So your little girl or boy (or big girl or boy) has been asking to start dance classes? You know how much they love music, you see that they have an uncontrollable urge to move when their favourite song comes on, you’ve watched them obsess over dance related tv shows and movies and try to copy the dance steps in front of the TV. You would love to sign them up to dance class and make their dreams a reality but just as going to a new dance school can be daunting for your child, often it can be as equally daunting for you, a first-time “dance mum” or “dance dad”.
Never fear! Your guide to your child’s first dance class is here to help you get through the process; before, during and after.
- Do your research. Google Maps is a monopoly board of dance schools in your local area. Each one of them will be different and have something that makes them special. Their “special” might not fit you and your child though. There are many factors to consider when picking a dance school; location, price, the culture of the school and qualified teachers to name a few. Think about what your ideal dance experience will be; do you want a high level of commitment and elite level performances? Do you want a recreational class for fun? Check out each dance school’s website and social media pages to find a school whose vision matches yours. Ask questions! Call up and inquire. Don’t be afraid to inquire at a few different schools until you find what you’re looking for.
- Book in. Just as you and your child need to be prepared, so do your teachers. Make sure that they know you will be attending class. Some school’s have an online booking system and others will take your booking via phone or email. Booking is important to ensure that there is space in that class for your son or daughter. Nothing is more disappointing than building up the excitement of dance class only to arrive and be told that that class is full. It is also a good opportunity to tell your teacher a little bit about your child. Maybe they have learning difficulties or a language barrier or are just generally very shy. A good teacher will take this on board and be prepared to create the best experience possible for your child.
- Talk about dancing. Often a dance class environment can be quite daunting for first timers, especially younger children. A dance class is a structured activity and while heaps of fun, is very different to just dancing around in the lounge room at home. Children who haven’t yet participated in a structured activity like school, kinder or lessons will take more time to grasp the concept of following directions in a group. The environment itself can be quite daunting too, a big echoey studio, loud music, other children and a new grown-up telling them what to, Talk to your child in the weeks leading up to class so these things will be less of a shock to them. Some things you can say are:
- “Your dancing teacher’s name is Kristie and she is so excited to dance with you.”
- “I’m so excited to take you to see your special dance room, are you?”
- “There are going to be lots of other little boys and girls dancing with you today, that’s exciting isn’t it?”
- “Your dance teacher, Kristie, is going to teach you lots of special things. Try to copy and listen.”
- And the most important one: “Don’t worry if it’s tricky. Just try your very best and have fun”
- You could also show them photos or videos from your school’s social media pages of dance routines, the studio or even their teacher.
4. Be early. Arrive about 10 minutes early to give your child time to settle in, meet their teacher, go to the toilet, become familiar with the space, put their dance shoes on and relax. Arriving late or rushing in creates a stressful experience for the child who is most likely already feeling a little bit unsure. It is also disrupting to the teacher and the other little people in the class. When a child arrives late they miss out on class introductions, a comforting and settling chat from their teacher and the warm-up. All of these are essential to a well-rounded class.
- Stick around. Depending on how old and how independent your child is, it’s a good idea to wait for them during their first lesson. Check with the teacher to see if it’s ok to watch their first class, every school will have a different policy. If you are allowed to watch, this is a good opportunity for you to get a feel for the school, see how the teacher engages with your child and to make sure they’re having fun. If you will be waiting for your child in the parent lounge, you could show them where you will be sitting to assure them that you aren’t too far away.
- Don’t take photos or videos. This is a policy most dance schools have in place as part of their Child Safety Policy and Code of Conduct. It ensures the safety and comfort of all students and parents. Imagine you as a 4-year-old, in your very first dance class, looking up to see a grown-up you don’t know taking your picture. Or imagine you as an adult, looking across the room to see another adult you don’t know filming your child’s dance class. From a copyright standpoint – it is actually against the law. Dance schools pay lots of money to be able to use and reproduce music in class, concerts and social media videos. What’s more, it is very awkward for you, the teacher and the other parents when the class has to be stopped so that you can be asked to stop filming. If you would like to capture the special moment, a photo before or after class is a better idea.
- Try not to discipline your child. It can be so tempting to call out “Mia – listen to Kristie” or “Sienna – are you concentrating!?”. It is expected for little people to get distracted during class and your teacher will be prepared for it. If it’s your child’s first dance class, they need to learn that for the next 45 minutes their dance teacher is the boss, not mum or dad. It is confusing for them to have instructions coming from all different directions and often will have the opposite effect. Remember, your teacher is a qualified professional. If they think your child is particularly disruptive or not quite ready for dance class, they will have a conversation with you about it. Sit back and relax and leave it to the pros.
- Don’t be disruptive. Switch phones off and refrain from a catch-up session with the other parents. Chatter can be really distracting for students AND the teacher. If possible, ensure your other children are looked after and entertained, not disturbing the class. Younger siblings, in particular, can be a point of distraction for big sisters and brothers who want to look after their younger sibling or want them to join in the class.
- Ask your child what they thought. Did they have fun? Would they like to come back? Was it scary? What was your favourite part? Often what you watched in the classroom can be different from what your child feels. There are many factors that determine where you send your child to dance but your child’s happiness should be high up on your priority list.
- Chat with the teacher. You might have questions or concerns or you’re not sure if that was the right class for your child. Voice these with the teacher. He/She may ease your concerns or they might know of a class that would be better suited to your child.
- Try again. For many little boys and girls, it can take a few classes to settle into the dance school environment. As mentioned earlier, it is a structured activity with many variables; loud music, lots of other children and parents, a new place, a new grown up, all of these things can trigger nerves and emotions even in the most confident of children. If your child loves to dance but struggled with their first lesson, it may be worth persisting for a few more classes. Every child is different and like with all things, each child will take to dance in their own way and in their own time.
- Relax. Remember not to expect too much from your little dancer. Dance is a progressive art form and the skills involved take time to develop. They won’t be turning, leaping or performing cartwheels in their first class. Remember it’s not just about the dance steps. It’s about developing the whole person. From social skills to confidence, musicality and counting, healthy muscles and bones and making friends!
And the last thing; cut yourself some slack. Signing your child up to dance can be stressful. It means more bills to be paid, more uniforms to buy, more emails and newsletters to read and yet another after-school activity to get to on time. It may take you a while to find your own dancing feet but if you are feeding your child’s passion for dance, you are already doing a wonderful thing. Just take a deep breath, do your research and trust your instincts.
By Chloe Jobson – Co-Owner at Main St Funk Dance School Epping