Beyond ballet

Introduce your child to new tunes and cultures with lessons in salsa, Zumba, breakdancing and more

After watching So You Think You Can Dance, my then four-year-old daughter begged for Bollywood dance classes. The fast music, colourful costumes and expressive moves — she was hooked. Maybe the show’s funky breakdancing has caught your son’s eye, or perhaps your child just wants to groove to something different. Here’s a sampler of what the GTA offers.

AFRICAN-CARIBBEAN

What is it? “Dance classes bring together African and Caribbean movements and classical ballet,” says Patrick Parson, artistic director at Ballet Creole School. Each class features a live drummer in addition to a dance teacher. “This way they get to experience the different Afro-Caribbean rhythms,” says Parson.

Dress code While leotards and tights are preferable, T-shirts and shorts are fine, too. What’s really important is that kids are comfortable and have bare feet for dancing.

Where to go Ballet Creole School , Toronto Children and Youth Dance Theatre , Toronto

BALLROOM/LATIN

What is it? Dancing With The Stars fans know what we’re talking about — paired dances ranging from the traditional waltz to the Latin-inspired tango. “In our classes, the first thing kids learn are the rumba, cha-cha and jive,” says Christina Amalia Dina, owner of Dance Art Studio in Richmond Hill, who recommends the lessons for ages six and up.

Dress code “They can wear anything comfortable, but it’s important to have flat shoes with flexible soles,” says Dina, who says some kids start with jazz or ballet shoes. Before investing in new shoes, check with the school to verify requirements.

Where to go Dance Art Studio , Richmond Hill Joy of Dance , Toronto Light Up The Floor , Etobicoke
BOLLYWOOD

What is it? This expressive and often fast-paced style mixes traditional Indian dance and Indian folk dancing to the beat of Indian Bollywood tunes. “My daughter Amina enjoys her tap and jazz class. But when I heard about the Bollywood dance class at Sanskriti, I was intrigued,” says Amreen Omar of Toronto. “The class is a great way to introduce my girls — my three-year-old now attends as well — to the rich music and dance culture of India.”

Dress code Shorts and T-shirts or leotards and footless tights are best—again, bare feet are key to executing these moves.

Where to go Sanskriti Arts , Toronto and Oakville

BREAKDANCING

What is it? While hip hop regularly appears on dance class schedules, some schools are breaking out more unique classes like pop ’n’ lockin — a form of old-school hip hop or breakdancing. At Joy of Dance, kids learn techniques in the first part of the class — how to do some breakin’ and poppin’ and posin’ — that they use during the free dance moments later in the class. “It gives them the freedom to dance,” says Jennifer Jones, owner and artistic director. This is one class where you’ll find as many boys as girls.

Dress code Comfortable street or gym clothes such as running shoes, track pants or other comfortable long pants (since kids might be spinning or moving around on the floor).

Where to go Joy of Dance, Toronto; Street Dance Academy, Toronto Vibe Dance and Fitness Studio, Thornhill

SALSA

What is it? “Our family loves most things Latin — there’s no Latin heritage here but we love the music,” says Doug McCormick, a Toronto-based dad whose five-year-old daughter, Dasha, loves the salsa classes (and costumes!) at Salsa 4 Kids. “Some dance schools are more formal and we liked that this wasn’t. It was more about the joy of music and the fun of it,” says McCormick.

Dress code Ask about dress requirements when you register. While some schools suggest jazz shoes or soft-soled shoes for children, others recommend more typical Latin dance–style shoes (which have a small heel).

Where to go Enamorarse Dance School, Toronto Light Up The Floor, Etobicoke Salsa Kids (various locations)
ZUMBA

What is it? A “dance fitness party” is how owner Rachel Giraldo describes the Latin-inspired Zumba classes she teaches at Light Up The Floor in Etobicoke. Classes include salsa and merengue rhythms, hip hop moves and traditional dance games such as Freeze Dance or Dance War. “My four-year-old Ella is absolutely in love with the Zumbatonic class,” says Daena Ramsay, who took Zumba herself and then decided to look into a class for her daughter. “They use more kid-focused music and tone down the moves a bit so it’s easier for kids to follow.”

Dress code Zumba is one of the sweatier types of dance out there, so think light clothing — baggy or yoga pants or shorts, a T-shirt or tank top, and comfortable shoes such as light running shoes or dance shoes. “Anything loose that lets you get down on the floor and move,” says Giraldo.

Where to go Light Up The Floor , Etobicoke; Positive Motion, Toronto

Me too! Want to join in the fun? Here’s where parents can shake their groove things with their kids in tow.

Salsa Babies (various locations): Designed for new moms, this class involves easy salsa dance moves done with your babe tucked safely in a baby carrier on your chest.

Zahra’s School of Dance (Ajax): Moms can do the belly dance class solo, or take a 10-week program alongside their daughters aged four to 12.

Belly Dance by Frédérique (Oakville): Take themed mom-daughter belly dance classes.

Rhythm Dance Studio Inc. (Toronto): Moms of young kids can boogie with their babies in this creative movement class.

80s Babies(Toronto): Watch out, Pat Benetar: Mommas at these classes are pullin’ on leg warmers and dancing with their babies to all-’80s tunes.

(Etobicoke): This school offers a variety of family dance classes — Drums Alive Family Beats, Big Ones Connect, Little Ones Play and Have a Ball.

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