Like many young girls, my parents signed me up for ballet class at the age of three. The difference between most ballet students and me is that I never stopped. I went on to study dance in college and even pursued a professional ballet career. But even children who don’t become professionals learn valuable lessons from extensive dance training.
Why is dance a good activity for my child?
At a young age, students in ballet class learn about hard work, respect, and self-motivation. In a class of 10-20 students, it’s impossible for the teacher to give each student full attention every moment. So ballet students will learn how to focus and correct themselves, even when they are just starting. A dance class is usually very structured and students will often perform the same exercises week after week. This teaches children discipline and above all to love the process of hard work. Even dancers who train intensively but don’t make it to the professional level will excel in many other fields of work, due to the skills learned from taking dance classes. Dance students learn about passion and strive to be better than the day or year before. There is also a camaraderie among dance classmates that will teach your child how to work as a team and build others up. And of course, your child will be participating in a fairly rigorous physical activity in the process.
How do I know what dance school to choose?
First, look at what type of track your child wants to be on. Many schools separate students into recreational and conservatory/company levels. If you and your dancer are looking to only take one to three classes (and they’re above the age of 6), chances are that you are will be on a more recreational track. But if your dancer is interested in taking four plus classes a week, they can be involved in company, performances and other studio events. Depending on what genre of dance your child is most interested in, you can find a school that fits your needs. If your daughter dreams of being a professional ballerina chose a local school that will be more ballet focused. Or if your son is interested in hip-hop, you can find boys breakdancing class once or twice a week.
What does being a part of “company” mean?
Being in dance company can mean several different things. At some schools, it means that you audition for a team based on your age and compete in local competitions. Competitive dance has become popular in recent years and students will perform a routine before a group of judges in a variety of styles and receive marks. These routines can be performed as a solo, in small groups or as a whole team. Dances are placed into different categories based on dance style, number of dancers, average age, and experiences. Studios that have these teams are generally known as “competition studios”.
Some studios will have a non-profit or civic ballet attached to the school that puts on yearly or bi-yearly performances. This may mean that your dancer may have to audition for specific roles and rehearse about 12 hours each week, often on weekends. This is where you’ll see studios putting on the Nutcracker or other spring performances. Many of the sets, costumes, and marketing materials are all generated by volunteers.
What if my child is older, is it too late for he/she to start dance?
Absolutely not! It may be a bit more difficult to start off with because they probably won’t be at the same level as other students their age. To help your child transition into classes smoothly, you can do private lessons or talk to the teachers. They may recommend starting them out at a lower level and seeing how your child does. But there have been many professional ballet dancers that haven’t started until they were 12 or even later. As long as your child is willing to put in some extra hours, he or she can still succeed!
Is it okay to change studios?
There may come a point in your child’s dance training that they want to move to a different studio. This could happen for a variety of reasons. Because they want to do competitions, they want to train with a school that has a company attached or they want to get more serious about their studies. Of course, this is okay! It means that your dancer is ready to move on and further their training. Make sure that you and your child are ready for a bigger time commitment, longer hours and possibly more rigorous training. There are many professional training schools around the country, and some dance students will move away from home at age 14 or 15 to continue their studies.
How can my child get on the path to becoming a professional?
In today’s day and age, there are a lot of different paths that you can take to be a professional dancer. Of course, you can be a professional ballerina, but you can also be a commercial dancer and perform in music videos and commercials, or dance in Feet of Flames or even go to Broadway. No matter which genre your child loves, there’s a path to make it into a career. Talk to their teachers for recommendations and more information on next steps. There are boarding schools for ballet all over the country and some are even attached to professional companies. There are lots of opportunities for commercial dance in LA and NYC. And you can look up local masterclasses to get your dancer additional training.
Above all, dance training is fun and is a great afterschool activity for all ages. Keep in mind, that many schools offer discounts for families will multiple children, so it’s great for all your little ones. There are so many different styles of dance that there is bound to be one that your child will fall in love with. My first ballet studio was The Academy of Dance Arts in Tinton Falls, NJ. Check out dance schools in your area and start your kids on a path of creativity and hard work!
We’d like to recommend few books:
Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina
Determination meets dance in this memoir by the history-making ballerina, Misty Copeland. The story of her journey to become the first African-American principal ballerina at the prestigious American Ballet Theatre.
Apollo’s Angels: A History of Ballet
Jennifer Homans, a historian, critic, and former professional ballerina, wields a knowledge of dance born of dedicated practice.