Because I encounter this question and situation on a regular basis, I am putting it down here in black and white what the truth is with regard to how dance training should - no, must - be done if you want your child to be a good dancer. Inevitably, scores upon scores of young dancers decide to focus on ballet at some point and then discover they have all the wrong habits, all the wrong muscles conditioned too stiffly, and are basically a huge mess. In some cases there is literally no way to undo the damage of this poor, negligent training. Since the vast majority who read this article will never take class from my company, I have no motive here other than to set it out clearly and in plain English what the truth is. While in the grand scheme of things this may seem a trivial matter, consider how many millions of dollars are spent in "competition dance" or the like that is totally wasted time and money and especially consider how much money and time and pain comes from spinal or knee/ankle injuries because the dancer never got the proper training to gain control of these very flexible joints. If you follow this advice, I can unequivocally guarantee a much, much better result than any other way suggested or promoted as good or effective or the worse descriptor of all - "fun" (everyone wants to have fun, right?) in how to train your child to dance. Fun is free, learning is not. Anyone who says different is definitely selling you nutmeg.
The way in which parents choose to train their children in dance generally and with regard to ballet specifically can be completely counterproductive and in many cases outright detrimental. There really is a critical, specific order to follow if you want to get the results you expect and have your child able to dance with all the energy, style, excitement, and safety you'd want.
What is that order? Ballet first and only until the age of 13 - 14 years old. The reason? Simple! Ballet trains in great, systematic detail how to control the core, the hips, the knees, and the ankles. These areas are the very same areas where young dancers in general and girls in particular are naturally very flexible and have almost no control, and are also the very areas where nearly all injuries will happen unless the conditioning and control needed to prevent uncoordinated, improper joint movements gets learned to full mastery.
Caveat: forget this notion that ballet, tap, and jazz can be learned by young dancers/children at the same time. That is the worst possible way to go about teaching anything - try teaching piano, violin, and drums in the same music lesson and see what happens. The human mind can only learn one new skill or subject at a time. There is no way around this. To engage in combo-classes is to completely waste your money and your child's time and to quite possibly risk injury because the "training" received in these classes is, to be frank, always wrong and always works the wrong muscles the wrong way and creates dancers who move like blocks of wood rather than the smooth effortless motion needed for dance. In all my years of teaching, I have never, ever seen anyone whether child or teenager come from any combo-class school that had any business even trying ballet without a major dose of remedial bad-habit breaking that can take years to accomplish. And that is just to get them to where they don't look horrible doing corps de ballet parts alongside other correctly trained beginner ballet dancers.
After both the body has reached adult form and the technique of ballet has been learned to where the student can clearly demonstrate control of the body core, placement of the hips and knees, control and strength of the ankles - at that point the study of practically any other dance form is A-OK and will be tremendously boosted by the student having had good, clear ballet technique.
Why is ballet so helpful for other dance forms but not the other way around? Ballet is built on a complete system of how to move every joint in the body - literally - in a certain way that creates, using the human body, what many consider the concept of the "golden ratio". The mission or purpose of ballet is to augment the harmony and melodic structure of symphonic classical music with physical form. These are not steps or movements you would ever do in day-to-day life, and require many non-obvious coordinations and movements of the body. All other dance forms are what is called "pedestrian" in origin meaning they all derive from some function or task or other work that was at some point actually done in day to day life and therefore do not require any enhanced body core or leg control in order to make the movements of that dance form. That is the difference in technical level between ballet and anything else and also why ballet is such an effective, powerful and irreplaceable tool in the physical training of young students. This is also why ballet can and does lead to improvements in any other dance training once mastered, but the other way around simply cannot ever work.
This is the truth of the matter: please do yourself and your child a huge favor and use it. The best things in life are free, and honest, expert advice from a professional who cannot possibly gain from you taking his advice is priceless. Doing the right thing is always the right thing.
Matt Reinschmidt directs Ballet North along with his wife Laura Reinschmidt and holds a philosophy degree from the University of Kansas. You can see more at his blog. This article was previously published on EZineArticles.com, and is reprinted with the permission of the author.