Encouraging kids to channel their natural energy into full body fitness is possible by introducing them to the dynamic world of dance and performance arts. Healthy pursuits are happy pursuits and behind the doors of every dance studio is a haven of health, where children, starting as early as 18 months old, can participate in age appropriate activities that will stimulate their bodies and their minds.
With an exciting array of dance disciplines geared to each stage of development and physical capability, children can explore instruction in the beauty of classical ballet, or the toe tingling delights of tap and jazz, channel their inner rhythmic beats with Zumba, hip hop, and break dancing, or investigate the precision of traditional Irish step dancing or Cotillion ballroom.
The benefits of dance education are immense and can influence a child for his or her entire lifetime. The essential elements children will discover — from participating in group performances, or simply just moving to the music as toddlers — are a wonderful training ground for a healthy approach to life. Local experts are indispensable guides in helping parents choose the program that will best stimulate and satisfy their child.
Brenda Froelich, director of Wilton Dance Studio (wiltondance.com), explains, “Children benefit greatly from being physically active as it can promote healthy growth and development, flexibility, balance, posture and cardiovascular fitness. Dance lessons can improve confidence and self-esteem, help maintain a healthy weight, and improve concentration and listening skills.”
Darien School of Dance (darienschoolofdance.com) director Brigita Mcleod, points out, “Dance is a powerful ally for developing many of the attributes of a growing child. In addition to the physical benefits of dance, (range of motion, body awareness, balance, coordination, muscle strength, and endurance), dance also helps children mature physically, emotionally, socially and cognitively.”
“Dance is an excellent form of exercise,” she adds, “as it provides aerobic and anaerobic conditioning…and dance also helps children develop literacy. To a young child, verbal language and movement are entwined, and learning language and dance are not separate threads but are woven together and incorporated into a fabric of communication and understanding.”
Parents who are considering a dance education for their child may wonder about the “fun factor.” Studio directors can assure both students and their parents that while dance is structured and disciplined, there is a joyfulness and adventuresome nature to dance that adds up to a whole lot of fun.
“Dance is a big confidence booster,” contends Alison Brown, executive director for The Ridgefield School of Dance (theridgefieldschoolofdance.com). “As each move becomes more natural, the positive sense of self and ‘I can do it’ attitude increases. Dancers take this beyond the studio mirrors and are rewarded by having the confidence to try new activities and challenges that might have once been considered overwhelming.”
Dancing also gives children so much in the way of life skills, according to Alison: “In a world where everything tends to move fast, dancers learn that mastery takes time, commitment and focus. All things that seem to be in short supply when instant gratification is the norm. In addition to learning the etiquette of the dance studio, and that discipline is at the heart of success, dancers learn to appreciate that correction is a positive contribution to their growth.”
Ginna Ortiz, director of the New England Academy of Dance (neadance.com) in New Canaan, says, “Dance classes are definitely fun. Dance can help children forge new friendships and help overcome feelings of awkwardness and shyness in social situations and reduce fears associated with being in a group or performing in front of an audience.”
Nanette Vallas, director of The Studio Ballet School (balletetudescompany.com) in Norwalk, states, “Dance creates a community for its students. Children experience the fun of achievement and of forming the special bonds of friendship. The students who go on to perform in live productions experience the excitement and joy of those performances and feel an enormous sense of pride in their achievement.”
This is the 60th year of teaching dance for the Walter Schalk School of Dance (walterschalk.com) in Fairfield County, according to Walter Schalk, founder and owner of the company, which is based in Wilton. “Approximately 160,000 students have benefited from participating in our dance program,” he states. “I feel that dance helps children develop confidence, discipline, self determination and poise. Working with children remains an extremely rewarding experience but the most rewarding aspect for me has been in giving students the joy of dance that will carry them throughout their lives.”
The performing arts help students in many ways, according to Melody Libonati, director of the Performing Arts Conservatory (performingartsconservatory.com) in New Canaan, from stimulating imagination to working together to create art. “A student uses all of their senses, body and brain to connect to their creative world,” she explains. “Yes, the arts fosters teamwork, physical fitness, focus and coordination, but learning through dance, singing, acting, musical theatre, and playing an instrument does so much more. The collaborative, creative process promotes a world that brings people together always thinking in a positive, forward way.”
Classes at the Performing Arts Conservatory are small so that each student has a chance explore their potential and new ways to use their body and mind, Melody says: “There is not just one way of doing things. There are many ways to express a feeling or make a statement. Everyone comes in with ideas and the answer is always ‘Yes’: Yes, let’s try that, Yes, that’s a great idea, Yes, explain your idea. Taking a risk in a supportive environment is a great way to learn and grow. All of the teachers here come from the professional world of dance, voice and theatre. One of the reasons we all do this is because not only is at a great way to learn about yourself and others, but it’s fun! Fun to be together with others who are learning, experimenting and exploring their full potential.”
Elaine Young, director of the New Canaan Dance Academy (ncdacademy.com), enthuses, “The combination of music, body movement, freedom of interpretation, and the challenge of and satisfaction in learning choreography, all combine to make dance an all around physically, mentally and emotionally fun charged way to spend time away from the stresses of daily life, whether from school or work.”
Brenda Froelich adds, “Dancing is absolutely fun. Dancing releases ‘feel good’ endorphins in the brain and dance classes get little children moving freely while allowing and encouraging them to step outside the box and enter the amazing world of imagination. Through dance adventures we have become dragons, fairies, butterflies, frogs, snakes, high wire circus performers and more. The older students experience a camaraderie like nowhere else, and even parents have become good friends in our waiting room. How great is that?”
The Mac Donald – Pin Dancers (ridgefieldparksandrec.org) in Ridgefield, under the direction of Carrie Pin, has been training dancers in Ridgefield for over 40 years with a guiding philosophy of individual attention to each child’s need, encouraging student camaraderie and creating an atmosphere that allows for the student’s sheer enjoyment of dance.
“Age appropriate training in dance has tremendous benefits,” Carrie says. “Students develop coordination, muscular strength, balance and agility. The practice of dance, a performing art, instills self-discipline, builds self-confidence and forms a sense of rhythm and musicality. A dancer learns to be both powerful and graceful at the same time. Dance shapes both individual and team skills creating strong, supportive friendships.”
Powerful and playful, positive and productive, dance is a remarkable process that will foster lifelong healthy benefits for children of all ages.