16 March 2023
Children don't need to possess any prior dance skills when they start modern dance, but there are some skills, traits and mindsets they will need in order to succeed in the long term.
A lot of what happens in a dance class requires the dancers to listen well to the teacher and then replicate what they’re told. This is as true for dance professionals as it is for children. Listening goes a little deeper, though. The essence of modern dance is about a dancer listening to music and responding emotionally to what they hear. The skill of listening is central to the creative aspect of modern dance.
One of the major tools for a dancer is an ability to self-reflect. A dance teacher will give feedback, but a child will improve much quicker if they can consider their own practice and adjust what they’re doing by themselves. It’s called deep learning, otherwise known as “thinking about thinking”. In modern dance, children need to not only be able to reflect on their own physical performance but also on their creative decisions. It can take a long time to master, especially in a way that doesn’t knock their confidence, but ultimately being able to confidently self-reflect will make a child very resilient, not only in the dance studio but in their wider lives, too.
There’s a maxim in dance: “no one looks good unless everyone looks good”. Teamwork is a vital skill for dancers. There are rather complex ideas of creativity present in modern dance. Children need to know how to understand the bigger picture and recognise that it takes multiple people to achieve the best outcome. They also need to navigate potentially difficult social situations, such as giving positive feedback or receiving criticism. It's tough to negotiate the wants and needs of fellow dancers. Added to this are aspects of safety. With so many dancing on the same stage, it’s important that everyone behaves safely, meaning there must be mutual respect from and for all.
Children need to be prepared to work on their strength. As a style that often includes unusual and invented movements, modern dancers need to be strong enough to try new things whilst maintaining control of their body. An alarming number of children currently lack the sufficient core strength for dancing. It’s important to have this in order to avoid the injuries that might come from overwork or fatigue. The good news is that simply getting active - in the park or in the playground - is enough to build this core strength sufficiently.
To begin with, when children learn something new, they are usually reactive. They’ll listen to and do what the teacher tells them. Being a creative and collaborative art form, modern dance requires children to understand how to be proactive. Children should recognise for themselves what is and isn’t working in a dance routine. Being proactive means they will actively look for solutions and, together with good teamwork, will mean greater success and a sense of achievement.