Thursday, September 24, 2009

Studio vs. Club Classes: Different Animals (Part 1)

Most metropolitan areas have two primary choices for salsa classes: Hit the clubs and take the low cost (or free) classes before social dancing, or go to a dance studio/workshop. Many people have done both (including me) and I've taught in both situations.

At first glance a class is a class, but as an instructor I'll let you in on a dirty little secret. Most instructors treat them differently. The venues have different goals and the nature of the students isn't the same.

At its core, clubs are social scenes with food and drinks, not universities or learning centers. If you learn there, great, that's a bonus, but it's a side effect for the club owner. The goal of the club class is to pack in bodies who buy drinks (and/or food) and return regularly.

At the club, drink/food numbers rule, and the club owner isn't directly worried about the quality of the instruction, as long as the numbers hold up over time. A popular instructor trumps a great instructor, and making it fun and accessible is the mission. Club instructors often simplify their materials and don't worry about the details, knowing slowing down the class isn't workable for most students.

Some clubs have excellent instructors and there are some quality club classes, but that isn't their mission.

At most studios, the focus is on dancing and fitness, although they do share the "getting people to return" goals of a club. The difference is the focus. The studio needs you to return for the dancing, the club wants you to return for the food and drinks.

Dance studios tend to have much higher numbers of repeating/returning dancers than most club classes.

Studios often have "series" classes, where it's assumed the students are building on the previous classes, and repeat students are the bread and butter. The instructors know people attracted to this environment are interested in improving their dancing, and generally put up with more foundational work than most club situations. Longer term this creates stronger dancers, so the studio tends to attract others interested in higher level dancing.

Studio instructors often don't "baby" students. They are nice, but most will push you harder and tend to take a much longer term perspective on dancing than the club classes. Foundation building, some conditioning and stretching are often part of the process, and the instructors assume you want to grow your dancing and will practice outside of class.
Both venues have their strengths and weaknesses, but most people start their dance education at the club classes, then grow into studio classes when they get more serious about improvement.

In part II of this article, I'll expand on the differences and my experiences in the two environments.

Let me know what's worked for you.
To know how to criticize is good, but to know how to create is better.
--Henri Poincare


  1. This is somewhat related to the topic, another interesting animal is the college dance scene.

    As an individual who runs a swing dance club at his university it is kind of a hybrid between classes at a dance studio and a club in the town. You have some individuals who are mainly coming in for the social aspect and use dancing as a means for that. Then you have some people who fall in love with the dance or have done it previously that want to persue it seriously.

    I find that it is kind of the middle ground between a studio/workshop and a club, in that it is more newbie friendly and less intimidating for newbie then a studio/workshop and provides more oppertunities for serious learning then a club. But has the downfalls of not providing the extremes that either of those places do.

  2. I agree with your descriptions, and I usually take studio classes... but sometimes with the opposite results! That is, a studio instructor will often slow down the class in order not to lose the weakest members, since they need to have students returning in order to stay in business. A club instructor will teach what he or she planned, and doesn't have to worry as much about whether everyone got it, especially since many of the people are beginners who would be lost in almost any case.

    The other advantage I sometimes see in club classes is that the moves are more leadable on the dance floor. Plus, there's the benefit that you get to practice right after class, which hasn't been possible with the studio classes I've taken.

  3. One thing about the club classes is that it seems a little easier to approach the women after class since I've danced with them in class.

    But in response to SnowDancer, I've always found time in my studio classes to practice afterwards. One place has a short half hour practice between two of the classes, another has a practice session for a couple of hours after class. One place, the students just hang out after class and practice in the hall or find some where to practice. Let me tell you, when you're practicing in a limited space, it really helps you stay on line and take small steps.


I love feedback. Your thoughts, feelings and comments are appreciated. Civil disagreements and other points of view are always welcomed!

Feel free to send me private mail if appropriate.

Don Baarns - Unlikely Salsero