Creative Dance for Children and Beyond

Creative Dance for Children

A creative dance class designed for children will help them prepare for a future in dance and other physical activities. In class, dancers are provided with the opportunity to use their imagination, creativity, and self expression while developing skills that are the building blocks of all movement and dance activities. They learn good listening skills, proper classroom etiquette, and how to move safely with other children, as well as learning respect and tolerance for others. Young children enrolled in creative dance learn and practice basic motor skills (locomotor and nonlocomotor movements) and use a variety of music and props which enhance self-awareness, control and coordination. These experiences are offered with consistent structure and provide many opportunities for mastering skills. This creates a sense of predictability as well as a safe place for the younger child to learn cooperation, increase self-esteem, and attain a sense of accomplishment.

Early childhood educators encourage preschool and kindergarten programs that are designed for the mind of a young child because it has been found that most children under 7 or 8 are not ready to be taught focused subjects while sitting behind a desk for long periods. Dance is no different. To benefit from the intense focus and concentration of a ballet class which is very structured and contains extended periods at the barre, it requires a physical and mental maturity not available to most younger children. Children under 7 or 8 are typically neither interested in nor ready for this kind of learning. Creative dance is perfectly suited to offer preparation of the mind and body for a younger student, gradually helping them to learn self-control and increase their ability to focus. This prepares them for the rigors of technique class, just as preschool readies students for reading and math.

What is the difference between pre-ballet and creative dance?

Traditionally, pre-ballet is a class that introduces dancers of about six to nine years of age to the ballet class format (barre, centre, traveling), movements, and techniques (including turnout). It prepares these young students for more intense and detailed ballet instruction. Many schools that teach “pre-ballet” to children younger than 5 or 6 are combining a large helping of creative dance (or something else) with very basic basic ballet instruction like feet and arm positions. This is because ultimately children younger than five or six are not capable of standing still long enough to learn true ballet technique and do not have the muscular control to safely perform most ballet movements. Some dance studios may label preschool classes as “pre-ballet” or “creative dance,” however some classes have little to do with either. These may skim the surface of both disciplines, providing follow-the-leader games, pretend play, and sing-along songs that have little “meat” when it comes to learning the concepts of movement or moving. While these movement experiences are not without value – participants do learn classroom etiquette, following directions, and other skills – they offer little meaningful preparation for dance technique or for expressing oneself through movement.

While dance for young children should certainly be playful and fun, any program for this age group should be taught by teachers with experience and be specifically designed to match the needs of dancers who are in crucial stages of brain and motor development. Too often, this is backward in dance studios and the youngest children are taught by inexperienced instructors (sometimes teenage students) with no thought as to what is developmentally appropriate. In my experience, children enjoy exploration and the freedom to make choices. Most would prefer not to stand in a line and practice the same movements over and over. In creative dance, children are guided in the creation of choreography which is developed as a result of decisions and choices they’ve made during exploration of movement, and they are encouraged to discover rather than mimic. If I were choosing a program for my own young child, I would look for a school that offers a quality creative dance program through the age of six or seven and, if possible, beyond.

Is Creative Dance Just For Kids?

No, the concepts of creative dance are appropriate for any age or level of dancer and will enrich the education of dancers no matter what style or technique they study. This is because, through creative dance, dancers young and old are introduced to the basic elements of dance, including proper alignment, patterns, tempo, levels, rhythm, and spacial awareness. Activities frequently offer problem solving opportunities which increase in intricacy as the student grows and develops. The dancer is given multiple options about how, what and where he/she will dance. Creative dance students are given opportunities to utilize these decision making skills in improvisation and to create short or long pieces of choreography. Improvisation encourages the dancer to think on their feet, react to others, and expand their movement vocabulary. Choreography requires the ability to remember and predict a sequence or pattern of movements (skills essential to understanding mathematics, science and reading). Performances, both informal (within the class) and formal, help the dancer become more comfortable in front of large groups. In creative dance, students learn to appreciate their own individuality. As they observe and participate in class they witness that every dance and every dancer is special and unique, which builds confidence and self-esteem. Dancers also learn to work independently and in a group, and that perseverance and dedication lead to success. The skills developed in creative dance are all essential in life and in dance, convincing me that creative dance would be a beneficial (if not vital) portion of any dance curriculum for all age groups.

Learn More About Creative Dance and Teaching Improvisation

Websites:

Creative Dance Center – the school and program developed by creative dance leader and pioneer, Anne Green Gilbert.

International Association for Creative Dance – an organization built around the vision and techniques of Barbara Mettler.

Books and Video:

Creative Dance for All Ages: A Conceptual Approach

Teaching Creative Dance

First Steps in Teaching Creative Dance to Children

Choreography: A Basic Approach Using Improvisation

Dance Improvisations

Teaching Dance Improvisation – DVDs and videos by Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company

Nichelle (admin)
Nichelle Suzanne began Dance Advantage in 2008, equipped with a passion for movement education and an intuitive sense that a blog could bring dancers together. Nichelle holds a BA in dance and is an instructor with more than 17 years experience. She covers dance performance in the Houston area as a freelance writer and balances daily life as a mom to two young children. In June 2012, Nichelle presented the whats, hows, and whys of blogging on a panel at the annual conference for Dance/USA, the national service organization for professional dance, to better equip artists and companies for engaging their audience and new readers through online communications and content.
Nichelle (admin)
Nichelle (admin)
Nichelle (admin)
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Comments

  1. love this post!! thank you so much!…

  2. Sorry I’m so behind on all of these good posts. . .I love this one! I also agree that it should be a vital part of a dancers curriculum. While at University I studied the methods of Virginia Tanner from Utah and I always loved how she focused on the “inner spirit” of the children. What you said about individuality is also very true. When I think back to some of the classes I’ve taught the most memorable moments are when a child was given the opportunity to share their movement style or the way music moved them.

    “Pretend” is a part of a child’s development but I am very much a follower of imagining as a mean to creating movement.

    I wish more moms and dads would recognized the value of creative dance and see what a wonderful means it is to dance and development (creative, physical, and social). I don’t know if you noticed this, Nichelle, but in the discussion on dance that we met for the first time, after you and I gave our dance pugs there was a discussion on giving your children music lessons if one couldn’t find the right classes. It seemed like the creative dance idea went in one ear and out the other for some. I wonder why it is hard for some to take it seriously and why the word creative in dance conjures up negativity for some or maybe the thought that because a child is creative they aren’t being instructed.

    Also, I agree with what you said about how many classes for this age are taught by very young teachers that may not have the experience needed.

  3. PS. I also think that there are many crossovers with creative dance and contemporary dance to generate choreography.

    • Virginia Tanner does wonderful work. Her resources are also highly recommended!

      Imagining is probably a better word and process overall than pretend. Pretend implies that a child is mimicking or copying the expected or preconceived actions of (for instance) an animal. Whereas, imagining, allows the child to fully embody all that it means to be that animal. It is a more full and rich experience. Ask a room of children to pretend they are elephants and most will likely stomp heavily around the room, waving or trumpeting their trunks. Ask a room of children to imagine they are elephants on a vast African plain; or imagine their arm, or leg, or head is like an elephant’s trunk searching for a peanut; or imagine they are as large and powerful as an elephant and the outcomes will be quite individual and way more interesting. I avoid the word pretend in my creative classes whenever possible simply because it seems more limiting (for myself and the kids).

      You raise some great questions regarding parents’ notions about creativity in dance. I do think there is a correlation in the idea that creative means lack of structure or instruction. Sometimes that incorrect notion is supported by ill-prepared instructors or coaches, sadly. I think it also comes down to what we, as a culture, value. In the U.S., I would say that performance or the end result is considered more valuable than process – it’s everywhere throughout our current educational system (outcomes, standardized testing, etc.). As a result, it doesn’t surprise me that the creative process is low priority for many parents.

      And, yes, my own experiences with creative dance transferred directly to the choreographic methods I later studied in dance composition. I rely on that knowledge and methodology still for creating everything from contemporary dance choreography to ballet to hip hop.

  4. I AM STARTING A CREATIVE DANCE CLASS IN OUR SMALL VILLAGE IN AUSTRLAIA, I DONT HAVE A HUGE AMOUNT OF EXPERIENCE BUT HAVE GOT SO TIRED OF PAYING HEAPS FOR CLASSES THAT DONT TOUCH MY CHILD SOUL, SO AFTER NUMEROUS HOURS DANCING WITH HER AND HER FRIENDS IN OUR LIVING ROOM WE ARE GOING TO HAVE A GO AT SHARING OUR LOVE OF DANCE WITH OTHER MUMS AND KIDS, WE HOPE TO TEACH A CLASS WHERE PARENTS AND KIDS LEAD EACH OTHER BUT ARE NEEDED SOME IDEAS ON STRUCTURING THE CLASS ?

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