by Rachel Minnie
Now more than ever parents need to invest in keeping their kiddos moving! With fewer in-person dance options, parents are finding many online platforms for their little dancers to have a reason to throw on their favorite leotards and dance skirts. Below are some of the most promising sites we’ve discovered so far:
Outschool is a well rounded learning platform that connects teachers and other professionals with students and parents. Anyone can sign up to be a teacher (so if you have an area of expertise or a hidden talent, consider offering your own class). In fact, there are so many classes available - especially now - that it can be a little overwhelming. Be sure to read reviews for teachers to help you make informed choices.
Class prices range from pretty reasonable to downright cheap. Choose from one-time classes, ongoing classes, seasonal summer camps, and long-term classes. Outschool classes are a staple in my house, and one thing that has impressed me is that they tend to be very interactive, not just between teachers and students, but between students and students. In this way, Outschool classes on Zoom can be a great alternative to in-person camps and classes that students may be missing during social distancing.
Available in either drop-in classes or session-based camps, dance classes on kidpass.com include ballet, rhythmic gymnastics, hip hop, tap, and more. While some classes are pre-recorded, others are live. The Kidpass platform allows you to easily schedule and keep track of multiple classes, perfect if you’re looking for lots of classes with different topics or if you have children of different ages.
And kidpass.com offers much more than just dance. You can also use it for academics, crafts, coding, foreign languages, etc. The Kidpass Digital Platform also uses Zoom. While some of the classes are pricey, you can find free classes that help even out the budget.
On sawyer.com, parents can find another platform for kids dance activities, as well as academic subjects and other fitness classes, like yoga and karate, offered by multiple providers. Available as drop-in classes, semesters, or seasonal summer camps, Sawyer’s classes can be booked for in-person classes (depending on your area), but there are more online programs than ever before as families look for ways to stay active and engaged remotely.
Search by day, time, age, or activity to find the perfect class for your dancer (or scientist, or linguist, or artist, or chef). Sawyer.com is also a Zoom-based platform. Overall, you can find many classes that are a good value for the money, some of which are only $5 a class. Gotta love that! (Bonus: Sawyer is a female-founded company.)
There are plenty of free videos and tutorials online from reputable companies like Kidz Bop and Go Noodle. Kids will love the wholesome songs and dance moves in both, but Go Noodle also has popular characters from Disney and Nickelodeon. Though these are highly flexible since there are no regular times - just pop on a video anytime - they are highly commercialized. Additionally, parents may have some reluctance to send their kids to YouTube. Just make sure to beef up your parental controls if that is a worry for you.
A nationwide kids dance studio franchise, Tippi Toes now offers online virtual classes with their instructors. For one new recorded class a week, you’ll pay just $19.99 a month, with a seven-day free trial. You get to keep all the recorded lessons for continued watching. Tippi Toes promises high energy and engaging dance content for kids 2-8 years old. While the classes are not live, that may be a benefit for some since it adds to its flexibility and convenience.
Long-term dance lessons definitely have kept me motivated to stay active as an adult. Because I was so active at a young age (training 5-6 days a week, averaging 6 hours a day of dance lessons) not being active now has a negative effect on me. My physical health is very much linked to my mental health. You can imagine how crazy I am going without access to a gym these last few months.
Dance also made me very flexible, which has come in handy in my adult fitness experience. Although I no longer take dance lessons, I do circuit training 5-6 days a week. The flexibility I developed over the years through dance has come in handy when it's time for our stretch/flexibility block at the end of every workout. Because running, rowing, and weight lifting can be taxing on the body, I believe that my flexibility and having the capability to really stretch through the muscles has kept me from getting injured or staying sore for too long after a workout.
Beyond flexibility, posture and learning about the body's frame have also benefited my current fitness abilities. So many years of perfecting my plies has helped ground myself when doing squats; people can really hurt themselves if they complete a squat with an arched back and tilted neck. One of my first circuit training classes, the coach was helping me and another new client with deadlifts with dumbbells. The other client was struggling with keeping her back flat and knees bent, which can be tricky. When the coach came over to check on me, he seemed surprised at how quickly I had caught on. He ended up using me as an example to follow. Slightly bent knees and flat back/elongating the spine was a constant instruction in dance, so it came naturally to me.
If you had asked me 15 years ago what the cons were from my dance experience, I would have told you that my self esteem took a hit. I wasn't the average size of the other girls on my dance team and they, along with my instructor, constantly let me know it. But reflecting on my experience now after so many years, I'd say it eventually helped with my confidence level, because if you take away the other dancers on the team and focus on the skills learned, they are skills that not everyone has and they have benefitted me later in life with my fitness level. I can't tell you how many times I have received compliments during the stretching/flexibility block while I bend over and place my palms on the floor. I constantly hear from others, "Wow, I wish I could stretch that far!" or, "How did you get so flexible?" and those are major confidence boosters!
Emma Guiton is an editor in the publishing industry. Her hobbies include baking, puzzles, board games, reading, and fitness. She lives in Raleigh, NC with her fiance and dog.
by Rachel Minnie
Choosing a dance studio is one of those crucial decisions a parent makes for her dance-minded child. It has an enormous impact on how your child will feel about the experience and can help or hurt a young dancer’s motivation to continue. Even in our rural neck of New Hampshire, a quick online search yielded a dozen dance studios. How is a parent to choose? What information does one need before buying the tights and leotards?
Besides obvious considerations such as price, location, and convenience of schedule, other factors can be just as important. And don’t just trust the online reviews. They can be misleading or out of date. Instead . . .
Consider the Teaching Philosophy: Talk to the Teachers
Does the school embrace individualism and self-expression, or is it more of a classical teaching approach? Is its focus more on competitions or having fun? One way to find this out is to ask if there are auditions for the higher levels. This may be a positive or a negative for you, depending on your child’s level of interest and commitment. If your child just wants to have fun and be with friends, a dance studio geared toward end results, such as competitions, may not be a good long-term choice.
Community Culture: Make Sure It Fits Your Expectations
The culture among the other dancers and parents is important for both you and your child. Some groups are very welcoming, while others may require a bit more time to become part of the group. If feeling connected to a community is important to you or your child (it’s not important to everyone), make sure you are picking the right one. In other words . . .
Chat with other Parents
Ask questions at your trial class (if you are offered one, GO before agreeing to a full session). Listen and observe. Are the other parents leaving to run errands, or are they sticking around and chatting? Are they criticizing or complimenting?
Consider Extra Expenses: They Can Add Up
While you’re at it, ask the other parents if the dance studio has extra expenses that you maybe haven’t considered yet, such as competition fees and multiple dance costumes. If you’re not prepared for them, they can be a strain on your budget. The veteran parents can give you the run-down.
Ask Your Child
This one can be tricky. While you don’t want to leave the decision entirely to your child, of course, you may want to ask gently for her thoughts and opinions. Perhaps she’s thought of something important to her that you hadn’t even considered, like the amount of hook and cubby space for her items while she is in class. Sounds small, but it’s one of those little things that may help narrow down your options. Along those lines . . .
Think About Your (Physical) Comfort
This may sound unimportant, but you’ll probably be spending a lot of time in that dance studio. Make sure it’s comfortable for you. I once spent an entire music lesson looking through a small window in a door while six other mothers tried to do the same. In contrast, when my son tried jiu jitsu, the dojo had a welcoming corner of the room with clean, matching couches, end tables, and lamp lighting. I was dazzled. As a result, going to those classes wasn’t something I dreaded. I could keep an eye on my kiddo while playing matching games on my tablet in the cozy parents corner. Is a bad waiting section a dealbreaker? Probably not, but it can seal the deal when deciding between studios.
By Lydia Perakis
My name is Lydia Perakis and I live in Brooklyn, New York. Before the pandemic, I was working as a dance performer, choreographer, and educator in various studios and spaces around New York. I have been teaching virtually since April. My experience with online teaching started due to the pandemic; however, it has been an eye-opener to the endless possibilities and importance of utilizing technology in dance education.
Online teaching expands dance access. Because of the virtual classes, I have been able to reach students across the world I wouldn't normally, as well as have access to a broader span of ages. People seem more eager to experiment and try new skills while at home; there are students taking virtual dance classes who wouldn’t have necessarily prior to the pandemic. They tend to feel more comfortable in their own space rather than facing the intimidation of a studio full of strangers. In addition, virtual classes are more convenient to parents since there is no commute time, which benefits families as a whole.
Because the classes on Outschool [the online teaching platform] are automatically recorded and posted in the online classroom, students are able to “re-take” the class. That way, students who may have felt challenged learning all the material I demonstrated live in class, are able to spend more time with it on their own, something they wouldn't have been able to do in an in-person class.
Visualization and clear instructions are crucial when the instructor is not in the same space with the student. Your voice becomes your main tool, especially if the student is watching through a small screen. If the tool is properly utilized and the student is eager to learn, explore, and trust the educator through the screen, online learning can be equally as beneficial as in-person.
A few downsides of online learning I have observed are technical difficulties that can delay or interrupt the flow of class as well as general access to technology. Not all families can afford the expenses of online learning, which needs to be acknowledged and taken into account when talking about the communities we're accessing around the globe.
Another downside I have observed would be that some students get more easily distracted. They don’t necessarily associate being home with being “in class.” However, I have been experimenting with different approaches to engage the learners and establish an official class setting even through the virtual space.
Lastly, students having adequate space at home, as well as proper flooring (especially if we are practicing jumps) can be a challenge. I have appropriately adjusted all the classes I teach to fit into different space capacities, so this is usually a setback we find ways to work around.
I can't say that one can replace the other since we are comparing two very different educational spaces, but there is equal value to both online and in-person classes. Dance is an art form that heavily relies on community and human connection, and that can be challenging if we try to replicate the same in-person model when teaching online. It does not necessarily have to be the same. The class structure and format can shift in order to be transported through the two-dimensional space.
Both educational spaces have a lot to offer if explored and approached with an open mind. We need to be willing to fail, rebuild, reshape, and adjust in order to move dance education forward during this global pause. But there definitely is a way. The community and eagerness to move I have experienced in my classes these past two months have been enormous and so fulfilling, and that strength makes me hopeful about the resilience of our art form.
Photo by Travis Magee