Lots of kids love to dance. The challenge is finding the right dance class, so they keep their love while they learn steps, structure, and technique. This is true for all styles of dance but perhaps most so for ballet, which has its own vocabulary and set of steps that take time to master.
Keeping kids happy while they learn to dance is what’s behind the children’s ballet classes I teach at Arete Dance Center, which are about movement and musicality as much as anything. Kids are very direct - they’re fearless and they don’t over-complicate things, which is wonderful to see and makes them easy to teach. I love how creative they are, and how much dancing helps them with coordination and even just basic mobility.
I’ve been dancing for 14 years and teaching for 7. I feel lucky because I learned to dance in a welcoming environment - which isn’t always the case, especially with ballet. I also trained in stricter schools where young dancers got discouraging feedback about their bodies (“your feet are wrong!”) or their skill. I want to pass the good experience on, and leave the stereotype behind, because it’s negative and doesn’t help kids dance better.
Instead, what I learned from my background is that it’s more effective and way more fun to have fun and be creative. As a teacher assistant at my ballet school, I saw how using props and visuals helped children learn, especially when they’re very young. So we draw on the whiteboard or use our life-sized model skeleton to show how their bodies work while they’re dancing. It doesn’t hurt that the skeleton is often in costume, which keeps things entertaining as well as educational.
The key to this is going big on patience and repetition. I like to break things down in ways that are easy for the kids to learn - and that also helps with the adult ballroom classes I teach. Many of the same things that work in children’s classes also really help with adults - being focused and kind, teaching technique, connecting movement and music and posture, giving gentle corrections. We have a wide array of classes and always have new students, so at any time there are people between 5 and 75 who are learning to dance. It’s great to see how universal ballet is, and pretty interesting to see how people learn at every age. I apply some of the same techniques in all my classes - it turns out there’s a lot more in common than you might think.
I like to think of it as an expressive take on traditional style. Yes, I teach all the classic ballet steps - plie, tendu, port de bras, releve - based on my background in Vaganova and Cuban methods - but I leave room for kids to experiment with how they express themselves through movement. This helps harness their natural energy to keep interest high and frustration low.
Part of the challenge with ballet is that people think it’s rigid or maybe even boring, because classical ballet has such a strong structure. But the structure is just like a recipe - once you know the foundational ingredients, you can make almost anything, and kids understand that innately. If you don’t try to shut their creative energy down but instead help them channel it, you get so much - terrific dancing, improved behavior, better posture, a new understanding of music, and the best part - happy kids.
And speaking of keeping things interesting, ballet isn’t the only children’s dance class we offer. I also teach contemporary dance and am doing a workshop series of different genres and styles - in September, it’s salsa.
You can find the schedule on the Arete website: https://www.aretedancecenter.com/kids
Come by the studio to find out more or drop in to have you or your children dance - no previous training required. Look forward to seeing you there!
- Alejandra Serrano