Recreational? Pre-professional? Competitive? A Parent's Quick Guide to Dance Studio Types

As you begin your search for a dance school, you will come across a few different types of schools. Let’s break them down into three general categories:

  • Recreational

  • Competitive

  • Pre-professional

In a recreational setting, the student’s primary focus is the experience of dance for enjoyment. The hourly commitment each week will be relatively low. Your child may attend a one hour class one or more times per week. Recreational schools tend to be extremely bottom heavy, meaning there are lots of students in elementary school and younger. Upper level students are dedicated but are not likely to be receiving the frequency of classes and quality of training required for major collegiate programs or professional dance. Under these circumstances, the likelihood of progressing into a professional career is low, unless the dancer eventually changes to a different school. However, a less demanding schedule means that dancers have the opportunity to participate in other recreational and academic activities. An advanced dancer may have leadership opportunities such as assisting younger dancers. Future opportunities exist for minoring in dance and campus dance organizations.


A school can be both recreational and competitive. A competitive component to a school means that the school competes in dance competitions. To be a part of a competition team, dancers are required to rehearse on additional days and times beyond their weekly technique class. Additional weekly technique classes may also be required. The commitment level in this setting is higher, but younger students may still be able to participate in other activities. Competitions can begin with students as young as 4-5 years old. Competing can open doors for scholarships, awards, and other recognition. Competitive dancers, depending on the quality of their training, may progress to college and professional levels of dance.


A pre-professional school can have recreational departments for students who would like a lighter commitment. A pre-professional school may also compete, although it is not likely to be the main focus of the school. Pre-professional settings can more often be found in classical ballet and modern/contemporary schools. The educators will have professional experience and/or degrees, or certificates. The commitment and student expectation levels are high. Multiple days and hours will be required as young as elementary school. Summer will be a time for intensive training, rather than taking a three-month break. When pre-professional students are teenagers, they can be expected to attend summer programs for more intense training, visibility, and experience. A pre-professional school can be affiliated with a professional company or serve as an independent school. Alumni of pre-professional schools are more likely to have the ability-level to pursue collegiate programs or professional careers.

You may encounter a blend of any of these types and find teachers who possess professional performing experience, degrees, and certifications at any school. However, there is a level of educator knowledge and commitment from the dancer that is needed to progress to higher levels of dance.

You won’t always see these terms spelled out within a brochure or website, but hopefully these descriptions will help you to have some idea of the style of the school that you are entering. All of these schools can meet the needs of children. The trick is in finding the best fit for your child and your family.

As always, I recommend seeking quality dance education for your child. Avoid simply defaulting to the nearest school or the first hit of your internet search. Take a look at, “Why Does it Matter Where I Send my Child to Dance” and “How to Choose a Dance School” for assistance before selecting a school for your dancer.

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