You may be considering ballet classes for your children; however, before you drive to the nearest ballet studio to enroll your kids in ballet, there are several important factors to consider. Like many little girls I dreamed of being a ballerina and would dance around the house to the music from Swan Lake. Seeing how much I loved ballet, my mom enrolled me in classes. As I got older and more advanced my mom and I realized that ballet is a very complex art form that requires highly skilled teachers. As someone who has danced for many years, I now know everything you should look for when you are contemplating ballet classes for your children.
1. There Are Different Methods
Ballet is based upon extremely precise movements and body placements, and how the body is placed and moves depends upon the method that is taught. Two of the most common methods are Vaganova and Cecchetti. Each of these methods calls for the hands to be held a certain way, the arms to be positioned a certain way, the head to be held a certain way, and so on. There is no real advantage of one over the other. Both have specific syllabi and both have specific levels. One of the main differences is that Cecchetti has exams that students have to pass to move on to the next level. I should mention that many schools use a combination of methods, which is fine so long as they can explain why they have chosen certain movements and placements from one method over another. It may not seem that important to choose one method over another when considering ballet classes for your children, and it’s not unless you have an aesthetic preference. What is important is that the school director can explain the method they do use because this shows they are knowledgeable.
Whatever ballet school you decide to take your child to, you want to make sure the teachers follow a specific curriculum. I mentioned before that Vaganova and Cecchetti each have their own syllabus. This is important even if the school doesn’t use one of these methods or uses a combination of methods. A curriculum ensures that the students will learn all of the movements they need to in a safe and logical way. Just like it wouldn’t make sense to teach multiplication before addition in a math class, it wouldn’t make sense to teach a single pirouette before a half turn is mastered.
3. Reputable Teachers
It is very important that you take your children to a ballet school with reputable teachers. I know several people who opened ballet schools at a young age, and while they are very nice people I would not suggest someone enroll at their schools because I know they don’t have enough knowledge or experience. You want to ask questions like, How long have you been teaching and where did you study? How long did you study ballet before becoming a teacher? Have any of your students gone on to have professional ballet careers? These are all key questions to ask because the answers will allow you to judge if the teachers are experienced and knowledgeable.
4. Levels Based on Ability Not Age
The ballet schools where I trained placed the students based upon their ability, which at times was hard because we weren’t always with our friends. However, placing students by ability is much more important than keeping them with their friends. At higher levels ballet can be dangerous if the student hasn’t yet acquired the strength or ability to perform certain movements. The truth is it is not bad to be in the same level twice. It is more important to master the skills and then move on than to worry about levels and being with friends. Mastery of skills is so important that when I got into more advanced levels I would often take extra lower level classes to make sure my technique stayed clean!
As I got older and moved to a more professional ballet school, the level of commitment was quite high. I would dance 22 hours a week, which meant that when I wasn’t sleeping or eating, I was either at the studio, at school, or studying. This level of commitment isn’t always necessary. Ballet can be pursued for fun and enjoyment only. Although, even when it is just for fun, a certain level of commitment is necessary because you want to make sure that your child is getting enough classes so that they are in shape and won’t get hurt. One class a week isn’t enough when your child moves beyond pre-ballet and beginning levels. Ballet may be an art form, but it also requires a great deal of athleticism. Some of the strongest people I know are ballet dancers!
One of the harsh realities of ballet is that corrections can come in the form of criticism. This isn’t always true, but there are teachers who can be very critical of dancers. If you want to make sure that your child has a teacher who offers constructive corrections, then I suggest watching several classes before deciding on a studio. This will allow you to see how the teacher interacts with the students and if you are comfortable with the way in which the teacher corrects the students. If you have ever seen Dance Moms, some teachers are really like that, and if you want a teacher a little less aggressive, observing the teachers is a really good idea.
7. Body Type
In suggesting that you consider your child’s body type, I am in no way talking about size. There are certain anatomical traits that make ballet much easier on the body. In fact, in Russia and China only children with these traits are chosen. Ballet is inherently made for people with 180 degree turnout, flexible ankles, long limbs and necks, boyish bodies, and short torsos. I am not suggesting that your child has to have these traits to do ballet; I certainly do not have 180 degree turnout or flexible ankles. What I do want you to know is that children who do have these traits find ballet much easier and less painful. Ballet is very beautiful, but it is not easy on the body. If your child wants to study ballet and doesn’t have the "perfect ballet body" you will want to know it could make them have a few more aches and pains.
The ballet studio was my home for many years, and I have many fond memories of my classes. If you are thinking about enrolling your child in ballet it is important that you have all the information. This will help you find the best possible school that will provide your child with a positive experience and a well thought out ballet education. Is your son or daughter interested in pursuing ballet? Did you dream of being a ballet dancer when you were little?