Written by Shanna Kirkpatrick, Chara Founder
Combating “Age Compression”
When you think of the definition of “childhood,” what words come to mind? Perhaps words such as playful, imaginative, innocent, or fun-filled. Certainly these are words that drive our joyful, faithful mission here at Chara Christian Dance Academy.
But they are not always words that describe childhood in current times. Children are commonly fluent in areas of life that were once reserved only for grown-ups—technology and media come quickly to mind!—or exposed to mature concepts. This is part of a phenomenon known as “age compression,” which refers to children participating in activities, training, or work that is beyond their years. This concept usually accelerates as the child gets older.
In the dance industry, this can lead to increased competitiveness and a desire to achieve elite status at a younger age—or to skip important building blocks of artistic and skill development. Children then become at risk for physical or emotional injuries.
Here at Chara, we are intentionally working hard to prevent the potentially detrimental effects from this phenomenon. We are actively encouraging our dance families to let their kids be kids, without the pressure of growing up too fast or being burdened by heavy expectations.
This philosophy reminds me of a story I once heard about Corrie ten Boom, a Christian woman who became famous for her family’s efforts to safeguard Jewish families during Nazi-held Germany. She recalled that as a child, after asking her father about an unknown-to-her subject, he responded with care and compassion appropriate to her young age. According to her recollection he said, “Some knowledge is too heavy for children. When you are older and stronger, you can bear it. For now you must trust me to carry it.” Ten Boom trusted her father. “I was satisfied,” she said of his answer. “More than satisfied—wonderfully at peace. There were answers to my hard questions. For now, I was content to leave them in my father’s keeping.”
In a similar vein, our Chara teachers strive to be the guardians of our students’ innocence. These are just a few ways we prioritize the emotional and physical health of our students in this way:
- We build intersessional breaks into our schedule in order to create space for kids to take a reprieve from after school activities. We want to support time for family dinners, bike rides, Bible study, and more.
- We only add Wednesday night classes that can also be taken on other days of the week, so as not to interfere with Wednesday night church services or youth group commitments.
- We prioritize costumes, movement, concepts, and music that are age and developmentally appropriate. What may be suitable for a 13-year-old will be different than what is suitable for a 5-year-old!
- We are committed to safe dance training. While always challenged, our students will never be pushed beyond their physical capabilities. Instead, we cultivate a healthy respect for growth within the limitations of young bodies. Despite our culture’s desire for a high level “wow” factor, we will not sacrifice a dancer’s safety for the next trend.
While it’s true that our children are growing up in a different generation, I do believe our collective responsibility as parents and teachers is to be intentional about protecting the dignity of childhood. It is so important for kids to be kids at Chara Christian Dance Academy. Rather than encourage them to grow up faster, let parents and teachers alike encourage them to enjoy the present, avoid comparisons, and develop at their own pace.