Benefits of dance class extend beyond the pros
by Anne-Marie Kelley
It doesn’t take much to get most little girls interested in taking dance lessons. For 3- and 4-year-old girls, the allure of a leotard, tights and a tutu almost seems to be as innate as breathing.
Maybe it’s because ballet pink seems to be a prominent theme in movies and stories that target this age group. If it’s not Angelina Ballerina traipsing off to her ballet lesson, then Barbie is making her Swan Lake debut.
As a former dancer, I was the worst. I couldn’t wait for my daughter to be old enough to sign up for ballet class. Seeing her twirl around in her tiny pink outfit brought back so many memories. I was more excited than she was when it came time for her first performance.
Her 30 seconds of fame onstage came and went about as quickly as it takes a digital camera to take one frame. She was star-struck. And I was thrilled because I know how great dance lessons are for children.
You might say I’m biased because I teach ballet. I teach because I am passionate about this art form and appreciative of all it did for me in my life. I grew up dancing in a regional ballet company and never danced professionally. But I did go on to have a successful broadcast journalism career reporting and anchoring the news. I worked in a public relations firm with major national clients. I even won some awards covering news for the local paper.
A very small percentage of people who took dance classes as children actually do go on to become professional dancers. It’s a great career, but truly demanding in all its glamour. The great news is you don’t have to have a professional career to enjoy the benefits of dance class.
Dance is a discipline that educates children in so many ways. The obvious is that dance builds cardiovascular strength, flexibility, physical coordination and balance. Following are some other byproducts of dance classes that children benefit from without even really knowing it:
– Music training: Dancers learn the relationship between music, rhythm and controlled movement. And, they learn about music they may not regularly be exposed to, such as classical, jazz and the blues.
– Tenacity: Dance, especially refined styles such as ballet and tap, aren’t easy. It takes seemingly endless repetitions of basic steps to build the muscle memory to perform these steps correctly. This requires determination and commitment. To get good, you have to stick with it.
– Brain power: You have to concentrate to remember specific steps in a specific order facing a specific direction performed in a specific amount of time. When students start performing, they are remembering vast quantities of steps and learning new dances all the time.
– Confidence: Most dance programs include a performance component. Being able to get in front of an audience and perform builds self-confidence and usually carries with it a sense of pride and accomplishment.
– Discipline: During class, students have to repeatedly learn combinations of steps by listening to the teacher, absorbing the information and then making their body perform in a specific way. Most dance schools require regular attendance with a specific uniform.
– Social skills: Dance usually happens in a group and encourages cooperation, consideration and appreciation of others.
– Appreciation of the arts: Research studies show a clear correlation between early exposure of children to the arts and increased long-term reasoning, communication and social skills. In addition, by understanding how much work it takes to dance beautifully, a student gains appreciation for how much time it takes to paint a masterpiece or how long it takes to become proficient at an instrument.
Wow! That’s a long list of useful life-long skills to gain while you’re taking part in something that’s a part of our culture ” dancing.
So, if you’re looking for a worthwhile activity for yourself or your child, dance is a good, fun one. And, if you’ve been paying for dance lessons forever and wonder if it’s making a difference, it is.
It’s not hard to find classes in this area to meet every age and every style of dancer. Aspen, Basalt, Carbondale, Glenwood Springs and Rifle all have dancing schools. Find a class with a good, positive teacher and in no time you or your child will be dancing up a storm.
Anne-Marie Kelley teaches ballet at the Glenwood Dance Academy and is a Danse Arts Theatre Company principal dancer.
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