Finding the perfect dance class for your child can be frustrating at times, especially if your child is very young.
Most children ages 3-5 have very short attention spans and are too immature for a one-subject class such as ballet or tap. When children are put into these serious subject classes where there are very strict techniques to learn, they often become bored, which leads to disruption in the class. These children often have bad experiences with dance class and unfortunately never return to any dance class ever again.
When observing a variety of dance classes for your young child to participate in, you should choose a class with a lot of variety. The kind of class you should look for is a one-hour class split up time-wise with various learning activities so your child is learning and doesn’t have time to get bored. For example, the dance class should be segmented into sections such as pre-ballet, tap, eurhythmics, some tumbling activities and creative work. The following are some examples:
1. Pre-ballet: This is fun and prepares the child for future more advanced techniques by learning very basic skills that will be carried through advancement. Children will learn how to make a circle and how to make the circle small and large. They will also learn how to keep the circle round while walking around in the circle. The next step will be to learn how to change the direction several times when the teacher calls. The same thing is done again. The only thing different is that the children are running gracefully on their tiptoes with their arms out. This is a great for warming up the children’s bodies and teaching them direction-change coordination.
There should be some stretching involved. Children should sit down and do some creative stretching. A good dance instructor will create some stretches while pretending to eat ice cream and do arm movements called Porte bras while pretending to be flowers, sun and moon, etc. Children also learn basic plies and tendus, but at this young age there is not great pressure to keep perfect posture.
Some other activities in pre-ballet that children enjoy are learning to skip forward, backward, in one big circle and with partners. They learn to jump facing front and back as well as jumping in a circle right and left, 4 counts to each side. They also learn to chase’ in counts of 8 changing directions from right to left.
2. Tap: Children usually stand in a straight line and learn very basic steps and sounds. Basic steps learned are toe step, heel step, hit step, side toe step, 3 toes step all alternated right and left. These steps are done in one place. The traveling step is toe-heel forward and backward. Slow shuffles, shuffle step, shuffle hop step and shuffle ball-change, in order of difficulty.
3. Eurhythmics: This is done with rhythm sticks. Children learn to count to 4 and 8 while hitting the sticks together. Counts 4 and 8 are dancers’ magic numbers. Children especially enjoy marching around the room while hitting their sticks together to the beat of the music. Further advancement includes learning waltz time.
4. Creative Movement: Examples of this would be pretending to be puppies where children would get down on their hands and feet like a puppy and walk around the room. Another example would be pretending to be a horse and have the music start at a slow pace and speed up into a fast gallop. The alligator move is a good move and also the most difficult where the children lie on the floor on their stomachs and use only their arms to drag their bodies across the floor. This is done to very slow music. All of these moves help to develop a child’s muscles and motor skills.
A dance studio in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania has a favorite they call the butterfly kit. As the teacher hands out hand-made antennas and wings, the class talks about how butterflies become butterflies. Then the teacher asks each child to tell the class the colors that are on his or her antenna. This process gives the children a time to rest, as well as giving them some constructive talk time. The children and teacher then stand at one end of the dance studio and as the music starts they do caterpillar walks until the music changes. The change of the music signals them to spin their cocoons. When the music gets slower, the class pretends to get tired and eventually they fall asleep on the floor. The final change in the music signals them to wake up, take their wings and they are now butterflies happily fluttering around in the sky.
5. Tumbling: The tumbling section is very basic starting with log rolls down the mats on each side. Once the children master the log roll, they move on to forward rolls and backward rolls. Children also love to walk on balance beams that are very close to the floor, which is great for establishing balancing skill and coordination.
All of the ideas mentioned here are only some of the activities children will learn in a class of this nature. Children will not get bored, have fun, learn and without realizing it, develop many motor and coordination skills. There is much more that a good creative teacher can include. The activities will be more difficult for 5 year olds than for 3 year olds. These are just the basics.
Deborah Bowman has been a dance teacher/choreographer for 30 years. Born into a family of dancers, her family has owned and operated a dance studio for the past 58 years. Not only does Deborah love to teach and choreograph dance, but she also loves to write. Deborah has recently started her own home-based business. She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Arts Management/Professional Studies from Duquesne University.