There is a wonderful, intricate and observable progression of coordination grafted into every human being. At the earliest age, only a few months old, we can see how the brain begins to connect with the other members of the body. As dance teachers, we must have respect for and understanding of each stage of development. No stage should be skipped, and providing opportunities for our students to have specific movement experiences is what makes dance one of the best coordination-building activities for a growing child. This Pyramid of Coordination is from the “Coordination for Ballet” book by Ruth Brinkerhoff and provides an overview of each level and how they overlap and interact with each other.
Note: The stages do overlap. Ages listed may vary between individuals.
1. Purposeful Movement (2 mos. – 2 years)
Begins soon after birth. As a separate observable stage, it extends to about age two. It continues to build and strengthen throughout life.
This is movement planned and directed by the person’s own thinking processes. This is the foundation of all coordination. As the person increases in ability, motor planning becomes a more and more important part of the total picture of coordination. An awareness of self begins here: one’s size, shape, ability to move, ability to control and manipulate objects and to relate to persons in the immediate environment.
2. Symmetry (2 years – 7 years)
As an observable stage, symmetry extends from about age two to age seven. The Symmetrical Coordination Pattern emerges in this stage. Both sides of the body move in about the same way, either simultaneously, or in immediate reversal movements, such as walking. Balance with gravity is learned and refined, and some aspects of posture begin. An awareness of one’s place in space strengthens. With the strengthening of self-awareness comes the beginnings of self-confidence and self-esteem.
3. Unity (3 years – 6 years)
As an observable stage, extends from about age three to age six. Unilateral Coordination Pattern develops and complements the symmetry already in place. This can be seen as the eyes look where the hand reaches, and when the same arm and leg work at the same time, as when both go forward at the same time in marching. An awareness of other persons and of interacting with them is strengthening.
4. Contrast (5 years – 7 years)
Usually begins to show up around age five to age seven; in some movements it may appear much sooner.
Contralateral Coordination Pattern appears as a result of the three-layer foundation now in place. This is what most people expect to see. Arms move in opposition to legs in walking, running, marching. The three natural coordination patterns (stages 2, 3, 4) overlap in their development, and reinforce each other. Some of the basic natural movements can be combined to form more difficult movements such as skipping.
Handedness, and a movement awareness of right and left come at this level. Forcing such responses sooner can be confusing to the child. The ability to fit movements to musical beats usually happens here. (Lack of muscular control prevented it before.) In ballet class, we often err in assuming this pattern will naturally carry over to the dance movements. No, dance movements belong to stages 5 and 6.
5. Complex or Combined Movement Skills (8 years – 11 years)
Now precise movement training can be successful. This stage is rarely reached before age eight. Combined coordination patterns can be learned, but they must be taught and practiced. Natural coordination is in place, making technical learnings possible, but it won’t happen automatically. The teaching must be there. Students must also be given a “trial and error” time, a chance to work out the motor planning they need to make the learning secure. Let them perfect it on their own once they have the general idea of what to do.
6. Specialized Movement Skills (12 years – 17 years)
The person selects certain skills they want to be really good at. They will work hard to improve these skills. All they need is a positive teaching approach, and a chance to work out the details in their own neuromuscular system. Constant demonstration and cueing can prevent them from improving, as it takes away the need for them to precisely plan their own movements. Planning is not less important now. Its importance actually increases as each coordination level is added. Teachers need to not always dance with the class. Demonstrate, then let them work it out on their own!
Here is what the coordination pyramid looks like as a whole. Pass on this info to your teachers with this download.
- Sensory Development for Purposeful Movement
- What is Coordination?
- Helping the Undercoordinated Students
- To Demonstrate or Not to Demonstrate?