Choosing a Dance Program

10 things to look for in a quality dance program for children:

A good creative movement program engages children physically, socially and cognitively.  It’s imaginative, interactive, child-centered and playful.

In my 20-plus years of teaching I’ve seen it all – from the best teaching conditions and practices to the most mediocre.  The following is a list of things to look for when searching for a quality dance education and environment for your impressionable creative mover.

#1: Teacher/student interaction

Is the teacher welcoming?  Is there a connection between teacher and student before, during and after class?  Are the children excited to come to class?

When the environment is positive and nurturing, this indicates a quality teacher with extensive training and experience.

#2: Teacher Qualifications

Oftentimes we encounter a studio that has their ‘students-in-training’ or less experienced teachers in charge of the ‘little ones’.  This may be an indication that their priority is not their Early Childhood program.  It often points to a general misunderstanding that children’s dance is just ‘getting the wiggles out’ or is simply mimicking grownups, or play acting.  In this scenario there is a lot of running around and as the teacher presents watered down dance routines to canned music, calling it creative movement.

An instructor with a knowledge of child development or background in early child childhood education is an indication of a quality program. The children should be joyfully engaged and learning.  In the event an inexperienced teacher is in charge, find out how much time they have spent in a creative movement setting, either in-training as an apprentice or as a teacher’s assistant.

At Creative Dance Adventures we require all instructors to have a working knowledge of child development, as well as complete a 6-week teacher training intensive.  This is followed by observation and evaluations that continue throughout their service.

#3: A Positive Learning Environment

Are the children eager to learn?  Does the teacher command respect?  Do the children listen and follow directions?

How the children are instructed, engaged and redirected is of utmost importance.  An experienced teacher will know how to motivate her students to want to learn without frustration or a raised voice. They should know how to use their positive power to get children to respond and engage.

#4: Class Observation

Are you allowed to observe a dance class with your child before you register?  This is important for knowing what you are about to get into. When observing class take note of the following:

  • The classes appear cohesive and in control, and the children are engaged.
  • The dancing is focused and there isn’t too much chatter. While natural inquisitiveness should be encouraged, a noisy classroom is not conducive to learning.
  • Are the children made to ‘wait their turn’ to dance for an excessive amount of time?  If a teacher uses sitting and waiting as a means to control the class, then look elsewhere.

#5: Separation Anxiety

This happens on occasion in my 3-year-old classes as children often have trouble separating from their parent for the first time.  It can be traumatic to be apart from a parent, but there are several things a teacher can do to ease the transition:

  • Have the child sit near the teacher.
  • Have a cute puppet to divert their attention and engage them.
  • Suggest they arrive early to help set up the classroom.
  • As a last resort, invite the parent to come into the classroom, and even dance with the child if necessary.  It is amazing how soon a child will be ready to have their parent transition out of the classroom once they’ve gained the teacher’s trust.

#6: Class Size

Class size should follow these guidelines:

  • Creative movement for 3-year-olds:10 students max
  • Creative movement for 4 and 5-year-olds: no more than 12 students

An assistant is often helpful for teachers but not essential.

#7: Performing

Are the teachers spending a month or more of classes on a dance recital?

My take on recitals is somewhat controversial, but I have a sound reason why children this age should not be drilling in preparation for a performance. For the 3, 4, and young 5, sequential memorization is an emergent skill. It is not until age 6 or 7 that they want to learn and perform dances in front of an audience, or have the capacity to easily retain extended combinations.

Parents want to see what their child has learned, and they love to see their child perform.  But keep in mind that performing in front of a large group of people can be very stressful.  Dancing at this age is about personal self-expression and joy in learning and should be treated as such.  I invite parents to three observation days a year.  We may rehearse a small combination, of which I spend only a small portion of two classes on.  I also dance along side them, and the choreography occurs naturally within the theme or story for that day.  And in regards to the ‘ever-popular’ recital with its sequined and costly costumes, I suggest playing dress-up at home, have them create their own playbill and tickets, and let them put on a show for parents and grandparents.  They’ll know exactly what to do and do it with style.

#8: Combo Classes, Jazz and Hip-Hop

I say avoid these altogether. As far as combo classes go, consider that the attention span for concentrated dance time for this age group is about 40 minutes.  Now consider the amount of time it takes to take shoes off and on, and you have whittled your child’s dance time down to about 25 minutes.  Tap is a developmental skill, like memorizing choreography, that involves specialized and coordinated movements that children this young are just not ready for.  The more basic concepts of tap and ballet can be easily and successfully incorporated into a creative movement class.

Jazz and hip-hop styles were created by adults, for adults, and really have no practical application for young children.  A good creative movement class engages children physically, socially and cognitively.  It’s imaginative, interactive, child-centered and playful.  These are the developmental and social experiences we should be providing for our children.

#9: Parent Feedback

Is the teacher accessible and open to suggestions and constructive criticism? Is the administrative staff welcoming and helpful?

Parents should feel that they are in the loop when it comes to what their children are learning.  A quality program should welcome and encourage questions and/or suggestions from parents.  Sometimes parents share insights about their child that helps the teacher be more effective, making a real difference in their overall dance experience.

#10: Facilities

Are the facilities professional, child friendly and welcoming?

An ideal dance space has high ceilings, good lighting, an excellent sound system and mirrors.  The floor should be a ‘sprung’ wooden floor covered in smooth wood or a Marley floor covering. Is the facility meeting all safety regulations?  All exits should be clearly marked with a plan in place in the event of an emergency.

What do YOU Think?

We welcome any feedback you might have either about the topics above or about creative movement classes at Creative Dance Adventures. Are there things you'd like to see more of, less of?  What are your kids are saying, dance ideas, anything! Share your questions or comments on the contact page.