Learning to move and moving to learn are interchangeable aspects of every child’s growth and development. From stretching in a yawn to exploring the visual field in infancy, from reaching for a toy to crawling across the room to mama as a baby, to dancing to music and rolling down a hill as a young child, it is movement that opens up the world.
Motor development is complex and cultural. When my son was a toddler, we lived in a ground-floor apartment in Brooklyn, NY. It had a small yard and that was important. But we would periodically visit the staircase in the apartment building, because navigating the level changes in the space was a motor skill that he needed to develop.
Too often, we restrict movement in young children, in order to keep them safe from falls and also, possibly, to preserve the crystalware on the coffee table. But children learn to move by experimentation and they need to fall. And roll around. And throw things. And finger paint. They are natural scientists and artists and they learn by doing.
Ballet is a genre of dance; it is not the only form of dance. It is a highly specialized form, requiring a great deal of patience and attention to bodily detail. The classes that support the development of a ballet dancer are rigorous and require focus and a facility of mind and body beyond most young children. In addition, overuse of muscles in order to hold positions or standing on toes that are still soft bone can lead to lifelong issues. Note: no child under ten or eleven should be in pointe shoes.
Note also: Shirley Temple was an anomaly AND she was older than they told people she was.
Other genres that can be challenging for young children include tap dance, Scottish dance, Irish dance, and please just say no to sexualized jazz dance until they can drive and vote.
So why study dance at all?
The concepts that we explore in the creative dance work include: body organization, expressive qualities, space, relationship of self to other, cooperating in a group, rhythmic acuity, exploring ideas through improvisation, and dance making. With younger children especially, we reinforce the experience of the class having a beginning, middle, and end, just like a story does. Structure matters, but so does open exploration and generation of ideas.
Children who do creative dance work while young often go on to study specific dance genres seriously, and their bodies and their minds are better prepared for that study. But children who do creative dance work while young can use their creative and physical faculties in any pursuit.