“Dancing with your feet is one thing, but dancing with your heart is another.” – Author Unknown
Children begin moving and “dancing” even before they are born. Their constant movement begins in the womb before they take their first breaths and continues as they move through all of the developmental stages. As soon as a toddler is able to walk, it is easy to see his or her affinity for music and the movement that it encourages. Toddlers love to dance, and it is the dance educator’s responsibility to nurture that love when parents register their young children for dance classes.
Classes that are offered to children in the 3-5 age range need to be consistent with developmental stages of this age group. Just as a responsible dance educator would not offer pointe classes for six year-olds, strict technique classes should not be offered before the ages of 7 or 8 when the child is developmentally ready.
Children between the ages of 3 and 6 fall into Piaget’s “pre-operational” category. This age group is able to focus on one thing at a time, can follow simple “do’s and don’ts” and enjoys exploring, investigating, creating and imagining. Pre-operational children are able to learn to take turns, to share and to cooperate. Physically, these children are beginning to skip and hop and can balance on one foot for about ten seconds.
It is not until the next developmental stage that the attention span, sequencing ability, physical ability or the self-control required in technique classes begin to develop.
Dance classes offered to the 3-5 age group should reflect the pre-operational developmental stage. It is important that these creative movement classes focus on gross motor skills, the basic elements of dance and creativity.
Since fine motor skills are only beginning to develop, placing an extended focus upon them could easily frustrate the students. Dance steps can and should be introduced in a casual manner, but barre work and time perfecting anything should be saved for when the students get older. The quickest way to frustrate the students, frustrate the teacher and dampen the love of dance is to expect more of the students than they are capable of producing.
Creative movement classes can be used to introduce the elements of dance through various games and with the use of props. Shape might be taught through a freeze dance game, while pathways might be taught through parades, complete with streamers or even mini-instruments, or through games of “Follow the Leader”. Imagination and creativity can and should be used extensively. Students can explore levels while pretending to be animals or pretending to crawl under trees and leap over streams on a jungle safari. Movement stories or short poems offer great opportunities to use dance to communicate.
Each class should also allow time for a free creative dance within one or two given parameters. The opportunity to freely move to music using imagination and creativity is a way to help a student’s passion for dance stay alive past this stage of development. This stage can be used to ignite and preserve the passion that will be necessary when technique class begins.
Technique classes require hard work, a tremendous amount of effort and concentration. Those without passion will not succeed because steps without passion are simply movements. Helping a child develop a passion is a lifelong gift and developing a passionate dancer is synonymous with success.