Starting Your Child in Dance Classes
I began my training at the California Ballet School and later became a company member of the California Ballet Company, dancing in many classics. I also trained at United States International University where I received my BFA in musical theatre and directing.
I was fortunate enough to be trained by Madame Margarite Ellicott, Maxine Mahon, Charles Bennett, John Hart OBE, Ann Howard, Erling Sunde, Elizabeth Sutorius, Roland Dupree, Joe Tremaine, George Koller and Steve Condos. I hope you can benefit from some of my hard-earned tips and tricks. I receive a constant stream of phone calls and emails from parents, wondering what the right age is to enrol their child into dance classes, not to mention, what the right class is for their kid who loves to spin around the living room to the latest Top 40 music.
For all of you parents out there, here are my honest thoughts on the subject:
1. Should a two-year-old take a dance class alone? The simple answer is no. Mother and child classes great for kids of this age and they most definitely benefit from you being there with them. Three and four year old children are excited to explore a performance like dance; it can be a lot of fun for them.
2. Due to a three-year-old’s lack of exposure in a social context, it can be a tricky adjustment for them. It can be a somewhat daunting experience i.e. being introduced to a new teacher, getting used to a large mirrored space, making new friends, learning new skills and even hearing new music. It can be a scary time. So bear in mind that they will need an adjustment period which could be a few weeks. Remember your first days of school? Change and a new environment will cause a little apprehension. This is completely natural.
3. At four-years-old it’s all about fun, exercise and developing social skills. When a child is this age, they won’t know their right leg from their left, and certainly won’t know the difference between a feather step and a free spin. It is totally normal for a child not to retain all of the new movements that they are learning.
4. At age five, kids are little Duracell bunnies who are full of endless energy. They are almost ready for Kindergarten and love to learn, not to mention making plenty of noise. At this stage they can grasp how games are played. They are really beginning to comprehend things and a ballet or creative movement class can be best. A preliminary introduction to marching, skipping, turning and leaping is so vital, regardless of what their future style may turn out to be.
5. Six is the perfect age to take their first (time) step into the realm of dance. A child has had an opportunity to become accustomed to classes, listening to and taking direction, as well as acclimatising to the dance studio space. They have an improved attention span, and it’s at this stage that you should allow them to explore particular areas that they show an interest in; be it jazz, tap etc. Ensure that you show interest in what they are learning. This is a new skill and you, as a parent, should engage with them fully on it. Some brand-new dance lingo might pop up in conversation; terms like jazz-square, grapevine, plié, relevé, shuffle, and flap.
6. It is significantly more difficult to place middle-school and high-school students. At SASPA, we will ensure we have all the necessary information about your child before we place them; lots of questions will be asked about their age, how they learn, their size, and of course, the all-important question of why they want to dance.
Most reputable studios will facilitate classes targeted toward teenagers and up; you’ll want to check these out. Your seventeen-year-old daughter doesn’t want to end up in a class full of tweens. Generally, high-school students feel most at ease with others their same size. Older students feel most comfortable with others the same height.
Some Other Helpful Hints:
Encourage your little one to see through their commitments. In early development, a child who learns that they need to finish what they start, will grow up to have an appreciation for their activities and lessons; much more than one who is allowed to quit the moment they dislike something.
Your child’s success in dance class, in terms of accomplishment and attitude, is directly proportionate to their “equipment” fitting correctly and in keeping with the dress code, as outlined by the instructor. Having the proper attire for dance class is as important as it is for soccer practice, or skating lessons. For dance attire check out the following stockists.
Dorothy’s Dance Shop Sunset Square Shopping Ctr 1532 Austin Hwy S.A., TX 210-829-8454
The Strand at Huebner Oaks 11255 Heubner Rd. Suite 107 S.A., TX 210-558-4200
Ventura Plaza Shopping Ctr 434 N Loop 1604 W., Suite 1102 210-545-4700
Migalitos Shoes 7321 San Pedro Ave. Suite 3, S.A., TX 210-349-2573 (Flamenco skirts and shoes)
Where and when a child is placed is completely at the discretion of the teachers. Instructors understand what learning styles and dynamics occur in the dance studio; trusting their judgement is a sign of respect, so leave your child’s performance education in their safe and capable hands.
Say this: “Thanks, Mr Conway, do let me know if there is anything Lucy can work on at home to get better! She would love to move into the advanced class and she dances at home all the time!”
Instead of this: “My five-year-old, Lucy, still isn’t potty trained, but I really feel like she’ll fit in great with the 8 year-olds in advanced Tap on Saturday mornings!”