What is the best age to start dancing? – Real Answers for Parents!

Find out the best age to start dance lessons! #dance #ballet #dancelessons #parenting #kids

With the proliferation of dance on tv through shows such as World of Dance, Dancing with the Stars and So You Think You Can Dance many people are interested in knowing just what age is best to start dancing especially if they feel they have missed the boat or want their child to have the best chance of succeeding.

There is no best age to start dancing. From our research, the most conducive age to begin serious training is around ages 7-9. Prior to this children should be acquiring movement and co-ordination skills in age-appropriate activities that might include dance. So if you or your child wants to start dance lessons, there is no better time to start then today!

In a perfect non competitive world the best age to start dance lessons would be around the ages of 7 to 9. This is because at this age most children are able to internalise their learning and apply it to their dancing. They are also more likely able to distinguish what they are internally motivated and passionate to do because they have made the decision to pursue this hobby instead of arbitraily being enrolled in dance lessons at the age of three because their body was extra flexible or they loved dancing around the living room to music.

This is not to say children who start before the age of 7 will not benefit from dance lessons. Dance classes are a great activity for toddlers and preschoolers as it provides an opportunity for children to work on their coordination, fitness, and musicality in a fun and creative way!

When can you Start Dance Lessons?

Your child can start dance lessons from as early as the dance school or program you choose offers them. Some schools offer mummy and me dance classes for children from the age of 18 months to three. Most schools offer dance classes for children from the age of 3 where the parent is asked to sit outside the classroom. From this age most dance teachers agree children have better attention spans, are generally toilet trained and are able to spend time away from their primary carers all signs they are capable of joining in a dance class. A good class for a toddler or preschooler should foster their love of dance rather than be a technically challenging class which many young children would struggle with, lose interest in and quit.

What is The Minimum Age for Learning Dance?

Again there is no minimum age for learning dance, in fact, a Harvard working document ‘The Timing and Quality of Early Experiences Combine to Shape Brain Architecture’ explains that ‘ Early environments and experiences have an exceptionally strong influence on brain architecture.’ Therefore one might agree that the earlier a child was exposed to dance the better.

But being exposed and having fun in dance or movement classes is not exactly the same as seriously studying and taking technically challenging lessons.

What is The Ideal Age to Start Ballet?

The age most conducive to seriously begin learning and studying dance especially ballet is from around the ages of 7-9 depending on the maturity of the child.

Many schools offer formal ballet training for children from around the age of 6, for example, the associate’s program at Canada’s National Ballet School is open for children ages 6-17. David Kind on the blog ‘A Ballet Education’ rants that children should ‘start ballet at age 7 or 8 when they can actually sit and focus on turn out, and begin to comprehend how you have to use your facility (for) ballet.’ Education.com state that ‘ It’s not until the age of 8 or 9 that young dancers reach the maturity to undertake the disciplined rituals of regular ballet practice.’ And finally The Kansas City Ballet writes that ballet ‘training ideally begins when a student is between the ages of 7 and 10.’

The following two prestigious ballet schools like most others of this level will generally accept students with little ballet experience older than 9. The main reason being they are looking for the creme of the crop and one of the truths of ballet is that some people are built and have more natural facility and talent for the art which can be drawn out by intense training and good teachers. To become a professional dancer there seems to be a certain window for examples between the ages of 11-15 that the amount and type of training can determine whether a dancer has real potential to make it as a professional.

The American Ballet Theatre school of which provides the New York City Ballet with 90% of its dancers do not require students between the ages for 6-10 to have any previous ballet experience when auditioning for them. They do require students between the ages of 11-18 who are auditioning to have previous ballet experience. They write that on their Audition Faq page that ‘ Eleven to twelve year olds should have completed a minimum of 2 years of training (including beginning pointe for girls.)’ which means at a minimum they want children to have started ballet lessons by the age age of 9.

Englands Royal Ballet School begin serious training of those whom they believe to have potential at the age of 11. Previous to this students will have been taking 1-2 ballet lessons per week. Out of thousands of applicants they only accept around 25 and a big part of the their decision is not skill, Kristin Lewis is a dancer and writer in NYC wrote for Dance Magazine in 2010 that the Royal Ballet School “look mainly for musicality, coordination, flexibility, hyper-mobility, an aesthetic to their lines—and that spark that you can’t teach them,” says assistant director Jay Jolley. “But a child at that age can still change drastically in 12 months.”

Is it too late for my child to start dancing?

It is true that many children have been dancing since the age of 2 or 3 and therefore will have skills that a child starting at the ages of 7-9 will not. We see dance groups on tv like the crazy 8’s or the kids on Dance Mom and we get worried our children are going to miss the bus if they don’t start early. In fact, Conscious Parenting expert Dr Shefali Tsabary spoke to Oprah during a Super Soul Session about her experience of enrolling her 8-year old into dance lessons and how she was initially upset that her daughter would have to dance with children several years younger as a beginner and felt at first as if she had let her child down, before realising this was just succumbing to societal competitiveness and comparisions.

The question should be asked how many kids begin dance from the age of 2 or 3 and are at burnout by the age of 15? How many of those children go onto develop fruitfull careers in dance or hit their peak early, lose motivation and interest and follow a different career path. Just because a child is ultra flexible and trains like mad and is extremely enthusiastic about dancing at the age of 7 does not mean that they will want to continue with dance at the age of 15.

Is It Better To Start Dance or Ballet Earlier Or Later For A Professional Career?

Although the ages of 7-9 foster good results for beginning dance many people in professional careers began before and after this number and the following are just a few examples of both.

Danceparent101.com Best age to start dancing - Svetlana Zakharova started folk dance age 6 before being accepted into the   Kyiv Choreography School  at 10.
Svetlana Zakharova started folk dance age 6 before being accepted into the  Kyiv Choreography School at 10.
Danceparent101.com Best age to start dancing - David Zurak member of the Martha Graham Dance Company began dance classes age 23.
David Zurak member of the Martha Graham Dance Company began dance classes age 23.
Danceparent101.com Best age to start dancing - Alice Klock began dance lessons at age 11 and is currently a member of  Hubbard Street Dance Chicago
Alice Klock began dance lessons at age 11 and is currently a member of Hubbard Street Dance Chicago
Danceparent101.com Best age to start dancing - Misty Copeland is a principal with the ABT and began ballet training at the age of 13.
Misty Copeland is a principal with the ABT and began ballet training at the age of 13.
Danceparent101.com Best age to start dancing - Janette Manara from Dancing With The Stars began serious training at age 19, and did musical theatre lessons prior to this that included dance.
Janette Manara from Dancing With The Stars began serious training at age 19, and did musical theatre lessons prior to this that included dance.
Danceparent101.com Best age to start dancing -  Phillip Chbeeb started dancing age 16.
Phillip Chbeeb started dancing age 16.
Danceparent101.com Best age to start dancing - Holly Farmer winner of a Bessie award for her work with the  Merce Cunningham Dance Company began ballet at 16.
Holly Farmer winner of a Bessie award for her work with the Merce Cunningham Dance Company began ballet at 16.
Danceparent101.com Best age to start dancing - Tap Dancer Micheal Wood began dancing age 18.
Tap Dancer Micheal Wood began dancing age 18.
Danceparent101.com Best age to start dancing - Maddie Ziegler of Dance Moms fame began dancing at the age of 2.
Maddie Ziegler of Dance Moms fame began dancing at the age of 2.
Danceparent101.com Best age to start dancing - Jennifer Lopez began dance classes age 5.
Jennifer Lopez began dance classes age 5.
The best age to start dancing – What dance teachers, parenting experts and the web says!
SourceBest Age to Start Dance lessonsNotes
Dance Academy USA3They reason children by the age of three are usually toilet trained and more confident in being seperated from their primary caregiver.
DoDance3Megan McMahon uses Harvard research which explains that the early experiences shape our brain and therefore the early exposure provides better building blocks.
Child Mags13-14Between 6-10yrs children should be doing ag modified versions of their sport and around age 13-14 it is time to specialise.
Every Day Health5By 5 children are able to follow instructions and learn dance properly, before this lessons are just for fun.
Pure Energy Dance Productions3They reason children are toilet trained, have less seperation anxiety and are used to group settings from day care or similar experiences.
Baby Center2-3This article written by a pediatrician says dance classes are a great way for toddlers to burn off steam and become comfortable in social settings.
liveabout8-12Treva Bedinghaus writes that formal ballet training should not begin until around the age of 8 or later as children’s bones are too soft for the physical demands of ballet.
Tiffany’s Dance Academy2Tiffany Henderson offers 2-3 year old twinkle babies dance classes which she hopes will inspire young dancers to use their creativity and have fun.
Central Pensylvania Youth Ballet6Around the age of 5-6 children enter a world of sensory awareness and cognition.
Dance Depot8Children don’t really start practising ballet in particular properly until the age of 8, before this they are usually learning musicality rather than technique.
Near Say8By the age of 8 most children have the strength and ability to begin ballet classes
Dance Louisville3Maturity and attention span are important before beginning dance lessons.
Abby Lee Dance Company2At age 2 children have the motor skills to be able to participate in dance classes.
What are the benefits of beginning dance training early?

The following tables are taken from our article How many years of dance or ballet does it take to be a professional? They are based on the 10,000 hour mastery rule developed by Dr. K. Anders Ericsson of Florida State University who theorizes that it takes 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to master almost anything.

If we literally used the 10,000 hour mastery rule, and divided it evenly up into 9 years (the average amount of time it takes dancers to turn professional) a dancer at the age of 9 would have to be dancing around 21 hours a week to turn pro nine years later at the age of 18 which would take an insane amount of commitment, possibly leading to early burn out or serious injuries, halting any hope of forming a career out of what once might have just been a fun hobby.

Fortunately what generally occurs is that a dancers hours of training increase gradually as they mature, which is why dance companies take on dancers as apprentices first around the age of 18 and why all dancers in all industries practice and train daily to continually master their art. Our tables reflect this ideology.

These table calculate the hours annually based on a school year or dancing for around ten months (Hours x 42 weeks) The amount of hours are not exactly how many hours your child should or might be dancing per week and don’t include extra training such as school holiday intensives or camps. For a more complete guide on how many lessons your child might take refer to our post how many dance or ballet classes – An Age and Class guide.

The first table shows us the rule in action with a dancer starting age 9, around the age we have specified in our answer to the question of this post ‘What Is The Best Age To Start Dancing?’

Age Weekly hours Hours Annually Accrued Hours
94168168
107294462
1110420882
12156301512
13208402352
14208403192
15208404032
162510505082
172510506132
183012607392
193012608652
203012609912
2130126011172

The second table begins with a dancer starting at age 4. The weekly hours danced are the same from the age of 12 in both tables and we came up with these hours based on our post ‘How Many Dance or Ballet Classes? (Age & Class Guide)’

Age Weekly hours Hours Annually Accrued Hours
428484
5284168
6284252
7284336
8284420
94168588
107294882
11104201302
12156301932
13208402772
14208403612
15208404452
162510505502
172510506552
183012607812
193012609072
2030126010332

And because we love tables SOOOOOOOO much the following is a table comparing the total hours for easy comparison!

AgeWeekly hours Accrued Hours start age 4 Accrued Hours start age 9
4284
52168
62252
72336
82420
94588168
107882462
11101302882
121519321512
132027722352
142036123192
152044524032
162555025082
172565526132
183078127392
193090728652
2030103329912
21301159211172

The difference is that if one student began dancing at the age of 4 they would have around 420 more practice hours under their belt than someone starting at the age of 9 who continued to do the same amount of lessons.

By the age of 20 the dancer who began at 4 would have surpassed the 10,000 hour mastery rule. What is interesting to see is that the dancer who started age 9 (although still 420hours behind in total training) is only 88 hours off of this target.

What Age Is Too Late To Start Ballet?

There is no age that is too late to start ballet. Sooner is better than later, today better than tomorrow! It must be said though that learning anything at an older age whether it be to play an instrument, learn a language or any new skill is always more difficult because our brains have already developed and set many neural pathways and our muscle memory needs to be reprogrammed and therefore one’s motivation and discipline needs to be extremely high to reach the levels needed to master any new skill.

Just as it would take anyone years of hard work to get a black belt in karate, it takes years of training and hard work to master the skills of a dancer.

About the Author

Samantha Bellerose

Samantha is a wife and mother of four kids aged 1-9. She danced and acted from the age of 5 and performed in film clips, on television, and in musical theatre professionally. She also taught dance, but after leaving the profession to backpack through Europe, Canada and the USA with her husband for three years, she then completed an Education Degree and taught within primary schools in Australia. Today she is a business owner with her husband and the creator and writer for Dance Parent 101 where she hopes her previous experience as a dancer, current experience as a dance parent and the research and writing skills she gained completing her education degree will help enlighten parents on their journey with their child through the world of dance.