Monday, December 2, 2013

Studio vs. Club Classes: Different Animals (Part 3 - Studios)

This is part 3 of a series. Please check out Part1 and Part 2 before reading this article. You'll find some overlap between the articles, but that is normal for a series.

Dance studio classes and club classes may appear similar at first, but there are distinct differences you'll want to keep in mind. Part 2 focused on club classes. This article (Part 3) focuses on studio classes.

Studio classes are different than club classes. As a rule, they're simply more serious in terms of skill development. Their goal is to do as much dancing as possible, refining the details and building your foundation for future growth. The social side exists before or after class, on your own time.

The instructors tend to push you toward improving your technique, providing plenty of details. Few studio instructors allow you to talk for even a minute or two between exercises. I've seen instructors almost yell at students who are talking during exercises. Think of it as an adult ed class at your local college.

It's not like military school, but it's also not for someone just "looking for a good time." The good times can be found when you're social dancing and your skills are greatly improved; class time is for growing and refining your skills. Don't expect alcohol at the juice bar (often water is the only option.)

At a club class, there is often a wide mix of skill levels, even when the class is advertised as "intermediate" or "advanced". With the help of a drink or two, everybody thinks they are above average and joins the fun.

Studio classes are often segregated by levels. Classes have titles like "Jazz 2", "advanced hip-hop", "intermediate turns", "open level" (code for "way over your head unless you're advanced", etc.). When you look at the schedule, many classes make it obvious they expect some prior experience.

At many studios, the classes labeled "beginner" or "basic" have a mix of "true beginners" but often the most advanced students attend to fine-tune their fundamentals. This raises the overall level of the class, and beginners can easily be overwhelmed. (Hang in there; over time it gets easier.)

If you attend a class that is over your head, it's expected you'll stand in the back and not get in the way of the more advanced students (some may run you over if you get in their path). Traditionally, the stronger students are in the front, and the newer ones toward the back.

Why should you even consider going to a dance studio or class that is NOT at a club? It often costs about the same (or more), and sometimes you can't even practice after the class or get a drink.

Studio classes generally focus on more foundational work that pays off over a longer time frame (weeks, months or more) but would bore most club students. That foundational work won't show up on the dance floor tonight, but a couple months down the road, you'll be a much better dancer than most club students.

Studio classes often work harder on the foundational aspects of the dance. They might take a week to study the music, work on balance, core strength and spinning foundational exercises, or regularly do exercises that pay off in the long term. This is because studios tend to operate under the assumption that the students attending are working to be above average.

Studio classes are often the place people go after they become bored with the club classes

This type of student wants to go to the club as an above average dancer, so they are looking for opportunities to grow their dancing quickly. However, many will do some homework if they are having fun. Many also cross-train in other types of dance, providing additional avenues for growth.

The value is often cumulative, with exercises leading to much bigger gains over time. This is why the studios are not for short term thinkers or for someone simply wanting new patterns for this weekend.

For example, if you take a jazz class at a studio, a third or more of the class is dedicated to conditioning, balance, stretching, strength and foundational exercises. The norm is to work on your foundation before you do any routines or "dancing". Attendees at club classes would usually walk out if you told them to stretch and do some balance exercises for 10 minutes before dancing, let alone invest 20 minutes in foundational work.

The dance studios provide excellent longer-term value for those looking to be above average. They are generally more serious and attract the more skilled students, raising the level for each attendee.

As you improve, it makes sense to check out both locations for growth. Use the clubs to pick up a few new patterns after you're experienced, or break into a new club where you need to make some social connections.

Let me know your experiences in the two locations.


  1. That looks painful in the picture above. Glad that some others can do that.

  2. Robert,

    I have to admit that many of the traditional dances have warm-ups and conditioning that is not simple. Only if you do them over months (or years) do they pay off... Flexibility and strength training is a part of many NON salsa classes. (Studio salsa classes rarely stretch.)


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Don Baarns - Unlikely Salsero