Friday, February 21, 2020

Everything you need to know about Alvin Ailey Extension's Kids & Teens Sunday Dance Series

"To be who you are and become what you are capable of is the only goal worth living." - Alvin Ailey 

One of the things I appreciated most about my childhood was that my parents encouraged me to explore my interests and I involved myself in everything from chorus and poetry to track and field and JuJitsu. Being able to express myself both creatively and physically kept me driven in school and also enabled me to flourish socially, and I knew when I had kids of my own that I would want these experiences for them. One of the reasons I'm so torn about leaving New York is because I feel we live in such a diverse city where Mike and I can expose our kids to the arts and the cultures that make up this melting pot of opportunities.

There is no shortage of dance classes offered in NYC that teach varied styles to children and sometimes it's so hard to make a decision on the best program. Alvin Ailey Extensions Kids and Teens Sunday Dance Series is the perfect introduction to Ballet, Jazz and Hip Hop. 

Our 2nd born Tristan is a ball of energy that never stops moving, I'm sure if you have tweens and preschoolers at home you'll agree it's pretty tough to get them to sit still. Fortunately, we've managed to keep him and his big brother unplugged and moving over the years with soccer, track and field and most recently flag football and hip hop dance. Honestly, he can't get enough of dancing and wishes that his Thursday class met more than once a week, so I figured an opportunity to try out another school and teacher's dancing style would be a fun learning experience for him. 

Obsessed with watching Chris Brown on Youtube and Twitch on Ellen's talk show, on any given day of the week, you'd see Tristan get undressed from school only to put on one of his fave music videos. With dreams of hitting the stage to perform with them both someday, he's constantly practicing a sequence of combined steps from his b-boy classes mixed with trendy Fornite moves. 

When you hear the name Alvin Ailey, most instantly think of one of the most world-renowned dance companies and although Tristan was unfamiliar he was excited to meet other kids his age that also loved to hit the floor to show off their moves. Ailey Extension exemplifies Alvin Ailey’s legacy that dance comes from the people and should be given back to the people by making dance accessible to all in a welcoming environment. Their programs are meant to enrich the lives of the community around us nationally and internationally through dance classes, workshops, student performances, panel discussions, and private groups with prominent instructors and musicians from around the world.

About the Classes: 

On Sundays children, in age groups, 5-7, 10- 11 or  12-18  can attend either a Hip-Hop Moves, Hip-Hop 4 Kids, Teen Ballet, Teen Broadway Jazz, or Teen Hip-Hop class. You can find class times here. There are drop-in classes for just $34 or you can sign up for the full 16-week session which has pricing varied by age group, the class we reviewed is $500. 

  • Hip Hop Moves (ages 5-7) This energetic class will focus on the fundamentals of hip-hop, developing coordination, musicality and promote confidence.
  • Hip Hop 4 Kids (ages 8-11) Students will build on fundamental hip-hop moves and work on basic body isolations, precision, performance quality, and choreography.
  • Beginner Teen Ballet (ages12-18) This class is designed to develop the dancer's technique with an emphasis on correct posture and proper alignment. Students will progress at the barre, develop coordination through combinations, develop flexibility, and learn the vocabulary of ballet. This environment allows young dancers to gain confidence and build self-esteem.
  • Beginner Teen Broadway Jazz (ages 12-18)This exciting class will have students explore the rich diversity of Broadway and the styles of jazz. This class will focus on the fundamentals of jazz movements while adding the classic style of Broadway including jumps, turns, across the floor progression, and stylized movement. In a judgement-free environment, students are encouraged to have fun while exploring their individuality and unique personality in order to build on their danceability.
  • Beginner Teen Hip Hop {ages 12-18) Each class focuses on classic party dance moves, popping & locking drills, and basic breaking combos with a touch of new school hip-hop energy. Teens will learn about the culture of hip-hop and all of its elements including basic footwork, freezes and more.

Located on 405 W 55th street, when you walk into the busy lobby you just turn to the right to the reception desk and let them know you are dropping in for a class. We were about 30 minutes early and made our way up to the studio's waiting area and noticed there were a few other studios on the floor along with a restroom and locker room. Parents and their future Misty Copelands and hip hop stars stepped off the elevator seemingly very excited to start their session. 

I can't even begin to tell you how hyped Tristan was to see that their instructor, Keith Alexander wore his hair in locs just like him. For anyone that can't grasp the idea that representation matters, this moment was big for Tristan to see someone that he felt he resembled leading them in a one-hour long session. You can see the pure joy on his face if you tap through our Dance Highlight on Instagram.

The class started off with some light stretching and meditation to relax and loosen the kids up. Keith also incorporated some games like free dance (that got lots of giggles and sillies out) before teaching the students some basic choreography. It was really cute watching the mixed group of boys and girls learn the routine while having fun and burning off some energy. Keith was great with the students, with a smile on his face and pleasant demeanor he managed to keep them all engaged in learning each step all while encouraging them. 

For anyone interested in signing up for the class, please note that Keith is currently teaching several weekend workshops in various US cities as part of Ailey Extension’s upcoming Ailey Experience Tour 2020 which kicked off in Chicago in February.  Ailey Experience Tour expands on Alvin Ailey’s lifelong commitment to bringing dance to everyone by transporting leading instructors and former Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater Company members to teach workshops to dancers ages 8 and up (including adults) in various US cities. This spring if you're in Chicago, DC, and Charlotte-your kids as young as 8 years old will have the chance to take a class with Keith as well as Director of Ailey Extension and former Ailey dancer Lisa Johnson-Willingham!

What's great is that the Hip Hop 4 Kids classes are broken up by age so that instructors can take into consideration the abilities of each age group and novice students can build confidence as they socialize with their peers. Having taken Hip Hop dance for over a year and now in his 2nd year on a competition team, I will say that the class wasn't exactly what Tristan or I expected already 3 weeks in. Since it's a drop-in program my guess is that they keep each session pretty easy to follow so that if a day is missed a student doesn't feel overwhelmed with catching up.

At Tristan's school, he's used to a more rigorous routine so where he had a ton of fun and enjoyed meeting other kids I guess he wanted more of a challenge. We stuck around to watch the teen dance class which went further into the choreography and seemed to be more in line with what Tristan was hoping for {you can catch a glimpse in that dance highlight on Instagram). 

We inquired about the possibility of him trying out the teen class but learned that students in Ailey Extension’s kid's program are not able to take classes outside of their age group regardless of their skill/interest level. More serious or advanced students may be interested in The Ailey School, where students from ages 3-25 are offered a diverse curriculum-based program designed to develop well-rounded young dancers. Unlike Ailey Extension, students must audition for entry to The Ailey School and enroll in a class level assigned to them based on their ability.

Nonetheless, it was a great experience that I'd recommend to anyone looking to start their children out in the world of dance. What should also be noted is that while your kids are taking a class you can drop into a class as well! 

How are your kids finding fun in moving their bodies? Are they in a dance class or have you ever considered signing them up?

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