Major dance studios are, by their very nature and longevity, more well established than most independents. Arthur Murray has operated their world-wide system since the 1940s; Fred Astaire since the early 50s, and TC for well over two decades. These places are much more visible because they do considerable advertising. Almost all studios of the major corporations are thoroughly licensed and some are even bonded according to the laws and statutes of the state they are located within. Their tuition rates are generally twice that of smaller, independent schools because the chain operations pay hefty franchise fees, usually pay their instructors higher salaries, and spend a lot on promotions.

Other advantages include: standardized levels of instruction throughout the system; the ability to of a student to transfer their lessons from one location to another, (or one city to another) knowing the instruction will remain constant. Tuition rates seldom vary from one major chain studio to another unless it is located in a major city which forces the studio to pay exorbitant rent for their space.

Most up-scale major schools are in easy-to-find locations and usually have large, expensive exterior signs. Most conduct their own in-house parties and competitions for their students. The major chain school operations see to it that each location operates under a rigid, stringent code of ethics and regulations which are passed down from corporate headquarters. These large corporations hire highly qualified, thoroughly trained dance directors whose job it is to see that each staff member in every studio within the organization is constantly being trained and their teaching levels upgraded. Each professional instructor within the organization must be certified and all employees are required to sign binding contracts.

All major chain studios use attorney-prepared contracts which must be signed by the student when they agree to purchase a course or program of dance training. Legal and binding under the law, these protect both the studio and the student. Should a studio within the chain operation be forced the close, the student has legal recourse to recover funds invested for lessons not taken or any course not completed.

First, let me say I have no quarrel with the rates the major studios charge for their services. I know the astronomical costs required to run one of these facilities. And who's to say that the professionals in our business should not charge the same hourly rate as professionals in other fields such as doctors, psychiatrists, psychologists or lawyers? I honestly and truly believe we do as much, if not more, for people. We show people how to care for their minds and psyches as well as their bodies. However, there are many deserving individuals who really need the services we provide but simply are not in a financial position to pay tuition rates which vary from $80 to $150 per hour at a major chain school.

Naturally there is not one of these studios who will quote you these figures straight up. They use what is known as a three-way system and they quote courses which combine private instruction with group classes and parties. It works like this. After you have visited any studio and taken their short, very affordable introductory special you decide to purchase a basic beginner-level program—sometimes referred to as "Social Ease." This short course includes 10 hours of private instruction, 10 to 20 hours of group instruction, and 5 practice "parties" which average 1 hours and carries a tuition of $1000 to $1500. The studio "sells" you on the idea that you are receiving a total package of 27 1/2 to 37 1/2 hours (depending upon how many actual group classes are included) meaning your "hourly rate" for that program is a "mere $26 to $36 per hour. Sounds logical and reasonable. Catch: what you are actually paying for are the private hours of instruction—not the group lessons or the parties. The cost to provide group classes and parties is minimal.

Private lessons are what actually "costs" the studio money. They have to pay the instructor-usually $15 to $25 per hour depending upon the skill level of the teacher and how long he or she has been there. The teacher also receives commission on the sale of the lessons or program you've bought. This can amount to 7% to 10% of the tuition cost. In actuality you are paying $100 or more per hour. And it's not a full hour either. It is usually 50 to 55 minutes because the teachers are given a break between lessons.

Using a formula which totals the salary and commission paid to the teacher, it actually "costs" the studio anywhere from $220 to $350 to service those ten hours. Add to that figure the cost of bookkeeping, franchise fees, rent, utilities, taxes, insurance, and the owner/manager's salaries, and the profit from a $1000 sale is minimal. Unless you can afford to purchase-and pay cash for large blocks of private hours-the student has generally taken all the private lessons before the group classes or parties are used. It stands to reason that you're going to learn much faster by taking private instruction than you do in group classes.

Group class instruction is dispensed at a rate comparable to the learning rate of the slowest male student. Since the man's part is ten times more difficult than that for the ladies, group instruction can be very slow. Since most studios have far more ladies than men, group classes are a hard sell. Ladies do not like to attend them unless there are enough men to go around so they will have someone to dance with during the class. This is the reason I teach only couples in my group classes. Were I to open it up to singles, there would be 10 ladies for every man. If personal finances force you to pay for your lessons with a series of monthly installments, chances are you'll probably complete the instruction many weeks or months sooner than your payments.

Should you complete the private lesson portion of a program before group classes and/or parties have been used, look for constant "chats" with your teacher's supervisor who will do their best to "extend" your program by adding additional private lessons. It's a catch-22 situation. The major chain schools try to discourage outside-the-studio fraternization. By that, I mean they want their students to attend dance functions under their auspices only. Under no circumstances do they really like or want their clientele exposed to other dance studios or dance parties. Rarely ever do their students attend dance competitions other than the ones the chain operation conducts and promotes.

Each "franchised" operation is assigned specific financial goals to accomplish-often referred to as "par"-which must be met on an annual basis. Failure to meet "par" could result in the loss of the franchise. This practice often forces studio owners to conduct special annual "festivals" and other fanciful events which are nothing more than a glorified sales gimmick to sell lessons. These are done usually twice a year and used to generate huge sums of revenue. Translation: high-pressure selling put onto every member of the student body at some time during the event. Many of these studios have people who have purchased so many lessons that they are virtually "locked into" that studio for the rest of their life.

Should a studio close, it can take the student a long time to be reimbursed for money spent on lessons not taken because an attorney will have to deal with corporate headquarters. Taking a dance studio owner to court to recover money pre-paid for lessons (which can cost the student even more money, especially if they lose the case), can be frustrating and often there is little recovery. This is not to say that chain schools operate outside of the law. It's just that their tactics sometimes leaves students with a bad taste in their mouths and the questionable fear that "if I don't buy more lessons am I liable to be treated differently than I was before?" Do people get their money's worth at chain studios? In the vast majority of cases, yes. Would I, if I were an unsuspecting individual, in search of a nice place to go to learn to dance, take lessons at a major chain school? Yes. I did, and I would again if I were starting my career all over. But knowing what I know now, I'd do more investigating of both the chain and independent studios before I made a final decision.