Finding the studio that fits you best is like finding the perfect pair of dance shoes-it can take a little time and patience, but once you’re successful it feels great! Us Chicagoans have the advantage of being in a large metro area, with lots of choices, but even those in smaller cities should be thoughtful about where they go. Here are a few things to consider when making your decision.
What Are Your Goals?
Are you a serious student, looking for a regimented training program that will improve your technique? Curious about a form you’ve never done and want to give it a try? Looking for a fun way to incorporate movement and a different kind of exercise in your life? Itching to work towards competition? These are all great (and valid) reasons to take a dance class! Checking a studio’s website is a great first step, but don’t hesitate to visit in person. It’s pretty easy to pick up the studio’s “vibe” when you walk in the door.
What is Your Style?
This covers several considerations! First, what kind of dance do you do (or want to do)? These days most studios offer a variety of levels and styles to choose from, so they can stay competitive (and solvent), but there’s often an emphasis associated with the studio. And the type of technique may vary – A modern oriented studio may focus on Graham or Horton technique, a ballet studio may teach strictly Cecchetti. Larger studios may have different teachers whose class will reflect their backgrounds-teacher bios on the studio’s website can give you insight into this.
Second, what kind of atmosphere are you looking for? Do you want a more traditional, stricter class with a more formal feel? Or are you intimidated by classes where your fellow dancers are competitive, and thrive in a more inclusive, easy going space? Again, a visit to the studio will quickly give you a “feel” for the place. (Personal opinion #1: good manners and respectful behavior in class are always appropriate, no matter what the studio’s philosophy or mission statement .)
Finally, what’s your comfort level for your own personal style? Are you a “bun head” who is most at home in traditional tights and leotards? More comfortable wearing baggy sweats and socks to move across the floor? Somewhere in between? Many studios allow some leniency in dress code (particularly for adult classes), but this varies from place to place. Dress code is another good thing to check about online-you don’t want to be decked out in tie dye when everyone else is in black and pink! (Personal opinion#2: clean and tidy clothing, and hair that is tied back, is always appropriate, no matter what the studio’s dress code is.)
What is Your Age?
Some studios place an emphasis (or in some cases focus solely) on younger students, whose ages go from single digits up through the teens. Many of these schools focus on having their students do competition dance, so this is something to keep in mind if you’re a younger dancer (or the parent of one) when you’re considering your goals (see above). Almost all schools that
have kid’s classes work towards some type of yearly recital, but some devote more class time to getting everyone performance ready, while others place more emphasis on using classroom time for technique, learning terminology, etc. I’m personally more a fan of the latter (full disclosure here) but you can easily find out the studio’s bent with a quick question about when they start working on their recital pieces in class, and how much time they spend per class on recital rehearsal.
As an adult I’m most comfortable in class with other adults and/or teens who want to be there (as opposed to those who are there because their parents are forcing them). I still remember blithely signing up for a weekend “intensive” as an inexperienced college student and working my way through a tap class surrounded by 10 year olds. Having said this, in smaller towns you may not have a choice-but in that case odds are you won’t be the only grown up there. These days most studios are clear about the age range in their classes but when it doubt, ask.
What is Your Budget?
Most studios charge a similar rate, but there can be differences in how you pay, i.e. some studios require you to pay per term (especially if you’re registering for non-pro classes). If you’re on a tight budget and need to pay as you go paying for an entire term may not be the best fit. Class cards, when offered, can get you a lower rate than paying per class, but they usually come with an expiration date too. It’s tempting to take advantage of what seems like a great deal but only indulge if you’re reasonably sure you can use up your card in the allotted time!
Many, but not all, studios offer scholarship positions where you can do tasks (cleaning, checking people in at the front desk) in exchange for a reduction in class fees or free classes. Some studios reserve these spots for the most talented or promising students, while others give scholarships based on need. Check the studio policy on this if you’re interested, and make sure you have the time to fit the responsibilities into your schedule.
Once you’ve narrowed down your choices it’s time for the final step-go try a few classes, to give yourself a chance to get comfortable with the studio and/or teacher. Just like those dance shoes there may be a bit of “breaking in” time, but if you’ve done your research you’ll quickly figure out which studio is the best fit for you. Happy dancing!