Friday, March 18, 2016

Training our youngest dancers (Ages 3-7)

Training our youngest ballerinas and ballet boys is an important job that seems easy enough to do.  How hard is it to teach a march, skip or tiptoe run??? 

Much harder than you might think!

Sometimes parents feel like their dancer should be trying more advanced movements. Be patient.  This will happen in due time…… it is important to instill a love of movement and expression into a young dancer’s life, then carefully prepare their body and mind for more advanced training in the future.

Our youngest little dancers (age 3 and 4) will likely do mostly creative movement in their dance class.  Creative movement is dance with props, movement and storytelling.  This creative dance allows the child to move freely and express themselves openly in the setting of a ballet class where they will also learn basic movement like marching, skipping, galloping, etc.  Dancers will practice their balance on one foot and jumping with two feet which takes much thought and coordination at this young age.  They will learn how to follow the leader, stand in a line and make a circle.  They will learn to take turns, work with a friend, listen to the teacher and listen to the rhythm of the music.  Quite quickly they learn the difference between “strong music” and “flowing music” . . . and will even adjust their free dancing to match the music.  All these skills are incredible to learn at such a young age and they will be beneficial to them as they hit “school age” in life outside of their dance classes as well.

When a dancer has a few years experience and is now ready for some more “serious” training, we introduce syllabus into their class with more importance.  In some cases this is when a dancer might start to lose interest because the class becomes more structured. 

So why must we “torture” young dancers with syllabus?  It is important to PERSEVERE! By age 5 and 6 a dancer should be preparing their muscles to avoid injury and be able to successfully demonstrate work for the level they are taking in order to progress.  Syllabus ensures a gradual and careful build up of technique so that a dancer’s body can then handle each level with ease.  Syllabus challenges a young dancer’s mind to remember details, musicality, and corrections and to apply these each time they dance.  Much like gymnast who can’t do a back handspring before they’ve worked on a bridge, a ballet dancer can’t do a pirouette before learning to balance on one leg.  Syllabus helps with this preparation greatly.  At this age, teachers may also introduce gentle stretching into the class as a warm up for the muscles and in order to further help a dancer avoid injury. Also, what is learned in syllabus is then demonstrated on stage.  As an example, the ability to remember there are 4 pliés turned out in 1st position (in the syllabus) exercise will translate to the stage when your child needs to remember there are 8 sautés in 1st position in their dance.  A dancer should be able to transfer their technical understanding of that step done in syllabus in their class to the stage when they perform.

One of the most recognizable concepts in ballet is turnout.  This is the rotation (outward) of the legs (and feet), and there are many, many muscles which need to work hard to achieve this. Turnout is then “held” in this way while a dancer executes certain movements.  It looks easy but it certainly is not.  A trained teacher will be able to recognize each dancer’s natural ability to turnout and will think of each dancer independently in order to teach them about this as well as ensure they are doing this correctly and safely.  Ballet teachers need to be ‘hands-on’ in order to help a younger dancer feel their muscles or feel correct placement because often-times dancers don’t quite know yet what is “correct”. 

Indeed, teaching our youngest dancers is a rewarding but difficult task.  They can be needy, inconsistent, and require constant motivation.  They are also willing to “think out of the box”, “be silly”, try new things, and work hard to please their teacher.  This makes young dancers pretty amazing to teach!

When watching your young dancer’s ballet class or performance don’t just watch for all the impressive “moves” they make.  Instead, watch to appreciate how much YOUR child has improved.  Notice how impressive it is that 12 little dancers are working together to make a “v”.  Observe how incredible it is that young dancers can march on beat to the music.  See the joy in a child’s eyes when they dance freely.  See the pride in a young dancer’s face when they put up their hand to offer an answer to a question asked by the teacher. Be impressed to see your dancer trying hard to make sure she is applying the correction a teacher just gave her.  Be appreciative of the teacher who is trying to make pliés engaging and fun.  Be proud that you have chosen to give the gift of dance to your child!  Dance will influence their life well past the time they are in lessons - I guarantee it.

J. Homister

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