As dance educators, we have all encountered timid children that are unsure and apprehensive about coming to dance class for the first time. Sometimes, with a little bit of persuading, these children will come into the classroom on their own, while other times, they will become more hesitant and nervous. As studio owners and dance teachers, it is important to understand how to make the classroom setting more inviting in order to help these young children feel more comfortable.
First and foremost, it is important to recognize that each child learns and develops at a different pace. Some days a child will come in happy and smiling and ready to participate in class, while the following week, they may just want to relax and watch. It is imperative to clearly communicate this with each child’s parent in order to put them at ease if their child is adjusting to dance class at a slower pace than some of the other children in the class. Below are a few important things to remember that will help students adjust to dance class and promote more independence, ultimately making their first dance experience a positive one.
1. All students are unique and different. The first thing that you should tell parents who are bringing children to try their first dance class is to understand that all children learn and develop at a different pace and that it is perfectly normal if their child just wants to sit and observe the class. When they are ready, they will join in. Reassure parents that students will never be forced to do something that they do not want to do and that the instructor will work with each student individually at their own pace.
2. Wear comfortable clothing. Make sure that children wear comfortable clothes and shoes for their first dance class. This may vary for each child. Some children may want to wear street clothes and a pair of sneakers that they are familiar with for the first few weeks, while others may want to wear a leotard, tights, and dance shoes so they fit into their idea of being a “ballerina”!
3. Avoid interruptions and distractions. It is important that parents understand that they should not interrupt the classroom. Interruptions can sometimes frighten their child and are also very disruptive to the class as a whole. Make your expectations clear and ensure that the parents are comfortable with them before the child enters the classroom for the first time. If a child should become upset and start to cry, the dance teacher should try and calm them down. If that does not work, then they can proceed to take them to their parent.
4. Make parents aware of the end goal. Upon starting the class, parents should be aware of what you are trying to accomplish with the children. Update parents frequently on milestones that their children have made, such as being able to take direction from an authority figure other than their primary caregiver, cooperating with other children their age, taking turns, and learning simple dance steps and songs.
5. Never force a child to participate. As dance teachers, it is our responsibility to communicate with both the child and their parent in order to determine whether or not they are ready to participate in class. If they are not, they should not be forced to do so, as they may just be having an “off” day. Reassure both the child and the parent that you look forward to them returning to class the following week full of energy and ready to join in the class fun. Additionally, reward those children that do participate in class with special treat at the end.
As dance educators, giving each student a positive experience and making him or her feel comfortable in the classroom should be your priority. In order to do so, it is important to reassure parents that their child will adjust to the new setting at their own pace and to remain patient while they do so. Not all children will be ready for this transition right away, and if they feel as though their child is apprehensive, they should stay in the waiting room during class until their child adjusts. Additionally, encourage parents to talk to the instructor should they have any questions or concerns regarding their child or the class.
With time, each child will become comfortable with their surroundings and the classroom setting and will begin to develop more independence. Parents will be amazed at how independent their child has become and how much they have learned. Students will be able to do things on their own and will love showing everyone around them what they have learned at dance class. By following these simple steps, each child will have successful and a positive experience at your dance studio and parents will see remarkable strides in their child’s independence.