Ballroom Dance > Experience at Arthur Murray and Questions about Indie Studios in DC

Discussion in 'Ballroom Dance' started by PhantomK91, Oct 4, 2017.

  1. PhantomK91

    PhantomK91 New Member

    *EDIT* I think this might belong in a different sub-forum but I cannot figure out how to delete my thread.

    Hi all, short time lurker and brand new member to the forum. I've been taking classes at an Arthur Murray in the DC area for several months now. I've read a lot of mixed feedback about Arthur Murray/franchises in general, some of which I can totally relate to. This is certainly the most I've ever paid for a hobby and I wouldn't be surprised if Arthur Murray charges more than independent studios, but that brings me to my first question.

    How do I find independent studios around the DC/MD metro area? I've googled, but only found ballrooms which do offer some privates but seem more geared towards social dance nights (Hollywood Ballroom, for example) and studios like Avant Garde and Dance Bethesda, which are not franchises as far as I can tell, but whose prices, once group and dance parties are factored in, are not much less per weekly/bi-weekly lesson. Now, maybe the group lessons are less essential as dancers progress, which makes sense, so even a small difference in private costs would add up, but as a new dancer who isn't necessarily looking to compete, it's fun to meet and dance with other similarly skilled people and not just my instructor. Am I missing something or is my DC suburb just ridiculous with real estate costs and thus an outlier to the indie=cheaper rule?

    I will say they teach a variety of dances that others on these forums have not seen at Arthur Murray (country 2 step, west coast swing) though not as a focus to beginners. Also, though I do get compliments from time to time, my instructor is honest with where I can improve and my last private was focused almost solely on technique with no new steps. I'm also constantly reminded about my posture. This is all to say (though my non-AM experience is limited to 2 or 3 more specialized dance studios) I don't feel like I'm being strung along just to keep buying their product like so many have described on here and I do feel much more competent when I go out to salsa clubs and such.

    Thanks in advance for any input!
    Last edited: Oct 4, 2017
  2. PaulBunyon

    PaulBunyon Active Member

    As a non Franchise student, it's hard to answer your question. The Franchise Studios in my area are very closed about disclosing any pricing. I'm not curious enough about it to sit through a verbal sales pitch. My independent studio puts their prices on the internet. Here they are:

    -Lesson is 50 minutes

    5 for $400 ($80 per lesson)
    -5 private lessons (50 minutes each)
    -Full access to Friday Night Variety Dance Parties
    -Access to the studio for practice during non-peak hours

    10 for $750 ($75 per lesson)
    -10 private lessons (50 minutes each)
    -Full access to Friday Night Variety Dance Parties
    -Access to the studio for practice during non-peak hours

    20 for $1400 ($70 per lesson)
    -20 private lessons (50 minutes each)
    -Full access to Friday Night Variety Dance Parties
    -Access to the studio for practice during non-peak hours

    50 for $3250 ($65.00 per lesson)
    -50 private lessons (50 minutes each)
    -Full access to Friday Night Variety Dance Parties
    -Access to the studio for practice during non-peak hours

    Through dance community rumors I have heard that Franchise lessons are over $100.00 each. They include groups and parties (as the ones above do). So yes, just a $20.00 discount if you buy one at a time, but I don't know anyone who does that.
    MaggieMoves likes this.
  3. PhantomK91

    PhantomK91 New Member

    Thanks for the reply! The non-franchise studios around here seem pretty transparent about their pricing (some might have package deals too, which could be a major factor for me if it is cheaper by $20+ per lesson/group class), so I should have made my question more clear.

    I've been Googling "ballroom dance," "dance studios," "independent dance studios" around me and all that came up were the kinds of studios I mentioned in my post, which, at first glance, do not seem much cheaper (unless there are unlisted bundled pricings which I will ask about when I visit the studios. I'm really asking is there something else I should be looking up?
  4. PaulBunyon

    PaulBunyon Active Member

    At my independent studio there are 3 independent programs. Run, not by the studio, but rather people who buy floor time and run their own show. They are Salsa, WCS, and Argentine Tango programs. I think this practice would be unwelcome at a franchise. You may be seeing the same at the studios you are web shopping.
  5. PhantomK91

    PhantomK91 New Member

    Ah, okay, well for specialized programs like that, I certainly have found quality instruction for way better prices than I am paying at Arthur Murray, but I also like learning a variety of dances, on a social dancing level. I'm not currently interested in competing so not super concerned that AM will not be able to make me a competent Silver or Gold (if I do stick around for Full Bronze, I will probably move on afterwards if I still want to grow my skillset).

    I guess maybe I misunderstood, when dancers speak of independent studios, do they generally mean those that focus on one or two programs as opposed to ones that teach a variety of dances like AM and Fred Astaire?
  6. Dr Dance

    Dr Dance Well-Known Member

    As a dancer based in the DC area, I can truly say that dancing here is expensive. I am unsure what you were driving at in your post, but I think you wanted more information about independent studios. I can only offer my BIASED opinion. Certainly there are other DC dancers that would feel differently than myself.

    There is nothing wrong with Hollywood Ballroom. They have some nice indie teachers there that would suit your needs. Paul Huston is a master standard instructor. Nonci Tirado is killer with Latin. Catherine Noblitt will take you to new levels in smooth. Amanda Sterns or Ann Basso will get your rhythm in gear. And Debbie Tuttle is a west coast goddess.

    Their social dances are quite popular. There is a great chance that you would meet at least one partner near your skill level.

    I have heard good things about Avant Garde. But I do find that their high prices are prohibitive for my budget. Same with Capital Dancesport in Bethesda. Both are located unfortunately in high rent districts. The trade off is that the neighborhoods are very nice.

    As the economy struggles, many studios which used to be indie have changed their focus to studio staffers only. This group includes Dance Studio Lioudmila in Alexandria, VA. and Chevy Chase Ballroom in Chevy Chase. The advantage for someone like yourself is that you could attend their socials which are staffed by skilled instructors. Some of these instructors who mingle and dance with the students will make your night! And you could meet another compatible student partner there. The teachers that staff these events make sure that singles are not left out.

    But my personal favorite Indie Studio isn't even in DC. For a 40 mile trek up I-95 and I-695, the Promenade Dancesport Facility in Windsor Mills, Md. is the best of the best. Their teachers are all Indie with mostly reasonable prices. And they have a wide selection of teachers with a wide variety of backgrounds. The weekly Sunday afternoon tea dance attracts an all star cast of social dancers from the Baltimore and DC area. The disadvantage is that you may be intimidated by the collection of great talents at this dance. But the advantage is that this studio caters to all interests including competition training, showcase training, social dance instruction, and just plain old dance improvement. The owner is a dancer herself who loves dancing and dancers alike. Definitely worth a look.
    IndyLady and PhantomK91 like this.
  7. PaulBunyon

    PaulBunyon Active Member

    When people say independent, they mean any place that does not have a franchise contract that dictates most of their business practices. Roy's Corner Burger can put a fried egg burger on the menu if Roy wants to. Your local franchise McDonalds can't.
    danceronice likes this.
  8. PhantomK91

    PhantomK91 New Member

    Got it, that's what I figured at first, but I couldn't locate any independent studios that offered multiple danfes really competitive pricing compared to Arthur Murray (though again, I do recognize that people have other criticisms of AM and franchises in general).

    Someone replied to my post in another forum (I wasn't sure how to categorize this post initially) and apparently, while there are some indie studios around here, there aren't as many as before. And indeed, pricing here generally sucks whether you're with a franchise or not, though driving further away does provide some more options.
  9. snapdancer

    snapdancer Well-Known Member

    I can't tell you specifically about DC since I live in one of the flyover states. But I can say that in general an independent studio probably will not have the word "independent" on their website. You have to see what their business model is. Do they sell their services a-la-carte or do you have to sign up for a program. When you look at a studio website, see if it offers open socials that you can attend and check the place out. Some may offer group lessons just prior to the social, when I travel to another city I'll attend those as a way to break the ice.

    You may need to expand your horizons. My own Google search shows some studios in northern Virginia. Might also check out Meetup groups, find one that has activities at various locations as some of the meetup groups are really just a form of studio advertising.

    From your description of your lesson the studio you have might be one of the better chain studios, if you're being shown how to improve your technique rather than just showing you some steps so they can check off a box that you "learned" xyz pattern.
  10. PhantomK91

    PhantomK91 New Member

    Yes, I kind of felt silly admitting I tried looking up the word "independent" but I wasn't finding what I was looking for without it so I thought I'd give it a shot haha.

    I definitely will look into using other channels like Meetup groups to find schools (searching through forums like this using "DC metro" and similar terms hasn't been fruitful yet). Thanks for the suggestion.

    Yeah, I will definitely shop around though again, many of the non-franchise studios within reasonable driving distance do list prices and they just don't appear [notably] better than AM, though I will dig deeper.

    At least up to the point I am now as a beginner, I haven't felt liked I've had information held back from me during lessons, and the instructors have happily shown me basic steps for dances like bachata and Cha Cha which I haven't learned in classes yet when I ask.

    I don't know how I stack up against similar level dancers at indie studios but I have had several other students express surprise that I've only been there a few months. I'm not naturally coordinated but I drill techniques and concepts a lot in my free time. Maybe the bad rep about franchise students' competence is in part due to franchises casting a wider net and thus having a lot more students who aren't intrinsically motivated to go above and beyond with practice? Just a thought.
  11. RiseNFall

    RiseNFall Well-Known Member

    OP, just to clarify (a little), there are two different types of non-franchise studios. At some, the teachers are on staff. At others, the teachers themselves are also independent--they just pay floor fees to the studio.
    PhantomK91 likes this.
  12. PhantomK91

    PhantomK91 New Member

    Thank you for the plethora of input and detail! I will definitely check out the Promenade Dancesport at some point, though, as much as I love to dance, that's more miles than I'd care to put on my car regularly. And I will inquire further and check out classes at other local spots as well.
  13. PhantomK91

    PhantomK91 New Member

    I was actually going to ask what the first replier meant with regards to studio staff. Thanks for clarifying! Does the latter type of studio mean each instructor tends to be more specialized (not teaching as many styles of dance)? Or is it just having leeway to make their curriculum the way they want? Just trying to get a feel for the differences.
  14. MaggieMoves

    MaggieMoves Well-Known Member

    Generally independent teachers are those who travel or compete a lot and don't have the ability to really stay on staff reliably. They run their lessons like a private business and just rent out space. That's not to stay that staff teachers aren't great either. I can think of a few very well known pros that are currently staff teachers at a studio.

    Some studios do a mixture of both though. The studio I currently go to has that. I am currently with an independent teacher and we rent out floor space, while they also have staff teachers. I will say directly that students of the staff teachers generally get unfair priority over me regarding music or floor space in certain rooms, but that goes with the territory.

    When you start getting more experienced in ballroom, you'll realize it really is the teacher/partner/people that make it more important. A great establishment is a good starting point to be loyal to, but I would first loyal to a teacher I've worked more with than the actual studio he or she works for.

    My suggestion is to try out a few lessons here and there, know what styles you want to learn, and then pick a teacher based on which ones you feel you work the best with and can accommodate your needs as a student.
    Loki likes this.
  15. MaggieMoves

    MaggieMoves Well-Known Member

    Are you based out of the DC area? Those are really good prices...
  16. PaulBunyon

    PaulBunyon Active Member

    No. Twin Cities
    MaggieMoves likes this.
  17. snapdancer

    snapdancer Well-Known Member

    I think that the students often share the blame -- as in "we don't need technique, we want steps." Or ladies who want to jump straight to arm styling ignoring the rest of the body between the arms and the floor.

    I think you have the right approach and the right work ethic to make it long term. Focus on technique rather than steps & patterns and the steps and patterns will come more easily once you have the technique. And I believe that most social follows would prefer being led cleanly in a few simple patterns rather than being flung through some involved patterns with a wonky lead.
    Requiem, IndyLady, Dr Dance and 2 others like this.
  18. RiseNFall

    RiseNFall Well-Known Member

    While some independent teachers are high level competitors and coaches who travel a lot, there are many other independent teacher as well. Some are independent so that they can set their own hours as well as curriculum. There's also the fact that they get much more per hour of teaching than a teacher on staff. (On the flip side, they don't get paid when they aren't teaching.) Some are specialists in certain styles, others teach the same wide variety that OP is used to. I think it's too varied to generalize.
  19. Loki

    Loki Well-Known Member

    I thought all the franchise studios had to have the brand as part of their name, like "AM of Boogerville". Maybe not.

    I'll echo that it's best to try a number of indies out - there's a lot of variation in instructor skill level and what they emphasize in their teaching.
  20. Joe

    Joe Well-Known Member


Share This Page