How do you know your kid is ready for a dance class? I’m sharing my dance teacher expert tips on what to look for in a kid’s dance class. Find out your child’s readiness, best age for first lessons, types of classes to look for, and what dance instructors want you to know.
This article originally published Sept 25th, 2018 and has been updated and republished with a new date.
What to Know About a Kid’s First Dance Class
Maybe you took a dance class as a kid? Or your child can’t stop dancing when the music starts? And of course the thought of your daughter in a pink tutu makes your heart leap!
Have you seen too many episodes of “Dance Moms”, and the thought of signing up your child for dance makes you tense?
These are the important questions you need to ask before signing up. I’ve included the top things you need to know for the first dance class. I’m also sharing what the dance teacher wants parents to know!
Yes, I’m a Dance Teacher Expert
I’ve been teaching weekly dance and tumbling classes for children aged 3-12 for over 30 years, so yes, I do consider myself an expert! I’ve taught at both elite dance studios and local recreation centers. I’m very good at what I do, and my students return year after year.
After so many years of teaching, I’ve learned a lot about what parents are looking for when they sign up their kids for dance and what they expect from the class.
My own daughter recently started taking her own dance lessons! This is my expert advice on what you need to know about kid’s dance classes.
What Are the Benefits of Group Dance Classes?
Many children, starting in the toddlers years, begin taking their first dance lessons. But you might wonder why is it good for kids to start dance?
Dance lessons work both the body and mind! Kid’s dance improves posture, balance and flexibility. Dancing can also be a stress and anxiety reducer and can boost self-esteem.
Dance is cardiovascular and offers fitness advantages. Children will learn how to manipulate their body during stretches and physical movements in a full brain & body connection. Learning routines will improve memory as well.
And of course there is the social aspect of dancing alongside similar aged kids. Many children will enjoy meeting new kids in class.
Partnering your child with a friend to attend dance classes together is also a great idea. This can help kids who might be nervous about going to their first dance class.
What to Look For in a Kid’s Dance Class
Before you sign up or make the commitment to taking group classes, read through these tips:
Atmosphere at Dance Schools
Dance lessons first and foremost should be FUN for kids. If the class seems too intense, that’s a red flag.
If there’s yelling from the dance instructor or the atmosphere is all-too competitive, then you should move on. This would not be an appropriate first dance class experience for any child.
Kids can learn and grow without the heavy push and drama. Children who are enjoying the class will want to return as they develop a love for dance!
What to Look for in a Great Dance Teacher
The dance teacher should be experienced, patient, organized and able to teach while still making the class fun for all students.
Does the teacher appear to have control of the class? When you observe the class are the students paying attention and following the group lesson? Or are children running around and not listening to direction?
Age-Appropriate Music & Routines
Music and dance routines should be age-appropriate. The internet is rife with videos of small kids dancing “adult-themed” routines. But that doesn’t make it okay.
If at any time you feel that the music or movements being taught to your child are inappropriate, discuss the issue first with the teacher. Then move to a chat with the director, if necessary.
Observing Other Students in Class
Children should be learning at their own pace. Your child may be in a class of students with absolute beginners. Or they may be included in a blended class with kids who have a bit more dance experience.
The teacher should be able to work with each child at their own skill levels. In this way, beginning students don’t get discouraged at trying to keep up, but the more experienced students continue to grow in their skills.
Drop-off or Stay and Watch?
Is the dance class drop-off or stay? Most locations do not allow parents to stay inside the class room during lessons. This is for a variety of reasons, including distraction, noisy siblings, chatty parents, etc.
Some studios may allow parents a single “watch day” during a specified time period. There are usually rules (like no other children allowed or minimal talking).
My daughter’s dance school offered video viewing through Zoom for the first two lessons. Always ask the dance studio what their policy is and make sure it works for your family.
How Will You Know Your Child is Ready for a Dance Class?
Just about every child will bust out a move when they hear the beat kick in. But are they ready for the rigors of a 45 minute dance class or 1 hour lessons?
I personally didn’t begin taking dance lessons until I was 12 years old. I joined because my friends were taking classes.
Whether you have a toddler graduating from a “mommy and me” class or an older child asking to take dance lessons, you might be wondering, should your kids be in a dance class? These are a few things to ask yourself.
First Dance Class – Child Readiness Quiz
- Do you think your child will willingly participate?
- Will your child cooperate with teacher instructions?
- Is your child potty trained? This may be a class requirement, so check with the teacher first.
- Can your child wait their turn in line?
- Is your child able to work independently? Teachers often have kids practice steps on their own while the teacher checks the work of each student.
- Will your child recognize dance lessons as a learning opportunity or think of it as playtime? If you expect that your kid will just run around inside the class, then you may want to wait a few months before joining.
- Can you child be without your presence for the entire lesson? Many locations do not permit parents to stay in the room, so that the students can focus on the lesson without parental distraction.
How Young Can Children Start Dance Lessons?
Wondering at what age to start dance lessons? Most children under three years old aren’t ready for a full dance class.
There are often “Mommy and Me” or parent participation classes that you can take alongside your little dancer. Some studios start offering dance lessons for children aged 3 or 4, but check with the director to verify age.
Once your kids understand how a dance class functions, you may be ready to take their lessons to the next level. This could include a class without parental presence, longer lesson times, and higher expectations to learn specific dance moves and routines.
What Type of Dance is Best for My Kid?
The standard classes for kids are ballet, jazz, tap, hip hop and modern (contemporary).
Some classes are combinations of several different styles. Students may do a stretch then a certain amount of time practicing ballet moves before doing tap or another dance style. Other classes are strictly focused on a single medium.
Very young children, including babies and toddlers, may take a “creative dance” class that is loosely structured and allows for parent participation and musicality, without much in the way of learning routines. These type of dance classes are a great way to inspire creativity in children.
What to Wear to Dance Class
Before you whip out those fluffy tutus, Disney princess dresses or pointe shoes, be sure to check with the dance school or the teacher with recommendations on dance clothing.
Some locations or studios will require students to wear a “uniform”. This may include a solid colored leotard and tights with ballet or jazz shoes. Simple dance attire allows the teacher to see your child’s movements, without bulky clothing in the way of the body’s line.
Best Clothes for Kid’s Dance Class
I teach dance in a relaxed recreation center environment, but still have requirements for clothing. Kids are permitted to wear dance clothing, or even just stretchy play clothing like a nicely fitted tee, leggings or knit shorts.
Children should not be wearing princess dresses to dance lessons. Also, avoid any clothing that covers their hands or feet. Do not have kids wear jeans, or other clothing that makes free movement difficult.
If your dance school does not require a uniform, here are some suggestions for ideal children’s dance clothing:
- A unitard or leotard in a breathable fabric (avoid metallics, which hold in sweat).
- A short dance skirt is okay, so long as it doesn’t impede stretching or dancing exercises.
- A lightweight dance sweater is fine to wear when the room is chilly, or during warm up stretches.
- Tights should be worn under the leotard, usually without underpants. Look for sturdy dance tights from brands like Capezio or Bloch, which will resist pilling and running.
- Hair should ALWAYS be pulled back and away from the face. Avoid excessive use of hair accessories, especially ones that will get in the teacher’s way or will be a distraction to the student.
- Hair accessories like head bands tend to fly out as soon as your student starts to spin! Use strong elastics to secure hair back and small bobby pins to pull hairs off the face.
What Dance Shoes Are Needed for First Time Dancers?
Shoes should be properly sized for your student and worn with either dance tights or thin socks. Talk to the teacher before class to find out which shoe and color is preferred.
Color of Dance Shoes – Jazz and tap shoes are usually black, but ballet shoes are often white or pink. The teacher may have a preference.
Where to Buy Dance Shoes – You can often find inexpensive shoes online or discount shoe stores, which are appropriate for young dancers. Older kids may find it best to get a proper fitting at a dance store.
Extend the Wear for Dance Shoes – Dance shoes should be well-cared for and not worn outside of class. Ballet shoes can quickly develop holes and tap shoes can become scratched if worn on concrete.
Dancers should wear their regular shoes to class and bring their dance shoes inside of a dance bag. A drawstring, tote or duffle bag works well.
Breaking in Dance Shoes – Pack a thin pair of socks if your child is not already wearing dance tights. Shoes can create a blister or rub skin across the back heel, especially when they are new and not yet “broken in”.
Prevent Dance Items from Getting Lost – Label everything that your child takes into dance class to avoid mix-ups between students.
I use Name Bubbles labels inside my daughter’s shoes, on her water bottle and on her dance bag.
Where to Find Cheaper Dance Classes
Official dance studios or studios that specialize in competition will likely cost more per class. Some studios may offer a complimentary first class for your child to try it out and see if the class is a good fit.
For your child’s first dance class, I recommend seeking classes at your local recreation center. Your child will be able to try classes at the rec center at a substantial discount over studios, but still receive a quality dance class experience.
There was a time I was teaching as an independent contractor at a rec center while also on staff at a high-end studio. I can guarantee you my classes were identically taught. But the studio classes cost students a considerable amount more!
Curious about the average price of dance lessons? Rec centers will usually have the sign ups online or in person at the center so you can quickly figure out the cost. Studios may not display the cost of lessons, so you may need to call directly to find out the cost per class.
It’s also important to find out the studio policy in regards to missed lessons and ask it they offer make-up classes.
What to Expect at a Dance Class First Lesson
If possible, bring your child to a class prior to their own first class. This will allow your child to observe and know what to expect on their first day.
I always recommend that parents do this with my dance students. Having the children watch a class first lets them understand the order of the lesson Each teacher will have their own order to teach in class. They may consist of the following:
- Warm ups & stretching
- Center work or barre
- Across the dance floor movements, like chasse “galloping”, leaps and turns.
- Learning new skills – the teacher should carefully break down each step in a new skill so that students can grasp the movements.
- Musicality, including free dance where the students can move freely to the music and rhythm.
- Learning a dance routine – the teacher will teach several moves in sequence, then play the music and link all the learned steps into a single routine.
What to Bring to the First Dance Class
Dancers should wear their regular shoes to class and bring their dance shoes inside of a dance bag. Pack a thin pair of socks if your child is not already wearing dance tights.
A water bottle that doesn’t leak is another good thing to bring to dance class.
It can be helpful to include a hair brush, extra hair elastics and bobby pins in the dance bag for securing hair in case you forget to do it at home.
Preparing Kids for Their First Dance Lessons
These are a few ways that parents can prep children in advance of their first dance class:
- Prep your child if you’re not staying to watch the class so your dancer knows you won’t be present.
- Encourage good behavior in class. Remind your child that dance class is fun but it’s not a playground! Running, talking & shouting is usually not permitted.
- All students should use the bathroom before coming to class. Teachers are not going to be able to help students in the bathroom. It’s a good idea that you take your dancer before class begins.
- Teachers may use constructive criticism to point out things that need improving. Don’t let your child get discouraged and don’t take the comments negatively yourself. The corrections will help your child grown and learn in the class.
Dance Recitals & Competitions
My rec center offers a single spring recital show in which each student performs a group dance. Some studios may have several recitals a year or even participate in dance competitions.
I was a competition dancer growing up. Competitions require near daily practices, travel expenses and many (very expensive!) costumes.
Before committing to competitions, make sure that it’s the wish of your dancer! Burn out can happen quickly when dancers are pushed too hard towards competition perfection instead of just dancing for the joy.
Should I Put My Son in Dance Class?
Over my years of teaching, I’ve had many boys in my dance classes (including my own sons!) Younger boys usually jump right in alongside the girls to participate in class. I’ve found that if you don’t make it a big deal, they won’t either.
As boys age however, they tend to want to dance only with their peers. Consider finding a studio that offers group lessons or private lessons only for gentlemen, if your son prefers to be around other boys.
Concerns About Dance for Special Needs Kids
If your child has special needs, privately inform the teacher and director so they can appropriately work with your child. Check with the director if your child would benefit from having parental assistance or use of a respite during the lesson.
Last year, I had a student who didn’t respond when I called her name. Several weeks went by with this and I’d chalked it up to her young age and that she was simply ignoring me. It wasn’t until week three of lessons that her mom told me that her daughter was almost completely deaf!
No wonder the child wasn’t responding; she never heard me. After I knew this, I was able to tap her on the shoulder to get her attention and spoke to her directly so she could see my lips.
Some special needs children do not liked to be touched, which can be a challenge for teachers who need to gently adjust feet or body placement during the class. If the teachers know about your child’s particular needs, they can make the adjustments needed in class so that your child can continue to learn.
6 Things Your Kid’s Dance Teacher Wants You To Know
1. Leave the teaching to the teacher
Control the urge to correct your dancer in front of the teacher. Teachers can have a difficult time with interruptions, especially from a child’s parents.
2. Discipline when needed
That being said, if you see your child misbehaving in class, don’t be afraid to step in and discipline or take the child out of the class to talk to them.
It can be a challenge for teachers when a student isn’t listening and we usually don’t mind when parents get involved in that aspect.
3. Great dancers practice at home
Encourage your child to safely practice at home. This can include doing their stretching routine, practicing splits, going over skills at home or marking through their routines for memorization.
4. Dance is fun, but it’s not playtime
If your little dancer isn’t participating in class but would rather socialize and run around, don’t be afraid to step away for a few months and try again later.
5. Don’t stress out
Don’t worry if your dancer isn’t grasping concepts as quickly as everyone else. Everyone will learn at their own pace to learn movement patterns, steps, or memorizing an entire dance routine.
A great dance teacher will recognize if your child is struggling, and will work directly with them.
6. Consider why you chose dance
Know your personal goal for having your child take lessons. Are you wanting your child to learn new skills, to have fun, get exercise or to become the next prima ballerina? Keep your child’s temperament & personality in check, as well!