Don’t Be A Skipper, Teach Them To Skip!

Teach Skipping

Skipping requires balance, symmetry in muscle use, self-esteem and some natural coordination. It is often used as an indicator of ‘readiness to learn’ academic subjects. It is expected that children in a dance class will learn to skip. Skipping is a complex skill composed of and built upon several more basic skills.”

Many of my students over the years have had trouble with skipping. I have found that children are getting older and older without being able to master this building block of coordination. Teachers ask me, “Why do you do skips as a warm-up for ballet class? Shouldn’t they be starting their class at the barre?” I have already addressed the issue of deciding to start a class at the barre too soon, but today let’s a take a look at why skipping is such a fundamental skill for our young dancers to learn as they grow and how we can prepare them to learn it.

Coordination Starts with Skips

In the Level 2 Curriculum Book, Brinkerhoff explains the basics of coordination. She says that “symmetry is a very important development of balance in the neuromuscular system. This muscle balance enables the child to develop a sense of balance against gravity.”

There are two kinds of symmetry and balance:

  1. Both sides of the body do the same thing at the same time (both arms or both legs). These are symmetrical movements.
  2. Movements where both sides of the body do the same thing, but one at a time, and with only one repetition, as in walking or running. This type of action is “immediately reversing” and has the effect of symmetry on the neuromuscular system.

Skipping is one of the best examples of symmetrical coordination. However, not every student comes into dance class and knows how to skip properly right away. It is actually becoming more and more rare to have a classroom full of  young students who have all mastered the skill of skipping.

Listed below are 12 basic skills that should be focused on prior to teaching them to skip. These skills are expected to be learned around the age of 6, but there are children who will still not grasp skipping right away.

Twelve Pre-Skipping Skills

1. Standing: Stand evenly on two feet, feet matched, arms relaxed at sides. Lift arms straight up to a natural 2nd position, slightly below shoulder level, hands facing the floor. Child should show good symmetry, and good balance.

2. Walking: Walking should show a smooth action, steps of equal lengthequal use of both legs. Arms are relaxed and freely moving in any pattern natural to the child.

3. Running: Runs are executed with smooth action, steps of equal length; equal use of both legs: arms relaxed and freely moving in any pattern natural to the child.

4. Crawling (creeping) on hands & knees: The knees are picked up, not dragged. Child allows equal use of both sides of body, good sense of balance, arms and thighs used approximately perpendicular to the floor.

5. Jumps (on two feet): Child shows an equal or nearly equal use of both legs, correct knee action. Child also pushes some with feet to help himself or herself get off the floor.

6. Hops (on one foot): Child shows an equal or nearly equal use of both legs, correct knee action. Child also pushes some with feet to help himself or herself get off the floor.

7. Arm Movements: Child can swing arms forward and back, in unison or alternating.

8. Head Movements and Balance: Child’s head is generally held upright, level, balanced, and centered over the shoulders. Child can do the three basic head movements: nodding up and down, turning from side to side, and inclining to right and to left with face to the front.

9. Feet flexing and extending: Child can flex and extend feet at the ankle joints.

10. Marching: Lift thighs to a horizontal alignment, arms swinging in any pattern natural to the child.

11. Galloping Forward: Child should be able to use either foot in front. Arms are left free to move as is natural to the child, or hands can be placed on waist.

 12. Side Gallops: Child should be able to go both directions.

Excuse the corny title to this blog. I couldn’t help it: Teachers should not skip out on teaching their young ones how to skip properly! You may find that some of your older students could use a reminder on how to skip as well. That definitely happened for me. I’ve had students as old as 9 years old who still couldn’t skip well. Fundamental coordination development is crucial throughout the beginning years of ballet, otherwise how can we build without a foundation?

Related Articles:

*Work Cited: “Ballet Arts for Young Children: Level 3” pp. 17-18. “Ballet Arts for Young Children: Level 2” pp. 84-85, copyright The Ballet Source, 2016.

Level 2 Ballet Curriculum

 

 

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Don’t Be A Skipper, Teach Them To Skip!

7 Responses

  1. I even incorporate skipping in my Beginner Teen Ballet class warmup. It’s amazing how difficult it seems to be for these kids who have had little or no ballet training at an earlier age. Not only is it great at building their confidence going across the floor (they have fears of falling), but it’s aerobic, gets their blood pumping, and is just plain fun; we laugh and laugh. I love your post! Thank you for your work; it’s great!

    Karin August 29, 2015 at 9:45 AM #
    • Sounds like you have quite a great group of students! So glad you’ve enjoyed the material. Thank you for your kind words! 🙂

      Kim Hungerford August 31, 2015 at 12:29 PM #
  2. Dear Kim thank you for your tips etc.
    Either we teachers know what you are getting across and it’s good just to hear it again or to learn more.
    I almost always start with the children skipping into the dance room.
    First or all it teaches them discipline. I will not start the music until they are all quiet especially new 4/5 year olds. (They also at that age have to learn to count the intro music. I find this also an introduction to ‘getting ready’ , concentration etc.)
    I remember a 5 year old little boy I had who just could not get the coordination right and got quite frustrated. After about 6 months there was a school break. Afterwards he could suddenly skip well. I asked him what happened in the holidays that he could manage so well. His little head looked up to me and the answer was, ‘ I practised’. In German it sounded cute because he emphasised the second part of the word. ‘Ich habe geÜBT’
    Keep up the Blogs I pass them onto colleagues and some really appreciate it.

    Aileen November 23, 2015 at 1:29 AM #
  3. Really interesting article! Would love some tips on how to teach those 12 steps. Also on how to handle a class that has a wide range of ability levels. My Ballet I class are 5-7 year old beginners. There are children who walk in the door who have been skipping since they were 3 and then I have a few 7 year olds that I would guess are developmentally delayed. I’ve been teaching 27 years and have a degree in Dance so this is not my first trip around the merry-go- round, but I’m always trying to learn new methods and new ways to look at my class procedures.

    Anne January 20, 2016 at 10:36 AM #
    • Anne, have you checked out the Level 3 Curriculum? It is such a wonderful resource because it has two levels of ability wrapped into one book: one for the 5-6 year old “beginners” and then another set of class activities for the 6-7 year olds. The book calls them the “Starter Class” and the “Classical Basics Class”. I have found that teaching activities that work for both skill levels can really help in creating unity as well as making it a class that both groups can enjoy. The book is full of teaching suggestions for the teacher to implement in class as well as step-by-step choreography for class. Hope this helps you! Good luck with your students!

      Kim Hungerford January 20, 2016 at 1:47 PM #
  4. Skipping can be hard to teach but this year I worked a lot with my littles on hopping before teaching skips and it made a huge difference. They also do retires holding for 4 counts. These little changes to my curriculum have made teaching skips much easier and more consistent results.

    Desirae Graham November 16, 2016 at 8:40 PM #
    • Oh yes, they are not always easy! The young ones especially need so much more movement experience before they can even comprehend skips. After introducing the building blocks, it takes lots of practice. Way to read your students, Desirae!

      Kim Hungerford November 17, 2016 at 6:49 PM #

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