With new research showing how important it is to check that your child’s ballet teacher is qualified, here’s a quick pirouette through all the essentials you need to know about ballet classes for under 5s.
What age can my child start ballet?
Ballet classes generally start from 18 months to 2 years onwards (though some providers do offer age specific courses for younger children). For very young children, classes are usually graded according to age rather than ability.
Ballet classes for toddlers and preschoolers are often advertised as baby ballet and can be found in some dance schools.
What to look for in a ballet teacher
It’s vital that your child’s ballet teacher is qualified to teach ballet – particularly for very young children. The Royal Academy of Dance (RAD) warns that unqualified teachers can cause “untold physical damage”.
“If young children are in the hands of unqualified, untrained people then physical damage can be done simply because the teacher does not know about anatomy and the development of bones,” explains Luke Ritter, chief executive of RAD.
Techniques such as ‘en pointe’ (where a ballet dancer supports all of their body weight on the tips of their feet) should only be attempted once your child’s bones are fully developed. But it’s not just advanced techniques like this. Problems can also occur if a teacher pushes a young child to “turnout” (where a dancer splays out their feet and opens up their hips).
“Anybody could put up a notice on their front door announcing a school of dance. You could run a successful business without anybody knowing that you have absolutely no training or qualifications,” adds Mr Ritter.
Check that your teacher is fully qualified by looking at RAD’s register of accredited teachers.
What your child will do at a ballet class
Ballet classes are packed with a combination of fun, dance instruction, movement and music. Depending on the age group, classes will usually combine elements of several other baby and toddler classes to make a session more relevant and accessible for children.
Ballet classes for very little ones often include basic ballet techniques, dance, child yoga, music and singing, baby gym and storytelling. As well as classical tunes, your child will be introduced to ballet through a variety of different music.
Your child may be learning simple pirouettes in time to a nursery rhyme one week and how to balance on her tiptoes to jazz music the next.
Classes usually open with a gentle warm-up routine to get your child moving and stretching before the main section of the class gets underway.
The basics of classical ballet technique will be taught in an accessible way for young children, mixing fun and education. This may involve group activities and role-play, which also taps into your youngster’s imagination.
Props such as tunnels, ribbons and instruments may also be introduced which can encourage your child’s sense of play and dance.
Classes end with a cool-down and fun stretching session. Although your child may be following a specific syllabus as part of the ballet training, classes will still be attuned to the age and abilities of your toddler’s age group and she will be able to progress at his own pace.
Why ballet is good for your child
It’s not just the obvious skills that your child will pick up from going to ballet…
Improved balance – As well as learning how to control and move her body to certain beats, music types and instruction, your child will gain improved balance, co-ordination and generally become more agile. These are key gross motor skills that are important for your child’s physical development.
Posture – posture will also improve as will self-confidence as she becomes more adept at tackling positions and movements. As your child becomes more body aware she will start to become more flexible and core strength will be enhanced.
Social skills – There will be plenty of interaction, so expect your child’s social skills and ability to interact with other toddlers and preschoolers of the same age to come on in leaps and bounds. Your child’s imagination will also be stretched as she learns to dance and stories are introduced into song and movements.
Self-control – Ballet is a very graceful art form and promotes manners, discipline and good behaviour, which are great everyday life skills for your child to develop.
How much do ballet classes cost?
It varies according to the location – you can expect to pay around £6-£10 per class. You may also need to pay for an appropriate dance uniform (tights, leotards and ballet shoes for girls and shorts, t-shirts and ballet shoes for boys).