I’ve recently been on the phone with moms whose children love to dance. These moms are hoping to foster that love and give their children the opportunity to develop their talents. When they see a ballet class that is open, and that fits their schedule and budget, it would seem like the right thing to do, right?
My answer is: hopefully! A dance class is a wonderful place to be! But it is important that the class meet the child’s needs, and the right needs at the right time and in the right order.
I wanted to share here, when I would make more money with FULL classes, why I sometimes encourage parents to wait, or keep looking for other classes that suit the needs of their children better. Though the classes described below pertain to Ballet Aligned’s system of progression, the concepts and objectives related to the age of the dancer are widely applicable no matter where the dancer pursues his or her training.
So let me compare that process to building a fire. Perhaps the idea of roasted marshmallows sounds appealing, so you set out to build a fire. You may have fuel and a good space for the fire, but you can’t begin with the big logs. The flame starts small and burns kindling. Slowly you add larger and larger pieces of wood, making sure there is space for air to flow so the flame doesn’t choke itself out. If you add too much too fast, the fire dies. If you neglect adding anything once a steady flame has grown into a fire, it flashes hot and dies out and you’ll need to start all over again.
How does one fan the flames of an interest in or love for dancing?
When the dancer is small, start small. Though your 3-5 year old may be able to tolerate a very focused hour once a week for multiple weeks in a row, will the hour spent grow his or her love for dancing? Find classes with LOTS of oxygen for these younger dancers. Ballet Aligned offers “Mini Sessions.” These classes build on dancers natural abilities, gently introducing them to ballet class structure, themes, and technique by engaging their movement and imagination – the oxygen for this age group. The classes are short (30-45 minutes), and aim to be over before the little dancers are “over it.” Additionally, they run for very brief lengths of time – 3-6 weeks max. This helps a curious dancer take a taste, then take a break. When you are three, and four, and five, and six, etc., you can explore the whole wide world of possibility, and dance is just one piece of it! If the curiosity and passion never come fully back around, better that the little dancer has had a wonderful experience and grown his or her knowledge of classical ballet!
As attention spans grow, and/or once a love has been established, the 5-8 year old dancer can grow into understanding the beginnings of ballet. And ballet begins where all dance begins – in the body, in space, and in time. These classes, when offered by Ballet Aligned, are called “Ballet Beginnings” because they move a curious and energetic dancer down a path to better “dancing.” She becomes more coordinated throughout the body, finds musicality, can move in multiple directions with varied movement quality and dynamics. In Ballet Beginnings, consistent weekly attention is paid to fostering the joint mobility and flexibility necessary for ballet. AND the dancer is encouraged to dance, to USE his imagination and create MOVEMENT.
The dancer has grown her dancing into a strong flame that is ready to EXPAND.
Once that coordination, strength, flexibility, and body, space, and music awareness have been fostered, it’s time to get down to basics – add real sticks to the fire that begin to create a lasting heat. Ballet Aligned’s, “Ballet Basics” for dancers age 6 all the way to 11, begins to establish positions, name the names of the movements, and begins to instruct more comprehensively on correct execution. There is still space for the flow of imagination, using lots of creative imagery and encouraging the dancers in their free expression.
These concepts, now developing, lead into the ability to create a strong foundation for the demanding classical technique of ballet. And that is Ballet Aligned’s next progression: “Ballet Foundations.” This class begins to require much of the focus necessary to mastering ballet technique. To build coordination and strength, classes more than once a week are necessary. Generally it is not appropriate for dancers younger than 8, or those who have not experienced the more fundamental stages of dance covered by Ballet Beginnings and Ballet Basics. A lot of focus in this class is placed on correct alignment and core placement. The class literally established the foundation upon which refined ballet technique is possible.
The age ranges described for the classes above are wide intentionally. The development of a dancer is unique and does not always correspond perfectly with age, nor do most dancers grow in steadily incremental ways. Wise parents and observant and skilled dance teachers can help guide this progression, making sure that the fuel added the the budding dancer’s fire of passion is appropriate, neither choking out or letting it burn out too soon.
Once the foundation of ballet has been appropriately built, more time and more attention moves the dancer through intermediate to advanced levels and on to fulfilling his or her dance goals and dreams!
By Steffanie Casperson, director of Ballet Aligned