I was recently asked the question as to how many hours daily and weekly an eleven-year old student should be dancing, and in my professional opinion there is really no blanket answer to this question as an eleven-year old could have been training for as little as one year, or potentially as many as six years with the corresponding amount of muscle, stamina and joint strength development. One also needs to address whether the student has started menstruation or is still years off this hormonal state. Similarly, we should identify their physical state, as some eleven-year olds can have naturally muscular and strong bodies, while others will struggle into their late teens to build really good muscle strength and definition. We must also consider whether the student is in between growth spurts, in a continuing gradual growth spurt, or a sudden growth spurt with each option presenting daily challenges to the maintenance and development of proprioception, coordination, core, limb and back muscles which are crucial to dance and a huge fact in injury prevention. Finally, different dance genres will provide vastly different dance classes.
All the aforementioned factors can gravely affect the number of dance hours considered to be safe and healthy.
I will take one particular case study of a student who is eleven and is still unsure whether to pursue a career in dance, and has opted to join a part time vocational programme.
This programme gives her two weekly intensive Vocational Master Classes of 90 minutes early morning and 120 minutes midday, respectively. She has started pointe work and has an equally challenging 45 minute pointe class, as well as 30 minutes of pointe work within the midday vocational class, and 30-45 minutes of pointe work within her once weekly competition rehearsal session, which lasts on an average of 3 hours. This brings her weekly total of intensive classes/rehearsal to 7 hours and 15 minutes, with about 2 of the 7 hours performed on pointe.
In addition, there are three RAD syllabus classes of 60 minutes using syllabi which is suited to both recreational and vocational students, and presents a far lesser challenge on joints, muscles, stamina, proprioception, muscle regeneration, and coordination than the vocational work.
A weekly 60 minute Jazz class presents stamina and coordination, challenges and vital core work. A Contemporary class provides more core work and strong challenges on dynamics and control in aerial and elevation work. A Modern Expressive class is providing the critical stretching and strengthening work and most of the balletic and contemporary movement vocabulary in a slower and more controlled performance. In comparison to the vocational ballet work, these 6 classes present a far lesser strain both physically and mentally.
The total of dance class hours is now 13 hours and 15 minutes, and it is important to recognise how many hours are spent in intensive classes and how many in lighter classes.
A weekly private lesson can vary from intense to light in nature. Irregular courses are also periodically undertaken, such as Acrobatics, which provides more vital core work, but involves a lot of observation with short bursts of energy. Also, once to twice a term, Jazz or Ballet Workshops can take place, as well as up to five concert rehearsals per year and perhaps as many extra competition rehearsals.
Some weeks this student could be around 13 and a quarter hours of classes, or as high as 16-17 hours.
Remembering that this case study, non-elite student has still not taken the decision to train as a dancer and can choose the amount of classes she wishes to attend. These hours, in my opinion, are still well within the physical and mental limits for most healthy eleven year old recreational dance students with a few years of training and no particular health issues. However, they might be considered too few for a vocational student who has taken the decision to train as a dancer.
Research of several reputable recreational, vocational and part time vocational dance schools across the globe shows an enormous difference in hours of training that the various 11-12-year old students are required to attend with some at a steady 25 hours a week, down to one at 10 hours, and the majority somewhere in between.
In general, an eleven year old student should be able to take 5 or 6 hours of dance classes in one day, provided that only 3-4 of thorse hours are of an intensive nature and adequate breaks for water are given. Most part and full time classical schools now insist at this age on the 4-5 times weekly intensive ballet classes of one to three hours in duration, plus extra pointe and a variety of other lighter complimentary dance genre, if a student is considering or has decided on a career in dance.
Many schools advise on lowering or increasing the amount of hours a student attends, at times, when considering any one or more of the factors mentioned at the beginning, and this is a good indication of Safe Dance methods.
In addition, some dance schools offer students, particularly when starting High School, an afternoon or evening weekday off to catch up on academic studies when necessary, or to allow for individual practise, stretching, conditioning, and/or pointe work, thereby forming good self-motivated dance study habits.
Adequate rest between intensive training days has been identified as one of the most important facets of pre and early teen dance scheduling. At this crucial age, two concurrent full days of rest weekly to guarantee strong bone and joint development, good muscle regeneration and mental rest is advised by many dance physicians and experts. Mental and physical stress alongside poor core development, at this age, can lead to injury. In providing adequate rest, and continually encouraging core and postural work, we are providing a good foundation for a future dancer, as well as for a healthy non-dancer.
All the Facts
In this case study, the non-elite dance student can make her own choice as to how many hours she wishes to attend class, and could potentially do up to 20 or so hours a week, if so wished, providing all the important aforementioned factors were taken into consideration.
The committed vocational student needs as many hours of training as physically and mentally possible whilst conscientiously avoiding burn out and physical overuse. Taking into consideration that they will hope to dance for 20-30 more years, caution and restraint should be exercised at this particular pre-teen age to help the body develop into a perfect, strong, resilient, and healthy machine, plus a conservative amount of dance hours, with generous lengthy rest periods, should be the ideal goal.
In conclusion, we need to avoid any generalisation whatsoever, as each eleven year old student has their own unique physical and mental facilities and dance class background, as well as individual aims and aspirations, competition, exam and scholarship scheduling. Dance schools, and in particular those with recreational and vocational students can only provide timetables to suit a general body of students. Parents of students with differing needs and commitments must consult with a qualified and knowledgeable dance staff to adapt their own timetable where possible to suit any given situation.