5 Common Dance Studio Myths and Misconceptions, Debunked
by Olivia Mode-Cater in partnership with DanceStudio-Pro
If you’re the parent of a new dance student, you might be entering the dance world with a list of preconceived notions. Of course, this is only natural—before entering a new situation, everyone tries to visualize what it might look like to prepare for the unknown. If you’re entering an unfamiliar environment, you’re bound to fill in your knowledge gaps with what you’ve seen in the media or heard from family or friends.
But in the dance world, it seems like stereotypes, myths, and misconceptions are all too common. TV shows and even some guilty-pleasure movies often present a version of the dance industry that isn’t 100% accurate. While these movies and TV shows are undoubtedly fun to watch, they could leave you with several misgivings about what you’re getting into when you become a dancer or dance parent.
Here at DanceStudio-Pro, we focus on providing studio owners with the dance studio management tools needed to successfully lead and engage students, staff, and dance parents. In this work, we’ve heard all kinds of misconceptions about what it means to be a part of this community. We’re here to help address some of the most common stereotypes we’ve heard about the dance world to hopefully ease your mind as you start on this exciting new journey.
We’ll cover several prevalent myths, including:
- Dance parents can’t resist drama.
- All dance instructors are mean and demanding.
- Certain dance styles are more technical than others.
- You have to look a certain way to be a dancer.
- You can’t make a career out of dance.
We’ll discuss the origins of these myths and then explore the reality of the situation. Let’s dive in!
1. Dance parents can’t resist drama.
In the early 2010s, it was hard to escape the wild popularity of Dance Moms. Fans were glued to the screen with equal parts horror and fascination as feuds broke out week after week between the titular overbearing dance moms regarding the treatment and skill levels of their children.
However, the stereotype of dance parents being domineering, controlling, and constantly overstepping boundaries was present long before Dance Moms introduced a wider audience to the world of competitive dance. Something about the perceived perfectionism of the dance environment leads people to assume that dance parents are consistently strict and uncompromising when it comes to their dancers, and catty and rude in conversations with other dance parents.
As a new dance parent yourself, you might look at the way dance caregivers are portrayed in the media and think to yourself, what on earth am I getting into?
We’re here to tell you that by and large, this stereotype is not accurate. Will there always be a stray parent or two who take their child’s dance classes much too seriously, or attempt to relive their glory days of dance through their young student? Undoubtedly. But the same is true for parents of athletes in any sport.
Dance at its heart is all about community. As your child engages in classes, they’ll develop meaningful relationships with their peers and teachers and they will begin to be part of the studio’s dance family. By extension, we’ll guess that you’ll find a group of supportive, friendly fellow caregivers willing to lend a helping hand as you get acclimated to the dance world. Any feuds or fights are strictly kept to the overdramatization of what’s on TV.
2. All dance instructors are mean and demanding.
Another common stereotype permeating the dance world is also demonstrated frequently in TV shows and movies—the tyrannical, demanding dance instructor who pushes their students to the brink of collapse. This is personified in Dance Moms with the dance instructor Abby Lee Miller, who frequently clashes with the dance parents and harshly criticizes her students under the guise of training them to be better dancers.
Again, we’ll go on record to say that strict, harsh dance instructors are not the norm. Most dance studio owners start a dance studio because they are passionate about what they do and want to share their knowledge with students. The job requires diligently listening to students’ goals and interests and fostering their skills and their own love of dance. Dance teachers often have high standards and expectations for their students, but will encourage them using compassion, empathy, and even a little humor!
Any dance studio owner or teacher who’s truly as vicious as Abby Lee eventually won’t have any students left to teach. At the end of the day, a dance studio is a business that relies on positive customer relationships to stay in business. Any dance teacher worth their salt knows that students respond much more positively to encouragement and constructive feedback than harsh judgment and criticism.
And if you do find that your student’s dance instructor is unnecessarily harsh, or even if their teaching style doesn’t mesh with your child’s learning style, it’s your prerogative to find someone else who can help your student. On the whole, we predict you’ll find many more positive instructors, who are passionate about dance and teaching, than those who overemphasize the negative.
3. Certain dance styles are more technical than others.
There’s a common misconception in dance that ballet and contemporary are more technical or challenging than other dance styles such as hip hop, tap, and non-Western dance forms. This myth is often perpetuated in pop culture through dance shows such as So You Think You Can Dance and World of Dance, which tend to highlight those particular dance styles. As a result, many caregivers opt to put their children into ballet or contemporary classes even if their child is showing interest in other dance forms.
In reality, every dance style requires technique and is challenging in its own way. The demands might vary for different movement forms; however, each has its own set of guiding principles that require specialization and years of practice. There are plenty of instructors and studio owners who are focused on rewriting the rules of the dance education system. There’s been a major push to turn away from Eurocentric ideas of what dance “should” look like, and instead diversifying our ideas of the “right” way to dance to create a more diverse, inclusive environment for all students.
In practice, this means a dance environment that celebrates all styles of dance, focusing less on getting things perfect and more on developing dance students into well-rounded individuals. If your dancer is excited about taking ballet and contemporary, great! If they are interested in other movement practices, embrace it! Their dance teacher in each style will give them a great foundation and you’ll feel good knowing that your child wants to be in that dance class instead of feeling like they have to be there.
4. You have to look a certain way to be a dancer.
Many people observe the athleticism and skill of dancers and assume that means you have to be thin in order to participate. Unfortunately, this stereotype becomes harmful when it causes dancers to face body image issues stemming from a plethora of sources — including toxic diet culture, advertising, TV shows, and social media.
Let’s be clear—dance should not be an art form that only accepts people who look a certain way. We still have a long way to go in undoing this misconception and we should all be working towards a dance world that is open to people of all body types, races, backgrounds, and identities.
Dance is one of the most common forms of expression throughout the world, and many consider it to be one of the earliest art forms. In our fickle culture, beauty standards come and go, but they are fleeting compared to the rich history of dancers who represent a wide range of backgrounds and cultures.
At the start of your child’s dance journey, thoughts of self-doubt or perfectionism may start to creep in. Be sure to reassure them, help them practice self-love and compassion, and use positivity to help quiet their inner critic. Feedback and compliments should always be focused on their skills and abilities, and never on what their body looks like. You yourself can help dispel the negative stereotypes about dancers having to look a certain way, because in reality, anyone who has a body has a dancer body!
5. You can’t make a career out of dance.
This is a common misconception that young dancers hear a lot, usually from concerned parents who see dance as a fun hobby or after-school activity, but not a sustainable career choice.
We know this statement isn’t accurate because we work daily with people who have transformed their passion into a thriving business and started running a dance studio of their own.
We’ve seen dancers pursue a wide range of career options directly related to dance, including:
- Dance teacher
- Studio owner
- Professional dancer
- Costume designer
- Dance fitness teacher
There are also plenty of career paths that use dance or are tangentially related to dance, such as:
- Physical therapist
- Dance historian or professor
- Dance photographer/videographer
- Dance marketer/blogger
- Arts administrators
Even if your dance student doesn’t end up pursuing a career in dance, there are plenty of skills and life lessons they can learn from practicing dance over a long period of time. Teamwork, perseverance, professionalism, patience, and commitment are just a few of the values that being on a dance team or taking dance classes can instill.
Hopefully, you can now start your new dance journey with a little more assurance. Dance is all about building community through movement and we are confident that the majority of folks you encounter will be accepting and welcoming. Your dancer will be able to reap the benefits of participating in a fun group activity and learning many valuable skills along the way.
About the Author: Olivia Mode-Cater is an industry leader in dance education and dance entrepreneurship, having presented on these topics on a national and international level. Olivia’s work draws on her experiences as a veteran dance educator in all teaching settings: higher education, PK-12 schools, and studios. Olivia proudly joined the DanceStudio-Pro team in 2021 as the Sr. Marketing Manager.