Something we love about Irish dance? How it sets obtainable and clear goals to work hard toward! This is an element that exists in every level of SRL’s classes—certain skills are a pre-requisite for moving onward and upward from Tiny Jig to Pre-Beginner, from Novice to Prizewinner, and beyond. It’s one of the reasons we think Irish dance is more than exercise and artistry—it’s a place to gain life skills that will serve your dancer across the board as they learn and grow. It’s never too early to learn patience, process, and the importance of persistence and hard work.
Check in on any level of class—from our Championship dancers to our Beginners just starting out—and you’ll notice something you might not see at another kind of dance studio: a mixture of ages across all levels. While most other dance disciplines organize students both by age and skill level, Irish dance tends to organize only by skill level, something we hold to here at SRL. For students starting out in the early levels, this can be a surprise: if you’re starting Irish dance at 11 and are in class with 6-year-olds, you might feel like you’re late to the party or in the wrong class. That couldn’t be further from the truth! We’re here to talk through the benefits of mixed-age classes, and why SRL thinks they’re a benefit to our dancers.
First off, Irish dance isn’t just about dancing—it’s a hard-won skill that builds upon itself. You have to learn your jump-2-3s before you can learn your reel! Much like other forms of exercise that require openness and mindfulness to the process (such as other forms of dance or yoga,) Irish dance encourages dancers to understand their movements (and the paired music) on a fundamental level before they move on to more difficult moves and more complex choreography. When you watch an Irish dancer perform, what you’re really watching is many more basic, singular movements learned over many years that the dancer is in full control of. It’s why they look so light and graceful—practice, practice, practice! This way of determining skill level also functions as a safety measure. With Irish dance’s high-flying moves, proper technique is required to avoid injury. You can’t skip any steps!
Secondly, Irish dance holds all dancers to the same standard no matter their age, race, gender, or experience. The strict regulation of Irish dance by the CLRG has led to the establishments of clear benchmarks that any dancer needs to clear before moving on. That means we can have 17-year-old students in class with 10-year-old students, because while these students may differ greatly in many ways, they all have the same foundational skills that makes them equals in the eyes of Irish dance. While the world isn’t always so fair, it does teach an important lesson to our dancers about the benefits of working hard to improve—you only get as much out of Irish dance as you put in and no one is rewarded by moving up a level simply for the fact they had a birthday!
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, here at SRL we love our mixed-age classes because of the peer-to-peer learning environment in encourages! Much like a Montessori school, we find that our mixed-age classes better stimulate all age groups’ development, improve social skills across the board, boost self-esteem, increase the taking on of leadership roles, and better simulate actual community environments. Beyond bonding with your classmates, we also encourage friendships and mentorships amongst age groups through buddy pairings for competitions and our student assistant program. This gives our younger students strong role models within the studio that they’ll then strive to emulate as they grow, but also gives our older students a chance to become those role models and try out teaching at a young age. We find this way of teaching mutually beneficial and motivating for dancers of any and all ages (with our instructors’ guidance, of course!)
So, parents, don’t worry if your Beginner (or not-so-Beginner) dancer is initially unnerved by the older or younger students in their class—it’s all part of the process! While initial misgivings are understandable, especially as most dancers will have only interacted with peers of their same age, there’s benefits they might not be able to see at first glance. At SRL, we look at everything that happens inside our walls as a learning opportunity for our students…whether it be a new step or adjusting to a class they didn’t expect. As long as a dancer is putting their all in, there’s nowhere to go but up!
This post is part of a series. Read our last 411 post, all about communicating with your teen, here. Check out the blog every Monday and Thursday for more posts about Irish history, dance culture, community news, and spotlights on our dancers, staff, and families—among other fun projects! And don’t forget to dance along with us on both Facebook and Instagram.
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