Independent studios are typically owned and operated by professional instructors who have been trained at one of the major chain operations. Many leave the "big" schools because they feel they can do it better for cheaper tuition rates, and still make a better living than they did working for someone else. Sometimes this works. Sometimes not. Hundreds of independent studios have been opened by flaky dance teachers who were capable of teaching someone how to do a few dance steps but had little or no knowledge of how to run a small business. Thankfully, it's gotten a lot better in the past twenty years. The advantages of taking lessons from the smaller independent studio are primarily tuition rates approximately half that of the chain schools. Smaller studios generally have less square footage; fewer staff members; minimal or no advertising; and generally do not have highly paid office and managerial staff.

As a general rule, independent studios are more inclined take an individual through dance training at a pace consistent with the student's ability to absorb, and not hold them back just to sell more lessons. Independent schools/instructors are not restricted by corporate regulations which limit the amount of material they are allowed to teach. As a result, private lesson and multi-level programs are sold at more affordable tuition rates. This makes dance training more widely available to more prospective students.

There are now huge numbers of independent dance studio competitions being staged across the country each year. Most are well organized and recognized by the National Dance Council of America (NDCA). These are for the serious student of dance who wishes to develop their skill levels to the point where they enjoy events of this type. Usually they are considerably less costly than those conducted by major chain operations. Independent studios are more tolerant and willing to accept a wider range of students. Most independents are not afraid of selling to minority groups or to members of the gay community which scare the beejeebers out of chain schools who do not want anyone upsetting their secure little apple cart.

The disadvantages of independent studios can be just as obvious if you know what to look for. Once a teacher has left a major chain operation, seldom do they purchase continued training from qualified coaches such as they received previously. Without periodic training and upgrading, teachers can become stagnant and behind the times. There are far too many so-called "teachers of dance" who hang out a shingle with less than credible credentials. Many do not know much more than the people they teach and sell lessons. There are no state statutes or laws which require certification of dance teachers.

A lot of "fly-by-night" instructors teach out of homes, churches, or rented auditoriums and seldom do they bother with obtaining the proper business licenses or federal identification numbers for tax purposes. Many don't even bother to file or pay taxes. Many independents do not carry adequate liability insurance. Those foolish enough to lease studio space, yet fail to license themselves, have been closed down by the IRS for failure to pay income tax collected on teachers' salaries. There is no possible way for students to transfer lessons purchased from one independent studio to another. Once an independent studio closes its doors there is virtually no way to collect pre-paid tuition for lessons not taken. There is little, if any, correlation between the standards or levels of instruction from one independent to another and they all have their own way of doing business.

From the time you first call seeking information, to booking your first appointment, then taking your first lesson, the personnel at any studio will be most gracious, cordial and polite. They want your business and will practically swoon to get it. Very few studios will quote you tuition rates over the phone, but all will extend you some form of very inexpensive "trial offer" as I mentioned earlier. This will include two or three private half-hours of instruction with a teacher, and possibly a group class and one party.

The cost for an introductory special can be anywhere from $10 to $25. You will be told that "all professional dance lessons are 30 minutes in duration, and that everyone takes them two-at-a-time. However, to begin with, you'll start with only one 30-minute session in the beginning." Reason? They want you developing the habit of coming into the studio on a regular basis. You'll be placed with an advanced instructor who has had extensive sales training. They are experts at finding out the true reason behind why you came to the studio in the first place. Naturally, everyone says "Oh, I just wanted to learn how to dance."

That's true, but not the real reason why you're there. It could be that you're a bit overweight and the doctor has told you to diet and get some exercise. Possibly you've recently gone through the loss of a loved one, either through their passing on, or divorce. You're lonely, but don't feel comfortable going to nightclubs. You might just want to put more fun in your life. Your job is demanding and your social life sucks. You might be tired of the bar scene and want to meet more interesting people who like the same things you do. Your marriage or relationship needs a bit more spice. There are a jillion reasons that people take dance lessons. It's the job of that first instructor to find out what why you're there in order to develop a program which will help you solve your problem or overcome your fears and anxieties. During those first few lessons, an advanced program is carefully constructed and drawn up for you. You will then be given a short exam and this program presented.

The major studios will hit you with one that is anywhere from 300 to 500 hours of private instruction, which can mean an investment of tens of thousands of dollars. They always start high, like a car salesman. If you blink, or cough, or even pass out, they will revive you, then keep dropping the number of hours and the cost until it's within the range you can afford. From that point on it is constant selling. Everything you learn will be first "sold" to you. The thinking and reasoning behind it, the benefits, everything. Every step pattern you learn will first be "sold" to you. Also sold are the reasons behind leading, following, timing, continuity (also referred to as pattern amalgamations), footwork, and styling. Styling refers to a wide range of items, including head position, body attitude, correct use of the hands and arms, and on and on. With learning to dance, there is only a beginning. There is never an end. You will never learn or know it all. If you were to start at age 5, and study eight hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, you might know 75% by the time you're 65. It's an impossible task, but a very worthwhile goal to work toward.

Look carefully around the reception area. It the studio business license current and on display? Ask to speak to the manager and ask some pointed questions of them before you take your first trial lesson:

  • How long have they been in business?

  • How much experience does the teacher have who has been assigned to you?

  • Are they, or is this studio, part of a national organization?

  • Are they members of nationally known dance teacher associations?

  • Are they affiliated with the National Dance Council of America or other such organizations?

  • Are they currently licensed in this city and state?

  • Are they incorporated?

  • Are all their teachers certified and passed examinations in order to be able to teach?

  • Do they use binding contracts for instruction?

  • Do they sell and/or require that students buy multi-level training?

  • Do they have a ceiling limit on the amount of hours or tuition rates?

  • Do they sponsor or participate in local and regional dance competitions?

  • Are all their students expected or required to enter these events?

  • Do they have regularly scheduled dance parties and practice sessions for the student body?

  • Do parties cost extra or are they paid for as part of program training?

  • Does the studio take their students out of the studio to nightclubs and other dance related functions?

  • Lastly, the best way to find out about a studio, or any place of business, is to talk with their clientele. Try to talk with other students at the studio and ask them how long they've been there; how well they've learned and been treated; do they think the tuition rates are fair and equitable; and would they recommend this particular studio to their family and friends?

You should know the answers to all these questions BEFORE you sign anything or take your first lesson at any studio. If the manager or owner attempts to skirt any issue, or fails to answer any of your questions to your satisfaction, simply thank them for their time and leave the premises.

Every studio in the country will offer you some type of free or inexpensive trial lesson or two. Take several at different studios and see which offers you the best service for the price. Ask yourself a few of the following questions as you make your decision to continue with your dancing education:

  • Is the studio clean, well-lit and have a nice ambiance?

  • Was the owner/manager honest and open to your questions?

  • Were there other students there learning and having fun?

  • Did you talk with any of the students to get their views?

  • Was your first teacher knowledgeable and was the lesson fun?

  • Did you learn anything tangible, or was it merely a sales pitch for more lesson?

  • Are you satisfied that this particular studio will give you what you want and help you accomplish your goals?

  • Are they asking you to sign a contract for additional lessons?

  • Will they let you take the contract to an attorney before you sign it?

  • Will you be restricted to the material you'll learn if you only take a short course of instruction?