Sunday, June 26, 2011

How to Choose a Dance School

I've done so much research and spent so much time and thought on dance schools, (and one of my daughters spends five hours a week in dance classes) I feel qualified to give some advice here.

We were kicked out of our dance school when I made a complaint about a performance where a boy come onstage for the dance to Barbie Girl. For the lyrics 'kiss me here' he kissed his fingers. For the lyrics 'kiss me there' he put his fingers to his groin and thrusted. I've since scouted lots of dance schools until we found the rare one which is right for us - respects kids, ie, the girls keep their leotards on and the costume goes over the top, the music and moves are suitable for children - no burlesque! - and we are an in ongoing conversation (even this school has slipped up on occasion). I have my three girls there, and recommend it to everyone in our district. They aren't strict about uniforms for the little ones. You can pay as you go - no paying by the term. The parents are invited to watch the last class of the term. The concert is local. The costumes are not expensive, and are made a mum at the school. The fees are very reasonable (I get discounts after the first child). The teachers and director know all the families involved.

There are some dance schools where the music is ear-bleedingly loud and they have the preschoolers dancing to The Pussycat Dolls. Some have concerts where you book through Ticketek. Some train the mothers in applying stage make-up to their small children (I kid you not.) Most have unflattering and inappropriate costumes. I don't know what they think they are teaching children about performing gender.

If you are looking for a dance school I can recommend asking at the local dancewear shop - they'll know everything about all the local dance schools. Then compare them to what is probably the best dance school in the state, McDonald College. Their teachers have a much broader experience from which to draw ideas and they work internationally (most dance schools stick to Disney and music videos), and they offer classes in musical theatre. My daughter did their Summer School program and it was an aha moment for me to see their end of week concert. The range of music and styles was impressive. When the music didn't play for a classical ballet, the teacher just sang it into the microphone and the children danced. It was beautiful.

Most dance schools will offer a first lesson free. Maybe go to a few dance school concerts. Scout around and see. It matters.

I believe the dance schools should comply with Department of Education policies. So if it would be OK in school, it should be allowed for dance schools. If it wouldn't be appropriate for Schools Spectacular, then it shouldn't be in dances schools. The dance schools have their own association for teachers. I contacted them when we were kicked out of our dance school. They told me that all their schools were age appropriate and doing the right thing. So not true.

I think the dance teacher should be able to explain what the song is about. So, the Glee version of Salt N Peppa's Push It? No. A cleaned up version of an Eminem song? No.

When you find a dance school you don't want to join, tell them why. We visited one where the music was so loud we couldn't make our enquiries. I shouted 'Is the music always this loud?" and the teacher said, like it was fantastic, 'Yes, it is.' I said "we can't be here' and we left.

If you are looking for a dance school, it is a very strange world you are entering. People will judge you by what school you belong to, just like they do other schools. It pays to do your research, (you don't want to join a school to find the concert is an hour away, you have a dress rehearsal that morning, and you have a baby to also care for) and to speak up.

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