Start your tiny dancer on the right foot

From stu­dios to city pro­grams, there are classes to get the whole fam­ily movin’ and groovin’

Edmonton Journal - - FRONT PAGE - Salena Kit­ter­ing­ham Spe­cial to The Jour­nal Edmonton

If you don’t know a tendu from a plié, choos­ing a dance school for your tiny dancer can be in­tim­i­dat­ing.

Even par­ents who grew up tak­ing dance classes are over­whelmed by the sheer num­ber and va­ri­ety of dance-pro­gram op­tions avail­able to­day: from the more con­ven­tional stu­dios of­fer­ing bal­let, tap or jazz lessons in recre­ational or com­pet­i­tive streams, to con­cept-based and creative-move­ment classes and hiphop for tots to teens.

Most dancers won’t go on to be­come pro­fes­sion­als, so the first step is to fo­cus on how dance can be ben­e­fi­cial for all kids. The most ob­vi­ous pos­i­tive ef­fect is fit­ness — strength, car­dio­vas­cu­lar en­durance, agility and flex­i­bil­ity.

But there are plenty of other rea­sons to get kids up on the dance floor, in­clud­ing ben­e­fits to their men­tal health and brain power.

“You turn on mu­sic for a baby and it starts to move — I think it’s pretty in­stinc­tual for peo­ple to move their bod­ies to mu­sic. There are a lot of en­dor­phins that are re­leased in the brain when the body is mov­ing to mu­sic, and it’s some­thing that peo­ple of all ages can ben­e­fit from,” Jes­sica Baudin-Grif­fin says.

She is the author of a pop­u­lar cre- ative-parenting blog, in­telli-danc­ing. ca, and artis­tic di­rec­tor and owner of J’adore Dance ( jadoredance. ca). J’adore is a fam­ily ori­ented, non-co-mpet­i­tive stu­dio that of­fers a range of dance pro­grams for pre­and post-na­tal moth­ers, par­ents with tots, preschool and school-aged chil­dren, as well as teens and adults.

One of its unique dance op­tions is the Fi­esta Fam­ily class for chil­dren one to five years old to par­tic­i­pate with their par­ents and sib­lings. Latin rhythms and world beats get par­ents and chil­dren all mov­ing, and to­gether they ex­plore move­ment con­cepts such as space, shape, body and ef­fort.

“If you look glob­ally, a lot of cul­tures get their fam­i­lies to­gether and they dance and make mu­sic to­gether and the younger kids learn from the older kids and they have an at­ti­tude about it that’s not about per­fec­tion, it’s just about be­ing there and ex­pe­ri­enc­ing it,” Baudin-grif­fin says.

“I think that can be the hard­est thing for par­ents; they can feel self­con­scious be­cause they might not have grown up as dancers. It’s prob­a­bly the hard­est thing for them to get over. … Don’t worry about what you look like, your kid doesn’t care, no one else in the class cares.

“We are all hav­ing a good time to­gether and we’ll learn from each other.”

Baudin-grif­fin has a spe­cial-ed­u­ca­tion de­gree from the Univer­sity of Al­berta and knows first-hand the pos­i­tive ef­fects of dance for kids.

“One of the rea­sons I found dance re­ally use­ful as a child was I had a learn­ing dis­abil­ity that im­pacted my abil­ity to read and write ef­fec­tively, and it also had some im­pli­ca­tions with my mem­ory.

“Dance was a re­ally great way for me to ex­press my­self, and in terms of mem­ory, in learn­ing a dance piece we have to work on re­mem­ber­ing what hap­pens next,” Baudin-Grif­fin ob­serves.

“There’s lots of re­search that shows that kids in­volved in dance or other move­ment ac­tiv­i­ties have greater self-es­teem and are more con­fi­dent among groups of peers, and they just tend to have a bet­ter body im­age.

“I think it has a lot to do with dance be­ing an ex­pres­sive art, so when kids are in­volved in dance, it’s giv­ing them an out­let that al­lows them to ex­press them­selves in a way that they may not other­wise be able to.”

Baudin-Grif­fin says she’s think­ing es­pe­cially of chil­dren who may have a speech im­ped­i­ment, or English is their sec­ond lan­guage, or per­haps they just aren’t con­fi­dent speak- ers. Dance en­ables them to ex­press them­selves and work in a group.

“They are learn­ing a whole new type of vo­cab­u­lary and ap­ply­ing it to some­thing that’s more ab­stract, which helps with read­ing and writ­ing in school,” she notes.

“There’s also a strong cor­re­la­tion with kids achiev­ing well in math­e­mat­ics. You’ve got your ba­sic numbers com­ing from mu­sic’s rhyth­mi­cal pat­terns that chil­dren end up ex­press­ing through their bod­ies, and there’s also a lot of spa­tial aware­ness and re­la­tion­ships worked on that are re­lated to math and ge­om­e­try.”

Christina Breault’s daugh­ter Mateja took a Hip Hop Tots class as a three­year-old at J’adore Dance last year and now takes classes at the Marr Mac dance stu­dios, where Breault teaches bal­let and imag­i­na­tion-based creative-move­ment classes for preschool­ers.

“It’s act­ing like an­i­mals, for in­stance, learn­ing how to jump, but learn­ing how to do it like a bunny rab­bit might jump or walk­ing tall on your toes as a gi­raffe, crawl­ing around as a mon­key,” Breault says of Marr Mac’s creative-move­ment classes.

“It’s lots of move­ment styles, like gal­lop­ing, skip­ping, jump­ing, but every­thing is done as a but­ter­fly, or a bee with lots of props like scarves, rib­bons, masks and read­ing sto­ries.”

If Mateja wants to pur­sue dance at the com­pet­i­tive level, her mom says she’ll be sup­port­ive. “With com­pe­ti­tions, dancers get a lot of ex­pe­ri­ence on­stage and they get to de­velop a great stage per­for­mance.”

Breault likes the team-build­ing as­pect of danc­ing in a com­pet­i­tive group. “A lot of strong friend­ships are de­vel­oped that way. It’s also good for char­ac­ter build­ing — get­ting over your fears.”

She ad­vises par­ents, be­fore they sign a child up at a com­pet­i­tive-dance school, to con­sider the ex­tra re­hearsals out­side of reg­u­lar class times and additional ex­penses for cos­tumes, on top of the monthly class fees. Age-ap­pro­pri­ate mu­sic, cos­tum­ing and move­ment vo­cab­u­lary are also con­cerns.

“If a teacher is com­fort­able putting young girls in cos­tumes with tum­mies ex­posed and re­ally short shorts, then I think that’s a pretty good in­di­ca­tor that the chore­og­ra­phy won’t be ap­pro­pri­ate to my taste as well,” Breault points out.

For Breault, the most im­por­tant thing to look for when choos­ing a dance school is to find a teacher that is qual­i­fied and has taken a dance teacher’s cer­ti­fi­ca­tion pro­gram.

“Of­ten I find stu­dios will hire their 17-or 18-year-old stu­dents to teach the lit­tle kids be­cause it’s of­ten thought that it’s easy to teach the lit­tle ones, but if you’re not teach­ing the right ways with the lit­tle kids, they are go­ing to be de­vel­op­ing bad habits in tech­nique that will be dif­fi­cult to break later on.”

Mar­garet Flynn, the found­ing artis­tic di­rec­tor of Edmonton School of Bal­let (es­b­dance.com), says it can be dev­as­tat­ing when a stu­dent comes to her stu­dio be­cause they want to be­come more se­ri­ous about their dance train­ing, only to find out that their past train­ing is hold­ing them back.

“There’s a feel­ing that it doesn’t mat­ter if it is recre­ational, but no mat­ter what kind of dance you are do­ing, it’s im­por­tant to find an in­struc­tor with some kind of dan­ce­in­struc­tion train­ing, in mu­si­cal­ity, even more im­por­tantly in anatomy, and a bit of child psy­chol­ogy,” Flynn says.

“It is so good for the chil­dren if they are be­ing taught by some­one who has had proper teacher train­ing be­cause then they know how to work with all the dif­fer­ent types of lit­tle bod­ies, they know what is safe for that child to do.

“Taught prop­erly, dance is just out­stand­ing de­vel­op­ment for chil­dren in self-aware­ness, mu­si­cal­ity, co-or­di­na­tion, fine mo­tor con­trol, stage aware­ness and pre­sen­ta­tion skills, self-con­fi­dence,” Flynn con­tin­ues.

“There’s so much that comes out of good dance train­ing, and there are sev­eral good schools in Edmonton where the teach­ers are care­fully trained.”

Baudin-Grif­fin agrees. “Def­i­nitely find out the back­ground of the peo­ple teach­ing your classes. A lot of stu­dios will ad­ver­tise they’ve got this amaz­ing, for ex­am­ple, hip-hop in­struc­tor who’s been backup danc­ing for all these big stars and gone on tour and done all these amaz­ing things. …

“That’s fan­tas­tic as a per­for­mance bio, but what does that tell me about them as a teacher?”

Larissa Stet­zenko, pro­gram man­ager for the City of Edmonton’s arts pro­grams (edmonton.ca/at­trac­tions), says the recre­ational dance pro­gram­ming for kids of­fered at the City Arts Cen­tre, Jasper Place and Ter­wil­le­gar Re­cre­ation Cen­tre are led by cer­ti­fied dance in­struc­tors, all qual­i­fied teach­ers from var­i­ous dance stu­dios through­out the city.

Of­fered over eight to 10 weeks, the Dance Combo classes give kids six to 10 years old a taste of bal­let in­struc­tion, with ex­po­sure to jazz dance as well. Ages 10 to 14 can take a hiphop and funk class.

“We are de­signed to be a non­com­pet­i­tive pro­gram, and like all our city arts pro­gram­ming, it’s avail­able at a very low cost, so kids can try them out and get the ex­pe­ri­ence of whether they want to pur­sue it,” Stet­zenko says.

Pho­tos: SHAUGHN BUTTS, the JOUR­NAL

Rowynn Hill­son dances with her mother, Jo­lene, at Fi­esta Fam­ily dance class, held at J’Adore Dance stu­dio in Len­drum.

Class in­struc­tor Liesa McKay per­forms an ac­tive story about a train.

Pax­ton Cherkewich dances with his mother, Jan­ina.

SHAUGHN BUTTS, the JOUR­NAL

Kolbe Hal­dane, 2, rests in the mid­dle of the cir­cle dur­ing a cool-down as the Fi­esta Fam­ily class comes to an end.

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