Girl taking ballet lessonsA child’s ballet class may not resemble the elegance of professionals dancing in Sleeping Beauty or Swan Lake, but it provides lasting advantages to the youngsters who participate. Ballet benefits children physically, mentally, and even socially—as kids will meet new people and make friends in class. And in addition, dancing is fun.

Baby Steps

Many dance studios offer pre-ballet or preschool classes for dancers who are about 3 to 5 years old. These classes are geared towards youngsters’ brief attention spans and lack the physical demands of a regular ballet class. Children listen to music, follow a teacher’s movements, and play movement games. The classes help young dancers become comfortable with being inside a dance studio, wearing dance attire, and following instructions.

A regular ballet class for older students is more structured. Classes include barre exercises, center work, and across-the-floor combinations of steps. Students might also learn a piece of choreography for a performance.

A Full Body Workout

The physical benefits of ballet compare with the benefits of many sports—but ballet dancers do it all with grace and poise. As dancers advance in their lessons, ballet improves their posture, strength, and flexibility. Posture is a key element of ballet and is important for the overall “look” of the dance. It’s also critical for students’ safety—proper posture reduces the risk of injuries and encourages good breathing. Ballet strengthens dancers’ feet, legs, and core muscles. And it improves flexibility as dancers strive to perfect their technique.

And again, like many sports, ballet develops coordination—for both girls and boys. Dancers have to move legs and arms at the same time, sometimes with contrasting movement qualities such as quick, precise footwork with flowing, slow arms. This coordination stays with dancers outside of the dance studio—just ask high school and college football coaches who require that their players take ballet classes.

A Full Brain Workout

In addition to a full body workout, ballet offers a full brain workout. Dancers develop their creativity when they learn new steps and ways of moving. Ballet also asks dancers to express emotions with their whole body. Dancers sometimes have the mental challenge of taking on a role and becoming a character who can tell a story with movement, such as young Clara in The Nutcracker.

While teachers are responsible for choreographing—or creating—the dances, sometimes children have the opportunity to invent their own movements and dances in a ballet class. Choreographing lets kids share their thoughts and feelings through movement, gives them a sense of control, and pushes them to improve their dance skills and artistry.

Memory gets a workout too. In a ballet class, the instructor teaches the students movement combinations. The teacher shows the combination and performs it with the students at first. Then once the students grasp the combinations, they dance on their own. This can be challenging in the beginning, especially for youngsters who are shy and unfamiliar with the process, but it gets easier with practice.

A balancing act

As one more benefit, ballet also develops students’ organizational skills. Dedicated young dancers have to fit ballet classes into their schedule of homework and other activities, but with a bit of patience and a parent’s help, children do learn how to manage their time.

It takes discipline to do this, and that discipline will come in handy in school too. Students must learn set positions and a movement “vocabulary” they must execute correctly. As in an academic classroom, students may not talk amongst themselves. They must pay attention so they can learn routines and learn to spot good and bad technique.

Dancers may struggle sometimes to learn a step or remember a routine, but hard work pays off. Every small improvement boosts kids’ confidence. When the impossible step or routine suddenly becomes easy, anything is possible. And there’s nothing that compares to finally nailing a grand jeté and dancing one’s heart out on stage.

Points to consider when choosing a dance studio:

  • How large are the classes?
  • How much experience do the teachers have? Are they used to working with young children? Are the teachers professionals, or are they high school students? Do the teachers keep up with their own training?
  • Does the studio pay attention to children individually, only moving each child to a new class level when that child is physically ready? (Beware of studios that put dancers in pointe shoes at a young age, as this can be harmful to children’s developing bodies.)
  • What type of studio or class is best for your child? Are you looking into dance classes to give your child a fun way to exercise? Is your child interested in competitions against other studios and students? Does your child love being on stage and want as many performance opportunities as possible?
  • What is the studio’s teaching philosophy? Is it performance-oriented or learning-process-oriented?
  • Does your child want to take dance classes? You’ll need her enthusiasm if you expect her to succeed.
  • What expenses are required? Aside from the cost of classes, dancewear, and ballet shoes, will there be any additional expenses for tutus and costumes, rehearsals, and competitions?

Rachel Baker is freelance writer from New Jersey. She took her first ballet class at age 5 and has been dancing ever since.