As a parent, know what you are getting into with competitive schools. It really is a lifestyle that you will have to endure if your child is going to be a successful competitor.
Whereas convenience is the most important concern for most parents when it comes to choosing a local dance school, Irish dance schools are different. If your child is serious enough to be come a competitor than she needs a good school and teacher.
Shop around and attend a competition or two. Learn how the scoring system works and know who is turning out the champs.
Once you narrow down a few schools visit a competition and observe the students. Are they having fun? is the teacher pleasant under the pressures of competition?
A competition is not a good time to bother a teacher with questions. Do that another time.
The most common complaints we hear from parents of competitive dancers are:
Classes tend to be too big and students fall behind.
Screaming or irate teachers
Poor organization of classes and events
Poor communication from teachers
Costumes and accessories too costly.
These issues are far more common to Competitive schools than non-competitive schools.
Most competitive schools do not advertise. Plenty of students are brought in by recommendation. If your child wants to dance with a friend who attends a school that should make the choice easy.
Non-Competitive Schools Today, competition is not the end-all of Irish dancing. More and more schools cater to other interests. While competition oriented schools may insist that non-competitive schools are less 'qualified', such is not necessarily the case. In most instances, competitive schools speak ill of other schools in fear of loosing potential students.
Teachers of other dance forms tend to have other experience in child education whereas Irish dance teachers usually have no educational experience.
However, there is always the possibility that a teacher is simply not qualified to teach Irish dance. A recent problem is a growing number of tap-dance teachers who offer “pseudo Irish dance” classes that are not authentic. The real problem is that most pseudo teachers do not inform their students that what they are learning is not authentic. In Irish dancing authenticity is a major consideration.
A good Irish teacher should be able to discuss the difference between tap dancing and Irish hard-shoe dancing, primarily the matter of technique and the rhythms. If a teacher teaches only hard-shoe dancing, beware!
Further, if a teacher wears metal tap shoes, or allows students to wear them, ask her to explain why and the difference between tap and Irish shoes. If she cant, then look elsewhere.
One exception to the rule is a teacher from Arizona who wears flat tap oxfords because many decades of competing in hard-shoes has ruined her feet. She can no longer tolerate the sharp angle of the toe piece. Her students, however still wear proper har shoes.
Check for a lineage. Every Irish dance teacher had a teacher. Or should have. Be sure your teacher has a lineage to another school or teacher that is known to be qualified. A teacher who learned from video tutorials alone has no more experience than student who used the same videos. Don’t laugh! There are many teachers out there who have only video tutorial training. That in itself is not sufficient.
The relationship between a teacher and her mentor can be complex, as in the case of a teacher from New York. A young lady from a family of six brothers and sisters could not afford to take dance lessons. Fortunately, her closest friend was a winning champ who unofficially trained her student for many years. Today both are well qualified teachers.
A young Man in New Jersey learned to dance by surrounding himself with the best dancers from a local school which refused to teach boys. Within a few years he had exceeded the skills of his many champion mentors. Since the names of his “teachers”, and their school can be verified, his lineage is substantial.
To Compete or not to Compete?
Unlike other dance forms. Irish dancing has evolved into more of a sport for girls than an art form. Competitions are fierce and often. They are all day, sometimes all weekend, events which occur many times per year. Many competitive schools have nothing to offer children who do not wish to compete.
If you want to compete you Must attend a school that currently participates in competitions. Most non-competitive schools do not offer the option.
One thing to consider, if you have your heart set on being a star and one day headlining in Riverdance, then it may serve you to stay with a competitive school. Currently, Riverdance chooses its' cast from the competition circuit and nowhere else. Who knows how that may change in years to come as Irish dancing continues to evolve into a performing art.
While competitive dancing has somewhat sterilized Irish dancing into a sort of sport, rather than an art-form, non-competitive schools tend to approach dance as more a performing art. If the curriculum is based in authenticity, this can be a positive and enjoyable alturnative to sport dancing.
Many non-competitive Irish dance schools today are being run like other dance studios with annual recitals and occasional performance opportunities. This is more suitable to a growing number of students. One School in Pennsylvania has many major media performances per ar and produces a regional theatrical production every year. This has put that school ahead of its competitive counterparts.
The better education?
That depends on the individual teacher. Not their credentials. It is a common belief among competitive schools that non-competitive schools are more relaxed when it comes to technique and skill. That school in Pennsylvania notes that because their students receive more media attention than others, their students must have a higher level of skill than their counterparts in neighboring schools. “They just have to look good on TV”.