While early childhood pre-ballet programs are designed to prepare children for ballet class, an abrupt transition can cause anxiety, insecurity, and a general loss of interest. The success of this transition is pivotal in determining whether the child will continue with ballet and approaching it in a positive and thoughtful way can make all the difference.
Here are some of the strategies that we've found to ease the transition into beginning ballet:
1. Knowledge is Power:
First, one of the most important steps to a successful transition into beginning ballet is mental preparation. Beginning in the last year of the early childhood program, let your dancer know what changes to expect in the coming year. Whether the dancer is new to the program or experienced, he or she has come to expect a predictable class structure. Structure is comforting for students, and it's important to let them know about the little changes that will come with their passage into Beginning Ballet. For example, Beginning Ballet students will have their first experience working at the barre and will begin to experiment with more complicated steps and patterns. These experiences should not be daunting because they are unexpected, they should be exciting because they are anticipated!
2. Get Excited!:
Get your dancers excited for ballet class. Helping dancers understand that they've earned the privilege to move up to beginning ballet through their increased skill level, their classroom behavior, their hard work, and their persistence will make them proud to move up to a more challenging class. Change the focus of the transition so that dancers are focusing on what they're gaining, instead of what they're losing.
3. Take your time:
Introduce all these changes gradually. The first three to four weeks of Beginning Ballet class should look similar to the end of the early childhood program. While reviewing the steps you learned last year, you'll also be reviewing classroom behavior and ballet etiquette. Remind your dancers that changes are coming and that you're just as excited for those changes as they are. You'll see your dancer working hard to earn the barre and becoming more and more enthusiastic about transitioning into a more demanding class. Instead of dreading their time at the barre, we get students excited to earn the use of the barre during Beginning Ballet.
4. Keep It FUN:
Finally, make ballet fun! Understand that a seven or eight year old dancer is not an adult. They still respond to creative examples and need added motivation to hold their interest in a 75 minute class period. You might play hangman with a ballet term or use your imaginations to describe the steps you're learning. Ask the dancers for their input when describing movement: their ideas will astound you! Work with partners to make familiar steps more complicated in a fun way. In general, work hard to make sure that your dancers are engaged in learning ballet and not just going through the motions.
Your seven or eight year old dancers are ready to work hard and become more serious about ballet class but still needs a touch of fun to keep them interested. Understand how important it is that your dancers make a positive transition into ballet and work hard to keep them engaged in learning proper technique while still having fun!
5. Moderate Your Expectations:
Don't expect perfection! Expect growth. Slowly and steadily your dancers will gain technique and a better understanding of their bodies, but give them time to grow. Have high expectations for classroom behavior and preparedness, but moderate your expectations with regard to technique. Remember that you have to build the musculature and flexibility of a dancer to achieve your desired result.
Have fun with your beginners! And let us know if you have questions about this transitional period by posting in the comments.