When will my toddler waltz? A skills breakdown

Have you spent every day since Baby’s birth dreaming of watching them whirl around a ballroom in perfect waltz time? Yes? Well, you’re in luck, because the end of your waiting is in sight. Not very close sight, as waltzing is definitely a little ways into the distance of Baby’s future, but they're developing more and more of the skills they'll need every day. Before you know it, they could be gliding across the floor in 3 4 time!

The toddler waltz: cognitive skills

Ballroom dancing is like anything else – the physical skills are important, but Baby’s path towards mastering the waltz starts in their mind. The box step (the basic step used in the waltz) isn’t called a box step for no reason, which means that Baby’s waltz apprenticeship can’t move forward until they have learned their shapes. How will they be able to visualize the box in the box step if they doesn’t know the difference between a square and a hexagon? Many tots really start to get the hang of different shapes by around the age of 3.

There’s more to it than just knowing their shapes, though. As every dance movie from Strictly Ballroom to Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire knows, learning to waltz involves a lot of counting. Luckily, they won’t have to be able to count higher than up to three – they'll just need to be able to count to three over and over and over again. Unfortunately, counting is probably going to set their dancing timeline back a little. Toddlers can start learning to repeat numbers by rote, “counting” as high as ten by the time they’re 2 years old or so, but most of them don’t start to make the connection about what those numbers mean for a while yet. Many toddlers can start to conceptualize counting, and what numbers actually mean, all the way up to number four by the time they’re around 4 years old.

The toddler waltz: physical skills

Well, Baby probably already has the first physical skill they'll need – by now, there’s a good chance they took their first steps a little while ago, and they may even be walking like an old pro by now. But is they ready to start taking steps backwards? Whether your little waltzer is leading or following, they're going to need to be able to take a step backwards at some point, and most toddlers learn to walk backwards some time between 16 and 18 months old. Baby may be there, or they may just be getting close, but they could probably use a little extra practice before they start trying to set it to music.

Speaking of music, Baby has had the ability to start trying to move to the beat of music pretty much since they were born, and the more they practice dancing, climbing, running around, and other types of active play, the stronger and more coordinated they get, so they are only getting more and more on-beat as they grow.

Balance is another skill Baby will need in their future as a dancer, and while their balance is growing stronger every day, it’s still in the early stages. They probably won’t be able to stand steadily on one foot until they are about 36 months old.

The toddler waltz: social skills

Finally, Baby can’t waltz on their own. Maybe you’re their ideal partner, but in the long run, they'll probably do better with someone a little closer to their own height – which means waiting until they're a little more interested in interactive play with other toddlers.

The toddler waltz: The X-factor

The final mental skill that Baby will need as they begin their quest for basic ballroom is the attention span and interest in formal forms of dancing. Attention span grows as toddlers do, though there’s a wide variety of “normal” attentions spans for tots of all ages, but when it comes to interest, there’s really no telling when or if that will hit.

  • Marcel Zentner, Tuomas Eerola. “Rhythmic Engagement with Music in Infancy.” Proceedings of the National Association of Sciences of the United States of America. 107(13): 5768-5773. February 10 2010. Retrieved May 25 2017. http://www.pnas.org/content/107/13/5768.abstract.
  • “Child Development Tracker: 4 to 5 Years: Mathematics.” PBS Parents. PBS. Retrieved June 7 2017. http://www.pbs.org/parents/childdevelopmenttracker/four/mathematics.html.
  • “Children and Media: Milestones: Age 3.” PBS Parents. PBS. Retrieved June 7 2017. http://www.pbs.org/parents/childrenandmedia/milestones-3.html.
  • “Forms of Play.” Child Development Institute. Child Development Institute, LLC. Retrieved June 7 2017. https://childdevelopmentinfo.com/child-development/play-work-of-children/pl3/#.WTgKBBPyvow. 

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