If your child is having trouble maintaining their attention in class or has difficulty responding to instructions from his/her dance teacher, there are things you can do to encourage and help them to listen in class. These are discussed in a previous post and are an important prologue to the article below. I encourage you to read Part One, if you have not already.
Appropriate class material is essential for engaging young dancers.
Remember that ballet is a discipline that cannot and should not truly be undertaken until a child is around 7 years old. The maturity, physically and mentally, of a child under 7 is not developed enough for the dedicated study of barre work and technique required for ballet.
Most dance studios teach a mix of creative dance, movement games, and some fundamental ballet postures and ideas in their preschool classes. There are some studios that pay little attention to child development and getting that “mix” right for their youngest students. Perhaps the children spend a lot of time in lines or standing in one spot, perhaps the teacher isn’t as enthusiastic as he/she needs to be or doesn’t set clear limits/expectations for the children, perhaps the children are asked to spend too much time on one thing. Some children do have a disposition that allows them to “hang in there” for some time, even when they are bored or under-stimulated, other children do not. In fact, a rare preschool child enjoys or tolerates the methods of repetition often used for students only a few years older.
Overall, young children do best when things move quickly, there is a lot of variety, when their imaginations and creativity are fully engaged, and when dance is packed with learning that feels like play. Dance at four-years-old should have a strong emphasis on creativity and interpersonal and classroom skills. Its focus should be the development of problem solving, movement (direction, body awareness) and motor (jumping, galloping, kicking) skills. Greater emphasis on technique and choreography becomes appropriate as children begin to advance and increase their dedication to the discipline of dance study.
Consider the teacher’s experience and style.
Not every qualified teacher works well or has experience with young children.
Experience – Way too often, classes for a dance school’s youngest children are given to the school’s most inexperienced teachers. Not all dance schools consider child development and the benefit of an experienced teacher when they provide classes for children. Reasons abound but none of these change that this occurs in dance schools throughout the U.S. (and perhaps elsewhere).
Style – Experience is not everything. Therefore, consider the way your child’s teacher interacts with students, how he/she develops a rapport and relationship with your child, how your child feels about the class, and what you’ve seen of the teacher’s methods. Watch carefully with your child’s interests and feelings at the forefront.
If you feel your daughter is losing interest or having trouble listening because of the class structure or teacher, you might try out classes with another teacher or studio. This will allow you to observe how your child reacts in an alternative setting. Remember that a child may simply respond more positively to a different style, and an improved result does not necessarily mean that the previous teacher or school used poor or inappropriate methods.
Whether or not your child will have a desire to continue in ballet (or any other dance discipline) when the focus IS more on technique and choreography is hard to predict. However, laying a solid foundation for future study begins with discovering a joy and passion for movement. This is what carries a student through the difficult periods of training which inevitably a student will face as he/she advances.
Even if your child says the social aspects of the class are fun, I doubt that a class is truly enjoyable or beneficial if he/she is being corrected or disciplined frequently, or doesn’t care for the activities. I wouldn’t give up on dance until you’ve considered the possible reasons he/she is not listening or maintaining attention from every angle. I’ll repeat a statement I made in Part One of this article: I’ve rarely encountered a child that does not enjoy moving (and learning about the principles of movement) when it is presented in a developmentally friendly way. This, in my humble opinion, should be the focus of early dance education.