My younger sisters from my dad’s second marriage were heavily involved with dance as young children. As the proud big sister, I dutifully ended each recital.
The two-year-olds were consistently adorable. There was always one guaranteed on-stage tantrum. The costumes were cute (if a bit cotillion-esque). The music was standard kiddie-tune fare. The dance moves were simple and age-appropriate.
But when the toddler set was done, and the preschooler and young elementary school-aged girls took the stage, much was different. The costumes were noticeably more flesh-baring. The music more Top 40. The makeup was better suited to a drag queen, and the dance routines often made me feel unsettled.
Should these five-year-olds really move like this?
Not all dance studios promote a pageant-like approach to costuming and choreography for its students. Not all dance studios believe seven-year-olds should wear skimpy schoolgirl outfits and prance around on stage to “Oops, I Did It Again.” (And yes, this was an actual routine at one of my sisters’ recitals).
But risque costumes, sexualized routines, garish makeup, and suggestive song lyrics are the approach some studios take to teaching young girls about dance and performance. Couple these with the body image and eating disorder issues whose links to ballet are well documented, and you have an activity that while certainly beneficial to overall fitness and athleticism comes saddled with clear negatives as well.
This video, which went viral last year, immediately comes to mind. I still cannot watch it without shuddering.
Fortunately, there’s an alternative to dance right at Midtown.
Jen Hess runs the Yoga for Children program at the club. Certified by Karma Kids in NYC, Jen teaches all the kids yoga classes at Midtown in addition to writing her Karma Spot blog, which focuses on family wellness and helping kids to lead a yoga-inspired life.
“Dance can be a great choice for physical fitness and a wonderful outlet for creativity,” says Jen. “Some styles encourage self-expression and some are more rigid, requiring girls to dress the same, move at the same time, and attempt to find “perfection.” Some dance classes idolize a specific body type and competition between dancers is the norm.”
Yoga isn’t competitive. All body types are celebrated. There are no age-inappropriate costumes. There are no routines choreographed to “Single Ladies.”
Jen says, “Yoga encourages children to become aware of how their own bodies work and to focus on their own mats.”
Some additional benefits of yoga that are specific to young girls:
Yoga teaches skills that girls can use throughout their entire lives.
Breathing techniques help reduce stress and anger.
Learning to take a breath before reacting in an emotional situation can help change the direction of that situation.
Instead of comparing themselves to others, yoga helps girls find their own inner strength.
They find an appreciation of their own body on their mat.
Through yoga, girls strengthen their bodies, but even more importantly, they strengthen their self-awareness, which helps them make good life choices.
“Yoga helps girls look inward and love who they are, and gives them skills to guide them off their mats and into a life of greater happiness,” says Jen.
Still need convincing on the many benefits of yoga for kids? Check out our earlier interview with Jen here.
Midtown Varsity classes start up again in the fall. Check out some of Jen’s awesome yoga classes for kids when the schedule comes out later this summer.
And in the meantime, if your child has a birthday coming up, Midtown offers Yoga Birthday Parties. You can tailor the party to fit the interests of the birthday girl or boy. Themes include Island Adventure, Under the Sea, and Yoga-Art. Pick up a flyer on the rack by the front desk.
What do you think about the yoga-versus-dance comparison ?