Dimity Azoury and Rohan Furnell. Photo James Braund
At what age should a student start learning to dance?
Young children dance freely in the first years of their life. The sense of delight and discovery a child has naturally needs to be maintained if they choose to attend formal dance classes. There are no foolproof guidelines that determine when it is best for a child to start learning ballet. Ballet schools usually have 'pre-ballet' classes for children as young as three or four years of age. Many ballet students from approximately eight years of age can engage in the study of a particular syllabus such as Cecchetti or the Royal Academy of Dancing. Male dance students often start later than female students but if they have the motivation and physical facility, a later start is not a barrier to their progress.
What benefits can a student expect to gain from studying dance?
In the formative years (five to twelve years) it is important that children learning dance engage in a range of activities that heighten body coordination, rhythmic and expressive skills. Learning dance, including ballet, ideally provides a young person with a joy of moving, a discovery of their individual movement and creative capacity, and a confidence that translates to other academic and social activities.
Young boys and girls are attracted to dance for many different reasons, including the fun of moving to music, but they gain much more. In addition to receiving a heightened sense of physical awareness, dance students learn self-discipline, an ability to focus on goals, and a capacity to work cooperatively with other students.
Dance also helps young people develop other qualities and abilities that have very practical applications. The obvious ones are grace, poise and balance in gesture and movement, plus a sharpening of vision, hearing and touch. Dancers gain a high degree of physical coordination and an ability to express themselves in precise terms. Dance is renowned for its therapeutic qualities in the treatment of some physical and emotional disorders, and it is a great recreational activity, giving students perspectives and challenges away from normal academic studies.
Which style of dance is it best to study?
The choice of dance should ideally reflect the interests, age and anatomy of the student. It will also depend to a great extent on the availability of qualified teachers in your local area. The main techniques taught in Australia are classical ballet, modern dance, jazz ballet, tap dance and ballroom dancing. It is advisable to undertake research prior to commencing dance lessons. Understand the physical and fitness requirements of a particular dance style, and the commitment required to appreciate and enjoy the dance learning.
What will the costs be?
Tuition costs vary from dance school to dance school, so it is best to contact a school directly about specific charges. In determining value for money, it is good to consider teacher qualifications, the range of dance learning options, schedule suitability, and the standard of physical resources of a school. It is helpful if a child can do a couple of trial sessions prior to a full-term's fee being paid.
Clothing requirements and costs also vary but a basic outfit of tights, leotard, and dance shoes will cost approximately $100. If the school has an annual performance, enquire about production costs and the expense of costumes.
How to find a suitable school?
In Australia today there are an enormous number of dance schools from which to choose. You should look for a school that is well- appointed, observes safe dance practices and has a caring approach to their students. The level of discipline in the class should enable the smooth running of the lesson but not be so strict as to stifle creativity.
If possible, attend a performance given by the school under consideration. Like students, schools have different qualities and philosophies, which means they set different goals. The senior students or dancers who graduate from the school will indicate the way their school functions. They will show the different qualities that the school emphasises in their training. Good dancers at a school are not only an indication of the school's merit, but they are also an inspiration to the other students in the classes.
The quality of the teaching is more important than the system of dance taught. Today, good teaching practice aims to utilise students' natural enthusiasm and their need to be challenged, to make their mastery of movement a rewarding task. A good teacher transmits to students a love of dance which in turn promotes an enthusiasm to continue learning.