Gymnastics and dance are both great extra-curricular activities for kids. As a parent though you might be confused over which one you should choose for your child. Both will help them burn off energy, are fun and creative and can become childhood hobbies that keep them fit and active. But which one should you enroll your child in?
Which is better for your kid, gymnastics or dance? If you had to choose to put your child in either gymnastics or dance, then you should go with dance. Gymnastics is fantastic for helping children gain strength and take risks but ultimately it is not a life long sport whereas you can dance professionally or dance just for a hobby well into old age.
But in reality, your choice may end up being decided on a myriad of other factors such as your location, availability of classes, the teacher, the gym or studio and what’s best for your family financially. Putting kids in extra-curricular activities and sports is not cheap.
Hang On….You just chose dance because you are a website about dance!
Ok yes, as this site is directed at parents of dancers and dancers in general and you might be wondering if we are being biased and favoring dance. But as a mother of four, having taken my young kids to both activities, having been a professional dancer and knowing the industry, if you only had the money for one after school activity or were only going to allow your child to do one thing their whole childhood then I would choose dance. But who lives like this tody? No one and so this is why our clear cut, wrapped in a bow, signed sealed and delivered answer crosses over into a lot of gray areas! Meaning there are a whole heap of caveats and but, ifs or maybes that could turn it our answer the other way around. All of which we are going to look at in this article.
Why we chose dance lessons over gymnastics?
My main argument for enrolling your child into dance over gymnastics is because gymnastics is not something you can do well past a certain age. Most professional gymnasts are out of the sport by the time they’re in their mid-20s, and even then, they are considered on the old side. It is not a past time and sport that boasts about its longevity. If you want something that your child can continue doing until they are ready to stop, then dance is the best choice.
Dance can be used as a way for children to express themselves. Dance is an art form and through dance, children can reach deep down inside and dance out what they are afraid of saying with words. Parents with children who are having a hard time getting their feelings out and points across should let their kids show their emotions; however, they can.
Dance is also something that you can start, veer away from and come back to later in life. Children may venture out and try to explore other types of activities when they are able to make a choice for themselves and then realize that they enjoyed dance more. Since they took dance when they were younger, it’s easier for them to just jump back into it.
Seeing people dance when they are in their 40s or 50s is not uncommon. You can dance if you’re physically able and until you are old and gray. Most dance teachers are those who used to dance professionally when they were younger and have continued within the industry when their bodies could no longer perform at a peak level.
The age of your child is also extremely important to consider when signing your children up for different sports and activities. You’re not going to wait until your daughter is in middle school and then try signing her up for gymnastics when most of the girls in the class have been takeing gymnastics ever since they could walk, but you can always sign her up for dance if you want to wait until she can choose herself.
Dance offers more variety!
Dance is so versatile that if your child does not like one style, then they can choose from another. Although we recommend all children serious about learning to dance do ballet lessons, if your child in the beginning does not enjoy them you should never force them to continue with them because it will sizzle their passion for dance so alternatively let them try one of the multitudes of different styles on offer at a dance school such as tap, jazz, hip hop or even acrobatics. They can even try more than one style of dance at the same time and figure out later which one they prefer over the other if any – and then add on ballet again when they are older to help develop their strength technique and flexibility.
Your child might find tap more enjoyable because it is not just about nailing the right move but getting the sounds and rhythms correct and melodic. Creating music with your feet is something your kid might get excited about. Or perhaps your child prefers to dance to faster, upbeat and popular music, finding joy in moving their body in sharp, dynamic ways that occur in a jazz dance lesson. The different styles of dance allow your child to explore their creativity and express themselves in unique ways that feel comfortable and joyful to them.
Dance uses music!
Dancing is easier for children to follow along with because of the addition of music. Naturally, when people hear music, they want to dance to it, especially if it has a distinctive beat. By pairing steps to certain beats, children are capable of connecting what they are dancing to and what they are listening to. Music and dance are interdependent; it is hard to have one without the other.
Children tend to be drawn more towards dance than gymnastics because it incorporates music, and most kids are always keen to dance along to their favorite song, whether the steps are correct, or not. It’s easier for them to remember the steps when accompanied by music.
OK…. So there will be a gymnastics fan out there saying but you do gymnastics to music too! Floor routines are done to music and rhythmic gymnastic routines are accompanied by music. And I will say this – yes they are accompanied by music.
A gymnast doesn’t flip to the beat of the music or choose the types of tricks they are going to do based on the music choice either. They use the music to give an anchor for how long they are taking and every now and then add in a dance element to ensure they are doing all their tricks within the right timing as points are taken off their score for going over set time limits.
When and why you should choose gymnastics over dance?
It is usually suggested for gymnastics that you start them off as early as possible because of muscle memory and flexibility. The issue with that is when your kid is 2, 3 or 4 years old, they won’t know which one they want to do. As a parent, it is up to you to make the choice for them and hope that it’s the right one.
That being said if your child is 1-4 years old and you have the ability like I do to enroll your kids into more than one activity or let them try several over time, I would enroll them into a kinder gym or gym fun class over a dance lesson, in the beginning, a heartbeat, especially if your child does not have a preference.
Why?? Because most dance schools start getting young kids to perform on stage from a young age wearing makeup and costumes and it is not all just about creative movement and dancing. Movement classes are different and all my kids started off with a kindergym or gymbaroo class from the age of 1.5 – 2 where I was actively involved in the lesson – no performances, no recitals. Dance lessons were introduced because they asked for them when they were a little older and able to choose for themselves what they wanted to try.
Another reason I would enrol my child into gymnastics over dance is if they were showing signs that they would excel in gymnastics. Some of these signs would be:
- Having good flexibility especially in their back allowing them to easily do tricks such as backbends and walkovers just by watching and copying others.
- If I knew they were probably going to be deficient in the height department based on our family genes. There is no other way to go about saying it, but gymnasts are generally small and petite pocket rockets whose shorter limbs and height allow them to master their acrobatic tricks and tumbling. (A caveat to this is rhythmic gymnasts who are taller and have longer limbs in general – see next point)
- Your child has the flexibility of a contortionist. In this case regardless of height gymnastics will help them develop muscles to control their flexibility (as would ballet lessons). This type of ultra flexibility though is also useful in Rhythmic gymnastics a different style of traditional gymnastics that is performed to music in groups or with props. Most rhythmic gymnasts also do dance or ballet lessons to develop their musicality and dance skills within their performance.
Different gymnastics styles
Although we wrote above that a plus for dance was its varied styles available to try, it has to be said that there are also several different streams of gymnastics that your child might enjoy and can try for variety. All of the following are considered sports in which you can compete.
Artistic gymnastics is the type of gymnastics you are probably most familiar with and watch on your tv during the Olympics. Within artistic gymnastics, there are several different apparatus and events to compete in. Women and girls train in floor, beam, vault and the uneven bars and Men train in still rings, floor exercise, vault, parallel bars, pommel horse, and the high bar. An artistic gymnast will generally train for all apparatus and events but may specialize in one if they show greater skill in that area.
Rhythmic gymnastics is a mix of dance and acrobatic tricks using a prop or apparatus that requires the gymnast to be extremely flexible and skilled. The main specializations in rhythmic gymnastics are rope, ball, hoop, ribbon, and clubs. A difference between artistic gymnastics and rhythmic gymnastics is that you always compete as an individual in artistic gymnastics, whereas in rhythmic gymnastics you can perform also as part of a team.
Aerobic gymnastics is a combination of gymnastics and aerobic dance. An aerobic gymnast can perform and compete individually or as part of a team. Aerobic gymnastics is usually performed on a stage and in sneakers rather than barefoot like the other styles.
What are the benefits and disadvantages of dance and gymnastics?
Both dance and gymnastics will help your child with social skills and learning to follow instructions from their teachers because if they don’t, they can hurt themselves or not be chosen for a special part in a dance, and they’ll learn that quickly. But what are benefits or disadvantages of each?
Which builds better muscles gymnastics or dance?
The muscles required for dance and gymnastics are different because dance and gymnastics are different. If your child is committed and disciplined in learning either one they will develop great muscle tone needed to support their body in their activity of choice which is why although easier than for someone who has done neither activity it can still take a dancer or gymnast some time to transition into the other activity if they choose to do so.
A gymnast must be able to use their arms effectively for tumbling and to be able to perform on all their apparatus such as the parallel bars, uneven bars, vault, and the pommel horse. While dancers generally do not need to support their bodies with their arms and therefore do not need as much upper body strength as a gymnast.
Hip muscles are important for both dance and gymnastics since there is a lot of turning and rotating through the body. If you’re not flexible, then you will not be able to successfully do either gymnastics or dance, and stretching of the pelvis allows for flexibility. Dancers, especially in ballet, are required to dance in turned out positions and even if they are a jazz or tap dancer, building muscles and flexibility to increase turn out can help create more aesthetically pleasing movements in general. Gymnasts, on the other hand, stand in parallel and are not generally required to use turn out to the same extent as a dancer and therefore do not need to develop their control over their leg muscles in the same way.
Back flexibility and strength is extremely important in gymnastics as well as ballet and many other styles of dance. But equally important is building the strength of the opposing muscles to prevent injury. The way core muscles are built and developed differs between dance and gymnastics. A dancers core is strengthened every class as there is a big focus on their posture and stance. Students are constantly reminded to engage their core by their teachers in the form of pulling their tummies in, tucking their bottoms under and turning their legs out from their hips and holding these positions for long periods of time which trains and strengthens the muscles. A gymnasts training of their core muscles can be somewhat more dynamic in the form of shorter bursts such as pulling oneself up on a bar or by balancing in certain positions such as a handstand or on the beam. Both activities also relie on the dancers doing more aerobic or gym style training to increase their core strength such as sit ups and planks which help increase core strength in all people.
A typical gymnast will favor one side of their body over the other. If you notice on the floor routine, a gymnast will lead with one foot and land better on the other. Any dancer will tell you they are more comfortable leaping or leading with one side of their body over the other, but a dancer must be able to use both feet effortlessly because they must be able to switch between the two sides to fit a group choreographed routine. A dancer doesn’t have the privilege of allowing themselves to be so much better on one side than the other when the choreography requires them to be good on both.
Both dancers and gymnasts need to develop strong and flexible muscles within their bodies but generally, they are used in different ways. Dance is about balance, beauty, and grace. Whereas gymnastics needs strength and power.
The toll of gymnastics and dance on the body and mind
One thing to notice about a gymnast is their body shape. Their body is very muscular because of the strength it takes to catapult themselves in the air, lift themselves off the ground and to swing on the bars. On the other hand, a female ballet dancer, in particular, has a body shape that most would call long and lithe because they must be able to be lifted effortlessly.
Due to this need to be slim and perfect, some dancers suffer from body image issues and eating disorders. Society has taught them that if they are not the right shape or size, then they cannot be a dancer whether it be a prima ballerina or a backup dancer in the latest music video clip. Gymnasts also suffer from body image issues and most have to keep up strict diet regimens and exercise to stay in top shape.
One thing that gymnasts are told when first starting out is that the likelihood of them getting injured is 100%. It is a dangerous sport that is not for the faint of heart. The constant practice that is required of them; the risks they take with their bodies (imagine running towards a vault as fast as you can then flinging yourself over it!) and the hours spent in the gym eventually takes a toll on the body that some can never recover from. You must be extremely dedicated if you want to compete at a professional level.
Dancing requires hours and hours of practice and injury is something that can also easily happen. I myself tore both my adductor hamstrings at separate times and had to stop training for a minimum of 6 weeks each time, after which I still had to ease myself back into training and lessons. Leaping and landing wrongly, exerting the body without a proper warm-up or repetitive practice of the same set of steps or movement can all cause injury. In ballet, the effort to stand up on your tiptoes for hours at a time can strain your legs, ankles, and especially the toes. Therefore, training and practicing are important because the more the body is used to the exercise, has muscle memory and strength and flexibility the less likelihood there is of serious injury.
There are risks associated with both dance and gymnastics, whether they are mental or physical. So as a parent, you have to understand that it is not all fun and games and you have to be able to support your child no matter what happens, because if parents let fear control their decisions then children would remain in a plastic bubble forever.
Neither activity is cheap. They both require parents to not only invest in the class, but in the equipment that is necessary, and the competition and exam fees can be extensive. If you’re deciding based on how much you need to spend on the activity, then it really depends on what you hope to gain for your kid from these experiences.
Dance requires more equipment, which means attire, shoes, costumes, hair accessories and more. Each dance style will have different requirements and unless your child studies ballet only (which many don’t) you are going to need to buy a fair few items which will all vary in price.
Dance lessons also come with a whole heap of hidden costs on top of the lessons. At the beginning on top of the lesson and clothing/shoe fees, there will be a recital fee and costumes to pay for. As your child progresses they might begin exams for which extra classes and entrance fees need to be paid. They also might start competing and if done locally might be quite feasible at the beginning with only extra lessons, costumes, and competition entry fees as your main expenses. It is when your child starts dancing in more than one routine or doing solo competitions or competing around your state or interstate that the amount of money you are spending on their hobby could have possibly bought you a new car!
By this stage you must be thinking, gymnastics looks like the cheaper option my kid just needs a leotard and we are sweet! And although it can be the cheaper option there are many costs involved in gymnastics as well.
Most gymnastic clubs have their own uniform or gym leotard which your child might be required to wear and as they progress your child might need specialized equipment such as wrist grips or ankle guards.
Competitions for gymnastics can also become quite expensive. Entry fees and extra training, as well as the cost of travel to other gyms, and competition-specific uniforms and leotards are added expenses you might not have thought of.
One major difference, in general, can be the price of an average gymnastics training session or term compared to that of dance lessons. Seeing as gymnastics is a sport with a high injury rate, there are normally insurances that need to be paid to participate. Gyms also need a lot of specialized equipment which is not cheap and therefore the price of your lessons not only includes the expertise of the teacher but also the hire of the space and equipment your child is training on. Choosing a good teacher will also generally mean an increase in the price you pay and as the sport can be dangerous clubs you are also paying for the need of a higher ratio of trainers to students than is needed at a dance school to ensure the safety of all students.
At the end of the day, gymnastics can work out to be the cheaper of the two, but this is not always true, as it depends on the studio or school and what extras you allow your child to do and that will depend on what’s best for your family financially.
Putting kids into any extra-curricular activity or sport is not cheap.
Not convinced – Why not try both?
If you are still finding it really hard to choose which one you feel will be the better option for your child, then trying out both simultaneously may be the best option.
In fact, I kind of really wished my mum had done this for me when I was little or at least allowed me to do gymnastics when I was a bit older and able to take on more than one activity emotionally and physically. The main reasons being dance and gymnastics really complement each other. Today a dancer who has the upper body strength to do tumbling or tricks can have the edge over winning a competition or getting a job over another as they are more versatile. A gymnast who is taking dance lessons will develop more musicality and add more entertainment value to their routines. A gymnast taking dance lessons will also be able to keep up with their dance training long after their body is no longer able to keep up with the demands of gymnastics.
So if you have the money to spare, then it can be worth exploring both options with your child when they are younger. Then when they are older, they can easily choose which one they want to concentrate solely on or continue with both.
Some other reasons for allowing your child to do both activities can be:
- So many children nowadays rely heavily on electronics and are only interested in sitting at home and staring at a screen. By putting your child into more than one activity, it will eat up more of their idle free time, so that they won’t have those spare moments to sit down in front of a television or be on an iPad for hours and hours.
- Physically activity will keep them healthy. Childhood obesity is a real thing, and a lot of that can be attributed to the fact that children aren’t as physically active as they used to be. Everything is so easily accessible to them that they don’t have to leave the house if they don’t want to. Or parental fear can get the better of us and we just don’t let our children get out as much as we might have been allowed to as children.
- The decision between the two might just be too hard for you, especially when your child is young. You might have doubt in the back of your mind that if you choose one, then you will regret not choosing the other.
Which one will you choose?
At the end of the day, as parents, we know our kids better than anyone sometimes even better than they know themselves. You want to do what you feel like is best for them and give them a chance to thrive in the best activity suited to them.
Dance and gymnastics both come with their positive and negative aspects, which is why it’s important to research them both. You don’t want to invest in one and be blindsided and wish you would have chosen the other, especially when dealing with your child’s life.
Whatever decision you make always know you don’t have to stick with it! But in the end, know that you made the best decision you could.