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Dance Recitals: Icing on the Cake

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Dance recital season is in full swing, and the amount of tulle and glitter floating in the ether is enough to suffocate dancers, teachers and parents alike to the point of frenzy. Harried exclamations of "These tights have a run!" "I've lost my left tap shoe!" and of course, the never-ending battle cry: "Quiet in the wings!" fill the air in a chorus of recital fever.

As a former child of studio recitals, and as a young adult previously involved in assisting in their execution, I dare to say I must have seen nearly everything. As my dance friends and I have grown up we reminisce, delight, and sometimes cringe at our various posed and costumed keepsake photos and recital anecdotes. There are countless pictures with fake flowers and Greco pedestals and generic backdrops and lipstick-framed smiles that live in boxes tucked away corners of our parents' houses. We remember the hair donuts, the rhinestones, and the fake eyelashes. These small details are entwined with our development as dancers and will always remain as fond memories of our dance training.

Beyond our respective recital eras, dancers go many separate ways. Recently I have found it is only when one becomes a dance teacher that one can truly appreciate the juxtaposition of the glitz and glamour of a recital compared to the daily or weekly grind of dance classes.

Each and every day, parents across the country drop their youngsters off at dance class-jazz, tap, ballet, modern, contemporary, hip-hop, creative movement, ad infinitum. It is there, at that threshold of the classroom door, where the transformative power of dance is set in motion.

It is at this doorstep that parents blithely surrender their child to a dance teacher for a few hours at a time every week. So, beyond the glitter and tutus and bows and plastic flowers of yearly recitals, what do most parents know of the environment to which they relinquish their child?

What actually goes on when that classroom door closes? Even at studios with windows or grainy live-stream video in the waiting area, parents generally do not have a sense of the true nature of a child's dance class. What is happening at those ballet barres, in those walls of full-length mirrors, in the repetition of exercises and the learning of choreography?

This is where the vital nature of dance education plays out. In that classroom, children acquire much more than a few dance steps and a fun time with friends. Dance has the unique ability to address every learning style while boosting confidence and discipline.

Dancers learn visual and spatial patterns -- what "window" am I in within this formation? What do I see the teacher doing and how do I replicate it?

Dance is kinesthetic -- the child masters fine motor control through repetition and feeling the physicality of their own body. This visceral awareness is invaluable in a society that too often relegates children to the confines of a school desk or the idle cushions in front of a television.

Children learn to translate a dance teacher's verbal cues into action through imagery and vocabulary. Words unique to dance elicit physical, emotional and kinesthetic reactions.

Musicality offers the more advanced dancer the opportunity to experiment with nuance and expression through physical movement. Music sets the tone of a phrase of movement and has landmarks to cue the sequence of an exercise or piece of choreography.

Children learn how to group phrases of movement mathematically and discover recognizable patterns within familiar material. Abstract mathematical concepts (the number eight can be divided into four groups of two, or two groups of four, or eight groups of one) are subconsciously ingrained through dance training.

Dancers become accountable when a teacher gives a correction: they must find the intrapersonal tools to interpret and modify the skills they are learning. A good dance teacher is able to individualize corrections while allowing a dancer to solve problems on their own.

Finally, dancers develop strong interpersonal intelligence when working as a group to execute simultaneous movement or establish spatial patterns. They are taught to respect personal boundaries and work together to accomplish tasks -- whether staying in a line or mastering partnering skills.

So while dance moms (and dads!) from every corner of the country are excited to see their dancer don a sparkling costume, apply their stage makeup and perform under those bright stage lights, it is important to remember that a recital is the icing on the cake of dance education. Photos and videos of recitals are archived as mementos of childhood, but the skills and values acquired in dance class are carried into every aspect of a their lives.

Dance is a wonderful practice to bring into a child's life. Whether it is at a local studio, in a pre-professional program, or the freedom to move to music within the household, dance offers unique benefits to the developing child. Children are wired to dance and every child should be given the opportunity to benefit from the experience of dance class. The arts should not be considered extracurricular, they need to be recognized as a component of every child's development.

Well-wishes to the parents beaming with pride for their little performers. Salutations to the patience and resolve of every dance teacher who is enduring the chaos of recitals. And merde ("good luck") to all the dancing stars commanding the stage this time of year, and congratulations on your hard work. In the words of Agnes de Mille, "To dance is to be out of yourself. Larger, more beautiful, more powerful. This is power, it is glory on earth and it is yours for the taking."