If you want to be involved in the fitness industry in the United States, you need to attend some kind of training or teaching certification process to do so. An aspiring yoga instructor is required to have anywhere from 200 to 1000 hours of training before receiving their license. If Pilates is more your speed, you need to prepare for a year and a half to a two year time commitment to work through your 500 hours of training. If you wish, as many dancers do, to supplement your income through personal training, you should be ready to study for several months if not longer to receive your certification from NASM, ACE, or one of the other accredited services. Even if you want to teach Zumba, you need up to ten hours of training, and your license is only good for six months, requiring you to constantly refresh and retrain so you stay up to date on the teaching standards. However, when it comes to dance education, many private dance studios in the United States have no set of standards or teaching certification requirements for their instructors. The alarming fact is that you can have zero qualifications and still very easily become a dance studio owner or a dance teacher in this country.
With a staff full of knowledgeable instructors who are all on the same page, students could have their potential more clearly assessed and enhanced.
It is worth noting that this is not true for dance teachers who work within the public school system, since there are state requirements for who can teach in those settings, but privately owned studios tend to slide under scrutiny from parents who do not fully understand the risks they are exposing their children to by potentially placing them in a dance education setting that has no tangible teaching standards and under qualified instructors. This is no small matter. Dance is a physical endeavor, and poor training can affect long-term bodily health, mental health, and potential career aspirations. Dance teachers should be more than good movers. They work with young children, growing teens, and changing bodies. They need an ability to break down technical steps and explain them to students in a way that makes sense. This requires not only an in-depth knowledge of the style they teach, but also a grasp on basic anatomy, physiology, and kinesiology. They need an ability to interact with students with compassion and integrity, and a basic ability to keep the children under their care safe, no matter the circumstances. A dance teacher is burdened with much more than instructing students to blindly mimic steps. It is rather educating the student on an entire art form while simultaneously partnering with the other adults in their lives to keep them safe and healthy.
So what exactly are the risks that come with an under qualified studio or instructor? An unfit dance teacher lacks the broad anatomical knowledge to properly instruct a student, and therefore cannot catch technical mistakes made by the student. For example, the student can be put en pointe too early, without a knowledgeable mentor to assess them. This can cause malformations in the feet, and other untold consequences that can haunt a dancer for the rest of their career, and potentially their life. Aside from the instructor, an unfit studio owner will not know what to look for in a potential employee, and could easily have the newest, youngest, and least educated teacher instructing the youngest, most impressionable students. This is particularly horrifying since young bodies are quite pliable and their bones are not yet fully set. There will be a lack of understanding of what kind of facility needs to be provided for a safe dancing experience. Perhaps the floors will be wood or Marley laid over concrete, since getting a sprung floor will be seen as “too expensive.” All of these factors can lead to acute injuries, like strains, sprains, tears, or breaks, or more long term chronic inflammation like shin splints, tendonitis, or bursitis. These physical factors alone will severely impact a dancer’s future, career prospects, and overall quality of life.
Parents, especially parents with no dance experience, should not have to spend a ridiculous amount of time educating themselves or spending large amounts of money to ensure that their child is being properly trained. If some kind of teaching standards or teaching certification were to be established for privately owned dance studios, parents could have confidence and faith in a teacher based on the institution’s accreditation. With a staff full of knowledgeable instructors who are all on the same page, students could have their potential more clearly assessed and enhanced. The likelihood of a successful career in dance would go up, and the risk of long-term damage, acute and chronic injuries would drop. Additionally, safety and legal risks associated with poor business practices from owners who do not understand the demands that dance places on the body could be eliminated by ensuring that all studios are equipped with proper flooring, lighting, and sound systems. This would protect the studio’s financial interests in the long run, and lead to a healthier student body.
However, a few drawbacks to implementing a set of teaching standards, or a set of studio requirements should be addressed. The potential cost of the accreditation could become a barrier to entry in a field that is already financially strapped. Individual dance teachers do not make an enormous amount of money, so it would be possible for an organization to become fiscally predatory by demanding ridiculously high fees to receive a certification. Aside from that, the question would also most certainly need to be asked: who will set the standards?
There is an alphabet soup of organizations relating to dance both globally and within the United States. There are Dance Educators of America (DEA) and the National Dance Education Organization (NDEO). There are individual technical ballet programs, like the Royal Academy of Dance (RAD), Cecchetti USA, and American Ballet Theater (ABT)’s Certified Teacher Program, and there are codified techniques in jazz and modern that may offer some teacher training, like Luigi, Giordano, Graham, Horton, Dunham, and Cunningham to name a few. Yet, no quorum of educators or studios agree on a wider scale, which one of these should be used, let alone demand that a teacher or a studio have an accreditation from one of these organizations. Perhaps, private studios could follow the model set up by their state’s public school system, so that their teachers have some form of certification. Colleges with dance performance programs could fold a dance education certification into their program (some already do), and at the least, a dance teacher should be required to have a Bachelor’s degree in Dance Performance or Dance Education.
The alarming fact is that you can have zero qualifications and still very easily become a dance studio owner or a dance teacher in this country.
There are many wonderful and well-qualified studios, studio owners, and dance instructors, but unfortunately, their existence does not guarantee that all young dancers are safe. It is becoming clear that it is in the best interest of our future generations of dancers that standards are set across the country; but carefully, and always with the students’ best interest in mind. In the meantime, studios should make their own personal standards and teacher requirements very clear in order to mitigate any financial or geographical barriers that parents and guardians might have while trying to find safe and affordable private studios for their children. Parental awareness needs to be raised without placing the burden of research on the parents/guardians so that private studios and teachers are more carefully selected for their children, no matter their age, interest, or ability. Every child deserves a strong technical education in a safe and nurturing environment.