As a species, dance comes naturally to us. You only have to play music to a baby to see this theory formulate. Historically, we know that dance has been used for thousands of years throughout religion and social culture. Ballet as we know it emerged in Italy around the 1500s. So, in terms of the vast timeline of the human race, ballet could be deemed quite new as an art form. If this is the case, why is this dance genre considered the most important technique for dance training today? And what does ballet training give to a dancer so thoroughly that other techniques may not?
Take away skin and muscles, our skeletons are all almost identical. It is therefore our job as parents to ensure our children are receiving all the right opportunities to strengthen those muscles which keeps our “alignment” in check. We may refer to this in everyday life as our “posture”. Our spines should be lengthened and our pelvis’ upright, not tilted. In ballet, the student is trained to strengthen their abdominal muscles to ensure this is maintained. The muscles underneath the shoulder blades are strengthened through the use of ports de bras (carriage of the arms), keeping our shoulders back and our neck and head in line with the spine.
In opposition to most other physical activities, ballet training focuses on both strength AND flexibility. These two attributes usually oppose each other; I have yet to meet a flexible body builder for example! Correct alignment allows us to move more freely both in dance and in our everyday lives. Poor alignment results in injuries… how many fellow parents do you hear of having back problems, hip problems, knee problems? All due to alignment issues.
It is scientifically proven that ballet is healthy exercise not only for our bodies, but for our brains too. The obvious explanation would be to say this is down to dancers having to remember sequences of movements. Yes, this is right, however looking deeper, dancers actually combine “cerebral” thought (careful thinking and mental effort) with muscle memory. Different parts of the brain are constantly engaged and combined. When a dancer learns a new move, the teacher has to break it down into components. They may spend a series of days/weeks/months learning one aspect of the move before adding another layer, and another, before finally mastering the entire step. This allows the dancer time to process the movement mentally, as well as embedding it into their bodies physically. Our job as teachers is to allow the children the room to understand fully what muscles are being used, the feeling of executing it right, and also exploring what the “wrong” way would look like. This is why I stress to parents over and over again why it is DETRIMENTAL to a child’s dance training that their teacher be qualified, yet it still baffles me that upon initial enquiry about our dance classes, the first question parents tend to ask is what day/time do you offer the classes, and what are the fees. Hardly ever, “what are your qualifications?” Which I deem to be the most important. Our teacher profiles can be read in full here: https://www.littlelondonballet.com/our-teachers