“I’m never going back to ballet Mummy! Ever!” sobbed the little 3 year old as they walked away from her first ballet class.
A lot of people think that your child must start dancing as soon as possible – otherwise they will be ‘too old” to master it. Others think that there’s no way their child will be able to step into a studio without them and therefore their child is “too young’.
As with many things, there is no ‘one size fit’s all” answer to when is the best age for your child to start dancing. But this handy guide will give you an outline of what to expect at some significant developmental stages.
3 year olds
Classes for 3 year olds should be primarily based on creative movement – exploring movement through play, imagination and story-telling. There should be some dance vocabulary in there too – but it should be just another set of movements that are explored, rather than anything that feels technical or structured.
3 is a very common age for children to start dance classes – there are “ballet clubs” all over the world that welcome little ones to take their first dance steps at this age. There’s a lot to be said for this logic – your 3 year old probably can run, jump, walk on tip-toes and can balance on one foot, all of which are foundational movements that a lot of dance styles draw on.
Your little one will be learning to count which will be helped enormously by the numbered repetition of movements in class and will also benefit by having the opportunity to learn alongside other little ones
On the flip side, your 3 year old may still need to have their emotional security encouraged. Separating from you for a class may be the little challenge they need to realise that they’re ok. Or it might be a bit too much too soon. Understand that whichever it is, your child is perfectly normal and just go with the flow. If they find it tricky, try again 2 more weeks and see what happens. They may soon overcome their worries because they so want to join in the fun! But if not, that’s fine too – praise them for trying something new and do something else together. They can always try again when they’re older (and I promise it won’t be “too late”!)
7 year olds
Once your child is 7, they are ready for “big school” and the same logic applies for dancing. Developmentally, your 7 year old is ready for a “proper” dance class. Your child can probably concentrate for longer, knows their right from the left and understands the concept of numbers.
Most 7 year olds LOVE to copy adults – so the format of a slightly more structured dance class will be something they really enjoy. Developmentally this is a really great time to get your child involved in new hobbies, especially physical activity, so dance can be a great option.
Your 7 year old won’t have “missed out” if they haven’t danced before. Highly technical dance training shouldn’t be given to children younger than this so classes won’t differentiate between those children that did ballet as 3 year olds and those who didn’t. There should still be a really strong element of fun and creativity in these classes, but the foundations of dance technique will be taught and your child’s dance education has really begun!
14 year olds
This is probably the age where most parents come to us saying “She’s never danced before – is she too old?”
All young teens are going to be experiencing growth spurts – and for everyone that wreaks havoc with your balance and coordination! So although your 14 year old doesn’t have the knowledge of dance techniques that some of their peers may have, they aren’t also having to “re-learn” how all those movements feel and how to make them work again!
The more mature approach your teen has to learning means that they will find it far easier to absorb and understand new concepts than younger dancers so they will often simply “catch up” what they’ve missed.
Your 14 year old seeks independence from you and will start wanting to set goals. Beginning dance education can be a great way to achieve both of these things in a really safe and constructive way.
They may also be experiencing lots of emotions they’ve not faced before – and something creative like dance can provide a beautiful way for them to express this without feeling judged or vulnerable.
You can help your teen’s social development by encouraging them to take on new challenges, and to practice discipline. Dance education gives both of these things in a way that feels exciting and fun rather than daunting or restrictive.
The other thing your teen really needs is to have a trusted adult they can share thoughts, problems or concerns with. Often this person will be you. But sometimes they need someone else on hand – and their dance teacher can be the perfect choice. Someone you both know, like and trust. Someone with lots of experience of teen problems over the years. Someone who will know when to keep your child’s worries confidential – and will also identify things you need to know!
21 (and the rest!)
Let’s not forget about you! Dance can be brilliant for adults too. Many dance studios offer adult classes so you can be with other grown up beginners and you won’t have to dance with the 7 year olds! In short – you’re NEVER too old to start your dance journey!
Whatever happened to that little girl who was so upset after her first ballet class? I’m happy to say, she had a lovely childhood, and tried lots of other activities. At the age of 11, she stepped back into a ballet studio and that was the start of a lifelong love affair with dance. That little girl has taught thousands of other people to dance and now writes on the subject. I am that little girl. I guess for me, 3 was not the best age to start ballet! But turns out, 11 was just PERFECT!
Alison Jones is a dance education expert, writer and founder of Dancewise Studios.