This is the second part of Young Children and Advancement. If you are looking for the first post click here.
Just to quickly recap…
Sometimes parents have a hard time seeing the advancement in their young dancers, these posts help parents, and teachers, understand what advancement looks like in a young dancer, specifically a dancer under 7. Advancement is not just being taught the “hard steps” there is so much more growth that happens that you may not know about or always pay attention to.
Kids can be totally different once they hit the stage! Stage Brain is a real thing and can be so frustrating for the dancer, teacher, and parent. What is Stage Brain? Stage Brain is typically when the dancer is very strong in class, can remember all the things, but when she takes the stage she freezes and forgets everything she did in class. The only thing that can remedy this is more stage time and growth!
Really it’s not so hard to understand why a young dancer gets Stage Brain. Think about your own kids. Think about your morning routine. You send them upstairs to brush their teeth, get dressed and get their school bag. 20 minutes later when you check on your son, if he is anything like my son, he’s laying on his bed in his underwear, teeth unbrushed, with a sock dangling from his toe.
Now think about all the things your little dancer has to think about. He has to remember his choreography, where he stands in line, to stay with the music, to use his technique, to smile and he has to do this with bright lights in his face and knowing there is a huge audience of people watching him. Stage Brain is real and understandable and as they grow and advance they will experience fewer bouts of Stage Brain.
Spacial awareness and formation changes.
Oh, spatial awareness. In my experience kids don’t even understand the concept of spatial awareness until they are close to 10 years old. One of the reasons dance teachers use floor markers for little dancers because they can struggle to figure out where they stand, and where they stand in relation to their classmates. Taking these floor markers away is a way to challenge their brains and it shows real advancement for these little guys. Another way we help them advance is by incorporating locomotor movements away from their original position and back to it. For example, dancers switching from the backline to the frontline or moving in a circle is an advanced movement for a young dancer.
When dancers are very young or inexperienced they all do the same moves at the same time in the choreography. When dancers are doing all the same movements as a group it helps to grow their confidence and it provides a safety net, just in case they have a hard time remembering! Having safety in numbers is helping train their brains on how to learn and how to remember choreography. As they advance the choreographer can start layering the choreography or giving different choreography to different groups at the same time. Layered choreography means the dancers have to be responsible for knowing their own part but also to not get distracted by the different choreography that may be happening right next to them.
Large group choreography
This is one of my favorite ways to measure a dancer’s maturity and advancement. Being in a large group number is huge for a young dancer. Usually, in a large group, the dancers have multiple entrances and exits, formations and group transitions while there is so much going on! Little dancers can so easily just stand on the sideline in awe of the dancers swirling around them and be completely unaware that they are supposed to be the part that is dancing! If you have a young dancer that is able to participate in a large group number and can be a trusted member of the group and remember all the staging that comes with a large group number then your kiddo is on the right track of being a coachable and solid teammate.
The last advancement indicator I am going to address is Repetitive Choreography. When a dancer is a beginner the choreography is repetitive. We want the choreography to be predictable, rhythmic and easy to remember. This teaches the young dancer HOW to learn choreography and sets him up for success. A successful dancer is a happy, engaged dancer! There will be a point in his learning where he will be ready to move past the predictable, repetitive choreography. He’ll be able to handle more and diverse steps during a dance.
For younger dancers it is vital we lay a firm foundation of these concepts so then later on in their dance development they can learn choreography quickly, be detail orientated with their technique so it eventually becomes second nature and can be a trusted teammate. My biggest advice for parents who are worried about their dancer not “advancing”, if you are at a studio with educated teachers who have a track record for growing strong dancers from within their own program, trust the process.