I grew up dancing, and was in an intense and competitive program for the last sixteen years. Even though I have moved on from my dancing professionally, I will always identify as a dancer and credit a lot of my best traits, and really who I am, to my training. Even if your child is just starting out with creative movement or on their way to complete all their Royal Academy of Ballet exams or their Al Gilbert Tap exams as I did, a dancer is a dancer. It is important for them to feel supported and loved, and you are doing a great job by reading this blog to understand their new world.
The Basics and Footwear
If you have a dancer already or know the basic styles of dance, feel free to skip this. If you are wanting to refresh the multiple styles offered at most dance studios, this is for you.
Tap is a percussive style of dance focusing on rhythm and musicality. Done wearing tap shoes.
Jazz is an upbeat, stylish, and versatile dance form. Dance classes consists of strengthening warm ups, leaps, turns, and fun combinations done to upbeat, recognizable music. Jazz shoes are required.
Stage & Musical Theatre:
Stage classes bring the broadway element of dance and are usually character based. Some musical theatre classes consist of singing, acting, and of course, dancing. Usually danceable character shoes are assigned for performances.
Hip Hop is a fun, energetic, and innovative style of moment to new and old hip-hop songs. Sneakers are usually used for Hip Hop classes and performances.
Gymnastics training has many elements that can benefit any athlete. Acro classes are usually done barefoot and incorporate strength, flexibility, power and endurance. Acro also helps dancers learn how to perform "tricks" safely.
Conditioning / Stretching:
Some elite studios incorporate these kinds of classes that focuses on straightening, and flexibility for dancers.
The style that all other dance forms are derived from. The two main styles of practiced ballet are RAD and Cecchetti methods. Exams are offered for both of these programs to motivate and strengthen your child's dance techniques.
Modern / Contemporary:
Modern and Contemporary classes are there to gain artistic development and creative movement. Both styles draw on technical disciplines listed above, but have more flexibility in movement and choreography.
Training varies by where your child is dancing, what intensity level program they are at, and how many hours they take. If you have a variety of schools to chose from when choosing a studio, make sure to go to all available shows put on by the shows, any dance camps they host, and any open houses they have. Get your child to see the studio, dancers, teachers, and what kind of classes they teach.
The most vital dance style is Ballet, as every other style of dance derived from ballet. If your child's studio doesn't require them to study ballet in order to take other styles, it is a good idea to get them into it, to further their technique and assist them in other styles that they already love.
Be prepared to devote your time and energy into driving your child to dance, helping them organize their supplies, and pack them lunches and snacks to keep them fuelled for the whole time they are at the studio.
Make sure they always have the safest right-sized footwear and appropriate leotards. Also make sure they take time to stretch and relax their muscles to prevent injury. Bringing them to professionals such as chiropractors, physiotherapists, and massage therapists is recommended.
The friends, and family your child will make throughout their dance life will be people they hold in their heart forever. The more time spent at the studio, is the closer they'll get with their peers, because usually the same friends are in multiple of their classes. As important it is to keep your children close with their dance peers, having friends outside of dance is important to keep them well-rounded and connected with outer circles.
The teachers and coaches are there to help you and your child see their talents and weaknesses. They will become a trusted person to your child, and it is your responsibility as a dancer's parent to listen to, and respect them. The longer your child is dancing at the same studio, the more they will get to know their instructors and will create an irreplaceable bond with them.
It is important when in the "dance community" that you model positive behaviour to your child. This can be done by appreciating other's performances, and saying thank you to teachers and staff. The dance world can have a negative stigma around it thanks to shows like Dance Mom's, and it is important to always remember that dance is a beautiful, expressive art form and everyone is there for the same reason- to dance.
The Mental Side of Things
Dance can be a very demanding sport, physically and mentally and can come with very high highs and quite low lows. From the inevitable exhausting training, competitive aspect, and critiques- it is important to check in with your dancer and make sure they are still loving it.
There will be a time when dance changes the role in your child's life, and they may not feel they want to continue with it, or they want to continue with it further. You will never know what goes on behind the closed doors of a studio but it is important to make sure they know they can always come to you with anything. Make sure you are empathetic and listen to what they say, and try and give advice, but also let them grow and problem solve on their own, as they are usually coming to you for a listening ear.
Be supportive of them at their shows, and in daily life by providing them with fuelling meals, and advising them to get a healthy amount of sleep. Also, make sure they know that mental health is just as important as their physical health, let them know they are beautiful and good enough even if they didn't get the role.
I would never take back my years of intense dance training. I made life-long friends, and got to learn more about myself through creative movement, communicating, and how to learn from receiving feedback. Having a good support system while pursuing a physically and mentally demanding sport was extremely important. The benefits that can come from dance are infinite, and different to every dancer.