Starting Your Child in Dance

This is a revisit of an old post in my Starting Your Child in Dance series, which is focused on your child’s beginning dance training.

From the Desk of Miss Sarah: Starting Your Child in Dance


(photo: VJM Studios)

Hopefully, it’s helpful to keep in mind this is from a mom’s perspective, but I also have been a professional dancer, have taught for 25 years, and I’ve owned a dance studio for a decade, too! Most of this was learned from tricky trial-and-error over the years. I hope you can benefit from some of my boo-boo’s and hard-earned tips!

I frequently get phone calls from first-time mom’s and dad’s wondering what the right age and the right class are for their little one who loves to twirl around the living room or bop to the Top 40. I’ve always given everyone my honest thoughts. However, after watching David (my 5-year-old) today in dance class, I thought I’d share my most practical and helpful advice with you here.

1. Two-year-olds are too young to take class on their own. Mommy and Me type of classes are fine for them, but they definitely need some help from you to enjoy this process.

3 and 4 year olds are excited to explore and have FUN! (photo: VJM Studios)

2. Three-year-olds are ready to take class, however the adjustment will be tricky for them due to their lack of social exposure. Meeting a new teacher, exploring a new space that has HUGE mirrors, making new friends, learning new movement, and even hearing new music are all a lot for a little one to take in. Please keep in mind that there will be an adjustment period. Don’t give up on your kid just because they’re nervous the first few weeks! The clingy thing happens to the best of us – leaving and sitting in your car in the parking lot is sometimes easier than sitting in the waiting room where they can see/hear you, too. Just ask your teacher what they’d prefer.

3. Four-year-olds are no different from three’s, except that they can hop on one foot more easily. Kids can easily take the same class three years in a row and not remember a blasted thing you taught them. This is NORMAL! Remember that while you can always hope they learn something, they are still very young and don’t even know their right from their left, let alone the difference between a chassé and a passé! This is about FUN, EXERCISE and SOCIAL SKILLS at this age.

4. Five-year-olds are fantastic, but are balls of energy. These almost-Kindergarteners are eager to learn, eager to please and eager to make noise. They love to show you what they know, and they understand how to play games now. They are really beginning to process what you give them in dance class, and if you have to pick and choose, then a ballet or creative movement class is best, even for boys. (Tell Dad that Lynn Swan and Walter Payton took ballet every day.) This initial introduction to skipping, marching, leaping, turning, etc. is really important, regardless of what style they later grow to love.

6-year-olds are ready to take on "big kid" terminology (photo: VJM Studios)

6-year-olds are ready to take on “big kid” terminology (photo: VJM Studios)

5. Six-year-olds are at the golden age. Now with some school under their belt, they understand rules and listening and focus so much more easily. They have a better attention span, and this is the time to let them explore ballet, tap, jazz… whatever they express interest in. Be sure to ask them what they are learning. It should be a lot of brand new, real-life dance terminology, unlike the 3, 4 and 5-year-old lingo they used to use. Terms like plié, relevé, shuffle, flap, jazz square, grapevine… these should all crop up in conversations, and especially in those impromptu performances in the living room!

6. Beginning middle school and high school students are trickier to place, and a good studio will be sure to ask you lots of questions about their learning style, their age, their size (this really is important to those pubescent girls that feel TALL everywhere they go), and above all else, why they want to take dance. At most good studios, there should be a few classes geared toward a teen/adult crowd that you’ll want to check into. Be careful that your 17-year-old doesn’t end up in class with 6-year-olds by herself. If there are a few other “older girls”, that can work nicely, but there’s nothing worse than be the tall girl in the middle of a bunch of little ones on stage.
High school aged students feel most comfortable with others their same size,  even if it means they are a little behind the curve. (photo: VJM Studios)

Older students feel most comfortable with others the same height, even if it means they are a little behind the curve. (photo: VJM Studios)

*** PLEASE teach your child to follow through with their commitment. A little kid who learns early on that they need to finish what they started will grow up to value their classes and activities much more than those that are allowed to quit the second they “don’t like” something. This also will make your kids really think about which activities they genuinely WANT to do, thus helping you avoid the money pit of extracurricular trial and error.

*** Placement is at the discretion of the teacher or studio owner, not the parent or the student. The teachers have a very good understanding of what class dynamics and learning styles occur in the dance studio, and trusting their judgement is a sign that you respect them and trust them with your child’s education. For example, it would be a faux pas to say this about your five-year-old…”No, my Sally isn’t potty trained and still picks her nose, but I just KNOW she’ll fit in great with the 9-year-olds in Intermediate Jazz on Thursdays!” Instead try, “Thanks, Miss Sarah. Please let me know if there’s anything Sally can work on at home to improve! She’s so excited to move into the big-girl classes and dances at home all the time!”

***Having the proper attire for dance class is as important as it is for football practice or ice skating lessons. Your child’s success in dance class, both in attitude and in accomplishment, will be directly tied to their “equipment” fitting correctly and matching dress code as laid out by the instructor. Be on the look out for my post about dress codes and tips for back-to-school dance fashion as we get closer to the end of August. In the meantime, you can check out Discount Dance Supply for all your fun gifts, dance bags, etc. If you use my promotional code of TP29255 at checkout, you’ll receive a 10% discount (reflected in your final order confirmation page).

 What did I leave out? I’d love to hear your questions, concerns or anything else you’ve been dying to know!

2 thoughts on “Starting Your Child in Dance

  1. Pingback: The beginning of the kind of mind, body, and spirit that makes a star.…

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