Q: I'd like to transition to a class structure where dancers are assigned to classes based on the level of their dancing rather than age. Do you have advice?
A: We went through this same process a few years ago at our own studio and have found offering two different training tracks to be beneficial to our student base, which is diverse in both age and ability. One track is based more on advancement by age (recreational), and one is based on advancement by skill (intensive). As the curriculum becomes more challenging, a method for testing or assessing skills may be the most objective way to progress students to a higher level.
In order to train in our intensive track, or advanced-level classes, you have to be registered in our ballet program, where we administer progress reports and exams from an outside panel of reviewers. For the other genres of our intensive track (contemporary, jazz and hip hop), there are prerequisites for joining, including a minimum of three to five hours of ballet a week. The age range of our intensive level is 12 to 18. For example, a 12-year-old could qualify for our most advanced contemporary class.
Our recreational-track students can advance in their levels, but it's based first on age, and they train in a basic ballet curriculum where exams are not required.
Keep in mind that peer camaraderie is often a key reason students stay engaged and enthusiastic. A major change in your program leveling should be done over a period of time that serves your current student base, makes new students feel comfortable and allows dancers to successfully move into new classes as they grow.