Ask Emma - is ballet too old-fashioned for my child?

Children can respond well to the formality of ballet. Pictured are Sinead Vidler’s Academy Ballet in Sydney
Children can respond well to the formality of ballet. Pictured are Sinead Vidler’s Academy Ballet in Sydney Photo: ROSE PHOTOGRAPHY

Emma Sandall answers readers' questions.

Dear Emma,
I am wondering whether to send my child to ballet classes or not. I worry that ballet training is too strict and perhaps old fashioned for a child in this day and age.
– Parent of six-year-old potential dance student

Dear Parent,

This is a valid question. Ballet is sometimes regarded as antiquated today, and it is not suited to every child. It definitely calls for a lot of discipline and self-control, which some children find too restricting. 

I think ballet training is good for creative spirits because it instils a disciplined approach to work that is enormously helpful in all the arts and life in general. Many important life lessons can be learned from ballet training beyond discipline. 

1) Facing challenges. Ballet is not easy for anyone. Every lesson, there are steps to learn and perform which are physically and mentally demanding. Facing and overcoming these challenges regularly prepares children well for all forms of learning. It makes them determined and resilient, qualities that serve us well throughout our lives. 

2) Taking corrections positively. With a good teacher, ballet students learn early on that corrections are a means to improving their performance rather than personal criticism. Seeing corrections in a positive light like this makes the path to improvement in anything that much smoother.

3) Managing time. Ballet students learn to get to class on time with all the necessary kit. Few teachers tolerate tardiness. Often the students take the responsibility to make their parents get them there on time! This is a valuable life tool for thinking ahead and planning.

4) The advantages of healthy competition. In the ballet studio a child is surrounded by students from different backgrounds with different skills. Most have at least one strength in the class – whether it is timing or turning or jumping. Working together week in, week out, and with the guidance of a wise teacher, children watch and learn from their classmates’ different qualities, and at the same time develop a strong sense of camaraderie.

5) Good old-fashioned etiquette. In the ballet class, students are quiet and concentrated. They dress in the correct uniform. They listen to the teacher respectfully and follow his or her instructions. In this way, the work is achieved quickly and efficiently, and no one student’s attitude or personality gets to take over the room. They learn to get on with it and that their effort is no more important than the next person’s. Although this kind of etiquette is not fashionable today, I still think a lot can be learned from it as part of a balanced upbringing. 

Young pupils at Sinead Vidler’s Academy Ballet in Sydney.jpg

6) Exposure to culture and the arts. Ballet developed out of a variety of cultural influences and these are built into the steps the children learn and the music they dance to. This window to the past greatly broadens their art scape, especially if the lessons are combined with the history of ballet.

7) A musical education. Ballet training develops a profound understanding of music through movement. They learn time signatures -- the difference between moving to a waltz, a mazurka, a march or a polka for example. They also develop an embodied understanding of various musical modes, tones and tempi that translates into a rich understanding of communication and art in general.

8) They learn to carry and present themselves well. With a good and careful teacher, learning ballet can build respect for oneself and one’s body. Unlike other physical activities, ballet training is slow and specific, and it requires students to pay close attention to their posture. They learn to carry themselves with pride and this can build healthy respect for the body to carry them through life.

Certain aspects of ballet do feel outdated, but these are mostly related to the role of women and men in classical ballets rather than to the training itself. And the only way that will change is if young people who like to dance take it up, take it seriously, and start to make their own works from this unique art form.

Pictured: Children learn many useful lessons in ballet class that go beyond the steps. Pictured are young pupils at Sinead Vidler’s Academy Ballet in Sydney.





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