After all of the rehearsals and spring shows are over, we parents often feel a huge sense of relief, as do our busy artists who live and breathe dance. “You mean we can actually plan a family outing on a Saturday?! Our kids can actually attend a birthday party?!” It would be easy for us to tell our dancers they should take a break to “be kids” over the summer, but is that really what’s best for your child? Every kid is different, but there are a lot of benefits to summer dance training that parents (and our children) probably don’t realize.
1. Muscle Memory
Dancers utilize and strengthen very different muscles than what the body uses for other activities, even active ones like swimming, hiking, and biking. Prior to having my daughter ten years ago I was a personal trainer, and I’ve experienced some pretty intense muscular pain in nearly twenty years of lifting weights. However, I’ve also taken ballet classes as an adult and will admit that I felt pain in muscles I didn’t even know were possible to exercise! Our family loves to travel, and just about every year we take a two-week long vacation. A couple of years ago one of my daughter’s teachers mentioned it’s noticeable when we’ve taken one of those longer vacations, because my daughter comes back much weaker than before we left. Does that mean we can’t travel? Definitely not! This just means that we plan our trips at more ideal times (after all rehearsals/shows are complete, and not during summer intensives). We also make sure our daughter still stretches and does ballet exercises [when she’s able] while on vacation.
2. Spurts in Growth and Skill
Children go through growth and skill spurts at different times throughout the year, and one of those times could be in the summer. You definitely don’t want your child to miss out on the opportunity to use new talents after something suddenly clicks for her. And if she goes through a sudden and noticeable growth spurt, it will take time to regain her balance and build new muscle memory. If she doesn’t train while experiencing that growth, she may get frustrated trying to re-train a body she’s not used to dancing in.
3. Diversity in Training
Although some of your child’s instructors may still teach over the summer, guest instructors are often brought into studios. As a parent, I’ve discovered this not only challenges our dancers and their ability to adapt to different teaching styles and personalities, it also keeps their training fresh. This doesn’t mean every instructor will challenge your dancer the way she’s used to. In fact, she may even complain about a class that’s “too easy.” Does that mean the class is really too easy? Not necessarily; it just means the instructor teaches differently than what she’s grown accustom, and it then becomes the dancer’s responsibility to challenge herself to refine every move and posture. Alternatively, your dancer may feel frustrated over how difficult a class feels. Again, she will need to adapt and rise to the challenge. Even if she feels she isn’t keeping up, she really is becoming a better dancer just by doing her best. There are also times a guest instructor is able to explain a correction or give advice in a different way that will suddenly click with a dancer. Every kid has a different learning style, so having a variety of instructors can really help a dancer’s ability to learn.
4. Ability to Try New Styles of Dance
As part of a summer program (camps or intensives), studios might offer a completely different style of dance. This year our studio is offering flamenco as part of their daily schedule. Not only is this great exposure to another culture, your dancer may discover a love for a type of dance she didn’t even know about. From the very small amount of knowledge I have of flamenco, I can definitely see it requires a lot of musical ability and could be really beneficial to dancers who struggle with timing. I remember when my ballerina daughter expressed an interest in tap dance years ago. At first I was hesitant in adding a completely different style of dance to her schedule, but then the director explained that tap actually compliments ballet because it helps dancers with rhythm and timing.
5. A Demonstration of Commitment
If your child speaks seriously about dance and is anxious for a promotion (or looks even farther into the future and feels certain she’d like to dance professionally), taking a break over the summer might not communicate that enthusiasm. I always tell my kids, “actions speak louder than words.” Telling people you want to be a dancer is a lot different than showing people you want to be a dancer. Your studio might even have a minimum attendance requirement for their dancers to audition for and participate in specific dance companies/groups.
6. Friendship Building
Your child most likely has friends in your neighborhood, at church, and/or from school. However, there’s really something to be said for having a friend who knows what it’s like to literally have visions of sugar plums dancing in her head, even in the middle of June; a friend who also pirouettes through the halls and does développés while brushing her teeth; a friend who also misses other birthday parties for rehearsals and still loves every minute of them. Not only will your dancer have the opportunity to meet new dancers over the summer, she’ll create an even stronger bond with the friends she already has. Don’t be surprised if your daughter comes home asking for a sleepover with someone she just spent eight hours dancing with.
7. We Need Our Sanity
Ok, parents, maybe this should have been number one on my list. Now don’t get me wrong; I absolutely love and adore my children. However, if I had to hear, “Mommy. Mom. Mom. Hey Mommy. Mom!” all summer, I just might have to convert our playroom into a sound-proof room with a lock on the outside of the door.
In all seriousness . . . I know I am a better mom when I have a break from my children. Have you ever come home from a family vacation feeling like you need your own vacation? Kids have an insane amount of energy and are exhausting. How many times have you heard an adult say, “if only I could bottle that energy and sell it, I’d be a millionaire.” Would you rather have your kids sitting around playing video games, watching T.V., and fighting with each other, or would you rather they get out of the house to learn, socialize, and expend that abundance of energy?
I will share with you that my daughter has attended summer dance programs since she was four-years-old. When we tell people how many weeks and hours a day she is at the studio over the summer, the reactions are usually shock and I assume sometimes even silent judgment. However, never once has she complained or asked to quit. While it sounds like a lot to those of us who weren’t infected with rhythm in our feet, the dancers absolutely love it.
Sure, you could have your kids try different camps over the summer if they aren’t sure what truly excites them. That’s actually what we’re doing with our son this year; he’s seven-years-old and hasn’t quite figured out his passion (beyond video games and reading). But if you have a kid who comes home from a six-hour rehearsal and is still dancing around the house? A summer dance program sounds like the right prescription.