I come from a world where not having the right body type, flexibility, hip extension and shoulder breadth can make or break your career, and I was one of those dancers who didn’t have it all. I was also fortunate enough to have teachers who helped me love my body and learn to create beautiful lines and movements whether my hip structure could reach 180 degrees or not!
When I became a teacher, I started seeing first hand how detrimental it was when teachers did NOT embrace their dancers as individual and uniquely designed beings. Particularly in classic dance styles, like ballet, the education trend for hundreds of years has been for the instructor to focus his or her attention on those students who have the body type that allows them to take on the movements of ballet more naturally than the rest. While not harmful on the surface, perhaps, what inevitably happens is that the young dancers with different bodies, personalities, or perhaps even some who simply have undue tension in their legs and hips from injuries or illness, fade into the background of the class. Some leave the classroom and never return to an artistic genre. Others gravitate towards more accepting forms of dance or another art altogether, and some stay because they love to dance, and daily face an environment where they are never expected or encouraged to be successful in a dance career or as a performing artist. I decided that this needed to begin to change.
Children under the age of 6 are some of the most creative and artistic people I know! It is simply remarkable to me the ways they find to articulate complicated principles of physics, mathematics and literature through creative outlets of movement and storytelling. What if our dance and music classes created an environment to guide and develop that expression, not just teach a technique? Even more important, are how many stories exist around the globe of the healing, joy and opportunity that the arts brought to a child in need. What if the joy and individuality that a prima-ballerina, an opera star, or virtuoso musician enjoys every day was intentionally offered to young children in the classroom? What if it were offered in such a way that ALL the children in the classroom could participate, not just one or two?
The Little Melodies movement-arts curriculum approaches dance education in the early years of childhood from a holistic and dynamic worldview. My philosophy is that if children are given the opportunity to explore the performing arts in an environment that encourages play, acceptance and creativity while offering excellent, quality training, they can not only grow to become great dancers, singers, teachers, choreographers and even parents! (the possibilities are endless), they will keep their LOVE for the arts for the rest of their lives. No child should have to feel embarrassed for being who they are.
HOW do we do this?
- The first principle is that beautiful movement comes naturally from within every child, and each unique body needs time to learn to get it out. Our brain’s nueroplasticity allows us to remember how to walk, crawl, cook and eventually drive a car. In short, the avenues of our brains that allow us to learn to perform ANY movement with precision and confidence need to be exercised just like a muscle. And, just like a muscle, if you exercise it incorrectly it does not function well and becomes prone to injury. Therefore, we do not RUSH our little dancers through a myriad of technical movements that some can perform right away and others will constantly struggle with. Instead, we emphasize repetition of the basic movements of classic dance through fun and engaging games and routines that engage their brains with sight, touch and hearing at the SAME TIME, maximizing the neural pathways and sealing each new challenging movement with the experience of joy. For more great information and resources, see Eric Jensen’s Music with the Brain in Mind and Arts with the Brain in Mind.
- The second principle we embrace is meeting a child where they are. Every child has unique likes, dislikes, circumstances and dreams, and their experience of dance and the performing arts needs to be in a space where their individual personalities can flourish. Let’s face it, no one loves spending 45 minutes just doing plies! So while our students are learning to plie, tendu, flex and point the feet properly, and balance in center, they are also learning about expression, musicality, and improvisation with explorations in rhythmic instruments, singing, music theory games, composition games like “What’s Your Favorite Fruit?” and choosing their favorite scarf at the end of class to make something of their own on the dance floor. The best part is that we use tools and ideas that any family can make or afford to purchase so that the fun in the classroom and continue at home with ease.
- The third principle is that cross-genre curriculum is essential for the young performing artist’s experience. Ballet and classical music might be our tools, but they are only a foundation for the broad and beautiful world of performing arts. In meeting with our first two principles, the concept of cross-genre curriculum is designed to fit individual development AND personality in the classroom. We explore musical theater by integrating singing exercises and acting games into their dance and music technique. Children will play with modern and ethnic dance forms, and have the opportunity to try instruments like violin, guitar and the Glockenspiel. Not all in one class, of course! Our goal is that as each student grows in awareness of themselves and their environment in the studio, they will organically begin to challenge themselves, feeling invited to participate rather than obligated.
Invitation is the key. In a world that overlooks and undervalues the imagination and creativity of children, we want to uphold it as a virtue and invite them to be themselves with us. To find a Little Melodies class for your family, school, homeschool, or daycare, please visit Classes & Workshops or Contact Us today to inquire about starting a new session in your community.