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Dance Attracts All Ages

Dance class may seem to be an odd after-school activity for an aspiring soccer or football player, a budding debate-team captain, or even the future president, but it makes perfect sense to Barbara Sheppard, owner of Barbara Sheppard's Academy of Dance in Burke.

"Even if a child plays sports or is involved in any other type of activity, he or she needs dance. It helps with balance and coordination," Sheppard said. "It's a part of everything. If someone just walks into a room, you can always tell the people who have had dance, they have a presence.

"I always tell my parents, it doesn't matter if their child doesn't become a professional dancer, most won't. But if their child gets up to do a book report or gets up in front of a group to talk, he or she has more confidence."

DANCE IS AN ACTIVITY where a child as young as 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 can begin lessons, and if the interest is there, can continue throughout the child's lifetime.

"There is an old African proverb that says, if you can walk, you can dance. If you can talk, you can sing," said Terelene D. Terry-Todd, artistic director for the Reston Institute for the Arts. "It's what you make of it. As long as you're having fun, that's what you make of it."

Besides helping with balance and coordination, dance also teaches young children how to socialize with others, how to take directions from adults, how to focus, and it builds confidence and gives them an appreciation for the art form.

Several dance academies offer classes for varying skill levels ranging from beginner to professional-caliber.

"Dance should be there for those who want recreation, and dance should be there for those who want a career," Terry-Todd said.

There are also several different styles of dance for students to sample. Ilona Russell, owner of Russell School of Ballet in Chantilly, for example, offers ballet, pointe, stretch, jazz, lyrical and tap. Terry-Todd said her students can choose from jazz, tap, modern, ballet and hip-hop. Sheppard also offers jazz, tap, ballet, lyrical, some hip-hop and break dancing, and also Pilates.

"At 2 1/2 to 3 1/2, we do story plays, because every little girl wants to be a princess, and we work on large motor skills," Sheppard said. "You don't know how to skip or hop on one foot unless someone teaches you."

IT IS AN ACTIVITY that has a reputation of being for girls, but dance has been attracting boys lately. Terry-Todd, who is also the dance instructor for Hunter Woods Elementary and South Lakes High schools, said she has seen an increase in male participation over the last five years, especially among the young.

"The young boys aren't as concerned with what their peers say," Terry-Todd said. "If you start young, you just don't care what people say. You want to have fun."

Parents and students who decide to start dance lessons also need to be realistic about the child's future as a professional dancer.

"A small percentage who study dance go on to a career," Russell said.

Regardless of whether the student is taking dance for fun or is serious about pursuing the art form, the right instructor is important to avoid injuries and to teach the proper form. Russell said it is important to ask about the instructor's background.

"All our teachers have professional dance backgrounds and education degrees," Russell said.