How to help your Child Thrive at Dance this Year
Published on 18/04/2018
Firstly, it is all about understanding what their goals are (as well as their teacher’s). It is also important to have good open communication and an encouraging positive attitude to both work and competition. This is to help them manage the inevitable ups and downs with resilience and a sense of proportion (and maybe some humour at times). And then stepping right back and leaving them to it.
“Trust the teacher!” says Jayne Smeulders, Co-ordinator of Dance, Music Theatre at West Australian Academy of Performing Arts and mother of three young recreational dancers. A lot of parents get too caught up in their child’s dance education, pushing them too far and fast and incessantly texting and emailing the teachers. Smeulders advises parents to do their research and choose the school wisely first. “Once a parent believes they have chosen the right teacher for their child, then they have to step back and let the teacher do their job,” says Smeulders.
Teresa Johnson is a Sydney ballet teacher and also mother to young dancers. She believes the drive to dance must come first and foremost from the children. “It is almost always that case, in my experience, that the happiest and most successful students are the ones whose parents step back and provide calm rational, background support,” she says.
So how can parents support their children in a back seat role?
Smeulders and Johnson agree that giving a child a positive approach and the ability to cope with setbacks in what is often a competitive environment are tools that will serve them well in the dance studio and right throughout their lives.
“I tell my son, ‘be the best you can be today,’ before any class he takes,” says Smeulders.
“It’s important for kids to understand they are all individuals who develop at different rates, so put your heart and soul into your work while being true to where you are at.”
She believes it is not about comparing yourself to the person next to you but about making incremental improvements in relation to your own progress. “It’s important for kids to understand they are all individuals who develop at different rates, so put your heart and soul into your work while being true to where you are at.”
Parents can help their children deal with setbacks such as injuries by always showing a positive attitude.
"You want your children to grow up to be strong, independent and resilient with the feeling that no matter what life throws at them they will be able to deal with it," says Johnson. "Most injuries turn out to be good things, you learn so much about your body and new and better ways of working. Setbacks are always learning and growing experiences."
Beyond emotional support, parents can help their children with practical skills such as time management and realistic goal setting. If you know your child has a tendency to run late, encourage them to pack their bags the night before. If they are overwhelmed by work, encourage them to get their homework done before bedtime so that they are not so anxious.
“Parents can do this without becoming overbearing by chatting to their children and listening to how they feel, then offering some realistic and achievable options and alternatives,” says Smeulders.
"Goal setting is an important part of this because it gives kids a sense of achievement and focus. If you have some goals laid out clearly in front of them," she adds, "it is easier for them to not worry about what other children are doing to their left and right."
Another practical way parents can help their children achieve their best is by keeping healthy snacks at hand for after-school classes and long days at the studio.
"You can promote healthy eating habits while not enforcing a diet," Johnson says. "Even suggest your children to do some of the research themselves."
It’s not all about the studio either. A great way of encouraging and drawing out the best in your child is exposure to other art forms. “Go and see as many shows as you can,” suggests Smeulders, “And not always dance. Go and see musical theatre, plays, concerts and exhibitions.”
Johnson agrees, "Encouraging an enquiring mind in the arts has such a great influence on dance because it shows them how all art is interrelated. That can also be a wonderful way to develop a fulfilling relationship with your child and connect to their life in dance."
By Emma Sandall
Emma danced with Bejart Ballet, the Royal Ballet, Scottish Ballet and West Australian Ballet. She writes a regular column for Dance Australia Magazine: 'Ask Emma'.
Title Photo: Bloch Australia Image. Photography by Michael van de Kerkhof.
Image 1: Courtesy of Jayne Smeulders featuring students from Cecchetti Society Summer School held at WAAPA.
Image 2: Courtesy of Teresa Johnson featuring students from CB121.
Images 3 – 6: Courtesy of Jayne Smeulders featuring students from the Jody Marshall Dance Company.
Image 7: Adobe Stock.
Image 8: Featuring Ayesha Lucido, Bloch Artiste 2018. Photography by Lucid in Motion at Lane Book Shop, WA.