The Down & Dirty for New Dance Moms

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So you want to or have just enrolled your tiny ballerina in her first dance class.  What shoes do you buy?  How do you pick a school?  How do you know you have the best teacher for your child?  Will she stick with it?
What is she going to learn?  What should she wear?  New dance moms are entering a whole new world.  Here’s how to navigate it.

Picking A Dance School

It’s not like you’re selecting a college, but it’s still worth taking a moment to look at your options.  Get recommendations from friends & family, but also look online.

Here’s what to consider first:

  • How far is it from home?
  • Do they have a true toddler/pre-school program?
  • How large are the classes?
  • How do they classes fit into our schedule now and for the foreseeable future?
  • What is the tuition + registration fees?
  • How long are the classes?
  • Do they offer summer classes?
  • Do they offer a combination ballet/tap class?
  • Is there an on-stage recital?
  • Is there more than one recital each year?
  • Do students often stay for more advanced classes and dance companies?
  • How do students move up to the next level of class?  Is it based on only age or also ability?
  • Are parents able to watch easily?
  • Is there a dress code or are dance red encouraged to express themselves?

These are all important considerations to prioritize for your family’s goals.  What is most important to you?  Proximity?  Scheduling?

Pick your top 2-3 choices and sign up for trial classes.  The single most important consideration for young dance students is:   does the teacher instill an excitement for dance in your child?  A great teacher can hold the interest in a room full of young children while redirecting and distracting behavior right away to keep all of the children interested and moving.

Take your child’s input into consideration.  It’s also important that your child loves their teacher.  While at the trial classes, snap a photo through the window or of the monitor.  Then print out a photo from each trial class, all on a single piece of paper is great.  Ask your child what she/he liked about each class and then ask them which class they would like to go back to next time.  The answer may surprise you.  Your child will likely be drawn to the teacher who kept them most engaged.  Trust your own judgement as well.  A teacher may have won them over with a silly game yet allowed plenty of distractions in class.

What your child needs from a teacher may change over time.  I loved my older daughter’s first dance teacher.  She was sweet, gentle, and really helped develop Chloe’s love of dance.  At the end of her first year of dance, I was amazed by her progress, but ended up making the difficult choice to move her to another, more serious class.  Although she was very nurturing, I felt that as an older child, Chloe needed more structure.  We found a great next teacher and she blossomed in the more structured environment that her budding type-A personality craved.  It meant moving schools, but she also had the new opportunity to dance on an amazing stage for her recital.

Parents have needs, too.  Do you get to watch through a window or over a monitor?  Do you prefer one over the other?  Some schools say that the windows are distracting, but we haven’t found that to be the case.  They are a 2-way mirror and most dancers forget about it right away.  Will you be killing yourself getting kids to and from other activities?  Can siblings go to class at the same time or back-to-back?  Weigh all of the options and make the best choice for your family.

Getting Equipped

Most early dance classes offer a combination of tap and ballet.  Your child will need shoes fitted enough that they won’t trip over them, but large enough to allow them to grow.  If your child sticks with dance a few years, you will go through a ton of shoes!  Some cities offer ballet shoe exchanges which may be a great option to save some money.  I purchased both of my daughter’s first ballet shoes new so we could keep them as a keepsake.

Ballet Shoes
Check with your school to see if they require a certain brand.  The top brands are Bloch & Capezio.  Stick with classic, leather, pink ballet shoes even if your school allowed colored shoes so that when they have a recital, you won’t be scrambling for new shoes.  Most schools will require either pink ballet shoes and pink rights or black patent tap shoes with tan tights for recital.  If there’s a store related to the school, the recital costume will likely require the brands that the store carries.  The BLOCH bunny ballet slippers on the right are a popular choice and are a high quality shoe.  Your child shouldn’t wear them out before they are outgrown if you take care of them.  Capezio also carries a high quality shoe perfect for your new dancer.

Tap Shoes
Keep with classic, patent black tap shoes unless your school has a different requirement.  If your class does a tap dance for recital, this is likely the shoe you’ll need.  The Capezio shoes to the right are a great choice because they come in a variety of widths as well as half sizes.  They come in different colors as well, but black is durable, practical, and what most schools require.  They come with a decorative bow  lace, but underneath is an elastic strap.  The lace won’t last long and will likely be a distraction, so you may want to put them away in a safe place until you need them.  Definitely get a tap shoe with elastic for the little ones.  Capezio’s tap shoes have the elastic permanently attached on both sides.  Bloch’s have elastic that snaps on both sides.  We prefer the Capezio shoes because little kids can put them on by themselves much more easily, and they will feel so important being able to do this themselves.  For many kids, dance class is their first class without a parent joining them so it’s a big deal!

Tights
Our first year, we bought one nice pair of tights that we were told would be need for recital ahead of time (pink Bloch tights) and bought budget tights to supplement.  That was fine for the first year, but the second year, the budget tights were tattered while the Bloch tights had only faded a bit.  If you’re not sure your kiddo will stick with dance, let them try it out in what you have on-hand or in budget tights.  If she sticks with it, you’ll want a spare pair (or three).  The best starter pair that should last you all year if you only wear them for dance class is the classic ballet pink Bloch tights.  Now that we have several performances under our slippers, we have collected a comfortable number of nice tights.  Your school may require pink or black as part of a uniform, so check for any requirements first.

Leotards
Most schools are not strict about leotards so long as they are not distracting while others require uniforms, perhaps all black Capezio short-sleeved leotards with or without skirts.  We started out in classic, simple leotards and have since branched out into full-out costumes.  You will likely have no problem gradually adding adorable leotards for your little dance through hand-me-downs, gifts, deals, and “OMG that’s so adorable” moments along the way.

Enjoy the Ride

Encourage your child, but let dance be their thing (or not).  If you feel there is a problem with a particular teacher, whether it’s chemistry or something else, ask the office about help addressing the problem or do a trial at another school.  Don’t be pushy, don’t make them practice against their will.  At this stage, it’s most important that they are enjoying themselves and are getting something out of dance.  It may be that dance is a foundation for something completely different down the road, or you may end up with a serious dancer.  Either way, give the support your child needs but give them some space to come into dance in their own way.

We’re entering our 3rd year in dance and it has been a rewarding experience for the whole family.  Our children are very different and I’m sure they get different experiences out of dance.  As long as I’ve been proactive while in the background, they’ve both had great experiences.

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