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  • Writer's pictureCorey Burns

Where Do You Take Dance: Studio Vs. School

For the past 2 years, Burns Dance Studio has helped Aiken Elementary School

implement a SC Arts Commission Grant. There are teachers all over the state, all over

the country for that matter, who write grants to supplement the classrooms and provide

enrichment activities for kids. The teachers at Aiken Elementary School wrote such a

grant, and it was awarded by the State Department of SC. Now Burns Dance Studio is

helping them put their grant to use by teaching dance classes as part of the school’s art

enrichment program. It is always rewarding to be a part of this program and watch the

students grow from maybe a little apprehensive on the first day to incredibly proud of

themselves on the last day when they perform on stage for their parents.

Dance in the Schools

Teachers write grants like these and strive to offer their students experiences in the arts

because they know, as only the hearts of educators can, that students thrive in

academic settings which allow them outlets of self-expression, outlets where their

energy and passions can shine. Without writing pages of documentation here, suffice it

to say that research backs up what teachers know from hours upon hours spent with

students in the classroom. Art and movement are vital to students’ success.

Some school districts offer dance programs as part of their curriculum rather than as

enrichment programs. As with most things in public education, the sort of dance

training provided by schools (if any) depends on funding and priorities of the

communities, but the reason for offering dance training, and other curriculum outside of

the core classes is to give students the opportunity to grow in knowledge and

experience within areas of their own choice and interest. As the owner of a dance

studio, obviously I’m glad to see a love for dance growing through exposure in the

public school system. I think it’s important for kids everywhere to have dance training

available to them.

What’s the Difference?

With dance education becoming more mainstream in schools, some questions may

arise. For example, are there skill requirements for students who want to pursue dance

in the school system? Do they need prior dance experience? In general, what’s the

difference between dance training in a studio and dance training in a public school? Do

students come away from either track with the same sort of experiences and skills as

the other? Is having dance in schools a threat to the lifespan of local studios?

What do I know?

Before I get into my take on the details and differences between dance lessons in

school and dance lessons in a studio, I should mention my experiences in both places.

I was an elementary school teacher and administrator prior to coming back to Burns

Dance Studio as owner/director. I taught 4th grade in a classroom, all subjects. I did not

teach dance in the school, but often did use dance in my classroom as a rainy day

recess or other break from the normal day. Meanwhile, some former Burns Dancers

have since taken the path of becoming dance educators within the school system. I

have been a guest instructor in several of their classrooms. Comparing and contrasting

both tracks helps us to answer some of the questions parents and dancers may have.

Dance in the Public School System

Within the structure of a school district, a dance educator is usually degreed in dance

education and hired as an employee of the school district which would include receiving

health and retirement benefits. The school, then, is responsible for providing the

curriculum, facility and students for the program. The students could be designated by

grades, such as in elementary or middle school, or they could be multi-age, such as in a

high school where related arts classes are often offered according to interest rather than

grade-level. Each teacher would need to coordinate with the school’s administration for

the structure of their classes, materials, performances and showcases. Teachers are

expected to follow the policies and procedures of the school which can vary greatly

when it comes to the oversight of planning, teaching and assessing. However, all

teachers should be diligent and proficient in those areas of implementing a program.

Funding for the dance programs can also vary greatly from one district to another.

Again, those funds depend on what resources the school community and district want to

designate towards the program.

As far as the experience of the students, a student in a public school dance class

doesn’t typically have to have any experience with dance prior to adding dance to

her/his academic schedule. In some schools the program is extensive enough to offer

leveled classes so that beginners can start with the basics and the dancers are able to

grow through the years. Some schools offer dance as an alternative to PE classes. In

most cases dance is offered as a related arts, and often consists of a basic survey of

several different genres of dance like ballet, contemporary and hip hop.

Dance in the Local Studio

While the dance studio offers the same opportunity as schools do for kids to express

themselves and develop as people, it definitely has a totally different structure. I’ve often

said that the biggest difference that I experience in running a dance studio versus how a

public school operates a dance program is the following: in the public school system

there is a guaranteed revenue (via taxes) and guaranteed enrollment. In the dance

studio business, there is no guaranteed revenue and certainly no guaranteed

enrollment. Some dance studios operate as non-profit organizations. Burns Dance

Studio operates as an S-Corporation, with the hopes of making a profit each year to

grow enrollment, purchase materials, pay staff, fund performances, and offer

professional development opportunities to teachers. We also offer more diverse dance

styles than most school programs. We offer tap, ballet, jazz, hip hop, contemporary,

and tumbling. While non-profits may apply for grants and other funding sources, Burns

Dance Studio relies on payments from customers. The biggest source of revenue

comes from parents that pay tuition for their children to be taught dance lessons. Most

dance studios follow the same funding models where tuition is the highest percentage of

revenue, followed by costumes, shoes, merchandise and performances.

The Differences

In the school district dance program, teachers are not tasked with any of the small

business items that studios face. This includes rent/mortgage, insurance, utilities,

staffing, payroll, contracts, vendors and costumes. Schools may provide monies to

teachers for purchasing those items, but not in the same structure as dance studios.

There is a lot more risk in the dance studio education world than in the public school

dance-education world. Then again, the rewards are different as well.

Many dance educators are extremely satisfied with their jobs and how they impact the

lives of kids within the framework of the school system. There are no financial

incentives for their work, but this is known when they enter that job. The financial

incentives are certainly there in the dance studio world, but not always actualized. A

great year of enrollment and profit can easily be erased the next year with low

enrollment, or in the case of 2020, a pandemic.

What can’t be measured as easily is the impact students and teachers have on each

other throughout the year. Whether the classes are modeled after the traditional dance

class with an emphasis on technique and performances, or they are heavily focused on

creative self expression and cross-curricular units, teachers and dancers alike want to

feel they have learned a lot and are leaving the classroom after the allotted time a

different, better human than when they first arrived. The time spent creating art and

growing together in their respective roles leaves a lasting impression on teachers and

students in any kind of dance classroom, whatever the structure, whatever the location.

So Where Do You Take Dance?

Dancers, students in general, thrive in all sorts of different environments; a setting that

suits one student is going to be far different from a setting that best suits another

student. Whether a dancer should pursue class in a public school or in a privately

owned studio depends on the person and which structure fits her/him best.

I certainly see the benefit to having dance offered in public schools, and I do not see

offering dance in the school system as a threat to the lifespan of the local studio. As a

long term choice, if one has to be made, I highly recommend parents choose a dance

studio for their child’s dance education rather than relying on a public school because

funds come and go and the arts classes with them. Studio life comes with more

financial obligations, but from my view, investing in our kids is worth it. The hard part is

convincing a whole community to do it.

Currently, Aiken County schools have an elementary school with a dance program (East

Aiken School of the Arts), 6th grade academy with a dance program (Aiken Intermediate

School), and a dance program at Aiken High School. In each of these programs, kids in

the school have the opportunity to take dance lessons.

Having dance in schools and studios - both places within the community - can be

mutually beneficial. I honestly think that all schools should offer dance, just as art,

music, and Physical Education. There is always the age-old argument of what is

essential and affordable in every community, but there is certainly no damage done

when kids experience movement to music and the ability to express themselves. In

order for dance training to succeed in a community (in a school or in a studio), there has

to be interest in it, and in order for there to be interest, there has to be exposure. In my

opinion, communities that expose their kids to positive and healthy activities are only

doing good things for the development of those kids.

Dancing at Burns Dance Studio

At our studio, we believe dance training should reinforce life training. We take the

development of a student very seriously - development as a dancer AND as a person.

Who a student becomes as they grow up is as important to us as the technique they

learn here and the experience they have within our classrooms. If students are

exposed to dance in their schools and a curiosity starts to bud, or if they fall head over

heels in love with it, we would certainly welcome them into the family and the

opportunity to explore all that dance has to offer.

The reward for the dancer and the teacher alike is looking back long after the dance

shoes have been hung up and finding that all the time, energy, and work put into dance

training over the years made you the person you were meant to be.

How bright is your future? Join us. Let’s find out!

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