Think of Dance School….As a School

Dancemother

I’ve spent alot of time in the dance school office these past two months.  September was back to class month and the questions were mostly about dress code, and class schedules…the easy stuff.   As October hit, so did all the complaints “we missed a class, do we get credit for it?”; “why didn’t anyone tell us that there would be a substitute teacher today, we wouldn’t have come?” I can’say it was a majority of parents, it was a very small minority to be honest.  I admired the calm way the Director and teachers responded and marveled at the type of questions that were coming in.  I wondered if other schools tempered the same queries. According to this well written article, it seems they do.  Read this article on Why all those rules.

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Bringing Dance to the Mainstream

In the past few years, mainstream television seems to have made a concerted effort to bring all genres of dance to television. Both So You Think You Can Dance (SYTYCD) and Dancing with the Stars premiered to US audiences in 2005.  While both shows present in the same format (dancers performing before judges, and relying on the votes of the television audience), their mainstream audience tends to be different.  Dancing with the Stars relies on the draw of the celebrities featured and started out with choreography that was mostly ballroom; while SYTYCD has always featured everything from Modern to Broadway jazz to hip hop to Crunk to Bollywood.  In this season of SYTYCD there are 2 ballerinas and a couple of tap dancers competing for the top spot.  No matter what your genre of dance, SYTYCD dancers are challenged with choreography outside of their comfort zone.  In 2008, America’s Best Dance Crew came on the scene featuring mostly Hip Hop dance crews competing for a title.

Along came Dance Moms in 2011.  With the popularity of these competition type shows, it’s no wonder that other derivatives such as Abby Ultimate Dance Competition  has gained such popularity, dancers are eager to see themselves in media, and Dance Moms claims to show another side of the dance world, the younger dancer and their stage moms.  I personally stopped watching Dance Moms after the first season, while I certainly felt the girls had talent, all the “reality” that went on with that show was enough to make me never want to be referred to as a Dance Mom again.

Most recently, the trend has been to see dancers in other roles on TV. The short lived TV shows Breaking Pointe which went behind the scenes of Ballet West and Bunheads about a Vegas Show Girl turned ballet teacher, shows that Hollywood has recognized that there is definitely an audience for dance outside of the theaters and dance schools.  Major brands have also recognized the power of the dance community and as such have chosen Misty Copeland’s to be one of the faces for Under Armor, a brand that is most closely associated with the Sports world, and Jasmine Harper from Season 10 of SYTYCD is one of the faces for Degree deodorant.  Dance has surely arrived.

And not to be left out of the trend, performers are embracing dance genres into their videos. Take a look that this very fun video for Taylor Swift’s newest song “Shake It Off”.  There is all kinds of dancing  going on here, and oh Taylor might just need a few more a ballet lessons….I’m just sayin… Shake It Off Video

 

 

The Value of Dance Education

dance

This blog speaks from the personal. I have seen the role dance education has played in my daughter’s life.  The way she has become this confident young woman with a presence both on stage and off. I see how disciplined she is with her schedule, her school work (bad grades=no dance); and her time management skills way surpass mine! I attribute all of this to the focus and discipline that she has learned through the years in her dance classes.

You ever wonder what the experts have to say about dance education?  Not just what they have to say, but what evidence/data may have been collected for or against?  Well the folks over at the National Dance Education Organization (NDEO) but together a neat little fact sheet and some other great information about dance education here in the United States.  Take a look for yourself:  http://www.ndeo.org/content.aspx?page_id=22&club_id=893257&module_id=56441#Fast Facts

Feeding The Mind Of A Dancer with the Arts

When my daughter was 5, right before she started formal dance classes, I took her to see the Pennsylvania Ballet perform The Nutcracker. As I ordered tickets, I could feel myself getting excited, I LOVED the ballet and couldn’t wait to share the live experience with my daughter. Oh, we had watched countless episodes of Angelina Ballerina, and done the twirls and plies at home, but now we were going to see the real live experts!  As the days got closer to the show, I started to get nervous, “she’s only 5″ I told myself, she probably won’t be able to sit still through this show. ‘What if we are not in good seats”? “Ugh, I’ll be devastated if I have to take her out early”!

When that curtain lifted, she was totally mesmerized. I distinctly remember her moving to the edge of her seat so that she could better see when Clara wakes up to see the Christmas tree growing before her very eyes. I remember the awe in her face as the Mouse King gets hit in the head by the heroine Clara’s slipper! When Clara arrives at the Land of the Sweets and sees the Hot Coco dancers, my little girl clapped and clapped and clapped! Afterwards, as we waited to get Clara’s autograph, I remember her telling me that she “wanted to see this again”. I was so proud.

love_the_arts_thumbThe next year, I decided to go ahead and subscribe to the PA Ballet.  It was a luxury that I couldn’t really afford but the return on investment from just that one show the year prior was worth it.  Our first show in the series was La fille mal gardée.  While the premise of the ballet totally escaped her 6 year old brain, the awe in her face was still there. By the time we got to her second viewing of The Nutcracker, she had announced to anyone who would listen that she wanted to dance with the PA Ballet.

Thanks for letting me walk down memory lane, but there is a point to my rambling.  You see kids need to be exposed to the Arts. It’s important for them to use their visual senses to see/hear/feel the beauty that is music, that is dance, that is acting.  Not just what they see on television, but the medium of live performance. The interaction with other live bodies who are watching together,and breathing the performance on the stage.

I’m going to reiterate that it can be pricey. But the ROI is so worth it.  We went on to do free performances in parks and schools; Broadway matinees;The Radio City Music Hall Christmas Shows; traveling Broadway shows in our city. and even the SYTYCD live performance shows.  I saw it as an opportunity to learn outside of the traditional classroom,to see the potential of dance.  She was at this point, totally entrenched in formal dance classes, but I needed her to see it’s potential outside of those dance studio walls.

Invest in live productions, it’s an investment in your child’s education.  It opens up a whole new world of appreciation, and it’s a class all in itself.  Watching professional dancers get those steps just right gives your child the incentive to go back and nail it in the classroom.

It’s worth it.

Dancers with Special Needs

Dance is really a wonderful gift, it, like music has no prejudices, no barriers, just an awesome form of self-expression, exercise and creativity for all. I have 2 special needs kids in my life and both have the gift for music and dance.  One loves to play the piano and sing to anyone who will be his audience. He totally excels at his lessons and his school teachers encourage the arts as it seems to keep him focused. My other little artist will dance around a room all day every day.  Turn music on? His feet get to stepping!

It has been proven that children with Down syndrome benefit socially from dance but like with any child, dance builds confidence.  special needsThe combination of social integration, creative self-expression and the big C: Confidence. Some children with special needs have motor delays, dance opens the door for movement provides needed physical exercise, flexibility and strength.

In addition to the many benefits for children with special needs, dance classes have very positive results for children on the autism spectrum. The mix of rich sensory /motor experiences in dancing minimize the frequency and intensity of negative behaviors for children with autism.  Dance also has a calming effect that helps children on the spectrum regulate emotions while playing with other kids in age-appropriate activities.

A patient, trained teacher, who will encourage not just technical learning but encourages social engagement with the other students. The special needs child learns to interact with, learn from and contribute to the lives of the other students as well.

Whether a parent chooses a school that integrates children or a dance movement program geared specifically for special needs kids, the benefits are the same. Dance is a great activity for all children!

My Son Wants to Take Dance Classes

My daughter has never had the pleasure of having a male dancer in any of her classes in the 13 years she has taken lessons. Not one.  We’ve seen a boy here, one there, come through the school, last about 1 or 2 years, then poof…gone.  It saddens me.  At one of the parent observation classes, a younger brother was in the audience.  At the very end of the class, the teacher taught a quick routine and asked the observers to participate.  This kid was GOOD! He caught the entire routine and executed it first try, no errors.  I asked his mom why he wasn’t taking dance classes. Her response “His dad won’t let him”.

A large part of why more boys aren’t dancing is because of societal views on men in tights, or heck men in dance classes in general.  It’s ok to learn the latest hip hop moves at home and display them on the dance floor at any party but formal classes? No way!

But some of the same reasons why girls should be encouraged to dance also hold true for boys:

  1. Discipline: Dance requires practice and repetition. Try and try until you get that combination right.  This try and try mentality transcends outside of the studio and into life skills
  2. Confidence: When that combination is finally excelled? The level of confidence surpasses all the negative energy (teasing etc) that may have been hurled at them for taking dance classes
  3. Great balance, posture & agility. In a previous post about ballet, I shared a link of football players who use ballet as a form of cross training during the off season. If you haven’t had a chance to look at it and see the reasons why, here’s another chance: http://www.dancespirit.com/2013/09/are-you-ready-for-some-football-players-in-ballet-class/
  4. Have you ever seen a male dancer who wasn’t toned built? Probably not. Dance develops muscles and gives tone like no other aerobic exercise there is.

With the popularity of shows like “So You Think You Can Dance” and “America’s Best Dance Crew”, the idea of male dancers is hopefully become more mainstream.  Male dancers looking for professional jobs have less competition than their female counterparts for the simple fact that there are less of them to compete.  Broadway Shows like “Newsies” and “KinkyBoots” display the diverse male dance talent that exists and showcases it well.

Don’t discourage your young men from formal dance classes, root them on and show them that dance is just as powerful as any sport they could play.

The First Day

I can totally remember my daughter’s first dance class.  I remember walking into the dance studio thinking there would be a seat waiting for me to watch welcome refreshments for all of us Moms….ok, ok, I did know there would be no refreshments but I didn’t know I’d be sitting outside with a 10 other moms all vying to peek through one small window to see how our toddler was doing. I also didn’t know that Disney ballerina skirts were not proper dress code. We survived, and so did our dancers.

How do you get ready for your child’s first dance class? TALK to your studio.  Check their WEBSITE. Read those pesky signs posted all outside the dance studio’s walls.  Studios will provide you with their dress codes for each class (some studios are stricter than others), remember there are different shoes for each dance style.  The studio Director can also make recommendations as to where you can purchase these items.  Many studios carry items in their own in-studio stores.  ASK.

For the first time dancer, ask if the studio allows them to watch a class before diving in. Some kids (young and older) may need to see what they are getting into.  Make an appointment to see the studio before your dancer gets started. On that first day, get there a little early so your dancer has a chance to see her classmates; a few connections can be made even before the start of class.

first dance class

Dancers will need to have a dance bag.  It’s not recommended to wear any type of dance shoes outside of the studio, so your dance will have to travel with their shoes in something. Older dancers who are taking more than one class will find it convenient to carry their dance shoes and any change of dancewear they may have. Younger dancers may consider carrying a change of tights, underwear or even a leotard just in case of an emergency (sometimes the little just can’t make it to the bathroom in time…or they may have not wanted to miss the dancing with the wand and didn’t ask). There is such a variety of dance bags available that finding one should not be a problem.

Snacks can be packed if there is time for snacks within the class schedule.  A water bottle is recommended as dancers do work up a thirst.  Make sure to check with your studio before you pack a snack. These days, most studios have policies about snacks due to the many allergies.

Most importantly, don’t let the first day jitters scare you! Enjoy the dance!

Choosing a Dance Studio

"Love the ones you dance with."

“Love the ones you dance with.”

‘We have so many dance schools in my area, I’m ready to start my child in a school, but how do I choose one over the other?”

While I had a lifelong love affair with dance, I didn’t know if my daughter would, so I hopped at the first opportunity to throw her into a dance program, any program. We started out with the creative dance/ballet program at our local YMCA.  Turns out this was a great move for us, our teacher came highly qualified, the classes were small (7 students, and on some snowy days we were the only ones that showed up so we had a ‘private” class).  Then the inevitable happened, our teacher ventured out and opened her own school too far from home, so the search began. At this point I was somewhat familiar with other schools in the area, I called around, allowed her to do some “try it” classes and ultimately chose a school.  To be fair, she had been spending the last 2 summers participating in this school’s dance camp, but at the end of the search they were chosen based on these criteria:

  1. The studio was clean, and safe. It was a professional setting with standards that I valued (dress code etc.). It not only looked good but it felt good.  I wouldn’t have a problem dropping my daughter off there for a few hours.
  2. The teachers were qualified. By qualified I mean I checked their bios which were easily found on the studio’s website.  They studied dance all their lives; they studied dance in College; they went on to dance with various companies & troupes in other cities. There was experience.
  3. They offered a variety of classes. At this point, my daughter was taking ballet and modern, but I also wanted her to experience jazz. The classes were offered and the schedule was amenable to allow her to take them all. Not all kids want to be ballet dancers, find a school that is equipped to train all dance genres.
  4. I wasn’t looking for a competition team (although if you are, you definitely should ask if there is one) but I wanted opportunities for cross training. There was. It came in the form of a group of select students who were chosen to be part of their Company.  It came in the form of Summer Intensives. It came in the form of opportunities to dance in NYC each summer at selected Master Classes.  Cross training is important if your student wants to be a well-rounded dancer.
  5. They provided a sort of report card each year that gave the dancer a note of their progress and areas of weakness. My daughter eventually promoted to pointe shoes.  It wasn’t done by age, but by readiness.  A fact that frustrated her but made me more confident of our studio choice.  She had friends from other schools who went on pointe as soon as they turned 10, while her teachers worked on readiness, watched her technique and made sure she wouldn’t hurt herself. All of this was important.

Let me hit you with some consistent facts about choosing a dance studio:

  1. Dance is an expensive habit. Tuition fees, dance shoes, costumes, recitals all come at a cost.
  2. Dance is a huge time commitment. I love to hear the travelling soccer moms talk about how much time they spend on the field, I can totally relate. I’ve finished many projects in the dance studio waiting area.
  3. Like any physical sport (yup, I said sport) there can be injuries. My kid started at 4, by age 15 we were seeing a sports medical specialist for the pain she was experiencing due to her turnouts.  Let’s not talk about the back pains, knee pains, and various braces, supports, elastic bandages and protective gear we’ve had to purchase.

Yes, this can be an overwhelming task. But believe me when I tell you when you walk into the right studio, you can feel it.  GO to the OPEN HOUSES, ASK QUESTIONS, Let your student TRY A CLASS, TALK to the teachers (they are the experts) and GOOD LUCK!