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Bonnie Rosenstock
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Peridance Capezio Center
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Young Movers Program Takes it From the Beginning - Dance classes for young children at Peridance

by Bonnie Rosenstock
March 31, 2010
Peridance Capezio Center
126 East 13th Street
New York, NY 10003
212-505-0886
If your child is old enough to walk, then run to enroll your future ballerina (or any other dance style mover and shaker) in Peridance Capezio Center's renowned PeriChild Program. The first step to success begins with the Young Movers Program, toddlers to 5.5 years of age.

In the Parents & Toddlers Class (18 months to 2.5 years), children cut their teeth on basic motor skills through movement, music and the use of props and obstacle courses. It's an introduction to body parts, colors, counting, shapes, clapping and marching to rhythm, moving forward and backwards and learning left and right. "They are learning more social etiquette and to enjoy movement," explained teacher Tamari Saari. "They are not ready to keep a line, so we keep it fun and don't want to stop their exploring," she added.

An adult – whether a parent, relative or other caretaker – is required to fully participate in the activities. At this age toddlers attempt to do jumping, but they can't yet, so they watch, imitate and start to bounce. "It's imperative that parents are involved and enthusiastic because then the toddlers will trust me," said Saari.

"The class is also about sharing, waiting your turn, learning patience and how to be polite. It's life lessons for any experience," added Shelley K. Grantham, the school's program coordinator, who also teaches in the program.

The Toddler Dancing Class (2.5 to 3.5 years) is a separation class, where the caretaker transitions out of the room and can view from outside. "The parent realizes the child doesn't want help through the tunnel anymore," said Saari. "The children are feeling comfortable controlling their own bodies, understanding spatial awareness, moving in different directions, now jumping, marching, getting stronger and up on their toes." After a semester, some simple ballet vocabulary, like plié, is added.

In Creative Movement (3.5 to 4.5 years), Saari tells impatient parents who want their children to dance "Swan Lake" that their child isn't going to do pirouettes this year, but they will see them skip and turn on one foot. "To be able to skip, take off on one foot and land on the other is a challenge. There is a lot of advanced coordination that happens around this age," Grantham explained.

Both Creative Movement and Creative Ballet (4.5 to 5.5 years) explore the child's creativity while introducing basic ballet vocabulary, positions and the ballet barre. "It's a nice even blend of half organic movement and half introduction to classical ballet," said Grantham. "Around kindergarten (5.5 and up), we start veering into pre-ballet, tap and African. As they get older more options are available. But for 5 and under, it's still locomotion, coordination, marching, hops, skips, galloping, chassés and balancing."

Saari, who is also a dancer, teaches all four classes, so she can help both parents and kids bridge to the next level. "I feel really proud they are moving forward," she said. "I love teaching children, and I believe in our curriculum."

Grantham also appreciates Saari's creative skills. "When I get a good teacher like Tamara, we try to hold onto them," she said. There are over 100 students and 16 teachers in the Young Movers Program. New teachers are required to observe veteran teachers to make sure they are smoothly transitioning into the curriculum at all levels.

"Not only are they dealing with how to teach movement so the kids are emotionally, physically and mentally engaged, but they are also dealing with them being two, three and four and going through emotional highs and lows, learning how to be potty trained and having accidents because they forgot to tell the teachers they had to go," explained Grantham. "These are things as educators we have to be prepared for. I'm the strictest in hiring in the Young Movers Program because the classes are stepping stones for our other programs, and they are the hardest classes to teach. You have to be versatile, patient, diverse and prepared."

The PeriChild Program was established in 1986, three years after founder and artistic director Igal Perry began his premiere dance school, now housed in the historic 1903 Beaux Arts building, where artist Frank Stella had his studio from 1978 to 2005. Perry has a ten-year lease with a five-year extension and hopes to buy the building some day. It took almost three years to completely gut and renovate the interior.

"Now that we are back in the East Village, our enrollment is soaring. We have great studios, great sound, great light and a great place for parents and kids to play before and after class," said Grantham.

"But whether you are one and a half or 80, from total beginner to professional, we try to do what's best for each student so they feel they are having a good time, learning and being inspired."
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