September 20, 2011

You’ve Got To Move It

From Ballet And Ballroom To Tap And Jazz, Class Instruction Can Teach Children How To Dance While Fostering Confidence And Important Life Skills

By Cristina Dimen

Little ones often showcase their first dance
moves—swaying, bouncing and clapping their hands—before they take their first
steps. As they grow, many kids show a further interest in exploring dance,
whether it be classical ballet, modern dance, tap, jazz, hip hop or ballroom.
But with so many worthwhile extracurricular activities available, why choose

Why Dance?

Dancing positively influences children’s lives
in many ways. In addition to gaining self-confidence and learning to express
themselves through creative movement, kids develop proper posture along with
strength and flexibility, they learn to work well with others and cultivate a
sense of musicality. In fact, dancing even prepares children for the classroom,
as one of the first things small dancers learn is to “focus and pay attention
to the teacher,” says Virginie Mécene, Director of the Martha Graham School of
Contemporary Dance
and Artistic Director of Graham II.

Grooving also does greatness for multitasking.
“Dancers are organized individuals who can juggle their academic and dance
classes,” says Kate Thomas, Director of the School at Steps. Through dance,
“kids develop patience as they wait for their turn and improve their memory as
the sequence of steps gets longer,” says Hanne Larsen, Artistic Director of
Downtown Dance Factory (DDF). 

In terms of creativity, “dance fills your spirit,” Diana
Byer, Founder and Artistic Director of New York Theatre
Ballet and Ballet School NY, says. “Young children studying dance acquire learning
skills, observe how their behavior affects others in the room, and develop
concentration and a healthy body awareness. They learn to recognize music

Moreover, Shelley Grantham, the School
Coordinator and Peridance Youth Ensemble Director at Peridance Capezio Center notes that children’s
dance class is also about “learning how to use their bodies as a form of
expression. Whether it’s through modern or ballet or hip hop or jazz, it’s a
way to get their artist voice out through movement.”

What To Look For

After deciding to enroll in dance, finding the
right class that suits your child is the next hurdle to clear. “When I’m talking to
parents, I always ask for a little bit of feedback on the child: what do they
do at home, are they really active, do they sit quietly and color for a while,
do they bounce off the walls?” says Grantham. “I try to get some personality
traits to help to try to place their child into the appropriate class, the
appropriate style and the appropriate level.”

When considering classes, “parents should look for a school with experienced teachers who
have a
Ballet_Academy_East_2__Photo_credit_Rosalie_O_Connor_.jpgwarm and positive approach to teaching, a well-equipped facility and, if
possible, live accompaniment,” says Julia Dubno, Director of Ballet Academy
(BAE). Consider the teaching method as well;
Renata Celichowska, Director
of 92nd Street Y’s Harkness Dance Center, recommends a lyrical and storytelling
approach for teaching creative ballet. Most of all, says Jo Matos, Director of
Children’s Programming at
Joffrey Ballet School, look for a great teacher. “The teacher’s background is more
important than state-of-the-art facilities,” Matos adds. “Observe a class—see
how teachers relate to their students. Ensure that they’re in control of the
class, while being caring and loving.”

“The instructors from the school should teach the class
rather than give the class,” Diana Byer recommends. “Since each child is
constructed differently both physically and temperamentally, the instructor
should correct each child as an individual and not only give general instruction
to the class as a whole.” 

Most schools offer a range of programs for
different age groups, from Mommy & Me classes for 2- and 3-year-olds to
pre-ballet classes for 3- to 6-year-olds to more intensive pre-professional
classes for kids 7 and up, many of which require auditions for admittance and
placement. Enrichment classes are available for non-vocational students of all

Getting Serious

Dance can begin as soon as a child is able to move, but
formal instruction for some genres may not be appropriate until a later age.
“Children should not study serious ballet before the age of 7 or 8,” says
Byer. “They can begin learning simple folk dances as young as 3.”

As a child’s casual interest in dancing
transitions into a more serious pursuit, parents should expect an
age-appropriate increase in commitment in terms of time and focus. “By 11 or 12
years old, students committed to dancing take classes four to five days a week,
plus rehearsals for performances,” says Matos.

Yvette Campbell, Director of the Ailey
, notes, “Serious 13-year-old dancers take one to two classes a day.
At this point, dancing could be their only activity outside of school.”

Supporting Your Dancer

“Dance is a great thing to teach your child
whether they’re going to be a dancer or not,” Grantham insists. “If you think
about it, in the 1400s, 1500s and 1600s, dance was a part of society and
everyday life. Whether it was tribal dance or folk dance, it was something that
everyone in the community did to celebrate…it was something that was used as a
form of expression and as a form of storytelling.”

While young dancers today immerse themselves in a world of
pirouettes, snazzy jazz steps or the enticing beat of West African drums,
parents can nurture their interest by asking children to demonstrate their
latest moves, attending student performances and taking them to live
productions. Finally, “parents should dance—if kids see their parents dancing,
it will encourage them,” Celichowska says. So go ahead, boogie down with your
kids and revel in the joy of creative expression together.

Where To Take Dance In NYC

74th St. MAGIC, 212-737-2989,

92nd Street Y’s School of the Arts, 212-415-5500,

Albee School of Dance, 718-852-7025,

The Ailey Extension, 212-405-9500,

American Youth Dance Theater, 212-717-5419,

apple seeds, 212-792-7590,

Applause NYC, 212-717-0703,

Ballet Academy East, 212-410-9140,

The Ballet Club, 212-204-6348,

Ballet Hispanico, 212-362-6710,

Broadway Dance Center, 212-582-9304,

Brooklyn Arts Exchange, 718-832-0018,

Children’s Museum of Manhattan, 212-721-1223,

Church Street School for
Music and Art,

Creative Arts Studio, 718-797-5600,

Creative Play For Kids, 212-729-1667,

Dancing Divas and Dudes, 917-279-4351,

Discovery Programs, 212-749-8717,

Downtown Dance Factory, 212-962-1800,

The Early Ear, 212-877-7125,

Eastside Westside Music Together, 212-496-1242,

Gymboree Play and Music, 877-496-5327,

Gymtime Rhythm & Glues, 212-861-7732,

JCC of

Jodi’s Gym, 212-772-7633,

Joffrey Ballet School, 212-254-8520,

Kidville, 212-772-8435,

Lower East Side Dance Academy, 212-343-1620,

Lucy Moses School, 212-501-3360,

Manhattan Movement
& Arts
Center, 212-787-1178,

Manhattan Youth Ballet, 212-787-1178,

Mark Morris Dance Group, 718-624-8400,

Martha Graham School of Contemporary Dance, 212-838-5886,

Miss Kristin’s Shooting Stars Performing Arts Company, 212-987-2203,

New York Theatre Ballet and Ballet
NY, 212-679-0401,

Peridance Capezio Center, 212-505-0886,

Reebok Sports Club/NY, 212-362-6800,

The School at Steps, 212-874-3678,

The Sports Club/LA, 212-355-5100,

Steps on Broadway, 212-874-2410,

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