director and/or instructors generally lean away from competing or are selective in participating in any competition-type activity.
A well-rounded dance program provides ample performing opportunities for the serious dancer. In addition to the annual recital, performing opportunities should include learning the "classics," such as The Nutcracker, Swan Lake or Sleeping Beauty. This exposes the young dancer to traditional choreography. It's always a good idea to combine the classics with more contemporary works. This is how the dancer develops new coordination skills and inspires their creativity. Guest choreographers are a great asset to help broaden the dancer's knowledge and encourage versatility. The opportunity to perform with live music is very rare, but extremely beneficial to the dancer. It not only enhances the general performance, but it also furthers the dancer's musical awareness.
A reputable dance school would never discourage a "serious" dancer to explore various summer dance programs. Summer dance programs can provide a valuable experience for the young dancer, exposing him/her to numerous other instructors, styles of teaching and most of all, other dance students. Audition notices and information should be readily available to you. From the Boston Ballet, The Central Pennsylvania Ballet, The School of American Ballet to the San Francisco Ballet, etc... Your teacher should be able to help you find a program that will help you grow as a dancer.
In selecting the right dance school or program for your child, look to see if the school's former or current students have been accepted into major dance programs, summer intensives and or university dance programs. This will assure you that the dance school is preparing its dancers for the eclectic demands of today's dance world. Also, check to see if the school has a performing company and if it has received any national recognition or accreditation.
Organizations such as Regional Dance America (RDA) carefully screen and evaluate its members. RDA is a national organization of pre-professional dance companies. Its purpose is to encourage and develop young companies with high artistic standards, and to offer the directors, choreographers, teachers and dancers additional opportunities to perform, to study with different master teachers and choreographers, and to make contacts within the professional world of dance.
This is the most important tip of all — have fun! For the serious young dancer, dancing should be a "labor of love," and they should enjoy every moment they are moving. The classroom and rehearsal environment should be an atmosphere of learning that is well-disciplined, positive and light-hearted. It need not be one of tension, yelling or harsh words from the instructor or director. Most serious dancers are highly-motivated, over-achievers and perfectionists by nature who need positive words, guidance and encouragement.