I’d like to repeat that:
There is no such thing as a ‘serious’ ballet program for children under 5.
OK, yes, there are programs that offer better training than others. And there are programs which are largely lacking in technique, terminology and progress and are often referred to as ‘recreational’, as if there is any alternative.
But come on now… Just how serious can a tiny tutu-ed tike really be about her ballet training?
Without a word, I can often hear the wide-eyed concern many parents have when someone says ‘serious dance training’ about youngsters’ dance classes. I’m not sure if they are more fearful of missed family time due to over-committed rehearsals and classes (though children under five years old generally dance for 1 or 2 hours per week no matter where they are enrolled), or the image of a drill-sergeant type teacher holding a stick and yelling French terms at their baby (even the very strongest ballet programs use age-appropriate syllabi that educate and engage a child).
I frequently hear parents say things like ‘I’m just going to have her start at a low-key dance studio and then if she gets more serious we’ll switch to a better school.’
Well, no, you won’t. And here’s why -
First problem: Your child is a lot less likely to take an interest in an activity that lacks structure and discipline. Children thrive with structure, discipline and true learning. They quickly realize when an activity is meant to provide a social hour and that the same result can be easily achieved on the playground. Much like us grown folk, they generally take no pride in what they’re doing if they aren’t accomplishing anything of real value.
Second problem: Your child has been given a shoddy foundation. Your child’s ‘serious’ dance teacher now has to un-teach bad habits, and ideally, catch her up with age-appropriate habits and material. The transition is always rocky and often, the child never catches up.
Third problem: So the thing is ...ballet is actually kinda serious. It's kind of disciplined, it's kind of hard work, it's kind of no-nonsense. That's kind of built in to the whole art form from which most other dance-related art forms stem. So you kind of can't do ballet, unless it is ...well, serious. And so, if your child is participating in ballet ...well, you get it. Mr. Ohman always would suggest to us that if the option was to take a half fast class (pun intended) or no class at all, to just go to the playground.
Any early childhood class in any activity should provide a strong foundation for growth. An older dancer can always decide they want to scale back on their training, but they can’t necessarily decide they want to pursue it more seriously if they lack a strong foundation, strength, technique or the knowledge of what more is out there in the wider world of dance [or insert your activity of choice].
An hour is an hour is an hour. Tuition is tuition is tuition. Time and money invested are, for the most part, apples to apples. So why wouldn’t you use that time and money to get the right bang for your buck?
Recreational dance classes are wonderful for older children who know they want to invest their energies elsewhere. Save the fou-fou hip hop classes for your 8 or 9 year old who doesn't show that much interest in classical dance and formal training. But, please, give your little one a chance at success, give them a chance to really know what’s out there, and be discriminating in which program you select first for youngsters.