As a dance educator and studio owner - I have some distinct philosophies about teaching and children.
During the past 35 years I have been involved in dance education and instruction on a number of different levels. As a parent myself, my feelings have definitely evolved to distinct resolution.
As a young teacher, I don't remember ever considering the intensity of the instruction. I never thought of it that way as I was just going in and doing a job and sharing what knowledge I did have about dance and theater. However, back in the 70s and 80s dance studio life was a totally different world.
As the years passed, I became more and more experienced at teaching and more involved in the studios where I was working. I began taking my job very seriously, especially once I retired from the stage. I began to investigate and read about child psychology as well as physiology. As my knowledge grew, I began to formulate some opinions and philosophies about the dance world in general, what is appropriate for young people in dance, and how much training is healthy and beneficial to the overall well being of a student. I do not have a degree but I have been successfully teaching and mentoring dancers for over 35 years. I have a wealth of knowledge and experience on the subject and have taught all around the world. I was also a professional dancer in Los Angeles and Las Vegas for two decades. I feel safe to say I am an expert.
At competitions, I began to see students of an amazing technical level at a very young age. Kids spending hours and hours in training and sacrificing all else in their life for the one activity. Young kids are fearless and impressionable, and if they love something - they can be pushed hard and accomplish a great deal in a short amount of time. However I started to wonder if this type of training is actually beneficial to kids. I believe in commitment and fitness as well as healthy competitiveness, but there is a fine line between excellence and obsession. The trend that I see is not necessarily a healthy one. It seems that the art of dance is turning in to the sport of dance and in some situations is fostering the exploitation of young people.
In my opinion, dance is different from sport. I realize there are many people that feel differently and are in advertently molding it into a competitive sport. Look at all the competitions for dance on TV. I think of dance as an art form as well as a form of entertainment that benefits from fitness and has elements of sport. That being said, what is the purpose of a child becoming advanced beyond their years in dance? What will they do with this skill? Unless a parent is hoping to take their child to Hollywood or New York to become a child star or a child shows a talent, potential, and desire in ballet... then what is the purpose of premature expertise?
In the training of young dancers, I don't feel it necessary for a child as young as seven to train for five hours every day. I am more comfortable with a natural approach where a child can commit to the work but let it progress naturally, and still have success and a great time doing it. This way it does not overwhelm the family or the child's life. I believe in encouragement and not forcing or pushing a child since it may not be what a kid needs to excel. As a teacher, I generally know when a child is ready to be challenged.
I am constantly striving to strike the right balance in training the young dancer. Most kids who dance will not become professionals. It is one out of a thousand in my experience, but dance benefits every kid who participates in one way or another. Most of all, it is my belief that there is a delicate balance that is important to keep while teaching dance. Kids only get one childhood. As a teacher, I try to avoid commitments that rob dance students of valuable childhood experiences. There is a middle ground. I like to encourage excellence in an age appropriate manner while encouraging kids to experience the other things that can enrich their lives. It IS possible to maintain a commitment to dance while still participating in school activities and other extracurricular pursuits. Desert Star Dance has been making it happen for years. We strive to teach kids to have a healthy attitude and outlook towards dance as well as life in general.
To find out more about Desert Star Dance go to: http://www.desertstardance.com