“Dancing is surely the most basic and relevant of all forms of expression. Nothing else can so effectively give outward form to an inner experience.” - Lyall Watson
Over 13% of the population regularly attends dance performances and Strictly Come Dancing regularly gets over 10 million viewers. Dancing is a regular activity for around 10% of the UK and over 4.8 million people participate in community dance classes each year.
Additionally, dancing comes with plenty of benefits for children who choose to learn to dance.
So what’s a typical children’s dance lesson like? What will they learn?
The First Lesson: Getting to Know the Teacher
It’s not always easy choosing which extracurricular activity your child should do. The children will need to get used to the teacher and the other students and the first hour can be quite a shock for some kids. This is why most dance teachers will start gently at the start of the year. There’s no reason to rush things, especially in an introductory class.
The first class of the year is rarely representative of the other classes they’ll do. However, dance teachers will try to establish a regular structure in their classes so that students know what to expect and help them decide whether or not to continue with the classes. The first class is usually just a trial. It’d be a shame to give students the wrong idea.
They’ll usually start by presenting themselves and asking the students what their names are. They’ll probably also play a game to break the ice, help the children to get to know one another, and introduce them to dance. A game is a good way to help students to learn a few steps while they’re at it.
The teacher will outline the objectives of the dance class and the end-of-year show, if necessary. The objective of the first class is to help the children feel comfortable enough to express themselves through dance and ask questions if they want.
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Warming Up: The First Part of a Dance Class
Once everyone’s been introduced, which will only happen in the first-ever lesson, most teachers will start by warming up.
Just like in an adult’s dance class, children also need to warm up for around ten minutes. This can help the muscles to stretch and prepare the body for exercise. It can also help avoid injury. Warming up is also a good opportunity to clear their minds and prepare them for dancing.
Most children attend dance classes after school and they’re stressed and ready to unwind. Warming up can help them to focus, listen to the teacher, and pay attention to their own body, much like meditation.
Warming up is usually done along to music in a dance class. The teachers will put some music to get the students moving. They’ll probably opt for something calmer for the end of the session.
During the warm-ups, everyone will be on the floor. Each child must find ample space to warm up without getting in the way of their colleagues. Touching their toes, turning their wrists, loosening up their neck, etc., these exercises will help them to avoid injury once they start dancing for real.
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Learning About the Discipline
Be it contemporary dance, ballet, modern jazz, salsa, tango, or swing, the goal of a dance class is to learn more about the discipline, get better at it, and have fun.
The lion’s share of the class will be dedicated to learning steps and routines specific to the chosen dance styles. After all, the steps in ballet aren’t necessarily the same as those in contemporary dance, African dance, or Capoeira.
Whether they’re learning in a dance school, with a dance association, or with a private tutor, most students will be encouraged to watch themselves in the mirror so they can see what they’re doing. The dancers will learn by copying in most cases. The goal is to be able to perform the whole routine after a few sessions.
The students will rehearse the steps from previous sessions while adding new steps until they can perform the entire routine. These motions need to become second nature by the end of the course. A good dancer needs to dance with their heart and soul, not just their mind. They don’t want to be thinking about the steps while they dance. That’s why they’ll rehearse until it feels natural.
Of course, in an introductory class, the pace will be different. These types of classes are there to introduce children into the world of dancing. The teachers will alternate between dance steps, improvising, and discovering more about music and dance.
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There may be part of the class where the teacher encourages students to improvise or create their routines. In this case, they may work on their own or in a group and put together a routine using the steps that they’ve learnt thus far and present it to the group. They can also invent steps if they want. Usually, this is the most enjoyable part of the class. It allows children to express themselves.
Imagination and creativity are important for children and they need to find their style and way of dancing. These creative workshops will help them prepare for the end-of-year show, too. Even if the teacher will guide the students with the choreography, some of the routines may be created by the children.
In some cases, they won’t be shown certain routines until the last moment. This allows the teacher to evaluate the students and not overwhelm them by showing them a routine they mightn’t be ready for.
Stretches at the End of a Session
Be it break dancing, tango, west coast swing, each session needs to end with some stretches. Much like with warm-ups, the stretches at the end are good for your body. You need to stretch out the muscles that were used a lot during the session. The goal is to avoid DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) the day after a dance class.
It helps your body to relax, too. The teacher will probably choose some gentle music to calm everyone down. There will also be a lot of exercises that focus on breathing. Some of these exercises won’t feel great but they’re necessary if they want to feel better the following day. Your children will leave class feeling calm and relaxed.
These stretches can also teach children about taking care of their body. There are no rules. Each dancer needs to respect their limits and stretch within the range of their ability. This is a good life lesson, too. Know your limits!
Find out more about the benefits of children's dance lessons.
Preparing a Child for a Dance Class
How should your child be dressed? What do they need to bring? Should they try it out first?
You’ll probably have plenty of questions when you first take your child to their dance lessons. To help you, here’s some advice.
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The outfit can be quite important. No jeans or tight clothing. That said, the clothing can’t be baggy, either. They want to be able to move and not get caught up in their clothes.
Generally, they’ll want jogging bottoms or leggings, like you would with yoga. They’re flexible and stay close to the body. In the beginning, they may feel like they’re wearing very little, but they’ll get to used to it. The same rules apply to tops.
Put together a bag for them to take to their lessons with a bottle of water and a snack. A jacket or coat might be useful if they have to wait outside once the lesson is over.
Your child should now be ready for their dance lessons.
Check the class schedule of your local dance studio or school of dance. If you can't find anything, keep in mind that there are private tutors who offer children and adult dance classes.
Whether they want to learn hip hop dance, ballroom dance, Zumba, jazz dance, modern dance, or classical ballet, you can get them private lessons from the talented and experienced tutors on Superprof.
There are many tutors offering face-to-face tutorials, online tutorials, or group tutorials. Each type of tutorials comes with its pros and cons so it's up to you to choose the one that's best for you, your preferred learning style, and your budget.
Most of the tutors on Superprof offer free tutoring for the first hour so use this time to try out a few different tutors and see who's right for you.
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