by Sarah Ruppel Bullis
I’m thrilled to witness that in the past several years a growing number of people have realized the importance of dance education for children. I have noticed that more and more schools in the Richmond area are including dance as part of their curriculum. I personally teach movement classes to infants through adult age, and have noticed that those students that start at a very young age and continue through their childhood development are much more advanced in every aspect of their life than those who have not. Dance has been a part of my own life since the age of 2, and I attribute much of the success in life (communication, organization, and memorization skills, discipline, manners, excellence in school, and success in business) to what I learned in dance classes. This is not to say that my faith and my parents’ encouragement and way of raising me were not significant; however, without a doubt, years of dance classes ingrained the above elements of success into me and have shaped me into who I am today.
It is never too early to put your children into dance classes! Ponder this: babies move before they talk. Movement is an innate part of us. Why not learn how to coordinate movements at the early development stages of our lives? A “dance” class for a toddler does not mean that the toddler will be learning serious dance technique of any particular style. A toddler dance, or better known as creative movement, class entails that the students will learn and perfect the foundations of dance: coordination, balance, spatial awareness, rhythm, pattern recognition and memorization, expressiveness, and creative thinking.
I cannot speak to the specifics of all toddler movement classes, but I can speak for my own. I have been teaching young children how to dance for 20 years (yes, I was 10 years old when I started to arrange dance classes at my house for the younger children in my neighborhood), and I now teach the Creative Movement and Dance Discovery classes at Passion Academy. This blog in particular will focus on these 2 classes. The additional younger-age classes on our schedule follow the principles I describe below with a format based on the age group and style of the class.
Both Creative Movement and Dance Discovery classes are parent participation classes. Thus, the child does not have to have prior movement experience to attend one of these classes because the parent and teacher will help the child with the movements. Do not think that your child has to be “good” at dance or moving in order to enroll in a dance class. This is what I will teach them with your help!
I believe that individual attention from the teacher is important in every dance class, and thus, the student body in each of these toddler classes at Passion Academy is small. I limit the number of students in each class to 6 or less so that I am able to teach the sequences as well as provide individual attention to each student several times during the class. A limited numbers of students also helps keep the number of distractions to a minimum.
The Creative Movement and Dance Discovery classes are 30 minutes long, which I have found to be the perfect amount of time to keep a toddler’s attention with movement exercises. Each class begins with different warm-up exercises on the floor that will attune the students’ ears to the rhythms of music, familiarize each student with his/her own body, and introduce mild stretching. These warm-ups are repeated every class, and I gradually advance them as the students demonstrate their understanding and perfection of them. After our warm-up section, we perform different standing and moving-around-the-room exercises that teach coordination, directional movement, balance, jumping, and pattern recognition/memorization. I use colors, shapes, numbers, and musical tempos to teach these exercises. Finally, the last bit of our class includes a themed portion where the students will “become” something or “go” somewhere and learn how to move their bodies accordingly. I provide the guidelines for these movements and then let the students’ creative minds take over. In the more advanced Dance Discovery classes (ages 3-4), the children work up to learning short dances during this part of class. All of the above exercises include the use of multiple props as a way to better engage the children in the exercises, teach tactile coordination, and to help encourage their creative minds with the visualization of different objects that can be “seen” as different things, depending on the theme (i.e. a hula hoop could be a pond or a nest or a vehicle). Additionally, music is used throughout the class to assist and inspire each movement. However, unlike many other toddler dance classes, I do not use music with words to accompany the sequences. I use only instrumental music to better attune my students’ ears to the musical rhythms and so that they hear my words and instructions without the distractions of words in the songs.
Thus, as seen above, these movement classes will aid in the physical development of your child by teaching him/her body awareness, spatial awareness, coordination, and balance. They will enhance the development of cognitive thinking by teaching rhythmical counting, following directions, problem solving through movement, and pattern recognition and memorization. They will encourage his/her emotional development by inciting the use of facial expressions and imagination during the themed part of our class. They will advance social development as your child dances with other toddlers and is taught social skills such as sharing and staying in line. Finally, they will enhance your parent-child relationship by providing you and your child time set aside each week to work and learn together in a loving, encouraging, positive environment.
And one final important note for these classes: Do not give up on your child’s ability after the first class! It is very rare that I will have a young student perform or participate in every movement exercise or sequence in the first class. This takes consistency and time, which is why the repetitive nature of my classes is extremely important. The first 20 minutes of class is repeated each week and gradually advanced throughout the session, and I always repeat the entire 30 minute lesson plan (i.e. the same theme) 2-3 classes in a row. The repetition will allow your child to learn and become comfortable with the movements, and the goal is that he/she will eventually be able to perform them on their own. Also do not compare your child’s progress to another student’s progress. Every child learns at a different pace, and it is up to you to encourage your child to continue at his/her own pace. Patience and positive reinforcement is the key!
Passion Dance offers several classes for students under 5 years old:
Passion Dance Program Director
Creative Movement and Dance Discovery Mentor
I Got Rhythm 10:00-10:30am (Ages 16-24 months)
For young dancers interested in an introduction to tap or ballet ballet technique, we offer Primary Tap and Pre-ballet classes during the following times:
Monday 10:30-11:15am (Ages 3-4.5)
Tuesday 10:30-11:15am (Ages 3.5-4.5)
Friday 11:15am-12:00pm (Ages 3.5-4.5)
Friday 3:30-4:15pm (Ages 3.5-4.5)