Where have all the dance students gone?

Why study dance when you can party?

Across the country, many dance studios struggle to fill their dance classes. Even at the most prestigious studios with the best instructors, attendance at dance classes seems to be declining, especially in Philadelphia.

Dance class by Degas: Before reality TV, YouTube and dance clubs.

After teaching dance here for ten years, I can’t help wondering where all the dance students have gone. What competing attraction is grabbing their attention and money?

I believe that dance students today are quenching their dance thirst in places other than traditional dance studios. Such as:

Reality TV

So-called “reality TV” is a relatively new phenomenon, and many of these shows— like “Dancing With The Stars,” “So You Think You Can Dance” and “Dance Moms”— focus on dance. Most dance aficionados either love these programs or hate them. I’m grateful for the enhanced awareness, promotion and appreciation of dance generated by these shows, but I believe this kind of programming is keeping students from the studio.

Many students now choose to watch and practice dance in front of the TV in their own homes. This is better than nothing, but it’s no substitute for physical dance classes at studios. Unlike a TV set, an exceptional teacher will correct your posture and bad habits and bring out the best in your movement.

I also suspect that the intense competition and scathing judges’ comments on dance reality shows may keep some potential students out of the studio. They may fear that a local dance studio setting may be just as brutal.


These days many potential dance students, especially under age 40, are watching a lot of dance videos on YouTube— from ballet to hip-hop and everything in between. It’s free and easily accessible. And once you venture into YouTube, it’s so easy to get sucked in. Minutes can turn into hours and days of surfing its “related videos.”

The downside? I believe that many potential dance students are skipping dance classes in order to surf YouTube for free, short instructional videos. Again, that’s better than nothing, but it’s no substitute for traditional in-studio dance instruction


Walk into any Philadelphia club and you’ll see dancing— good, bad and in-between. For many potential dance students, the club dance floor has become a surrogate studio: They learn to dance to their favorite music while partying with their friends. It’s less expensive and more fun than the impersonal rigor of a dance studio.

At these clubs, I’ve witnessed people teaching each other how to dance, encouraging some of them to show off their moves in the middle of a dance circle while discouraging others from dancing in public.

That scenario pretty much sums up this sad state of affairs: In a city blessed with wonderful dance studios, today many potential dance students seem more interested in partying.

Sign Up For Our Newsletter

Want previews of our latest stories about arts and culture in Philadelphia? Sign up for our newsletter.