Most dance studios have a way for parents to unobtrusively watch their child’s dance class in progress. Whether it is a viewing window or a monitor, parents often see much more of class than they can hear. Consequently, many parents do not realize the slow and steady progress their child is making is because it looks like they are “just doing the same thing” week after week.
Here are a few points to consider when observing your child’s dance class from the waiting area.
1. The goals of an early dance class are participation and enjoyment rather than memorizing many steps. Preschoolers are able to remember and demonstrate many basic dance skills and terms. This is usually a source of great pride for the youngest dancers and they can show off what they’ve learned in class. However, the goal of a dance class at this tender age is not necessarily the memorization and reiteration of dance terms. Instead, strive for your child to gain a love of dance and movement, an enhanced creativity, improved social skills, coordinated motor skills, heightened expressiveness and the countless other benefits of dance class. There will be plenty of time to memorize the ballet dictionary down the road.
2. Dance is learned through muscle memory and repetition. As I’ve mentioned in the past, every ballet class, in every studio, at every level begins with plies.
A ballet barre is crafted in a specific order in order to prepare the body for the movement that comes afterward as the dancers move to “center floor”.
This repetitive motion is teaching the muscles how to react as movement becomes more challenging. Professional dancers do plies every day of their life. The repetition that comes with a typical dance class is necessary and imperative for creating fluid movement.
3. Many steps take years to perfect. Just because a dancer is doing plies in every class does not mean that each plie is the same. As a dancer matures, more and more understanding of proper technique is employed.
While preschoolers can “make a diamond shape” with their knees and mimic a plie movement, more advanced dancers will be thinking about using resistance, initiating the rotation of the legs from the hip joints and not “sitting” at the bottom of the movement.
Each stage of dance education comes with additional layers of technique and understanding that can be applied to the movement. This is why advanced ballet technique takes years and years to accomplish. And why it is so easy for the untrained eye to observe “the same thing” in each class.
4. Every dancer learns at a different rate. As you watch your child’s dance class, you may note that some students pick up movement very quickly while others take a bit of trial and error to master the steps. Even when dancers are grouped according to age and level, dance is a very individual activity.
Some dancers struggle with rotation. Others struggle with extension and flexibility. Some dancers will remember all of the choreography immediately, while others take repeated demonstration to retain it.
Each dancer should be encouraged to progress at her own rate, revel in the things she can do well and work hard on the things with which she struggles. If your dancer is mastering one particular skill well, that’s awesome. But it does not necessarily indicate that she is not well-placed in class. Different dancers struggle with different things.
5. The dance school instructor is skilled at giving each dancer the feedback they need to succeed. When you observe dancers moving across the floor one or two at a time in dance class, know that the instructor is giving the students appropriate, individualized feedback.
The “across the floor” portion of a dance class is a great time for instructors to see each student exclusively and offer the kind of help he or she needs. Dance teachers are aware that some students need to be shown multiple times, while others need a detailed verbal explanation and still others just need to try and try again.
A great instructor will attempt to decipher a student’s particular learning style and use this portion of the class to help each dancer in the way that suits her best.
6. Too much too fast is detrimental to a great dance education. Dance technique is built in layers. Like a coat of paint, each layer needs to dry and set before the next is applied.
The hallmark of a fledgling dance teacher is giving advanced choreography before the dancers are ready. A great instructor will know when to challenge and when to pull back and perfect and solidify the technique that is still emerging.
When your dancer looks confident and energetic on stage you’ll be happy she wasn’t given too much too soon.
Dancing in Denville since 1993
469 East Main St.
Denville, NJ 07834