Anya Brodech is a professional salsa, Latin, swing, and ballroom dance teacher in Oakland, CA.
Disclaimer about Franchised/Chain Dance Schools
Before we go any further, let me start by saying that you should not go to franchised/chain dance school like Arthur Murray or Fred Astaire if you want to learn ballroom dancing. I advise against chain schools like Arthur Murray and Fred Astaire because they’re ridiculously expensive compared to other studios, don’t have the most qualified staff, and tend to lure their students into signing contracts and paying for overpriced packages and using unethical sales tactics. Please don’t go to them, you’ll end up spending a lot of money and not getting much back for it. Trust me! Many students who sign up, end up quitting after a short period of time, or until they run out of money. There’s a revolving door of both students and teachers, and for good reasons too! Don’t ignore the warning signs! This is something that I've had a lot of my own students come in and tell, so watch out.
If it’s far away, or somewhere inconvenient that’s a pain in butt to get to, don’t go. Because when push comes to shove and it’s time for you to get ready and leave for class, you’re probably going to want to stay at home, rather than drive 45 minutes away or spend $30 on parking. Be realistic; if it’s not practical to get there, especially in bad weather (think snow or rain on the road), you’re better off choosing another location.
Find a Ballroom Dance Studio Near You
- Ballroomdancers.com: Dance Studio Directory
Search for ballroom dance studios in the U.S., Canada, or abroad.
2) Studio Attitude about Competitions/Performances:
Some dance studios are all about competitions and performances, and aren’t too welcoming to students who just want to learn to dance socially without taking it to the next level. Other studios are very warm and welcoming to all students, especially beginners and aren’t pushy about competitions. To find out, ask the staff if a lot of the students compete/perform and if they have any dance teams. If you’re not looking to perform, you won’t be comfortable in a studio that “doesn’t have time” for non-competitive students and might end up being confronted with hostility/rudeness. If you are looking to compete (either now or down the road), ask what their policy is about competitions and if there's any limitations/restrictions about when/where/with whom you can compete.
3) Studio Culture/Atmosphere:
A lot of studios are notorious for being clique-y and stuck up around new students/beginners and people not part of “the in-group.” Unless you want Mean Girls acted out in real life, don’t go to those kind of places; they’re not fun. I recommend you find a studio that is open-minded and welcoming to all students and friendly to everyone. You’ll notice this when you walk in because people will smile and talk to you and not just stand in the corner blatantly ignoring you.
4) Price Range/Cost:
Some studios offer moderately priced beginner/new-student packages and discounts for group classes and/or private lessons as an incentive to try out their studio. I recommend checking online, as well as talking to the studio staff to find out if they have any deals for you. These are a great way to get started at a new studio and try it out and see if you like it.
Once the package is over, find out what the cost will be before you sign up for anything. If the studio’s regular prices are too much for you, you might want to consider going somewhere else. Ask if they have a sliding scale for private lessons if you’re on a limited budget but still want to learn how to dance.
Ask if they offer discounts for couple's lessons if you're going with a friend or significant other. Also, some studios offer incentives for referring new students, such as a free class or discounted private lesson. If anything, you can always take group classes as a more affordable way to learn.
5) Student/Staff Turnover Rate:
Studios that have a high turnover rate of students and/or teachers are a warning sign that the studio isn’t doing well. Either they have unethical business/sales practices (many chain schools are notorious for this), bad working environments/pay for their staff, or just not good staff that make people want to leave. Ask if they have a lot of long term students, or if most of their students are new on a regular basis. Studios with loyal students show that they’re doing something right that’s making people want to stay.
6) Staff Quality/Teaching Experience:
You want to pick a studio where most of the teachers have had some teaching experience and aren’t brand new to the scene. Studios that have a lot of new teachers that haven’t taught anywhere before (like many chain schools), are not a good place to go. It’s okay if they have one or two newbie teachers, but most of the teachers should be experienced. If the studio has been around for a long time, then many of their teachers should have also been teaching for a long time. Are they certified by a national accredited dance organization such as DVIDA? Have they taught at other studios before or competed? You want to get an idea of what kind of people teach at your studio and if they deserve your hard-earned money.
7) Studio Cleanliness/Physical Appearance:
Every ballroom/Latin dance studio needs hardwood floors; that’s non-negotiable. Cement or tile floors show that the studio owner either doesn’t know how to dance and/or doesn’t care about having a proper dance studio. The floors don’t need to be spotless (+ if they are), but they should be relatively clean. There shouldn’t be trash or garbage laying around, or boxes/random crap on the side either. The only things that should be there are a clean hardwood floor, mirrors, good lighting, and chairs/tables on the side for student/teachers to sit down on. You don’t want to be spending money taking dance lessons that gross, dirty, or downright disgusting because if the owner/staff don’t care about maintaining a nice studio, they probably don’t care much about the students that go there.
8) Staff/Teachers’ Personal Attitudes:
Are the staff courteous and friendly, or are they distant and aloof? Are they dressed professionally and well-groomed or do they look like they just rolled out of bed or like they’re on the way to the gym? Do you hear them gossiping about students/other teachers and saying bad things about other people? You want to go somewhere where the staff makes you feel comfortable and appreciated, not ignored or bullied. Dancing is a personal experience, so you have a right to be picky if the staff/teachers don’t treat you right.
9) Student Demographics:
Depending on the area/particular studio, you might find a heterogeneous mix of students ranging from 15-84, of all different backgrounds and skill levels; or you might find that it’s most 18-32 year olds that are all really, really, really good dancers. Or they might be all little kids because the studio teaches mostly children’s classes. Check out a group class or practice party to see what some of your fellow students are like, or ask the studio staff. It’s important that you feel comfortable around the other students at your studio since you’ll be interacting and dancing with them sooner or later.
10) Studio Parties/Dance Events:
Opportunities to practice your dancing outside of a private lesson or group class, are a great way to integrate dancing into your life and move forward in your dancing. Ask the staff or check the website to find out if they host studio mixers/practice parties where students can come and practice dancing with each other in a relaxed social setting. If you’re taking Argentine Tango, ask if they have Milongas. In addition, find out if they teach outside of the studio in the community at dance festivals or club nights at local bars/restaurants, where you’ll be sure to encounter some of your fellow students. In addition, ask if they have studio dance cruises/vacations or other out-of-town trips/events where you can go as a group with your studio.
How to Know if You Picked the Right Dance Studio
If you live in a big metropolitan area, you might find that you have many options to choose from; but, if you’re in a more rural setting, you might have some difficulty finding a studio that fits all of your needs. Try out different studios and see how much you like them. If it doesn’t fit right away, keep going for a little while longer to see if your attitude changes; but if it doesn’t, feel free to move on. Remember, you’re not obligated to stay at one particular studio or other. Obviously, as a courtesy to your private lesson teacher, you should let him/her know if you’re taking private lessons somewhere else.
In the end, it all comes down to trial and error. I’ve been to 10 different dance studios as a student over my lifetime, some places were great and I keep going back, and other places were well, how do I say this? Really, not good! I went once or twice and never went back.
When a studio fits, you just know it, because the thought of going there cheers you up and puts a smile on your face :)
© 2015 Anya Brodech