Do you want to know why my childhood was so great? Yes, I had loving and supportive parents and lived a relatively privileged lifestyle. However, the reason it was great was more than just being well loved. I count myself lucky to have such wonderful memories of having delicious food on the table, reading bedtimes stories with my Dad and brother, and enjoying academic success at school. But, it was more than that. What made my childhood great? DANCE! Dance made my childhood great.
I was always dancing around the house to my favourite tunes, sitting in the splits while watching TV and trying to teach my brother little pieces of choreography (which did not often go down so well). I would put on shows with my cousins and friends in my living room. I would make my family buy fake tickets and sit in the audience.
Of my parents, I definitely inherited my dance skills from my father. My Mumma, although a talented netballer and my biggest fan has two, maybe even three left feet on the dance floor. I used to dance with my Dad to Elvis Presley songs in my rock and roll skirt for hours and hours on end. He even made his own tap shoes out of old work boots, found me massive squares of wood and let me teach him my newly learnt tap steps. Also, as a blossoming acrobat, I spent 80% of my time upside down. Dance was my entire world!
So how did dance classes improve my childhood?
1. Physical activity
Arguably the most obvious reason. My parents were happy to know I was engaging in regular physical activity and I was enjoying living an active lifestyle. I couldn’t wait to go to class and practice my new steps, new skills and perform choreography. Without realising it, I was consistently improving my stamina, coordination, flexibility, balance and strength. Because of dance, my body was strong and functioning well. Because my body was strong, I had very little, if any injuries growing up. I have actually never broken a bone; touch wood! Seeing and feeling improvements in my dance abilities always encouraged me to work harder and learn more. I can’t imagine enjoying a morning jog or a game of touch football anywhere near as much as my dance classes, the purpose is so much greater.
I was an incredibly shy child. I would never speak in public to anyone other than family and people I knew really well. I kept to myself at kindergarten and just generally didn’t have a lot to say around people. My parents decided to put me into a combined jazz and tap class when I was 7 years old. My teacher’s guidance allowed me to gain confidence by mastering achievable skills through repetitive practice. I really enjoyed that I could actually see my improvements in jazz as I looked in the mirror. Similarly, I could hear the improvements in my tap steps and felt so proud of myself. “Mum, Mum, watch me do a Shuffle Nog Hock!” Okay, it took me a while to master the correct terminology. Come time for the end of year concert, I was smiling on stage and couldn’t get enough of the attention, lights, loud music and clapping. Oh, the costumes, I can’t forget the costumes. Who doesn’t love sequins? The following year I enrolled in Jazz, Tap, Ballet, Contemporary and Acrobatics.
Being plonked into a dance class with a bunch of other kids I didn’t know certainly taught me a lot about teamwork. Dance requires active participation from all class members through encouragement and guidance from the teacher. So, I quickly learnt the importance of working well in a team environment. Learning how to perform choreography in time with my fellow dancers was a challenging and rewarding lesson for me and every other child. It is just as important to learn how to lead your team when learning and performing small group or solo parts and support others when they learn and perform theirs. Being a part of such a special kind of team generates a special bond that only other’s dancers will understand. This leads me straight into reason number four.
All of my closest friends are dancers, many that I met back when I began dancing. We have watched each other transition through the teenage years and into adulthood. Some have created successful careers in the performing arts industry and others ventured happily into other career paths. I always felt a part of a respectful and supportive atmosphere from the moment I stepped into my first dance class. I made such wonderful dance friends (the kind I want standing beside me when I get married) and my social skills blossomed beyond belief. I became a well-spoken young girl who could hold conversations easily with children and adults alike. My newly found sense of belonging improved my grades at school, helped me express my feelings and fostered deeper connections with friends and family. I am so thankful for childhood dance friends that shared my passion and excitement for performing.
5. Discipline and Respect
I have always been a ‘good girl’. Never particularly interested in getting into mischief. So, I thrived in an activity that demands so much discipline and respect. However, I watched as ALL children in my dance classes benefited from the discipline and respect we were expected to show each and every lesson. Kids that liked to live within the rules (like myself) and those who liked to test boundaries. My dance teachers always promoted a fun and positive atmosphere that was centered on the techniques required for each individual dance style. A great deal of respect is necessary to understand the performing arts as well as respect for those passing on their knowledge to you. I whole-heartedly believe the perfect mix of structure and fun that was given to me improved my childhood and in turn my morals and work ethic as an adult.
Commitment, both short and long term, is often a difficult concept for children to grasp. At the age of 8, I often changed best friends weekly or even daily. I won’t even go into my inability to commit to an outfit for the day. Dance is an activity that requires you to commit to your learning to be able to see improvements. Of course, small improvements will occur every lesson but the larger improvements, the ones that make you a better dancer, those happen when commitment to attendance, learning and practice is present.
I remember at the start of each year, as my Mum filled out my enrollment forms, she told me that I had to be sure which classes I wanted to do because I was committing for the whole year. Let’s be real, I would never have said, “Yeah look, I don’t like that dance class Mum.” Just wouldn’t have happened. Obviously, another level of commitment is added when you talk dance concerts and higher again, eisteddfods and competitions. All of these commitments prepared me for adult life. The joys of house rental contracts, keeping jobs long term and adult relationships.
Social media now has such a great influence on our children and our world. People now spend so much time editing the perfect photo or video to post online for their followers to click the ‘like’ button and BAM, instant gratification. Just like that. I spent an endless amount of hours in the studio learning, improving and perfecting my craft. Months and sometimes years later, an audience would see the finished product and I would then experience the real life ‘like’ button moment, applause! In my opinion, this is the best feeling in the world and I quickly learnt that it could only be achieved through valuing and applying the commitment required.
7. Emotional and Mental Wellness
Last but not least, emotional wellness. Some might say I am quite an emotional woman. I would have to agree with them. I was also a child very much in touch with my emotions. Dance was an incredible outlet for this. I quickly realised that placing my emotions into my dance steps achieved a number of things. 1 – a more powerful performance, 2 – an emotional release and mental wellness and 3 – creative and honest choreography. I danced when I was happy, I danced when I was sad. When I was frustrated, nervous, excited and more. Dance is an artistic form that has supported my physical and mental health for 17 years now. I feel so lucky to have learnt, at such a young age, that I have an emotional outlet so readily available to me.
I could go on and on explaining why dance classes improved my childhood. I couldn’t imagine having enjoyed my childhood as much as I did if my parents didn’t invest in my dance education. I’ve told you a million times before but thanks, Mum and Dad! So, if you have a child who is always grooving to music they hear or spend the majority of their time upside down, get them into a dance class. If you want to open your child up to an activity that promotes exercise, creativity and supportive friendships, get them into a dance class. If you want to improve your child’s understanding and application of commitment, discipline and respect, get them into a dance class. With so many styles available to all genders now, there really is something for everyone. I couldn’t recommend introducing dance into your child’s life highly enough. My childhood was so great because of my dance classes.