Advice about Taking Ballet Lessons
Archived Q&A and Reviews
What age to start ballet lessons?
I have a couple of comments about the dance inquiry from my own experience as a dancer (since age 3 and still taking class). Four years old is a little too young to be thinking about formal ballet instruction--any dance class at this age should emphasize connecting rhythm and movement and music, rather than standing at the barre and doing exercises. I recommend observing a class to see how the teacher connects with and inspires the kids. Be suspicious of any neigborhood dance studio (I'm not saying that Katie's is one of them!) that emphasizes getting girls up on pointe shoes: although every little female ballet student dreams of dancing on pointe, it's something that shouldn't be done unless the student has had several years of rigorous technique and has strong bones and muscles. Getting up on pointe before you are ready can really strain and distort the body (not that ballet doesn't already sort of do that). One really good studio, which is owned by one of the campus dance instructors, is Luna. It's located in the Glenview Terrace district of Oakland, on Park Blvd. between Highways 13 and 580 (east of 580/west of 13). I realize that's kind of a trek from Berkeley/El Cerrito, but it's easy to get to. I don't know whether Luna has its summer schedule out yet, but I know they would welcome observers.
Hope this helps.
I also have a four year old daughter, and although she's not currently in a dance class, I regularly take classes in modern and ballet. I feel strongly that four-year-old's don't belong in a ballet class; they belong in an introduction to movement class, which could incorporate some aspects of ballet and modern, but with the goals of learning to move to music and to think creatively about movement. At this age, you don't want to be telling kids they're doing something wrong when they move; rather, you want to have them think about where their body is and what they're doing, so they can copy movements and make up their own. Classes that are strongly technique-based are likely to be telling kids that they're doing something wrong.
You might try Luna , a studio in Oakland, for classes, or you can shop around for a class that looks like fun.
Dear Sarah and other parents who might be considering dance training for their young children,
I have studied dance (mostly ballet) since I was five, and have had many, many different teachers, and kinds of teachers, in those 30+ years. Some of my teachers have been remarkable, not only as dancers and instructors, but as bearers of a certain philosophy about the education of children. I would love to share an idea or two with anyone interested.
My experience as a parent tells me that young children learn best in a play-based, child-centered setting, and I think this applies to dance, too. The very best dance teachers I have had have stressed the importance of working from wherever the individual is, and doing so with utmost care and joy in the learning, rather than making every dancer look and perform alike.
Enough philosophy. Let me cut to the recommendation. Mary Lyons is a first-rate teacher of pre-ballet and ballet for young children. She also teaches tap. She teaches all afternoon on Fridays at the beautiful, relatively new Albany Community Center, on Marin at Masonic Ave. The classes are small and personal and, above all, fun and _appropriate_ for children from 3.5 to 5 and from 7 up. Mary also teaches elsewhere, and undoubtedly teaches every level.
Mary is sincere, careful, and attentive to her students. Her students receive a good, solid foundation in the essence of good ballet, without the pain of premature drills and barre exercises. The first thing she taught my daughter was how to present herself, with the port de bras (arm movements) of ballet, and say I am a beautiful dancer. Yes, I am. She asks parents to suspend every ounce of criticism of their children's dance (appropriately!) and to applaud their every effort. My 5.5-year-old daughter has blossomed in this class.
The children are allowed to wear any color leotard/tights/ballet slippers at the Albany Community Center classes (unusual -- many schools prescribe a given color/style leotard for each level of instruction), and the classes are extremely reasonable in price ($34 Albany residents/$37 others for six weeks). A new session begins 4/26, and runs through 6/7. There are no ridiculous add-ons in terms of fees, so you know what you're paying for. I give this teacher and this setting my highest recommendation. The phone number at the Albany Community Center is 524-9283.
If you want to know more about this, or about dance instruction for kids in general, I'd be happy to field individual inquiries.
Best of luck to you and your kids
I loved the suggestions about good teachers. I, too took modern dance from 5- 11 years and the most rigorous russian classical ballet from 11-15, and then modern dance from 15-18 (and martial arts ever since).
I agree that ballet both builds character but also can build insecurity and reinforce bad gender stereotypes (anorexic behavior was rampant). I also think it's very important to closely watch male teachers around little girls until you're pretty sure you can trust them, and I don't know how you can establish that trust beyond the shadow of a doubt. Looking back: When I was five, my modern dance teacher, who my mother worshipped, picked me up fromhome to drive me to class one time and locked the car doors when we arrived and wouldn't unlock them unless he got a kiss. It may seem innocuous but I felt trapped in the car, and even then, to me the whole behavior was inappropriate. When I was 7 and had swimming lessons in the FLorida hotel pool where we were vacationing, the 16 year old instructor took me into the deep end and said he would let me go unless he got a kiss. When I was thirteen and pretty busty Vitale Fokine (Michel Fokine's grandson) would routinely feel up the girls when we leaned back in porte-de-bras. Believe me, he wasn't just adjusting our posture. Now, my other male teachers were just fine and the females, too. And I've never felt particularly harmed by these experiences. I mention them because they happened and my parents weren't aware of it at time time. When I told my mother about the car experience she kind of belittled me and came to Mr. Rivera's aid. So make sure you really listen to your daughters.
When all is said and done I think that some of my most educational and inspirational aspects of self came from after school enrichment. I definitely learned posture, comportment and self discipline from ballet, and the value of hard work. When my son is old enough. I'm gong to let him see if he likes tap dancing, gymnastics, swimming, martial arts, etc.