With the resurgence of the TV Talent Show, children will often tell you that their ambition is to be famous. With part time theatre schools offering dance, singing and drama classes to pupils as young as 3 years old the question to be asked is ‘How is performing arts training going to benefit my child?’. Not every child wants to be an actor, singer or dancer, or has what it takes to succeed even if they do, so what is it that performing arts classes have to offer?
When you look at the amount of time we all now spend communicating through buttons; emails, texts, Facebook, Twitter and instant messaging you start to wonder how we retain the power of speech. Drama gives children an opportunity to develop and play with speech; learning to have fun with sounds, voices and characters; developing confidence in their verbal and physical communication. If you then consider how busy our lives have become, you begin to notice how there are fewer and fewer opportunities to spend in real ‘conversation’ with our children. Racing from pillar to post, juggling jobs and childcare can all result in very rushed communication. In drama classes, conversation and communication skills lie at the very core of what we are developing. Practising confident communication skills is excellent preparation for all aspects of life, whether it be making friends and developing high self-esteem levels in children or paving the way for successful Interviews and Employment experiences later on in life.
Encouraging children to use their imaginations pretending they are different characters is a highly valuable life skill and is used in the business and training worlds for that very reason. Creative use of the imagination in story telling also helps children to begin creating possibilities for their own lives and the world around them. Through role-play, children learn to explore how they might respond to situations that their everyday life might not yet present them with, whilst they also learn to empathise with the feelings of others. In an age of crime and violence, where the perpetrators are becoming younger and younger, it is important we give all our children opportunities to stop and consider the feelings of other characters; when taught well, putting on plays can literally help children to become more considerate human beings.
Singing, and learning to sing are equally valuable experiences. As a Voice Coach I am always saddened when clients come to have lessons with a burning desire to sing but a scathing internal voice, which has recorded memories of being told they can’t sing. Giving children the confidence to enjoy and explore their voice is incredibly valuable. However, singing has to be taught safely and finding the right teacher is essential. Young voices are particularly vulnerable and being taught by someone who is not specifically trained and experienced in developing young voices can do far more damage than good. It is also essential that young male voices are monitored closely when their voices break. The male larynx grows 7 times larger and 12 times faster than any other part of the body during adolescence and this transition needs to be nurtured with great care.
Biology of performance
The same can be said for the vulnerability of children’s bodies, which must also be taught to dance by a trained and qualified professional. Under the guidance of the right teacher, the benefits of dance for children are enormous. Did you know that sending your child to dance classes can actually help improve their school work? To understand why this is, we need to go back to when a baby is born. At birth, the centre of the brain called the corpus callosum is closed and the left and right brain hemispheres work independently and individually. However, to read, write, think, analyse, problem solve, see and listen well we need both brain hemispheres to be working simultaneously and to be communicating. The left side of the brain activates the right side of the body (and vice versa) and when we learn to move in a co-ordinated way our brain hemispheres have to work together and communicate, increasing the neurological pathways between them. This is the same reason why crawling is such an important developmental process for toddlers and should not be rushed by over eager parents.
Dancing also requires children to stretch their bodies, which is essential when you consider that children can spend up to 8 hours a day sat at a school desk. Stretching is good for children who are locked in the fight or flight reflex making learning very difficult and dance also requires that you balance which activates the vestibular system helping memory skills. With all the other benefits of posture, fitness, rhythm, co-ordination and fun, the only thing to worry about is whether it is Ballet, Ballroom or Hip Hop that your child would enjoy most.
How to choose the right class
So with all of these benefits, as a parent, how can you go about choosing a performing arts school that is right for you and your child? Firstly, you need to look at the teacher’s qualifications and experience. Anyone can set up a performing arts school with a catchy name but it doesn’t mean they have had sufficient training or experience to do so. Ask the school about their teacher’s qualifications and professional experience. Learning to act from a teacher who has never trodden the boards is going to be a very different experience to learning from someone who has had a wealth of professional performance experience and really knows their stuff.
Secondly, do they offer the children a balance of learning new skills in class and preparing and rehearsing for a performance. If the children are always focussing on preparing for a performance then this can limit their opportunities for learning, but equally, if they are always in class without any performance opportunities, they will never actually learn a whole set of skills you learn when you bring something to performance standard.
Increasingly, success in life is measured by our ‘performance’. Giving children the opportunity to benefit from all that performing arts training has to offer can go a long way towards helping them to experience a balanced, healthy and successful life.
(by Juliette Caton)