Dance is a beautiful and expressive art form that can provide numerous physical and mental benefits for children. It fosters creativity, coordination, discipline, and confidence. However, while putting little children in tutus is adorable, it is essential to recognize that not every child is ready for dance classes as soon as they can walk.
Many times I will get a new student and the parent will say to me “Oh, she was born to dance - every time she hears music, she bounces and spins around the room!” As much as I hate to rain on the parade of a proud parent, all children do pretty much the same thing. Children love to move - they are born to move; they spend the first 9 months of their existence in a dark, tight space where movement isn’t easy, so once they finally realize that not being confined is ok, they want to explore it all! So a dance class seems like an extremely logical first step to channel this excitement and energy - but as excited as a child is, how can you determine if they are ready or too young?
One of the primary factors to consider when deciding if a child is ready for dance classes is their physical development. Young children are still developing their fine and gross motor skills. Dancing often involves controlled movements and ability to repeat patterns and movement phrases that may be challenging the younger they are.
Another thing to consider is attention span and focus. A dance class is not just “glorified babysitting”. There is structure, discipline, and an expectation to learn and follow rules and routines. Very young children may struggle with maintaining focus and concentration, making it challenging for them to get the most out of a dance class and could cause a distraction to their classmates.
A class for the youngest children should be a shorter class to work with a child’s attention span, be structured in a way that does not overwhelm a child, and handles material with language and movements that is appropriate for their age. Putting a child in a class that is too advanced for them (physically and mentally) can cause the child to get overwhelmed, frustrated, and learn to dislike dance as a whole, and nobody wants to crush that natural creative instinct to move.
The best age to start considering a dance class for a child is about the age of 4. At this time, a child usually has a sense of how to conduct themselves around others and follow directions, plus have a little less separation anxiety and a little more independence. Of course every child is different, and every child develops skills and abilities at different times, but between the ages of 3 and 4 is one of the greatest physical coordination and cognitive developmental periods for children. A lot happens physically and mentally to a child in that time span.
Dance can be a wonderful activity for children, promoting physical fitness, creativity, and self-expression. However, it's crucial to assess a child's readiness for formal dance classes or other activities, and determine if they will actually get benefits out of it or if the class will go over their heads. It can be frustrating to wait, but making sure that a child is physically, mentally, and developmentally ready for a dance class is overall better for the child and will result in an easy and fun experience for everyone.