The answer is...
2 or 10? The best age to start dance classes
What is the best age for kids to start dancing? 2 or 10?
Neither, according to Debbie Morris, dancer, mother and kindergarten teacher. The best age to start dance classes, she says, is three.
Debbie Morris began dancing at age five. A professional dancer until the age of 25, she then swapped dance to raise her two daughters and pursue a teaching career. Now 55, her experience across dance, motherhood and education has enabled her to understand how children benefit from dance – and when they should begin.
The perfect age to start classes
Morris, who is this year teaching kindergarten at Hurstville Public School in Sydney, says three is the perfect age for kids to attend their first dance classes. "The number one reason is because, by three, children are normally 100% toilet trained so there’s no need for a child to be running in and out having their nappy changed.
By three, adds Morris, children are more confident to be separated from their mums and take direction from someone else. They are also likely to have started daycare or preschool, so are used to being in a group environment.
With the growth of activities such as swimming classes, Baby Boogie and occasional daycare, Morris believes toddlers today are far more independent than in the past. “At three, children are now are much more confident and independent,” she says. “They are really quite capable at three.
Dance classes can help kids learn literacy
Morris only stopped taking regular dance classes about 10 years ago, which gives her 40 years dance experience. Add to that her 30 years of teaching in primary schools, and her argument that dance helps young children learn – in particular that, helps them learn literacy skills – has gravitas.
“With literacy, you have to think, create and then share information," she says. "When children are in a dance class they are thinking about what do and where go and what the teacher says.
"They are also creating. Often the last 10 minutes of the class is about experimenting and dancing by themselves. And they are sharing information: sharing emotions, feelings, movement... it’s all a form of communicating."
Memory and patience: Dance classes aid school performance Morris believes that children who study dance tend to perform better at school.
“Usually you find that children who dance also perform well academically – because they have been exposed to different elements in a dance class," she says. "They are used to memorizing things, taking direction, thinking creatively… and this helps them perform well at school."
Literacy, memory and creativity are key parts. But so too is another trait most toddlers aren’t exactly renowned for: patience.
“When they’re trying to master steps and routines in dance classes, children have to practice,” says Morris. “So, if there’s something they don’t get the first time, they understand that if they keep persevering they will get it.”
Eight, nine and 10: Not too late to start
All children learn best by hands-on experience, Morris argues, and for that reason dance classes can benefit children of any age.
“Children learn by experiencing,” she explains. “In preschool and kindergarten we do a lot of hands-on things with them, like clapping or making patterns or expressing themselves.”
When children get to primary school, however, Morris believes teaching methods can lose that hands-on approach, meaning some children can fall behind.
“Eight, nine or 10-year-olds are still little and still enjoy hands-on experience,” she says. “Dance classes can be great for them because they are a return to that movement and expression.”