The Balance of Training Children in Dance
Ann Bode
Ann Bode
Aug 23, 2021

The Balance of Training Children in Dance

I have mixed feeling about dance competitions. However, I do come away with renewed resolve about what I'm doing and creating with the children that I work with. The thing that I am keenly aware of is the judgement being placed on both my business and young impressionable students who think that the people "judging" them are somehow more expert than their current teachers or anyone else for that matter. The other issue is that it places undue importance on some sort of "winning". Competition is fine within reason but it can sometimes be damaging to some student's self esteem.

I take my students so they can get an opportunity to get on stage, build their confidence and have an experience that is enhancing and different from daily classes. There is always learning through performance and dealing with pressure and stress. Winning is nice, but in dance.. things are subjective. There are a lot of factors to consider in these situations and placing any sort of importance on comparison just seems like an improper thing to do with students. Especially when dealing with so many variables like amount of hours students are dancing and the talent of the instructor or choreographer to be creative with a variety of levels and commitment. Dance for me, is an art not a sport. Not only that but I am not in a hurry to force a child to become proficient in dance at a premature age. It is a process and should progress easily and naturally according to each individuals desire, ability and temperament.

There are instances where kids are asked to give up every other activity at a fairly young age in order to commit to one thing. I realize some kids are driven and really want to do this but I question the reasoning. They end up going to competitions that give the establishment they attend accolades sometimes at the expense of a childhood. In my opinion, kids need to explore things and not be made to choose. They should be able to participate in school sports, choir, orchestra, band or drama at school as well as be committed to dance. I know that some families even choose to home school so that the dancer can spend even more time in training.  Unless this child is going to move to Hollywood or New York to pursue dance at an early age, it's questionable for them to give up going to prom or attend a Friday night football game. These are moments that only happen once in a lifetime. You can't go to your prom at 25. I believe in balance and timing.

Over the years, dance has truly changed and evolved. How a person becomes a dancer has changed as well. Even the way a studio teaches and promotes itself has changed. Social media has become the showcase for facilities to present their work. Young children have huge followings on Instagram. Everyday people are becoming pseudo-famous for their TikTok dancing. Preteens are obsessed with the idea that they will have a "following" on these platforms and think that a clever 30 second clip is there ticket to the big time. It's unfortunate and some of the real training and teaching is being lost in a flurry of fast cuts. Some classes are totally geared towards the video being created for YouTube at the end of class rather than the private personal experience with an instructor and their students. Technology doesn't always improve things.

But I digress. My original point is that children need diversity of activity even when they have a focus. They also need not be in a hurry to master everything as a dancer when they are 5 or 10 or even 16. For my students, it's a process. Generally by the time they are 13 or 14, they will start to become pretty well versed to be able to handle most choreography they are given. I never ask for more than 10-12 hours per week as I find that to be sufficient for a dancer to become accomplished without completely overwhelming their life and burning them out. When you opt for overkill in training, you run the risk of ruining the passion in the dancer. It needs to be their choice to become disciplined. That's why I believe a dancer needs to be old enough to make that choice on their own.

Then there is the subject of injury and damage to the body. Some of the extreme movements being coerced out of young dancers will take a serious toll on them and might cause them real pain as adults. Anyone working with children in sports, dance and other physical activity should always proceed with care and caution. There are things I did in my teen years that I'm still paying for today.

So my suggestion is to take the time to explore a variety of activities even if dance is you or your child's true love. Let things unfold at a reasonable pace. Unless you plan on your dancer becoming a child star, what's the rush? How important is an Instagram following? Do you or your child have ambition in the arts? There is plenty of time to get there and you don't want to hit your peak before you are able to head out and pursue your dream! Timing is everything. Take your time and enjoy the diversity of a great childhood filled with not only dance but all of the other wonderful opportunities and experiences that youth brings.

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