Do your children ever walk on tiptoes? Do they shake their hips and tap their feet to the beat of the music? Do they often zoom and twirl around the house? Enroll them in dance classes!
The benefits are endless. Not only is dance a fantastic form of exercise, but it teaches kids about dedication, movement, expression, and rhythm. Dance classes give kids expression, confidence, strength, and grace. Dance makes kids happier and healthier.
The American Heart Association and other health-conscious organizations recommend that people exercise regularly - that adults should have half an hour of exercise per day, five days a week. The recommendations are different for children and dependant upon their age. For infants, exercise is more about motor development and early recognition and coordination. Toddlers should get one and a half hours of exercise a day, mixing what they call "free play" (running around, playing in the yard, etcetera) with a structured activity. They recommend a similar mix of "free play" and planned activities for preschoolers, but with the suggested time bumped up to two hours per day. Elementary schoolers and their older siblings ought to get between half an hour to an hour of exercise a day, but it does not have to be a solid hour. In fact, it is better for them to have a break between activities, to cool down a little, have a water break, then focus on a new activity.
If children attend regular dance classes, they will gain muscle tone and get a leaner form with body definition. Exercise also helps lower blood pressure and, in turn, stress. If kids have had a crazy day at school, they can dance to their heart's content,releasing all of that pent-up stress and energy. The more physically fit they are, the more recuperative sleep they will get at night.
There are as many types of dance as there are personalities. Tap is tops for some, while others prefer hip-hop. Character or theatre dance will appeal to the Broadway-bound. Modern, contemporary, jazz, ballet, country linedancing, traditional Irish stepdancing, ballroom - the list goes on and on!
Dance class may introduce children to new friends as well as new hobbies. Social butterflies will love chatting and dancing with other kids their age. Bouncy kids will burn off excess energy in uptempo classes, while quiet kids might take to the classic forms of dance, such as ballet. Bossy types might benefit from a seemingly strict teacher or class, where they can learn focus and discipline, or rejoice in a choreography course, where they get to make up the steps and teach them to other kids.
The same can be said for teens and adults. There are classes out there for every age and ability. Some adults go to stay in shape while others go to socialize. Teens might enroll in a dance class in school for P.E. credit and discover an unexpected passion or new talent.
Babies and toddlers also benefit from Mommy and Me (or Daddy and Me) class. It's a fun time to bond with your kids, to be goofy with them and to dance with them to the music. If you want a calmer atmosphere, check out yoga classes for little kids and families. These classes are quieter and they teach a lot of strength poses and stretching. They also have elements of meditation and thought, making you calmer and more thoughtful.
Classes are everywhere. Local YMCAs and recreation centers often offer free classes. There are also public and private dance schools. Don't let the price of a private school deter you or your kids from applying! Ask if any scholarships are available. Find out if any classes offer reduced prices for siblings.
If you are considering enrolling your children in a regular class at a dance center, see if the
instructors permit people to observe or take part in a class before enrolling. This can save you time and money if you find the class not to your liking or need to assess ability levels and requirements.
If your kids audition for a dance group, show, or company that you are unfamiliar with, always check out their legitimacy before going to the casting call, and always feel out the situation before paying them anything.
Dance will benefit your children in so many ways: socially, physically, mentally, and creatively. Give them a chance to show you their favorite dance!
Dance Lessons = Life Lessons
Five year old Liza recently started taking ballet. After rehearsal a few weeks ago, she told her mother, "When I dance, my bones make a fun design, and when I stop, they turn back into a regular skeleton."
"I dance because it makes me happy," says high school junior Taylor. Her favorite styles of dance are modern and jazz. She recommends the Westside School of Ballet.
Stacy, a high school sophomore, started dancing at age seven. She especially loves ballet and jazz. "I think kids should start taking lessons when they feel ready and willing, at a studio that is kid-friendly and fun."
Seventeen-year-old Matthew dances because "it's just what I do. Dance just came naturally. It's a freedom of expression and a way to incorporate my athleticism and creative talents."
Also seventeen, the exuberant Siena loves Irish dancing, which she has been taking since seventh grade. "I have a lot of fun and it's an interesting hobby to bring up -- 'So, you do Irish dancing? What's that like?'" She also enjoys Scottish dancing. She recommends Cleary School for traditional Irish dance classes.
Matthew points out that you don't have to take lessons in order to dance. He has never taken a formal lesson at a dance school, but he is part of his school's esteemed dance company. He favors contemporary and modern dance, and enjoys choreographing pieces for himself and others.
Jennifer Lynn Barnes took dance classes from the time she was three until the time she graduated from high school.
"For me, the dance studio was the one place that always felt like home. It was the kind of place where you knew everyone, and there was always plenty of love and hugs to go around."
When she applied for college, she wrote her essay on dancing. "[Out] of all the activities I did, it was the one thing that I never did competitively - I just did it because I loved it. Even now, though it's been years since I took classes, I still find myself dancing at the most random times. If I stand in any one place too long, my feet start moving absentmindedly through barre exercises without me even realizing I'm doing it."
Lorie Ann Grover, author of the novel On Pointe, speaks and writes from experience. She is a classically trained ballet dancer and was a member of the Miami Ballet Company.
"Like my main character Clare in On Pointe, I feel as if I'm 'turned inside out' when I dance. It's an amazing sensation of my spirit showing through my form. The mix of mind, body, and music creates a complete moment of honesty for me."
"I wrote On Pointe because I wanted to share a story of a teen not achieving her dream. We tell children they can be and do anything, and sometimes that just isn't the case," she points out somberly. "Sometimes for reasons outside of their control (like growing too tall) a dream ends. We need to support teens and each other when that happens. We need to encourage and nurture another dream. Also, I wanted to share that an art can be pursued for love of doing rather than for performance and fame."
Grover feels that all children should be exposed to dance. "It's an entire world of expression they might love exploring. Both their minds and bodies will be exercised, and they'll learn discipline and perseverance."
She enrolled her daughters in modern, expressive dance classes when they were very young. Now they take ballroom and swing. "When they were toddlers, I knew that they'd be tall and their bodies would not fit most classical ballet standards. Therefore we didn't encourage that pursuit."
Dorian Cirrone is the author of Dancing in Red Shoes Will Kill You, a novel about a teenage ballerina. "I think being a dancer helped prepare me for being a writer. It sounds weird, but I wasn't a natural dancer and I had to work really hard to get my body to do certain things. That perseverance is something that has served me well.
"Also, as an adult, I've noticed that my friends who never danced or did a sport are reluctant to try different exercise experiences like Jazzercise, yoga, or Pilates."
Cirrone herself has been dancing since the age of three. She favors jazz and tap, and she takes Jazzercise classes several times a week. "I really like how I feel while dancing and afterward, when I feel like I've given my muscles a workout. I like the music too."
Cirrone also has dance teacher credits on her resume. "I think kids can start doing pre-ballet and tap around three years old, though I think it's important to go where it's fun and the teachers are knowledgeable about technique. When I taught dancing years ago, we would see lots of students come from other studios who had picked up bad habits like poor posture, tense shoulders, etcetera."
Dance also introduced Cirrone to her life-long best friend. "We met at the dance studio when we were teenagers."
Terie Garrison, technical writer and author of fantasy novels for teens, took ballet for six years as a child and went on pointe at an exceptionally young age. Too young, she thinks. "Plenty of young dancers are good enough to dance on pointe; proper teachers don't let them until they're old enough."
Barnes also studied ballet and did pointe work. "I remember when I first started wearing toe shoes, I used to bleed straight through them sometimes, and I never even noticed until I stopped dancing and took them off. I've done a lot of athletic activities over the years, but dancing was the only one that suspended reality so much that I literally didn't feel pain."
Barnes added, "There's something really powerful about doing something and creating something at the same time, and that's what dancing always was for me."
"I dance because it's fun," says Kimberly Hirsh, Latin teacher by day, musical theatre actress by night. I dance because I like the feeling it gives me that I am in control of my body. I dance because I like that hyperawareness of physicality."
Hirsh started taking dance lessons when she was in high school. She continues to take dance class now as an adult. She loves tap dancing, but feels she is best at theatre dance, the focus of her current class.
She recommends that kids start taking lessons as soon as they're old enough to express interest. She encourages kids to take lessons wherever they can. "I wish I'd been taking dance from an itty bitty age, but I was so happy to learn that it's never too late to start."
Grover's first classes were at age 5, after her mother was told by the doctor that her daughter was going to be 6 feet tall. "She wanted me to have grace to walk across the room."
Paula Chase Hyman has always been fascinated with dancers. She once took a ballet class for adults, and she watched her daughter in tap and ballet rehearsals and shows for two years. All of this gave her "a greater respect for the level of work and degree of difficulty it takes for something to look so effortless in front of an audience. I respect dancers a great deal."
Now twelve years old, her daughter has been involved in competitive cheerleading for the past six years. She says dance class helped her with rhythm; her mother thinks it also helped her with commitment.
"Our cheer season is anywhere from six to nine months long," Hyman explains. "If you don't love it, you won't last. The dance season was equally as long, from September to June. I think being so deep in [dance] prepared her, taught her what dedication is, very early."
Garrison remarked, "Taking dance lessons all those years as a child has left me with a lifelong sense of wonder for what the human body can do. I have a good sense of balance and of my own body. I am very sure-footed. I seldom fall, even when hiking in steep terrain, and when I do, I do so gracefully and don't get hurt."
"Dancing has completely shaped me," Grover readily admits. "I know the discipline of one plie
after another every single day. I know the work, and sweat, and struggle necessary to achieve. And I know that perseverance equipped me to be an author. And at 6 feet I, thankfully, did retain a bit of grace to walk through a room as my mother hoped."
Stacy simply and truly loves dance. She feels as though it has given her a strong body, regular exercise, discipline, good posture - "And grace, I hope!" She also has made a lot of friends in her classes and has a lot of fun.
Stacy always seems to have a smile on her face, and while discussing dance, that smile is brighter than ever. "Dancing makes me feel alive, healthy. It makes me feel beautiful too."
"The most valuable thing I've gained from dancing is confidence," Hirsh declares. "I've considered myself a performer since birth, really, but I didn't consider myself a dancer until I started taking the [dance] class. Even though I always could dance, I needed a teacher to tell me I could before I would actually believe it."
Hirsh is firm and positive in her declaration: "Kids and adults should never feel as though they are too old for dance class, because you never are."
Kids that are hopeful dancers or simply curious about the profession can learn more through books. Please see my booklist entitled I Am a Dancer for highly recommended juvenile fiction and teen fiction about dancers.