Start your tiny dancer on the right foot
From studios to city programs, there are classes to get the whole family movin’ and groovin’
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.
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.
Kolbe Haldane, 2, rests in the middle of the circle during a cool-down as the Fiesta Family class comes to an end.