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Monday, March 25, 2019

Finding a Studio and Teacher For Your Child

In my last post I wrote about things you should consider before you commit to becoming a ballroom family. I mentioned that understanding the goals you and your child have for his/her dancing, and your child's commitment to said goals, is one of the most important components of understanding if you want to be a ballroom family, and if so, what type of family you want to be. Without knowing your goals, it can be difficult to select the right studio and instructor for your child. If you are still unsure, I would recommend starting at a competitive studio. The more involved you become, the more likely you and your child are to want to become competitive, so best to start out on the right foot. 

Regardless of the decision you've made, you are probably curious about how to select the best studio/instructor for your child. Keep in mind there is no sure-fire formula for choosing the right studio. In the United States, geographic location might be a determining factor in which studio you select. However, if you've got options, asking yourself these questions can helpful when you're getting started.

Something you will want to keep in mind when selecting an instructor for your child is that the instructor’s personal competition history isn’t super important. While having some credentials is speaks to their knowledge,  how their students have preformed in the past is a better indicator of success. The saying is "he who can do, does; he who cannot, teaches," however it is important to remember that not all those who can do make good teachers. In other words, being a great competitor does not indicate that you are a great instructor. Remember that just because you’ve found a teacher with a great personal competition record doesn’t necessarily mean that/he she can successfully mold his/her students into top competitors.

I want to be clear that I have no problem with pro-am.  Pro-am is a great option for many teens and adults looking to get into DanceSport. However, I do not think pro-am is a good choice for young children. Making sure you child learns the syllabus on his/her own is an important part of becoming a strong competitor, and I know painfully few pro-am amateur dancers who can dance any steps, let alone the entire syllabus, on their own. Plus, the height difference is ridiculous and teaches bad form; particularly for girls dancing smooth/standard. If the studio only wants your child to dance pro-am with an adult, they are probably out to make money, not strong dancers. This doesn’t mean that pro-am studios can’t produce champions – I have seen it done regularly. The secret is not pushing the children to dance pro-am. If your local studio doesn’t have kids classes, but they have strong teachers, try finding an age-appropriate partner for your child. Having a partner for your child makes the private lessons more effective than a pro-am setup, in my opinion. This is usually not true for adults. Until you can find your child a suitable partner, you might want to ask the instructor to work on teaching your child to dance the syllabus alone and learn technique. Each teacher will have his/her own lesson plan; listen to your teacher. However, I recommend against paying for pro-am comps and showcases for under-12s, at least early on, if your goal is to be a competitor. 

Often, studios will become more serious about offering kids’ classes when the studio owner’s own child reaches dancing age. Usually, this is great, because the quality and frequency of classes often increases because the owner is more personally invested. However, do keep your eye out for fairness. While it is extremely rare, I have seen studio owners sabotage other kids when their child dances in the same category. For example, they refuse to help other children with hairstyles and/or dresses and pay less attention to them during classes. This is rare, but you’ll want to be aware that it can happen. Every child dances at a different level and has a different degree of natural talent, so I would not  worry if personalized instruction is not spread equally thought the class. However, if the owner’s child gets all of the attention and you see that other children are left behind, that’s probably not a good sign. Use your best judgment: your child shouldn’t be the class pet, but they also shouldn’t be neglected.

Much like the above suggestion, this recommendation might take you some time to observe after you’ve signed your child up for lessons. Most studios do not allow parents to sit in on lessons (it's often too distracting), however you should be able to see enough of the lessons to see how the instructor treats your kids(s). While you don’t want a bullshitter who only provides positive feedback, you also don’t want an asshole. Teachers should be firm, but kind. Telling your child when he/she is wrong and sometimes scolding them is appropriate and necessary. Name-calling, screaming, and demeaning is not. You child needs thick skin to be great, so don’t freak out if he/she receives negative feedback. However, if the instructor bullies any child in the class, it is time to find a new instructor.

Keep in mind that many European teachers primarily taught children before relocating to the United States, so they know what they’re doing. Aside from making sure children are being treated appropriately, the most important thing is trust your child’s instructor. They know what is best for your child, so always take their advice seriously. Good teachers with proven competitive records usually have your child’s best interest at heart, so trust their advice and direction.

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