3 Smart Strategies to Get Young Dancers Loving Their Bodies
Guest post by Katrena Cohea
When we think about young dancers, we tend to think tutus, freeze dance, and all the inherent cuteness that accompanies early childhood dance classes. While this age is full of sweetness and it can be fun to see dancers experiment and explore, this also a great age to introduce body love and respect.
If you chat with any 4 year old for a length of time, they’ll likely tell you all the things they’re good at, all the things they can do, and a plethora of other facts ranging from dinosaurs to what they had for snack. Young dancers usually don’t have any problem identifying their strengths, so it’d be easy to assume they don’t need any further foundation for body acceptance, but developmentally, young dancers at this age are at the perfect stage for cultivating a loving relationship with their bodies and abilities that can see them well into their tween and teen years.
Here are three smart strategies you can use to encourage young dancers to continue loving their bodies and abilities.
- Be aware of language
Dance has its own unique language. Especially with young dancers we use a lot of imagery to convey technique and movement themes. While there’s nothing wrong with imagery, it’s worthwhile to tune into the words we use with young dancers and update if needed.
Flexed feet aren’t ‘bad’, or ‘naughty’ for example (this position is used often in modern and tap dancing), just as ‘suck in your tummy’, or ‘pull in your tummy’ isn’t as beneficial as encouraging dancers to lengthen their front body muscles, or asking them engage their core by pulling an imaginary string from the belly button to the spine.
While this may seem like a small and tedious change, modeling the use of positive and accurate language will only help dancers be more accurate and positive themselves as they get older, work on more detailed technique and spend more time in front of the mirror assessing themselves.
- Focus on feeling
Speaking of mirrors, we can teach dancers from an early age that the mirror is nothing more than a tool. Just like spotting for turns, or costumes to play a role, mirrors are tools to help dancers feel and adjust for technique. How many of our tween and teen dancers go through a phase where they’re obsessed with the mirror?
How many of us, when we were dancing every day, obsessed over every lump, bump, and line we saw in our reflections? If we remove the emotion from the mirror, all that’s left is a tool. And when we focus on feeling, we help remove some of that charged emotion.
Encourage dancers at a young age to be curious about how movement feels in their body. When it’s recital time and dancers try on costumes, ask how they feel in the costume, as opposed to deferring to the mirror for how it looks.
- Make it fun!
Body acceptance doesn’t have to be a serious subject all the time! Keep it light, especially with young students, and they’ll get the message that loving and respecting all their bodies can do is just a normal part of moving and dancing.
Try movement obstacle courses that show dancers how strong they are, use yoga as brain breaks to point out to dancers how flexible they can be, or let dancers create their own affirmations with markers and paper and hang them all around your studio. Young dancers especially love it when things are fresh and fun, and you’ll be more likely to keep them engaged with this work when it feels like play. You’ll enjoy it more that way too!
Which of these tips will you be trying? I’d love to know in the comments, or hear your favorite ways of bringing body positivity to your young dancers!
Katrena Cohea is the Owner and Founder of Different Drummer Dance, a dance studio based in upstate New York that’s on a mission to teach dance from the inside out. Different Drummer Dance takes a bright, fresh, and big-hearted approach to dance education, focusing on growth mindset and body positivity to teach dance holistically.
She was trained in the RAD syllabus and completed both the RAD’s Advanced 2 and CBTS programs. She graduated with B.A. in Theater and Dance from CSUEB, where she trained with noted Bay Area directors/choreographers Nina Haft, Eric Kupers and Laura Elaine Ellis. She has performed and taught across the United States and Canada including Vancouver, New Mexico, and New York. Katrena is also a writer for the magazine The Wonderful World of Dance.