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What To Expect From Your Child’s First Classical Ballet Classes

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

If your child is one who has visions of sugar plums dancing in their heads, it might be time to look into ballet classes!

Classical Ballet classes are a great starting point for any young child who loves to dance around the house, and comes with some added benefits that go beyond learning ballet steps.

If you’ve never taken ballet yourself, you may wonder what goes on in a beginner children’s ballet class.

Typically, a beginner ballet class for young children will last between 30 minutes to an hour, depending on age. Dancers will learn a combination of creative movement skills, fine and gross motor skills, and classical ballet steps. 

Ballet classes can be a wonderful jumping off point for boys and girls who show interest in music, using their imagination, and moving their bodies in creative ways!

With so many kinds of dance offered at studios and schools, it can be confusing to choose which style to enroll your child in.

Here, you will gain some useful information about why to choose ballet over another style!

Why Choose Ballet Dance?

Ballet is one of the oldest codified dance forms in the world, meaning there is a syllabus of steps that can be taught, in order, that build upon each other.

This is one reason that ballet is often the first style of dance that young children are taught, because it has a very clear structure that children can follow.

Ballet for children also lends itself to a lot of creativity within that syllabus of steps, which is helpful for teaching little ones.

In a children’s ballet class, you can expect plenty of imaginary play that goes along with learning real classical ballet steps, which will be covered more in depth a little later in this article.

Finally, taking ballet as a child also provides opportunities to develop good balance, coordination, musicality, grace, and patience, among other qualities!

Read more in our article How an Early Introduction to Ballet Lessons Benefit Children

How Old Does My Child Have To Be To Start Taking Ballet Dance?

In many places in the world, children as young as 2.5 can start taking a very basic form of ballet class, which is often marketed as “Creative Movement With Ballet”, or a similar title.

In a class like this, children will learn some very simple ballet positions and steps, but the focus will be on creative movement and gross motor skills like skipping, galloping, and weight shifting.

Between the ages of 3 and 6, many studios will offer a “combo class”, or a combination of two to three styles of dance, which can include ballet, tap, jazz, or hip hop. These types of classes will usually include 30 minutes of each style so the children don’t lose focus.

True ballet classes will start for children around 7 years of age. These classes will still utilize some creative movement ideas, but the focus will be on the correct technique and terminology for ballet steps.

Read more in our article What is the best age to start dancing? Real answers for parents! 

How is Ballet Class Different From Jazz Class?

The main difference between ballet class and jazz class is that for dancers age 7 and up, ballet class usually starts at the barre.

Dancers in ballet use the barre for balance, and typically spend the first third of class time practicing exercises at the barre. For the youngest of ballet dancers, most of the time the barre isn’t used.

Toddler ballet classes are similar to toddler jazz classes in that they spend most of the class in the center of the floor, either practicing in straight lines facing the mirror, or facing into a circle.

Ballet classes typically include more soft, graceful and flowy movements, while jazz classes include more sharp, fast, and angular movements. 

In ballet classes, you will hear mostly classical piano music, while in jazz classes, a much wider variety of music will be played.

There are tons of fun classical versions of children’s songs that have been adapted into ballet music as well, which can add to the enjoyment of ballet class!

If you aren’t familiar with jazz dance, you might be interested in this article detailing what to expect from a jazz class!

While there are similarities to ballet, the two are quite different, and knowing the differences will help you choose the best class for your child!

How is A Classical Ballet Class Structured?

Ballet Class Structure For Toddler Dancers

For a toddler ballet class, the 30-45 minutes will be broken up into a few sections to keep everyone interested! Often, dancers will start in the center, facing each other in a circle for a welcome song, stretch, and some stationary steps like port de bras (arms), pliés, and tendus.

Then, dancers might move across the floor for more gross motor skills like chassés (gallops), skips, and ballet walks. 

Finally, there will likely be a creative movement section in the center where dancers are encouraged to free dance, mimic animals or moving objects, or use scarves, wands, or other fun props.

Ballet Class Structure for Older Dancers

For older dancers, there will be a more rigid structure to a ballet class. Ideally, a ballet class for a 7 year old is at least 45 minutes long. As dancers advance in level and age, ballet classes extend to an hour and a half in duration. 

Most ballet classes begin at the barre, move to the center for adage, pirouettes, and petit allegro, then across the floor for grand allegro, and finally, the reverence. 

1. Barre

At the barre, dancers complete exercises on both sides, like pliés and tendus. All ballet classes around the world follow nearly the same format at the barre, beginning with pliés and ending with battements, or big kicks.

2. Adage

The adage section takes place in the center, and refers to slower, large movements including developpés, promenades, and arabesques. The adage is meant to help dancers work on their balance and control without the barre.

3. Pirouettes

Many times, dancers will work on pirouettes in the center as well as across the floor. Pirouettes are performed in the middle of ballet class, after the entire body is warmed up.

4. Petit Allegro

Petit Allegro refers to small, quick movements of the feet. In the petit allegro section of class, dancers practice their small jumps such as sautés and changements to help develop stamina and quick feet.

5. Grand Allegro

Grand Allegro means big and quick, and includes the exciting leaps and jumps that most dancers love! Dancers will go across the floor with steps like grand jetés and tour jetés. 

5. Reverence

In traditional ballet classes, the reverence is conducted at the end of each class as a way to honor the traditions of ballet, the teacher, and the students. Reverence is often made up on the spot by the teacher and also serves as a cool down, including slow and simple port de bras and curtsies.

What Steps Should My Child Be Learning in a Beginner Ballet Class?

In a children’s ballet class, there will be a wide variety of steps that are taught depending on age, region, and style of ballet being taught. The steps listed here are ones that are most often thought of as beginner ballet steps, but keep in mind this is not an exhaustive list!

A reputable dance studio will teach the proper French terminology for ballet steps alongside any fun, creative names for the steps that they’ve come up with to help dancers remember. If you have a chance to watch one of your child’s ballet classes, see if you can pick these out!

  • First Position
  • Second Position
  • Demi Plié
  • Tendu
  • Passé
  • Chassé
  • Skips
  • Sauté
  • Echappé

First Position

First position is the most basic position of the feet in ballet, and involves the heels being placed together and the toes turned out, forming a small “V” with the feet.

As dancers get more advanced, the focus becomes on rotating the legs from the hips to achieve maximum turnout of the legs of each individual dancer. 

Second Position

In second position, the legs are separated but still turned out from the hips, with heels turned in and toes turned out. 

Demi Plié

Plié means “to bend”, and a demi plié means “a half bend”, or “small bend”. Demi plié can be done in any position (for beginners, it is mostly done in first and second position). The feet stay flat on the floor while the knees bend slightly, then squeeze back up straight. 

Tendu

Tendu means “to stretch”, and refers to stretching or pointing the feet. Tendus can be done to the front, side, or back of the body (for beginners, tendus are mostly done to the front and the side).

Passé or Retiré

Both passé and retiré are used to describe the placement of the foot at the inside of the standing knee, creating a triangle shape with the leg. Technically, the term “retiré” refers to the actual position, while “passé” refers to the movement, but many studios use the terms interchangeably. 

Chassé

Meaning “to chase”, you may recognize a chassé as a fancy gallop. Chassés can be done to the front, side, or back, and are a traveling step.

Skips

A gross motor skill that some children instinctively grasp even without training, skips are important in ballet and can be refined in class with pointed feet and high knees.

Sauté

A sauté is a small jump, usually performed from first or second position for beginner dancers. Sautés begin and end in plié.

Échappé

An échappé is a small jump that involves jumping out from first position into second position, and back into first position. The term “échappé” means “to escape”, and that’s the spirit in which the jump happens!

What Shoes Should My Child Wear to Ballet Class?

Children should wear well-fitting, well-made ballet shoes to ballet class. A quality ballet shoe is made of leather, vegan leather, or canvas, with an elastic strap across the foot and a drawstring to tighten the width. Ballet shoes should be snug, with little room to grow, as the shoes stretch with wear. Ballet shoes can be pink, black, or white, depending on your studio’s dress code.

Do not send your child to ballet class in house shoes/slippers that look like ballet shoes, socks, or tights only, as these are too slippery for dance class.

For more info on choosing the right ballet shoes, check out our article here!

What Clothing Should My Child Wear to Ballet Class?

Form fitting dancewear, like leotards and tights, should be worn to ballet class.

Some studios allow for leotards with attached skirts, or you can choose to wear a separate skirt. Dancers should have their hair pulled back in at least a ponytail, but preferably a bun (find out how to make the best bun here!)

Accessories like leg warmers or ballet sweaters may be added in colder months, as your studio allows, but generally, ballet teachers want to see the lines of the body to make sure the dancers are creating the right shapes, and baggy or extra clothing makes this harder to see!

Ballet class can be a fun and educational experience for young children, and now that you know a little more about it, you will be able to decide whether it’s a fit for your child! If you are interested in learning about what to expect from other styles of dance, we’ve got you covered! 

Read more in our article What do Toddler’s wear to a Dance or Ballet class