Ahh … Fall. Fall not only means the beginning of school, pretty leaves, and novelty lattes, it also means the start of extracurricular activities and sports! If your little one (or older one) is starting dance classes this year, here are a few things to help everyone get going! As a dancer of more than 20 years and a teacher for 7, I have compiled a list of tips and tricks to help anyone just starting out in the world of dance. It’s a fun and exciting world, but if you’ve never been a part of it, it’s nice to have the inside scoop! Dance is a wonderful art and has so many benefits! This is a lot of information, but there is SO much to be said for getting your child in dance classes!
They will get to be star performers … eventually.
The first class won’t be all leaping and twirling around like The Nutcracker. It is important to remember that kids have to learn the correct technique behind how to do all of that first. I’ve seen many disappointed preschoolers when the whole class wasn’t just twirling. There will be plenty of that soon, just not at first! The first preschool class is basics and a few movement games. If your child is upper elementary, the first class will be basics for a brief period then jumping right in to new technique. This will probably be new for everyone, even those who have been there for a few years. Sometimes kids don’t realize this and get nervous thinking that they are the only one who doesn’t know what a word means. But that is probably not true!
They won’t get to “stand on their toes” at first either.
I always tell my small dancers that I see trying to stand on the tops of their toes, “When a dancer is ‘en pointe’ or alllll the way over her toes, she has on special pointe shoes that have a box for her toes to stand in. That’s how she is able to do that. Until you get those special shoes, don’t stand on top of your toes; stand on the balls of your feet.” Then I show them how to do that and what we call it. Most girls will be ready for pointe shoes once they turn 11 or 12 and their teacher thinks they are ready. You could actually hurt yourself trying to do it sooner or without the proper shoes, so it is important to follow the teacher’s suggestions.
Dance has a lot of “funny words”.
Most of the ballet vernacular is French. If your child has not been exposed to languages other than English, this may sound funny or even made up. On the flip side of that, we all know preschoolers are hard to understand sometimes, let alone when they are trying to literally speak another language. Here is a great resource for help if you need a Ballet Dictionary or a Ballet Dictionary for Kids.
They will absolutely get to dress up in a sparkly costume!
Girls will get to put on make-up and perform on “the big stage”. The end-of-the-year recital is when they get to dress as a ballerina and show off what they have been learning all year. This is definitely something to look forward to! The excitement of recital still makes me happy as a teacher. It’s the most wonderful time of the year for the dancer. Performing for an audience and getting to show off all your hard work at the same time? Yes, please!
They’re making a commitment.
If your kid is misbehaving too much during class, maybe dance isn’t really for him or her. Make sure your child actually wants to be there before you commit. Ask the studio if they can take a trial class before signing up. If your child decides that she doesn’t like it after a few months, try (as best you can to a preschooler) to explain to them what committing for the whole year means. Encourage them not to quit until after the year is over, especially if the class has already started choreography for recital. It’s difficult to rearrange and reconfigure everything once the class has learned the routine. Plus, sticking it out will help them to learn how to be a team player and disciplined when it comes to commitments. (Though, some studios may give the choice to opt out of the recital if shiny costumes and big stages aren’t your kid’s thing.)
If you think your kid will love dance, chances are, they will. Maybe a little encouraging and reassurance is all he or she needs! Dance classes are great for coordination and gross motor skills, not to mention confidence and creativity building! It’s a great outlet for expressing yourself if you don’t always have the words to do so. It can be extra beneficial for kids who have a rough time at school or who have a crazy home life. Maybe it will give them an escape for the moment. It can be something to do that is just theirs.
It’s DEFINITELY for boys, too!
Dance has many benefits for kids of any gender! As a boy mom myself, I think about this a good bit. My 2.5-year-old son LOVES to dance and pretty much always has. I brought him with me to a tap class, and he was mesmerized. He’s also suuuper impressed with Zumba and tumbling. Just watch any dance competition on t.v. and you’ll see the guys rocking it! But they have to start somewhere, right? Dance is just as fun for boys as it is for girls! And if we’re being honest here, the dance world could use more guys! If he wants to do it, I will totally sign my little man up for a dance class when he is old enough!
ALLL that being said … now what?
A few tips for getting started:
Finding a class
If you are looking for the perfect dance school for your child, go to Google (or check out our Guide to Youth Sports). You can search for something like “best dance schools in Birmingham” to see what pops up. Look at the reviews, click through the teacher bios, find out what classes are offered. Attend any open house events they may have. This is a great way to meet the owner and teachers at the studio. You can look around the studio and see what it’s like. This also gives you a chance to ask questions.
Keep in mind that sometimes the closest studio may not be the best fit for you. If you want your child to get the most out of his or her time in dance classes long-term, I’m not talking “professional dancer” here (unless that’s what you want), you probably want to look for a school that encourages ballet. The student could, of course, take other dance disciplines too, but ballet is a solid foundation for any other style of dance. There is so much to be said for taking ballet classes along with jazz, tap, hip hop, etc.
What to Wear
Don’t freak out if your dance studio has a required uniform. This is to ensure that the teacher can see everyone’s body placement and lines in the same way. It helps the teacher to guide the students to the correct technique and prevent injuries. It also helps students practice the discipline it takes to become a dancer. Most uniforms will be a leotard, tights, ballet shoes, and hair worn up in a bun. If the school requires a certain color leotard and tights, make sure you get the right ones; otherwise, you just want something that fits correctly so your child is comfortable. Also, you will want to get a bag to carry shoes and supplies back and forth, bobby pins, hair clips, hair nets (yes, multiple!), and hair spray.
I always like to buy extras of everything.
You WILL use it eventually and it’s nice to have a fallback in case you can’t find something or you end up with a hole. Buy several pairs of tights at a time and don’t open them until you need them. That way you will have a guaranteed nice-looking pair when you DO need them. Or if your child outgrows them, you can return/exchange or sell them.
When I was a dance student, I always had an unopened pair of tights in my dance bag, along with extra bobby pins and hair spray that never ever left the bag. (Hairspray can help with runs or holes in tights too!) You could even have a spare leotard in there as well. I’ve had so many littles come in my class in tears because they couldn’t find the leotard or tights for class.
If the bun thing freaks you out, YouTube has great tutorials like this one. Sometimes the little “donut buns” aren’t as helpful as they seem. Once you get the hang of it, it’s not bad at all! Oh, and hair nets are your friend — use them!
It is important to know that, like pretty much anywhere you go, dance studios will have a certain level of etiquette. A few things to keep in mind:
1. The teachers are highly qualified and trained.
If you have questions, it is perfectly OK to ask them! I’m a mom too, so I get it. If I don’t understand why something is happening or why the teacher has done something, I will ask. But remember that it is indeed his or her class and not yours. So, the decisions about who stands where and who gets what part are up to the teacher.
2. Being on time means being early.
If the class time is set for 5:00, show up at 4:50. Make sure your child is in place ready to BEGIN at the class time, not rolling into the parking lot still in street clothes. If you have a hectic day and don’t have time to get ready at home or just barely make it by class time, communicate that with the teacher so he or she is aware and can work with you. If you are late, you are missing valuable warm-up time. Warm-ups, barre, and stretching are ESSENTIAL to a dance class to prevent injuries and to build flexibility and strength.
3. For preschool-aged children, starting dance can be overwhelming.
Some kids will waltz (Ha! Had to. Sorry.) right in like he or she owns the place, while others may be timid or even teary. Some classes allow parents in the room, and others may have a window outside the studio for observations. Follow the rules for the studio and what is best for your child. If you need to physically leave the studio, make sure the teacher is aware of that. The teacher will probably have an enticing game or song ready to start class, so encouraging your child to participate as you’re leaving is usually best. Hopefully he or she will jump right in!
There is so much to take away from childhood dance lessons, from motor skills to creativity to friendships to college scholarships.
Dance has always been a passion for me. I can’t really remember it not being a part of my life. I have learned so much from being a life-long dancer, such as the importance of teamwork and also how to be confident as an individual. I learned about healthy competition and motivation. I wasn’t always (ever) the best in the class, but I wanted to be. I would try as hard as I could to achieve my goals in class, which in turn taught me how to do that in the real world. Even though I had some medical and health issues that could’ve kept me down, I didn’t let it. Dance taught me how to express my emotions and keep working towards my goals. Even as an adult, sometimes I just put on some music and dance when I need a minute to regain my composure and clear my head. I could go on and on … There are so many benefits!