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Movement Experiences for Children
KIN 366
Instructor: Dr. Shannon S.D. Bredin
Office Hours:
Class Schedule:
Important Course Pages
Lecture Notes
Course Discussion

Ballet is a form of dance, characterized based on specific movements and positions, which originated in the royal courts of Renaissance Italy in the 15th - 16th century. Ballet training refers to students learning ballet to advance into a professional career or participate in for recreation.

When to Start

Many dancers aspiring to reach professional levels begin intensive ballet training at a young age. Due to the physical demands on the body, a dancer’s career often ends early. Most dancers will only have a professional ballet career from their teens to their early thirties. Therefore, starting to train at a young age is often viewed as an asset.

The Royal Academy of Dance (RAD) is the most well-known organization for classical ballet education. The majority of dance studios, especially in North America, follow the RAD levels in their ballet programs (Shan, 2009). The RAD provides syllabuses and exams for both genders, a wide array of ages, and levels of expertise. In the RAD, there are syllabuses for children as young as 2 ½ years of age. This program is called Dance to Your Own Tune, and is intended for children up to the age of five. There is no exam that can be taken for this level. This syllabus emphasizes creative movement and musicality (Royal Academy of Dance, n.d.b). The first level a child can be examined in is Pre-Primary, where the minimum age of a child taking the exam is 5 (Royal Academy of Dance, n.d.a). This syllabus still emphasizes creative movement, while beginning to introduce basic ballet positions and terminology. After Pre-Primary, there is Primary, which continues to blend the traditional ballet steps with creative movement exercises. This exam is restricted to children 6 and older. After this, there are the Grades 1-8 that are progressive, structured classes that have more specific goals associated with the learned movements. These levels emphasize style, character dance, and musicality (Royal Academy of Dance, n.d.b). The child must be at least 7 years old to complete the Grade 1 exam (Royal Academy of Dance, n.d.a). At the age of 11, a child may also enroll in the more technical vocational levels: Intermediate Foundation, Intermediate, Advanced Foundation, Advanced 1, and Advanced 2. These levels introduce pointe work for girls, and are designed for advancing students towards professional ballet careers. Like the graded levels, the vocational levels are progressive. Unlike the graded syllabuses however, a student must pass each exam if they wish to be examined in the higher levels. The graded levels and vocational levels can, and often are, done simultaneously (Royal Academy of Dance, n.d.b).

Pointe work is only done by female dancers. The age at which pointe work should be started is highly debated, but the general recommendation is 11-12 years at the earliest (Royal Academy of Dance, n.d.a; Shan, 2009). This is the age that the RAD restricts the dancer to taking the Intermediate Foundation exam, which is the first syllabus that incorporates pointe work (Royal Academy of Dance, 2015). One of the main concerns of starting a child too young on pointe is that the stress of supporting the entire body weight on the toes will lead to growth plate damage in the feet. The growth plates are cartilage, which if seriously damaged, can cause growth deficiencies. When the growth plates become bone, ossification, there is no cartilage left. However, this ossification is not complete until at least 18 years of age, so the recommendation to delay pointe work until after the plates are ossified is flawed. In addition, not many studies have been conducted about the negative implications or increased risk of injury of pointe work for young dancers. The decision to put a dancer en pointe should be based on the individual merits of the dancer after they reach the age of at least 11. In addition, it is recommended that the child complete at least 4 years of ballet training before pointe work is attempted. Some prerequisites a dancer should have are: proper technique to keep balanced en pointe; the ability to get their weight completely over the toes (also called full pointe) to stabilize the ankle joint; adequate foot strength and flexibility to support the body’s weight (Shan, 2009).

Training Load


In regards to any sport involvement, there should always be emphasis on developing the child’s movement experiences holistically. Following the Long Term Athlete Development Model, enrolling younger children in multiple sports early in life and gradually focusing on one sport at the age of 11 or 12 is recommended as the best practice (Canadian Sport for Life, 2011b). Early specialization in sport is not recommended, but ballet is a profession that favors talent identification early. The expectation to be successful and talented at a young age often drives children and parents to focus on ballet as their only sport. Therefore, children that choose to undertake these intensive training loads should be monitored for burnout, overtraining, depression, stress, social isolation, overuse injuries, and lack of other motor skills developing, as well as encouraged to participate in other activities (Canadian Sport for Life, 2011a).

While early specialization is common in professional dancers, there is a lack of research that compares the success of those that specialized early and those who specialized at a more appropriate age.

Often, ballet training is associated with developing professional dancers. However, it is important to remember that ballet training does not have to be done with the end goal of being a professional dancer.

Cross Training

Although ballet encompasses many of the elements of physical activity, lower aerobic fitness is often a seen in young dancers. They often test with slightly lower maximum aerobic capacity when compared with other athletes of the same age in different sports. Due to the nature of performances, short, intensive spurts are performed, followed by long breaks. In addition, these intensive bouts of exercise only last minutes (Pekkarinen, Litmanen, & Mahlamäki, 1989). Therefore, supplementing ballet training with more aerobic activities may be a consideration.

Ballet does not include manipulating an object, so developing fundamental movement skills such as throwing, catching, and dribbling a ball are important to develop outside of the ballet classroom (Physical Health and Education Canada, 2015a).

Risks of Ballet

Common Injuries

Almost all classical ballet is done from a turned out stance, where the hips are rotated outwards. This aligns the feet and knees in an outward position also. This position being maintained properly is paramount in a dancer’s training (Bennell, Khan, Matthews , & Singleton, 2011). Dancers try to achieve the ideal 180 degree turnout, but not all bodies are designed for this extreme turnout, nor is it essential to being a good dancer. It is more important to stay within the limits of one’s body. If turnout is achieved by compensating true hip rotation with rotation at the knees and feet, the whole body becomes misaligned and is at risk for injury. A few of the injuries that can be seen are ligament tears, fractures, meniscal tears, muscle imbalances, back pain, joint dysfunction, and muscle strains (Gilbert, Gross, & Klug, 1998).

If the child’s technique is properly taught and maintained, ballet does not appear to pose an increased risk for injury. To maintain proper turnout, there must be three aspects met: the center of the knee must be in the midline of the foot, there must be equal weight distribution on both feet, and the weight is properly dispersed over the whole foot (Gilbert, Gross, & Klug, 1998).


It is often suggested that young ballet dancers are at an increased risk for growth and maturational delays (Pigeon, Oliver, Charlet, & Rochiccioli, 1987). This has not been consistently proven in children with moderate-high training loads (Matthews, Bennell, McKay, Khan, Baxter-Jones, Mirwald, & Wark, 2006). However, if there is an eating disorder, poor/inadequate nutrition, or a high (greater than 16 hours per week) training load present, this may have an adverse effect on the child’s growth (Matthews et al., 2006; Pigeon et al., 1987). However, there is no definitive evidence that a child in ballet is it an inherent risk of an eating disorder or malnutrition (Matthews et al., 2006).

Benefits of Ballet


Children that participate in locomotor activities such as dance are often reported to have higher motor skill levels, and are motivated to continue participating in physical activity. Motivation for physical activity is an important part of developing a healthy lifestyle later in life (O’Neil et al., 2014).

Learning the ‘ABCs - Agility, Balance, Coordination, and Speed’ and fundamental movement skills in childhood helps develop physical literacy, which is defined as ‘competence and confidence in a wide variety of physical activities in multiple environments that benefit the healthy development of the whole person’ (Canadian Sport for Life, 2011b; Physical Health and Education Canada, 2015b). Developing fundamental movement skills are an important part of a child’s motor development, which can help to facilitate sport and activity participation through life (Physical Health and Education Canada, 2015a). Physical literacy is important for long-term physical health and maintaining active lifestyles as children age (Physical Health and Education Canada, 2015b).

Ballet helps to achieve the four tenets of the ABC’s: agility is developed through performing routines, good balance is required for many positions in ballet, the coordination of arms and legs during movements is essential, and speed is required for on-stage performances and quick leg movements (Lorenzo-Lasa, Ideishi, & Ideishi, 2007; Royal Academy of Dance, 2015).

Some fundamental movement skills found in ballet such are: hopping, jumping, galloping, skipping, and kicking (Physical Health and Education Canada, 2015a; Royal Academy of Dance, 2015).


It has been shown that bone density of the lower body is increased in children who partook in ballet at a young age (Janz, Letuchy, Gilmore, Burns, Torner, Willing, & Levy, 2010; Khan et al., 1998). In the one study, was concluded that it was most likely to due to the high impacts on the lower body when jumping, landing, and balancing (Khan et al., 1998). This bone density increase is beneficial to children later on in life, as it helps to prevent osteoporosis (Janz et al., 2010; Khan et al., 1998).

Participation in ballet develops flexibility, stamina, motor control, muscle strength (especially in the lower body), and coordination. Ballet is also a sport that requires whole body muscle involvement, which is beneficial for developing fitness and muscle tone throughout all the major muscle groups (Bentell et al., 2001; Lorenzo-Lasa, Ideishi, & Ideishi, 2007).


In ballet, there are often end-of-year performances, competitions, and plays, which give children the opportunity to perform on stage. It has been shown that performing on a stage gives children confidence, even if they are shy or quiet. It has also been shown that children in ballet have higher self esteem, more self respect, and better empathy and sensitivity compared to their peers (Kalliopuska, 1989).

Ballet stimulates creativity and spatial awareness, as well as sensory processing because of the integration between movement and music (Lorenzo-Lasa, Ideishi, & Ideishi, 2007).

Ballet and Cerebral Palsy

Children with cerebral palsy can benefit from ballet training. The turned-out position that it utilized helps counteracts weaknesses frequently seen in cerebral palsy. The legs are often turned in, due to weaknesses in the muscles that rotate and stabilize the hips and legs. The turned out position strengthens these muscles, helping prevent the legs from falling inwards. Barre work, which is utilizing a wooden bar mounted on the wall during movements, can help facilitate balance or stability issues also. Children with cerebral palsy are often not aware of where their joints are in space. Individual movements of the arms and the legs can help increase the child’s awareness of where their limbs are. Ballet emphasizes posture, flexibility, and motor control, which are qualities that can be underdeveloped or compromised in children with cerebral palsy. Also, because the teacher instruction involves modelling the movements, children mimic the motions. This helps develop somatic empathy, the understanding of another person through movement (Lopez-Ortiz, Gladden, Deon, Schmidt, Girolami & Gaebler-Spira, 2012).

Practical Application for Parents

If your child wants to participate in a ballet program, consider the above information in regards to their age and training load. Ballet has many benefits, and is not considered as a high-risk sport in terms of injury or physical risk (Gilbert, Gross, & Klug, 1998; Lorenzo, Ideishi, & Ideishi, 2007). Ballet teachers are knowledgeable and will not push children to do movements that are harmful or that they are not ready for. In addition, most studios follow RAD syllabuses, allowing for gradual progression of training. It is always a good idea to try a few different studios and see which teachers and classes are most suitable for the child. Most studios are happy to talk to parents and address their concerns, questions, and give them additional resources to help make their child’s involvement in ballet an enjoyable experience. The important point to remember is to develop the child’s movement skills in many different areas, even though it may be tempting to focus on one sport.


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Gilbert, C.B., Gross, M.T., & Klug, K.B. (1998). Relationship between hip external rotation and turnout angle for the five classical ballet positions. Journal of Orthopaedic Sports Physical Therapy, 27(5), 339-347.

Janz, K., Letuchy, E., Gilmore, J., Burns, T., Torner, J., Willing, M., & Levy, S. (2010). Early physical activity provides sustained bone health benefits later in childhood. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 42(6), 1072-1078. doi: 10.1249/MSS.0b013e3181c619b2

Kalliopuska M. (1989). Empathy, self-esteem, and creativity among junior ballet dancers. Perceptual Motor Skills, 69(3), 1227-1234.

Khan, K.M., Bennell, K.L., Hopper, J.L., Flicker, L., Nowson, C.A., Sherwin, A.J., Crichton, K.J., Harcourt, P.R., & Wark, J.D. (1998). Self-reported ballet classes undertaken at age 10-12 years and hip bone mineral density in later life. Osteoporosis International, 8(2), 165-173. doi:10.1007/BF02672514

Lopez-Ortiz, C., Gladden, K., Deon, L., Schmidt, J., Girolami, G., and Gaebler-Spira, D. (2012). Dance program for physical rehabilitation and participation in children with cerebral palsy. Arts & Health, 4(1), 39-54. doi: 10.1080/17533015.2011.56419

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Matthews, B.L., Bennell, K.L., McKay, H.A., Khan, K.M., Baxter-Jones, A.D., Mirwald, R.L., & Wark, J.D. (2006). The influence of dance training on growth and maturation of young females: A mixed longitudinal study. Annals of Human Biology, 33(3), 342-356. doi: 10.1080/03014460600635951

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Pekkarinen, H., Litmanen, H., & Mahlamäki, S. (1989). Physiological profiles of young boys training in ballet. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 23(4), 245-249.

Pigeon, P., Oliver, I., Charlet, J.P., & Rochiccioli, P. (1997). Intensive dance practice. Repercussions on growth and puberty. American Journal of Sports Medicine, 76(2), 140-144.

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Shan, S. (2009). Determining a young dancer's readiness for dancing on pointe. Current Sports Medicine Report, 8(6), 295-299. doi: 10.1249/JSR.0b013e3181c1ddf1