Happy Feet: Best Dance Schools for Your Kid
Get your mini-me moving and grooving at one of these dance schools.
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If dance classes aren’t already part of your kid’s after-school repertoire, consider this: According to a 2013 National Dance Education Organization (NDEO) study, kids who participate in dance are more likely to develop empathy and more likely to feel accepted than kids who don’t dance. Plus, the benefits of dance last indefinitely: “Young students can develop motor skills, coordination and a healthy self-respect that will stay with them throughout their lives,” says Susan McGreevy-Nichols, executive director of the NDEO.
But choosing the right studio can be a challenge. Television shows like Dance Moms and Bring It! stress the importance of constantly winning competitions, a philosophy that many schools share. Rarely shown on these shows are the years of technical training required for a dancer to get that good. True youth dance education is not about learning a routine. It is about learning and developing technique—the choreography comes later. And competitions may not come at all. To find quality dance instruction you want to visit the school, meet the staff, see the facilities and, above all, observe a class, says McGreevy-Nichols. “Students should appear engaged, motivated and treated with respect, care and concern,” she says. “The studio…should have ample space for moving, and class sizes should be small enough so that each child can move freely in the space and receive individual attention.”
1. Take note of how students are grouped: Are levels organized by age or skill? Grouping by age is appropriate for younger students, but ability should ultimately outweigh age (i.e. a 10-year-old signing up for her very first dance class should not be in the same class as a 10-year-old who’s already been dancing for eight years).
2. What is the teacher focused on? Is every class spent learning the choreography for the competition of the week, or is the emphasis on developing technique and artistry? (You’re looking for the latter.) Students shouldn’t just be learning a dance—they should be learning how to dance.
3. Are the skills being taught appropriately for the students’ ages and physical development? “On YouTube and TV, students are shown performing incredibly difficult turns, jumps and tricks at increasingly young ages. If students are rushed into these movements or not taught them properly, they risk immediate or long-term injury,” says Shannon Dooling, NDEO special programs. “For young children in particular, dance education should be playful, joyful and fun,” says McGreevy-Nichols. “[They] should be given time to work on these basics before being pushed into more advanced movement.”
Check out these reputable dance studios in your area:
AMERICAN REPERTORY BALLET/PRINCETON BALLET SCHOOL
Locations in Cranbury, New Brunswick and Princeton
One of the country’s leading non-profit dance schools, the Princeton Ballet School’s philosophy is to nurture dancers from beginner to advanced stages. The school starts little ones (ages 3 and 4) in Hand in Hand classes. Teens can try fun stuff like hip-hop, theater or cardio ballet.
GLORIA FRANCES SCHOOL OF PERFORMING ARTS
2124 Hamburg Tpke., Wayne
Since 1963, Gloria Frances has offered the fundamentals of dance to students, along with innovative hip-hop classes. Recently added is the Creative Program, where aspiring dancers are introduced to tap and ballet.
Locations in Basking Ridge, Branchburg, Martinsdale and Warren
This studio offers ballerinas-in-training everything from street hip-hop to ballet. Performers ages 2 1/2 and up choose from jazz/hip-hop, Broadway, contemporary and more.
19 Rte. 10 E., Bldg. 1, Unit 2, Succasunna
Sign your tiny dancer up for a comprehensive program with a class for everyone. The school has everything from classic ballet and pointe to advanced musical theater and acrobatic lessons.
INSPIRA PERFORMING ARTS AND CULTURAL CENTER
987 Jersey Ave., New Brunswick
This audition-based program is geared towards dancers 7 and up. If he’s interested in a less competitive route (or isn’t sure what to study), encourage him to get his feet wet in out-of-the-box classes like contemporary, African, jazz/funk, musical theater and more.
MARIANN’S SCHOOL OF DANCE
49 East Midland Ave., Paramus
Get your little one in beginner classes like Tiny Tutus and Tuxes (age 2 1/2) and Creative Movement I (ages 3 and up), where she’ll learn fundamentals before graduating to more advanced dancing. Older kids pick from acrobatics, jazz, tap, hip-hop and lyrical.
THE MODERNE ACADEMIE OF FINE ARTS
1820 East Second St., Scotch Plains
They’ll step into the world of dance with ease, no matter their skill level. Kids get face time with experts in ballet, jazz, tap, hip-hop, pointe and more. Mommy and me classes are also offered for children ages 2 and up.
NEW JERSEY DANCE THEATRE ENSEMBLE
315B Springfield Ave., Summit
Starting at age 5, dancers can take ballet, modern and contemporary dance, taught by instructors from highly-respected companies. Advanced dancers audition for the school’s pre-professional performing ensemble, made up of skilled young locals.
NEW JERSEY SCHOOL OF BALLET
15-17 Microlab Rd. #102, Livingston
For more than 60 years, this school has been teaching kids ages 4 and up the ins-and-outs of ballet, tap, contemporary, hip-hop, character and musical theater genres. With instructors from New York City Ballet and Bolshoi Ballet, the school guarantees hands-on experience with industry pros.
PRINCETON DANCE & THEATER STUDIO
116 Rockingham Row, Princeton
Children ages 2 1/2 to 4 learn the basics in Dance With Me. Once they get a little more comfortable on their feet, they can choose from ballet, modern, tap and jazz. Classes are available during the school year and over the summer.
SHARON MILLER’S ACADEMY FOR THE PERFORMING ARTS
14 South Park St., Montclair
Aspiring preschool dancers get their feet wet in an array of genres from Creative Movement (ages 3 to 4) to Beginner Tap (ages 8 and up). Classes are broken down by gender, day of the week and skill level. Don’t forget to check out seasonal camp options for when school’s out.
VERNE FOWLER SCHOOL OF DANCE & THEATRE ARTS
1095 St. Georges Ave. #1, Colonia
Children 18 months and up can join classes in genres like gymnastics, musical theater, jazz, hip-hop, kinderdance, contemporary and tap. Summer camps are also offered.
WESTFIELD SCHOOL OF DANCE
137 Central Ave., Westfield
This school has been training children from preschool through high school in a wide array of dance genres for almost 20 years. Try a ballet, tap, jazz, modern dance or musical theater class.