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How to Make Your Child a Dancer

by Christy Ayala

To become a professional dancer, dance instructor or choreographer, your child will need your time, nurturing and support from an early age. Dancers who want to dance ballet professionally, for example, begin training when they are as young as 5, or earlier. Training is often year-round and training schedules are intense, especially during the teenage years. Partner with a dance studio that offers a well-rounded program, a safe environment, qualified staff and a commitment that will help your child reach her full potential.

Choose a Studio

Visit several dance schools and interview staff thoroughly before choosing a program for your child. Most dance schools offer new students the opportunity to try a class before signing up. This helps the student know what to expect from the class and it helps the instructor evaluate the child's skill level.

Ask questions about the curriculum, the styles of dance taught and the methods used. If they teach ballet, ask if the method is Russian, or if it is French. Ask when the studio starts children on pointe and the criteria they use to determine readiness. Inquire about how students progress through classes and levels. Ask how -- and who determines placement. Inquire about the qualifications and teaching methods of the staff teaching your child. Ask their professional dance background and the length of time the staff has been teaching. Ask how the school selects staff and about the staff’s training.

Ask how long the classes are and if there is a recital or show at the end of the year. Ask if your child is expected to participate and if you enroll your child mid-session or mid-year, if he will be able to participate in the recital. Look for a studio that offers options to perform. Recitals are fun and allow family and friends to celebrate your child's accomplishments with you, but if your child dreams of becoming a dancer, she will need opportunities to perform in front of an audience. Ask if the studio has a competitive dance team and if so, the type of competitions do they participate in such as tap, jazz, ballet or ballroom. If your child is interested in ballet, look for a studio that has a developmental and pre-professional dance program affiliated with a professional dance company.

Choose a studio that offers a well-rounded program. Not only is it fun to sample multiple dance styles, from tap, jazz, ballet, to Latin, hip-hop and Irish dance, but experiences with multiple styles also fosters creativity. Consider the expenses for the program you choose. Ask if they require a uniform -- many require a specific color leotard -- and ask what kind of shoes they want your child to use. As your child progresses from beginner to more advanced levels of dance, she may be encouraged or even required to take additional classes. Ask in advance if there is a payment plan. Inquire about multi-class or sibling discounts, and if the studio has a program to encourage boys to participate in dance.

Verify that the environment is safe. The physical aspect of dance can be a great benefit to your child's physical health, but dance can put a child at risk for injury from turning, jumping, stretching and lifting. Ask about the floors and equipment used for training. Inquire whether the floor in the studio is designed to absorb shock from the impact of jumping and if the staff is trained in first aid. Look for a clearly posted escape plan in case of a fire. Ask if parents can observe while their child is participating in class.

Considerations

Put your child's health and welfare ahead of an urge to register her for classes she is not physically ready for. For example, beginning pointe work too soon may put your child at risk for growth plate injuries, sprains and fractures, reports the American Academy of Pediatrics. While there are multiple factors to consider when determining readiness, the age range for introducing pointe is typically 9 to 15 years. Note that your child will need to have studied ballet for several years before she is ready to go up on pointe.

Commit to a long-term program. If your child wants to dance professionally, teach dance or be a choreographer someday, she will need to begin formal training early. Formal training in dance should begin before major bone and muscle development is complete, and can begin as early as age 5, or earlier in many cases. An important advantage to starting dance training early is that it allows for cultivation of long lines and strong technique, says Darma Benet, director of the School of Oregon Ballet Theatre, in the July, 2010 Dance Magazine article, “Is There an Ideal Age for Starting Ballet?”

Foster your child's passion for dance. Attend professional-level productions of dance or dance-related performances, such as Broadway or off-Broadway shows. Take him to local high school musicals if the show involves dance numbers. Consider registering your child for summer programs or camps at local dance or theater-arts organization.

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