I know spring has barely sprung, but 'tis already the season to start planning those summer activities for the Littles. I'm currently knee-deep in plans for my own summer dance camps in partnership with St. Helena Parks & Rec (it's going to be the best. summer. ever.) and for those of you already fighting a migraine thinking about hauling the kids to and fro and working up a sweat wondering WHAT exactly your cutie will be doing all day long at their summer camp, take a deep breath; today I'm sharing 4 questions to ask that will help you find the perfect dance camp/summer activity for your student. Reading through this list will help you sift through the options to get a clear picture of not only what your options are, but what you and your kiddo want. Ready? Let's go!
1. Language Matters
This is a a bit of a no-brainer, but really, so important. What kind of vibe do you get from the school's website, flyer, and general language? It will speak to what their focus and teaching philosophy is. Do they mention what kind of technique/syllabus they use? RAD = Royal Academy of Dance, which is my fav (because that's style in which I was trained). The RAD focuses on solid and safe technique, with an emphasis on musicality and performance. The Cecchetti method is rooted in Italian tradition (btw, did you know ballet actually was born in Italy, NOT in France?), and was the first to codify a syllabus. The technique is very lyrical, but also focuses strongly on anatomy. The Vaganova technique was developed by Russian dancer Agrippina Vaganova in the early 1900's and fuses Italian methods with traditional French Romantic technique, with a focus on whole body consciousness. Look to see if these terms are mentioned. If not, ask what the focus is, and don't be afraid to ask the director to explain his or her background and mission in teaching.
2. Watch The "Big Girls"
One of the things that I find so special about ballet studio culture is how the "big girls" (aka, the older students) are trained to look out for the younger students. A lot of the time this is because the older students will serve as TAs to the teachers, and studio owners will encourage the more experienced students to guide the younger ones during rehearsals and shows (hey, we need all the help we can get when we've got a room full of fun-sized minions), and in my experience, the older students love not only being helpers, but wearing the role model hat. That being said, look to see if the studio has any older dancers. #1 it's a good indication that the studio has a strong following and that they foster students who stick around and who have been through ranks, and #2 watching the big kids will give you a good picture of what your student might grow up to be like.
3. Quality vs. Quantity
Most summer programs are all about variety. Many schools bring in guest teachers to offer classes in disciplines that may not be normally offered during the school year. Exposing dancers to all kinds of techniques is great, so checking out both a summer and fall schedule from your studio is key. But, that being said, there's nothing wrong with a program that only focuses on one or two disciplines. In fact, many ballet studios will focus only on their syllabus (see above re: RAD vs. Vaganova, etc.) Know if you're going for a focus on ballet or jazz, or hip hop, or a variety of styles. There's no wrong answer here, but it's good to be clear on what you and your student want from the program before signing up.
4. Go With Your Gut
It's easy to get overwhelmed when planning summer activities, and studios are still businesses; they want to sell enrollments, so it's important to trust your gut. Does it sound/feel/look like a place you'd want to spend the day? Then go for it! If you're feeling uncomfy or unsure, move on. There's no lack of schools offering summer activities, don't be afraid to keep shopping around. If you have any other questions about how to choose a summer program, feel free to hit me up on the social medias, and... (shameless plug)... I'm also offering summer camps in St. Helena this summer, so check it yo, and let's dance together this summer! :)