Your child’s first ballet teacher is the most important teacher!!
Many children, mostly little girls, have dreams of being ballerinas; the image of a ballerina-princess-bride standing on her toes with a glittering costume and crown is very appealing to little girls – and to their mothers. However, putting on a tutu and a tiara is better as a dress-up strategy than as a way to begin ballet – and pointe shoes are only recommended for serious students who are 10 – 12 years old, who are taking multiple classes a week, and have studied ballet for years. If you really want your child to study ballet, you need to realize that it isn’t natural to turn out feet 180 degrees, to stand on toes and to do the splits. Each of these things needs to be presented in a carefully taught developmental curriculum that methodically builds the strength and flexibility that ballet requires.
Children will readily attempt to copy a teacher who may have spent years learning how to turn out correctly – but children will focus on the feet, and bend the body every which way to get that perfect “turn out”. Turnout begins in the hip socket, and requires that 1) the pelvis is in a correct position, and 2) that there is core strength to maintain the position. Even the youngest three year olds can begin to work on simple exercises and games to lift the hip bones, pull the tummy in and bring the heels forward – at most to a 90 degree position that is just half of the ultimate goal. Without learning to do these things, children may be able to waddle around with turned out feet curvy backs and with tummies and tails sticking out, but they will never be able to do ballet successfully. If an incorrect approach to turning out becomes a habit, it is almost impossible for it to be “fixed” by a subsequent teacher. The longer the bad habit is allowed to be the basis for the rest of the ballet classes, the more likely the student will be to become frustrated with her progress – or even injured.
This doesn’t mean that the first ballet lessons need to be a grim series of core exercises; teachers trained in a developmental curriculum can present all the hard work disguised as games and play. They can also begin to use the correct French terminology, and they should hear music from the great ballets in every class. Learning to stand in place with other little dancers begins to teach the skills needed for ensemble work in every great ballet company. Waiting for a turn to do an exercise can teach the kind of patience and discipline that is fundamental to ballet. Creativity needs to be encouraged from the first lesson as this is the way to help a child find her inner artist. And all of this can still involve a tutu. The toe shoes will have to wait – but explaining to young children that their feet are still growing can help them understand that their bodies are their lifelong instruments and respecting and caring for them is very important.
When I founded the Academy, I made a promise to myself – like a doctor does – “First do no harm”. This means that the children who enter our school need to learn correctly from the beginning – not only to start them on a path that can lead to a success, but also to keep them from injuring themselves along the way. There are many benefits to studying ballet; it does teach self-discipline and it certainly teaches the value of being focused and concentrating. Academy teachers believe that children develop self-esteem through progress as a result of really hard work.
The young woman flying through the air on our banner began with us at age 3; she danced with us through high school – this photo was taken during her “graduating performance” as a senior. She then went on the Juilliard and then danced for years with Pilobolus.