Toddlers in Dance
You're a parent who is looking to put your toddler in dance class, and you pick the studio that your neighbor's or friend's child goes to because, let's face it, it's easier to go to a place where you already know some people who are already there.
But, I'm going to challenge you to think outside of the box, and go one step further.
Think about what you consider before choosing a doctor, pre-school, or aftercare program. Think about where you choose to take your toddlers and young children for playdates ,and why. Think about who you want around your children, and for what reasons.
Use these same considerations, the same list, when choosing a dance studio.
Toddler classes, or Combo Classes for ages 2-3 (and sometimes ages 3-4), offered in dance studios help kids in that age group learn how to create group formations (circle, square, two lines), how to participate as a member of a group within a class, how to take direction while moving in direction (left and right, up and down, etc), and how to remember and recall sequences with short choreographed phrases.
Dance classes for this age group also help toddlers and kids ages 4-5 practice their listening skills learned at home with their parents, practice how to ask questions, and practice how to socializing with their classmates and when (usually before and after class).
Dance helps with a toddler's and young child's cognitive development, social skills, speech and language development, gross motor skills and fine motor skills. Heck! Dance helps us with these things no matter what age!!
But for toddlers, this list of developmental achievements is enough, and is the best reasons why you should want to place your toddler into dance.
More and more studios are opening a spot on their team for children between the ages of 3-6, and many competitions accept competitors as young as age 4.
I am not sure how I feel about putting children in this age range on stage in a competition setting (it feels somewhat beauty-pageant-ish), but ultimately this is a decision for parents to make, which is my loudest thought when it comes to competitions: don't let anyone pressure you to put your child on a competitive team but if you choose to put them on a team at this young age, please remove them the very minute they are no longer having any fun.
My second loudest thought is that all adults involved in decisions for the family need to agree on when a child or teen is ready. Dance competition teams can teach accountability and work ethic, and it is fun to perform and be recognized, and spend time with friends. But, they can also create chasms of doubt in a kid if a child or teen is not good at maintaining perspective. Every dance studio has a team, many middle schools and high schools have a team, and most colleges have a team. Opportunities are abundant. There is time.
If you're child/teen is dancing for the first time or dancing at a new studio, and was approached by the studio owner or director about the competition team, or is showing an interest in auditioning for or joining the competition team: I recommend taking a year to decide. During that time, your child/teen should take as many classes as possible including master classes and intensives. This will give you time to quietly hang around the studio and do some serious listening.
Help your child/teen learn that performing at competitions is only one aspect of competition, and agree that it is, typically, the most exciting aspect. There is a lot more that goes into being part of a competitive team outside of performing on stage in front of judges. There is tuition for classes, fees, mandatory class and rehearsal attendance, costumes, and volunteer hours from the parents, and then there may also be mandatory master classes and intensives as well as fundraising and team building events.
Attend one of the team's competition for an entire weekend with your child/teen. This is often Friday afternoon until late that night (for solos and awards), Saturday early in the morning until late at night (groups, solos, and awards), and then Sunday early in the morning until late at night (groups and awards). Yes, it will be a full weekend for you, but also a full weekend for your child/teen, and if you have a dancer in your family who is willing to be at a dance competition for an entire weekend, and is still excited about dance after that weekend, then you have a young dancer who wants it.
If there is anything about your dance studio that you witnessed during competition, including song choices, costume choices, choreography choices, that you did not agree with; do not join their competitive dance team.
If there is anything about your dance studio's owner/directors/parents' or team members' behavior that you witnessed that you did not agree with; do not join their competitive dance team. Rather than trying to fit in, or trying to change a culture, start looking for another studio where their core values are more in line with your core values. I believe there is a team out there for every hard-working dancer.
Make sure that all family members who will be involved are prepared for this commitment. It can be a large undertaking for families new to this scene, and it is really difficult to scale back once you are half-way through the process. Although studio owners and team directors don't often like to hear the words, "no thank you", it is better to draw the line early on prior to making commitments that you cannot keep.
Final Thoughts on Competitions
One of the biggest benefits of competing is that the dancer is held accountable to participate in their training, to be prepared, to practice on their own for the benefit of the team. They also can learn how to set reasonable goals in order to improve and achieve over time. They learn that they must consistently perform well in rehearsal to do well on stage, and they must attend class to learn how to develop their skills and enhance their progress.
But dance competitions can also be brutal for a child and teen if they are not in the right competition, dancing in their strongest genre, with the right costume, because not all competitions and not all judges are the same.
The child or teen will do best with the right dance, at the right time in their lives, with the right team. And, your child can attend five different competitions in a season, and receive five very different scores attached to five very different judge's critique (competitions are not standardized). Many judges these days will also critique the costume and judge on appearance, too. It is really important to maintain perspective when competing. Perhaps this is what everyone can gain most from competitions.
My Child Wants to Dance Professionally...
Starting dance at age 2, 3, 4, 5, 6.... was never the reason why someone was hired. Dancers are hired because they look a certain way (artistic director's, producer's, choreographer's choice), have talent, are physically fit (cardiovascular and muscular endurance), recall choreography quickly, and perform very, very well, with flare and enthusiasm. These dancers are smart, know what they are doing, get along with others, are disciplined to show up early, they know their stuff, and have a strong work ethic.
If your child is in elementary, middle, or high school and performs well in dance (i.e., has talent and a strong work ethic), and expresses a desire to make dance their chosen profession, then this is the time to do your research into all the ways that your child can be happy in this industry. There are so many avenues to take, and performing is only one of them.