Are you thinking about signing your child up for dance lessons? There are many things to consider when choosing the right class and instruction for your child. Their age, true interest, commitment and focus play big roles. Not only do the classes cost, so do the shoes, costumes and training uniforms. Before you and your child jump in to a random class take some time to discuss this decision fully.
I Grew Up Dancing Ballet
Dance came naturally for me as a child and I was always performing in the house. I would throw on my favorite record, Michael Jacksons, Thriller, and make up my own moves. My first pair of tap shoes were worn around the house as I would make noise on the linoleum. I remember having the nutcracker cassette in my walkman and dancing in the driveway, seeing how all the dancers would work together in my head.
My mother signed me up for ballet classes when I was four years old. I also took tap and jazz class when I was older. Ballet was my first love of dance though. Ballet required the most time and commitment. I was not forced to go to practice, I enjoyed it, I looked forward to it. My mother encouraged my interest. She had me in dance classes three days a week and took me to the library to check out all the ballet books. They had big glossy pictures filled with ballerinas and images of dancing. I loved the costumes but also remember the details like the ballerinas feet that were taped and bandaged and bleeding after shows. It was intense and beautiful to me.
My Mother also signed me up for a children’s theater production hosted at our major performing arts center. I performed a production of Jack and the Beanstalk when I was six along with a whole adult cast and dancers. This was a major production however I was young and fearless. Not all kids can handle this. A large scale show will test your child. There was tryouts, casting, practices after school, full sized stage, performing for an actual audience, not just doting parents. Can they handle adults giving them guidance? Can they be away from you for hours and behave with the other cast members back stage? Can they handle multiple shows for a live paying audience on back to back nights? Those are things you want to discuss with your child when choosing their path in dance.
Ballet Is Very Educational, In Addition To Physical
Ballet is very detail oriented and there is a lot of history too. Other forms of dance such as jazz and tap still have history, but are newer styles that can be and are encouraged to improvise and freestyled. Ballet follows classics choreography in recreating works that have been done many times. There are specific moves, positions, steps that are practiced in a certain order. It takes many years of training to become good at ballet and many more to go on to dance in productions or with a company. There are many factors to consider when deciding if ballet is right for your child and is it a true talent worth pursuing or if its just a phase.
What Age Should We Consider Starting Ballet?
Generally, most programs do not offer ballet until the child is at least four years old. Some programs may do a form of “mommy and me” dance class for children three and under. Other programs may do a fun pre-Pre-Ballet class for children under the age of four, which is mostly focused on following directions, getting their bodies moving, and having fun with classmates.
Once a child is four years old, there is generally an option to begin with pre-ballet, which will continue for several years until your child demonstrates that she is ready to move beyond the basics.
Next question–even if your child is old enough to do ballet, SHOULD you enroll her as young as four years old? I don’t think that there is any harm in enrolling a child in organized sports and other classes, so long as the focus of the class is appropriate for a young child, and that the child still retains plenty of free time outside of school and ballet to play.
What I hate to see is children pushed into very formalized activities at a young age, with a lot of pressure on them to perform. This is especially the case when the child has not time to relax or enjoy the many joys of childhood (climbing trees, playing with friends, popsicles, etc).
Are Dance Classes Good For Toddlers?
Absolutely! Children need to move! Dance classes help children develop their posture, rhythm, flexibility, and balance. Getting really physical with friends is fun, and social. It starts teaching them a lot of the basic skills they’ll need when they start preschool (listening to a teacher, following directions, lining up, taking turns, comprehending oral instructions).
However, what your toddler is learning probably couldn’t be considered “ballet.” Instead, it is a lot of moving around to music wearing a tutu. Keep that in mind before you drop the big bucks on toddler ballet class.
Where To Get Started With Ballet?
There are community classes that can teach the basics of ballet to see if your child is interested. These are more loose format, teaching kids to pay attention, rhythm and coordination. These local classes may not give a proper education in dance if your child is truly looking to perform. Often a child will need a private teacher or private classes with small groups that are much more involved. Ask for the teachers qualifications and background before joining the class. Local community classes may just be ran by volunteers helping out with a love for dance themselves. True qualified teachers that will take your child to the next level will have a resume of productions and it should go on for years.
What Will She Learn In Ballet?
The details of ballet start with bar work. Hours spent doing tiny repetitive movements at the bar. Pointing the toes perfectly, arching the back, curving the hand and the arm, looking over your shoulder just right. There is so much form and technique that goes into building the muscle memory of a dancer. All of the basics must be mastered as part of the foundation of a true ballet dancer. Ankles must be strong, arches must be high. Dance teachers can seem harsh, but they are sculpting focus, muscles and regimens that will allow the performance to come off effortlessly. That is the beauty of ballet to me. I know how hard it is behind the scenes and how much effort each dancer on stage has put in to stepping on point or spinning ten times in row to a perfect stop look easy. It is not easy. Ballerinas make the hard look easy. That is their magic.
All of the hours put in at the bar made me very strong and prepared my body to do other physical activities such as softball and skiing. Looking back, the conditioning I received from ballet class was more intense than any of my sports undertakings. It wasn’t until I stopped ballet that I begin enduring injuries to my ankles and my knees. Both knees and one ankle have been completely replaced with surgery. I believe ballet could be a great cross training tool for athletes to work on mobility and tiny stabilizing muscles all over the body and avoid injuries. There is so much stretching and aspects of yoga included in ballet that any athlete could benefit.
Will Ballet Damage Your Feet?
Ballet can be hard on feet. There is no getting around this. However, if there is any damage to be done, it generally doesn’t occur until ballet dancers begin dancing “on pointe,” which generally does not occur until a dancer has been doing ballet for several years. On pointe shoes are generally made from fabric, cardboard, paper, and glue, with a small box placed in the tip of the toes for the dancer to balance on. Doesn’t sound comfortable, does it?
Ballet dancers experience bruising, blisters, corns. They may also struggle with ankle and other muscular injuries.
Before a dancer can dance on pointe, she must train for many years to develop the musculature in her legs, ankles, and feet to support the strain of on pointe dancing. This is one reason why it is important to vet your ballet studio carefully. Your children’s ballet teacher should be cautious and careful about allowing students to begin dancing on pointe, rather than pushing them to it. Assuming that a dancer is strong enough to handle on pointe dancing, she should be okay.
Further, the people who tend to experience severe issues with their feet due to pointe shoes are the ones who are dancing professionally. They are the one who spend the most time on pointe, and they have incentives to work past the pain that other normal dancers would listen to. The average young person who is being supervised carefully probably does not have to worry about damaging his or her feet permanently because of ballet.
Ballet Dancers Are Athletes
Trained dancers are true athletes as well. Their defined muscles, incredible flexibility and agility have me in awe. Misty Copeland is a current dancer and the first black lead of a major company. I follow her on IG to stay inspired in the world of dance. She was recently signed with Under Armor as a face for the brand. In a few of their ads they showcase her along side of football and basketball players with slow motions of their muscles flexing and sweat dripping. Its truly impressive the level of effort she has put into her body and owning her craft. She currently is inspiring the next generation of dancers to greatness.
Shows like “So You Think You Can Dance” and “Dancing With The Starts” have become popular in recent years. They showcase many different kinds of dance and music. These shows are family friendly and can introduce your child to a wild array of options. Ballet is just one practice of many.
What About Boys and Ballet?
Although ballet is geared more towards women in general, most pieces and stage performances have a male role or lead as well. Encouraging young men or boys to try dance classes, gymnastics, tap and jazz as well can let him know it’s OK to express this more free side, artsy side that is often reserved for only women to express.
I believe men are taught to be tough and that dance is not tough. However when we are all toddlers, we bob along when music plays while parents laugh. Before we have any preconceived notions of gender norms or societies expectations, we all feel the rhythm and dance, all though it be free form. It is a purest form of expressing joy through movement. Dance aligns us with our heart beat and the bass of the drums that vibrate to our soul. I wish more men would dance and connect with their soul in this purest form of expression. If your young man is interested in really pursuing dance, maybe go the route of a more qualified dance company. They will support him and he will have male dancers as role models to look up to. Take him to the ballet performances at your local performing arts center too. You have to see what you want to be.
For male athletes that are in the likes of football, baseball and basketball, taking ballet classes as a team through a more general local community based class once a week as a supplement to their training in the off-season has shown to greatly decrease injuries while increasing mobility, speed and cutting down on bulk while remaining strong. Male dancer are extremely athletic. If the costumes of ballet throw your young man off, find an alternative dance production without tights and frills.
Get Out and Watch A Performance Together
One way that you can determine your child’s real interest in dance is by taking them to professional performances. Start with the local high school theater shows. Not only is this a great way to support the community, it is an affordable way to introduce them to the arts. See if that keeps them interested. If so move on to your local performing arts Center where major dance companies come through with presentations. If your child really wants to be a dancer at a higher level, they will sit on the edge of their seat during these performances. I remember I did. Being between the ages of 6 and 12, watching adults perform, being the only child in the seats, getting dressed up for a night out with mom, I was moved by the dancers performances.
My early years in ballet and my mother’s willingness to take me to major productions gave me a respect and love of the arts. Many children do not receive that opportunity. I’m not saying you need to take the kids to expensive shows all the time, but sprinkle in a performance at the theater the same way you would take them to the local cinema to see blockbusters. Check out books at the library, watch videos on YouTube, expose them in as many ways as you can. The access and availability to dance instruction on line is mind blowing today. Let them try, let them fail, let them sore, they will not know until they take a class.
Before you go, check out another article from one of our awesome Mom Advice Line contributors:
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