Teach Your Toddler Ballet

Toddler ballerina
asiseeit / Getty Images

Is your young child ready to start learning ballet? Most babies and toddlers respond to the sound of music with joy and enthusiasm. Moving to music is a great way for young children to develop an awareness of dance and an appreciation for music.

Even though your child may seem ready to take part in a formal ballet class, most dance schools require children to be at least three years old to enroll. From three to five years, ballet classes are usually referred to as "creative movement" or "pre-ballet" classes. Many schools offer "Mommy and Me" dance classes, providing an opportunity for parents to attend classes with their children.

If you'd like to expose your toddler to music and dance, don't feel obligated to register for a formal class. With a little imagination and creativity, you can create a fun and stimulating ballet class in the comfort of your own living room. The following ideas will enhance your child's development of fine and gross motor skills as he or she balances, skips, leaps, and moves to the music. Turn on some fun music and introduce your child to ballet by incorporating basic ballet terminology with the basic positions of the feet, hands, and body.

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Toddler Stretches for Ballet

Baby ballet stretch
Tracy Wicklund

Most toddlers are amazingly limber. Since flexibility fades as we age, teaching your child how to stretch their body at an early age may encourage them to maintain limberness.

Simple stretches for toddlers:

  • Toe touches: Demonstrate how to sit on the floor and reach for your toes. Encourage straight knees.
  • Leg extensions: Show your toddler how to lay on one side and hold one leg up in the air. Encourage straight knees and pointed toes.
  • Straddle splits: Have your toddler sit on the floor with legs open in a straddle position. (Don't force a perfect split.) Demonstrate reaching to the right, left and center. Encourage straight knees.
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Hops and Jumps for Your Toddler

Toddler ballet jump
Tracy Wicklund

Toddlers love a challenge. Since jumping and hopping are skills that require a bit of skill to master, your child will enjoy trying to get her feet off the floor.

Creative ideas for hopping and jumping:

  • Friendly frogs: Tell your child to pretend she is a frog and hop around the room on all fours.
  • Baby kangaroos: Have your child imagine she is a baby kangaroo. Demonstrate how to jump off the floor with both feet together.
  • Popcorn: Imagine you are popcorn kernels about to burst inside a popcorn machine. Count to three together then hop around like freshly popped corn kernels.
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Marching toddler
Tracy Wicklund

If your toddler likes to make noise with her feet, show her how to march around like a soldier. Marching is one of the early skills taught in a beginner tap class. Have her concentrate on raising her knees as high as she can.

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Reaching toddler
Tracy Wicklund

Reaching up high with their arms will teach your toddler how to extend and elongate the body. Encourage them to make their arms as long as they can.

Creative reaching:

  • Trees in the breeze: Tell your child to imagine they are a tree blowing in the wind. Demonstrate how to reach your arms high above your head and sway back and forth.
  • Flower garden: Pretend you are flowers about to grow and bloom in the garden. When the sun appears, your petals open and your stem grows toward the sky. Make-believe your arms are leaves and reach up high.
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Ballet Positions for Toddlers

Pre ballet
Tracy Wicklund

It's never too early to start learning the five basic positions of ballet. Your little one may be able to place their feet into first and second position, but don't expect too much more just yet. Little feet are difficult to place.

Grab a small chair for your child to grasp. Start with first position: Place your child's heels together and turn out their toes. See how long they can hold the position. As they get older and gain more control of their feet, move on to other positions. Pretty soon they'll have all five!

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Plie for Toddlers

Toddler plie
Tracy Wicklund

Chances are, your toddler can bend and straighten their knees. In ballet, a bending of the knees is called a plie. For a demi plie, have your child bend only halfway down to the floor. For a grand plie, which is a little more challenging, have your child bend the knees all the way to the floor.

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Toddler eleve
Tracy Wicklund

An eleve is a rise onto the balls of the feet. Ask your toddler to rise up onto their tippy toes. Rising will help her develop the muscles in her calves and improve their balance.

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Toddler passe
Tracy Wicklund

Teach your child how to do a passe. Place one foot next to the knee of the other foot, and tell them to balance. It takes a lot of coordination to balance on one leg.

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Toddler arabesque
Tracy Wicklund

Finally, your toddler can attempt one of the most elegant positions of classical ballet the arabesque. Simply show them how to hold one leg up behind them. It will take years of hard work and practice before mastering this one!