Building a Dancer: The Journey Through the Training Years
The journey of a dancer is one that inspires. Honing a craft takes patience, determination, discipline, and of course a love of what you’re doing!
Training a dancer is something that we as dance educators are immersed in day after day, performance after performance, season after season. As instructors, we sometimes are faced with difficult decisions regarding placements, roles, or routines that can be challenging for dancers and their parents to understand. This blog takes a whirl at communicating the “why” behind some of those difficult decisions.
To give a practical example, training or building a dancer is not unlike building a house…we need to look ahead to the end goal in order to see what we need to accomplish to get to that ending place. When you build a house, for example, the exciting parts of the journey for many people are choosing the style of the finishings, the paint colours, deciding on your light fixtures and flooring… however, you can’t even begin to think about those aspects of your home if you don’t have your foundation, framing, electrical, and plumbing in place first!
When we look at a competitive or pre-professional dancer’s journey, it is important to look ahead to what it is we wish to accomplish during the high school years- ages 16-18. We have to envision that end product that we strive for and then work our way backward.
The blogs will be emailed out monthly and can also be found on our website. If you have any questions regarding the topics we touch on, topics you would like to learn more about or would like some more information, feel free to reach out to us. We pride ourselves on our open and honest communication.
AGE 3 + 4
In the beginnings, at age 3 or 4 years old, we are striving to instill a love of dance and movement, freedom of movement, teaching how to interact in a class setting and under the guidance of a teacher, and of course, introducing the discipline that dance (and life) require to be successful!
This equates to the very beginnings of building our house…we are simply preparing the land.
AGE 5 + 6
As our dancers start to grow up, at 5 and 6 years old, we then start to build more structure into their dance classes. As teachers, we begin to ask more of our students in terms of following instruction, dancing to more specific “counts” or timing, and dancing together as a group.
Dance starts to become a more directed group activity, though we are still incorporating imagination and free dance when appropriate.
Here comes the digging…it’s time to get ready to pour the concrete foundation and get this house rolling!
AGE 7 – 9
Moving into ages 7-9 years old, we begin to “frame” our dancers, as we would frame our house. Big changes start to take place, and our dancers are beginning to understand their bodies and how they work. Dance steps become more challenging as they become more technical in nature, and dancers learn more about how their individual bodies work…because each body is a unique body! For instance, at this age dancers are starting to learn about their pelvis and their legs, and how even though they are attached, they can work independently from one another.
This is a really important concept that the average 7-9-year-old non-dancer would probably not understand, but in dance class, we are making those connections and building those foundations, both intellectually and physically.
Our dancers are introduced to basic anatomical concepts, and as we begin to build on the basics towards age 9, we reach the point where in order to master a skill, we must be able to understand the foundational concepts of that skill before progressing onto something more advanced. Back to the house- imagine trying to put up the drywall in your house before your electrical rough-in… you won’t have any lights in your house!
You can’t have a house without lights just like how you can’t have a dancer without the proper foundational understandings and progressions. This becomes an issue of safety, and as educators, we prioritize developmentally sound movement and want to avoid injuries in our students as much as possible.
AGE 10 – 12
As dancers progress through their pre-teen years, ages 10-12, the dance continues to increase in challenge. This is the age where as we continue to master technical aspects, and different styles of dance become appealing.
With the foundations of ballet and jazz, a dancer will find success while branching into those new styles, including lyrical and contemporary. The foundations of ballet, jazz, and tap start to intertwine and there is no doubt that we see the dancers who take all three styles progress at a higher rate!
Our house is coming together and we are almost ready for those finishes!
As we move into the teen years, our approach with our dancers differs as they begin to hone in on their individual styles, something that can be done now that they have established that strong technical base throughout their pre teen years. This is the exciting age where dancers often begin to find which styles suit them best and which they enjoy the most.
During the teenage years, dance can also serve as a therapeutic means, a stress reliever, a confidant. When a dancer’s journey reaches the advanced level this is what we, as dance educators, have been waiting for! All the years of training (and each dancer’s individual path), have brought them to this place.
The finishings are in, the house is sparkling, and we’re ready to move in!
We know it can be challenging for dancers or their parents to understand the reasoning behind repeating a level of ballet at age 8, or spending another season mastering a level of tap at age 11, and we understand and empathize with that challenge. It is so important to remember that no two children progress the same way or at the same rate. We want every dancer to succeed in making it to those seniors years, and it is our job to get them there… sometimes that means making difficult decisions that aren’t made for the here and now, but for the future.
If your child appears to be at the top of their class at a young age and you believe they should progress quicker through the levels, you’re right, we could move them ahead, but that doesn’t always benefit them in the long run. There is no rush to dance training- they will be with their dance studio until grade 12, so let’s give them the time to develop in a safe and sustained manner while building those integral foundations. After all, we don’t want to have to tear down the drywall to insert the electrical after the fact…it’s much less work to do it in the proper order.
Training a dancer for and through their seniors years is a beautiful journey and we are so glad to be part of your journey.
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