“When should I enroll my child in dance classes?”
It’s a question our academy staff is asked often.
BalletMet’s academy is split between three age groups: The Children’s Division focuses on classes for students ages 3 to 7. Our Student Division includes ages 8 to 18, and our Trainee Program is for pre-professional dancers in the 15 to 21 age range.
Abilities and interest levels will always vary, so knowing when your child should begin taking dance classes ultimately comes down to an individual student’s motivation.
Daryl Kamer, BalletMet Dance Academy’s co-founder and the Coordinator of the Children’s Division, has been teaching dance for roughly 55 years and says the reason to start your child at an early age (3 to 7) has less to do with a career in dance and more with the many physical, mental and social benefits.
“It’s true that you don’t have to have a child start at a very young age because you want to make them a dancer,” she says, “but what they take away from it that is applicable in other parts of their lives makes a big difference.”
Here are a few of the (many) ways dance classes can benefit your child.
It helps with physical development.
One of the most obvious payoffs to taking dance class (at any age) is the physicality.
“There are some things that are just so basic to being a person,” Kamer says. “One of those things is just the ability to move.”
BalletMet’s teaching staff is vetted by the academy and goes through training to ensure they have a solid understanding of the physical abilities that come with each age group. Curriculum is designed in such a way that emphasizes the individual child while also helping them progress from level to level.
Ambre Emory-Maier, the Director of Education and Associate Director of BalletMet 2, says the physical rewards of taking dance as a child are vast, compounding and unmissable.
“We’re always moving,” she says,” whether it’s task-driven or driven from an expressive standpoint. It helps with that, and it helps to build muscle tone, which builds strength within the skeletal system, which sets you up for a healthier aging process. That in turn supports our cardiovascular system, our endocrine system and our nervous system. That’s very apparent.”
Emory-Maier co-authored research on BalletMet’s Wiggle Jig program, which brings dance into early childhood education classrooms. An impact evaluation found that the average number of students completing or exceeding expectations in neuromotor goals grew from 32 percent at the beginning of the program to 80 percent at the end.
Body awareness, Kamer and Emory-Maier say, also plays a pivotal role in dance.
“The more knowledge we have about our own bodies, what we’re feeling,” Emory-Maier says, “the better off we are in lots of ways.”
It supports important social skills.
Observing children as they first enter a classroom is usually very telling, Kamer says.
Often, a few will approach the teacher with no reservations. Others, however, are more reserved. They might cling to a parent or resist heading into the studio.
But a good teacher, Kamer says, will notice their hesitation and give them time to observe. He or she will begin the class with an engaging activity, something that captures their imagination and invites everyone to respond. It doesn’t take long for the shy student to want in on the fun.
“Usually, that’s all it takes and they can’t help themselves,” she says. “By this time, if they were afraid, they’re all into it.”
That confidence builds until, eventually, all of the students are lined up at the door before class, eager to get started.
Dance classes also incorporate creative problem solving, Emory-Maier says, which increases the brain’s level of neuroplasticity, or its ability to change and evolve. Children might become more flexible in their thinking and more empathetic.
“They’re willing to take the perspective of someone else because they’ve danced the role of a character,” she says.
It benefits them at school.
Storytelling and ballet go hand in hand, and children will experience the magic of telling a story through movement both in their own dance classes, which enhances creativity, and in the studios throughout BalletMet.
The professional company is often in rehearsal as academy students take class, and Kamer says it’s magical to see how children’s attention spans lengthen as they observe the dancers.
“One of the most rewarding moments for me is watching children as they’re waiting for their class to begin, standing in the doorway absolutely still,” she says. “They’re transfixed because of what they’re seeing in front of them. That is huge.”
Longer attention spans will certainly serve them well at school, as will the aspect of music and rhythm in class, Emory-Maier says. They’ll learn to sequence and fragment time, which supports mathematical skills, too.
“Parents might not think so much about that if they have a 3-year-old,” she says, “but certainly as they get older and hear about testing and how to help their kids achieve, there is that element of how can I make sure my kid is successful?”
Ultimately, if you’re considering enrolling your child in dance, you can rest assured that the benefits are plentiful, diverse and long lasting, whether he or she will dance professionally or simply enjoy it as a hobby.