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How To Help Your Child Improve in Musical Theatre Dance

By Lesley Mealor / Edited by Samantha Bellerose, B.Ed, Dip.Dance (Performing Arts)

In order to be a well-rounded musical theatre dancer, you really have to have a wide variety of training in all aspects of musical theatre – dance, vocals, and acting. While not all young dancers want to be professionals, even dancers who participate in musical theatre classes for fun can benefit from learning the different facets of the art form. 

If you want to help your child improve in musical theatre dance, you can watch musicals as a family, encourage your child to learn different dance styles, provide acting and vocal lessons to supplement their training, and practice musical theatre games at home.

Musical theatre dance encompasses the best of all dance styles, from the pulsing street dance rhythms of “My Shot” from “Hamilton”, to the effortless waltzes in “Cinderella”, to the heel clicks of chimney sweeps in “Steppin’ Time” from “Mary Poppins”. And in all of these examples, the dancers are doing more than just great dancing. If your child has ever dreamed of starring in a musical, these tips will help them get closer to that dream!

Watch Musicals Together

Watching musicals helps to inform young dancers about the world of the shows they’re working on.

Because class time is usually spent on learning steps and choreography, it can be helpful for students to take it upon themselves to do some “homework” by watching the musical that their dance routine is from. Worried about where to find musicals? Don’t worry – we’ve got you covered!

Where To Find Musicals

Luckily in the world we live in today, access to musical theatre is everywhere! From the early days of movie musicals to current Broadway hits, there are so many options in the musical theatre canon that you are sure to find something, somewhere, to please everyone! 

Streaming Platforms for Musicals

One of the most obvious choices for access to movie musicals or filmed versions of staged musicals are streaming platforms. Amazon Prime has a surprising amount of free classic musicals, including “A Chorus Line”, “Funny Girl”, “Guys and Dolls”, “Damn Yankees” and “The Pajama Game”, just to name a few.

If you’re willing to pay for a newer musical, Amazon Prime also has rentals available for more current hits like “Dear Evan Hansen”, “In the Heights”, and “The Last Five Years”, as well as popular classics “The Music Man”, “West Side Story”, “Singin’ In the Rain”, and “Oklahoma!”

Netflix subscribers can find “Tick Tick Boom”, “Prom”, “Shrek The Musical”, “Hairspray”, and “Annie”, among others. 

Disney+ boasts “Hamilton”, “Newsies”, “Mary Poppins”, and “Oklahoma!”, as well as all the “High School Musical” iterations. 

TV Stations for Musicals

In the US, you can always rely on TCM (the Turner Classic Movie station) for your vintage musicals fix.

PBS also often shows filmed versions of stage shows from around the world, including operas, plays and behind the scenes documentaries.

Additionally, if you are in the US, NBC has produced live versions of musicals for many years, so keep an eye out in your local listings for the next one!

Online Platforms

There are now several places online that specialize in streaming musicals, for a fee.

Broadway HD is a dedicated musical theatre platform that offers a 7 day free trial, as well as monthly and annual memberships. Show availability varies by region, but for the musical theatre lover, it might be a good investment.

Filmed On Stage is another option that includes both Broadway and West End productions. Although Filmed On Stage is more of an aggregate database, and will send you to other platforms to watch, it has a pretty comprehensive list of shows available. 

If all else fails, Youtube has a plethora of clips of live shows, and even sometimes entire shows!

As much as it’s frowned upon to even record in most theatres, sometimes it’s the only way for people to see or hear new musicals. If there is a musical you can’t find anywhere else, try Youtube (but don’t say you heard it from me!)

Local and Touring Productions

We can’t forget the importance of live theatre to your child’s (and your) musical theatre education! Your local community theatres and schools produce a variety of musicals throughout the year, so be on the lookout for their advertisements in your town. Not only are you helping your child become familiar with more musicals, you are also supporting local artists!

If you are lucky enough to live in a town with professional theatre companies, definitely take advantage of their discounted season ticket prices. Additionally, regional and national tours come through towns large and small, so check your local papers and community websites for tour dates.

The photo we used above is of Samantha our website owner who took her children to see a local production of Singing in the Rain! 

Encourage Learning Other Dance Styles

Musical theatre dance is unique because it is not just one thing – any and every style of dance can be “theatrical-ized” if you put it into a musical! For that reason, it’s important for young theatre dance students to learn other styles of dance.

Chances are, your dancer might already take ballet, tap, or jazz classes, and have added musical theatre dance or Broadway dance to their schedule for an additional class! But if your child came to musical theatre dance by way of being interested in theatre or singing first, they may not have any other dance experience.

What Other Styles of Dance Should My Child Learn?

The top dance styles that feed into theatre dance are jazz and tap. Jazz can be seen in many musicals from the early days of musical theatre to present day shows.

Tap has a long history of partnership with musicals, and while it may seem like shows including tap are few and far between, the ability to do at least basic tap steps will come in handy in the theatre dance world.

For more about these dance styles, check out our articles on What To Expect From Your Child’s First Tap Class and What To Expect From Your Child’s First Jazz Class!

Where Can I Find Beginner Level Dance Classes?

Young Girl in a Dance Studio - How To Help Your Child Improve in Musical Theatre Dance

If your child is taking theatre dance at a dance studio, there are likely beginner level tap and jazz classes available for your child’s age group.

However, if your dancer is starting theatre dance in middle school or beyond and is interested in learning other styles of dance, you may need to place her in a lower age group class if there are no beginner level classes for her age.

If you are at a theatre-based program, check with local dance studios for their schedule of beginner tap and jazz classes. There may also be other dance styles available in your current program!

In addition, there are so many online resources available for free that teach beginner level dance steps. One of my favorites is Dance With Miss Auti.

This channel provides beginner through advanced videos of all kinds of dance styles. Of course, there is no substitute for in person training, but videos are a great supplement or way to dip your toes into a new style!

Provide Acting and Vocal Lessons

In order for your child to be competitive even at the hobby-ist level of musical theatre, you will want to offer them the opportunity to learn how to sing and act.

Since musicals consist of dancing, singing, and acting, only having one “trick” up their sleeve won’t be enough if they want to participate in school shows or community theatre productions. 

How Do Acting Lessons Help in Theatre Dance?

Half of the battle in Broadway-style dancing is storytelling. If your child is on the shy side, they may struggle with putting on what I call their “performance face”.

Acting lessons provide the opportunity to explore different ways of characterizing movement, allow for improvisation and play, and can provide outside the box ideas for dance students to think about their performance in dance.

Some of the best musical theatre dancers out there aren’t really even the best technicians – they are the best actors.

Next time you watch a musical, watch the members of the ensemble or the chorus. You will notice that even though they are often not doing hard steps, they are always acting.

Where To Find Acting Lessons

Your local community theatre may offer acting lessons. Also, if your town has a college or university, there may be opportunities to partner with the theatre program there.

Finally, check in with your child’s school to see if they have an afterschool program with acting classes.

How Do Vocal Lessons Help in Theatre Dance?

Young Teen singing in a musical theatre class - How To Help Your Child Improve in Musical Theatre Dance

In the dance studio world, most often you will see musical theatre dancers lip sync rather than sing along with the song. But, when you attend a musical production, everyone is singing!

That is the one big difference between theatre dance in the dance studio setting and theatre dance in a theatre setting. So, if your dancer is itching to dive into actual musical productions in addition to just a musical theatre dance routine, a voice lesson or two will be very helpful!

Learning to sing in a dedicated lesson, whether private or in a group, will give your child the basics of pitch, tone, breath support, music theory and song memorization.

Even if the majority of your child’s theatre dancing includes lip syncing, learning how to accurately enunciate words and breathe properly in voice lessons will help them become better performers.

Where To Find Vocal Lessons

The school your child attends may have a music program already. If so, reach out to the director to see if they offer private lessons.

Another idea is to research local community choirs or church choirs. Many times the music directors also teach voice lessons. 

Practice Musical Theatre Games At Home

One of the coolest things about theatre dance is that so many of the techniques used within the dancing aren’t based in dance at all.

Theatre games that are used in drama classes and improv classes can easily be amended to apply to dance with just a few tweaks.

Musical Theatre Games For Body and Spatial Awareness

Dancers in the musical theatre world need to understand where their body is in relation to the other dancers, the stage, and the set pieces.

In many musical theatre dance routines, dancers will use props to enhance the story, and these games help improve students’ spatial awareness. For fun and educational games for body and spatial awareness, visit our article here!

Musical Theatre Games For Improving Performance Skills

The best theatre dancers are ones who have excellent performance skills, and that includes facial expressions, stage presence, and personality on stage.

For some dancers, this comes naturally but for many, they are skills that take practice. Luckily, this kind of practice can be done in the form of games that are as fun as they are helpful.

Find out more in our article “The Best Musical Theatre Dance Exercises To Do At Home”.

With a little extra work at home, you can help your child improve in theatre dance! And because so much of the “work” isn’t even work at all, it will simply feel like a fun afternoon watching a musical, playing a game, or singing a song. Happy dancing!