Tiny Dancers at Jersey City's Next Step Broadway

Moms crowded in hallways and entryways strapping ballet shoes on their daughters, pulling hair back into buns and ponytails, and stripping their young performers into their leotards. These are familiar memories from my youth that had been sitting up upon the dustiest of shelves in my brain until this past weekend when we took our first step toward Broadway. Next Step Broadway is not far from our house, right off of Hamilton Park in the same building as our gym, the new JC Art School, Smith & Chang, and more. I've always noticed the studio when I walk past because I'm eager for those days I'm a mom in a hallway (in a total non-stage mom kind of way unless the two are mutually exclusive), but I assumed that three was the magic number to begin such a thing. Why?

My mom enrolled me in ballet classes at age three, and my entire life I've had a visual of my mom putting a little baby me in ballet slippers and sending me off. Now that I have a two-year-old, it's clear that a three-year-old would be more than ready to start learning the basics of dance, and instilling a bit of grace into her movement. Especially a going-to-be-very-tall girl, as I was and as my daughter (the World's Cutest Human, as determined by a biased panel of parents and grandparents) will be.

At just two-years-old, the World's Cutest Human is ready to move. She would not be able follow the rigidity of a ballet study yet, but she adores dancing. She's constantly pulling on my hand and saying, "Mama, dance?" swirling me around in a circle (I get dizzy before she does, or she enjoys the baby head rush more than I like mine). It makes my heart swell more than anything else on this Earth. She also asks for me to sing the music from the Nutcracker to her, as she holds her arms over her head and spins around. Like this:

Which brought us to Next Step Broadway. Curiosity led me to check their website last week, and I discovered that there is a class for the very-youngsters (ages 2-3 years) after all, called "Creative Movement." Next Step Broadway describes this class as, "Exploring movement, rhythm, and creativity through exercises created to build expressive minds and motor skills while instilling a love for dance."

Perfecto! Count us in.

Almost, because Next Step Broadway works on a semester schedule that matches the school year. It begins in September and runs through the spring, the consistency of which allows them to really instill a skill set into their students. They then offer a smaller selection of Summer Classes in Pre-Ballet, Ballet/Tap, Intermediate Ballet and Hip-Hop (check those out here) in July and early August, as well as five sessions of a Performing Arts Summer Day Camp (learn more here). However, the minimum age for all summer activities is 3-years-old.

Translation: I'm too late for this year and too early for next year. By a long shot. So, what's a mama to do? Write to Next Step Broadway and beg to try one class before this semester ends, of course! They very graciously obliged with a "non-commitment class" (essentially a test class) so that the World's Cutest Human could get her feet wet and see how she liked it.

So off we went this past Saturday morning. We passed through the entryway crowded with moms, and Miss Laura, who teaches Creative Movement, welcomed us and showed me around the studio before class.

At this point, the World's Cutest Human decided to have a cling-on meltdown, gripping my leg as though she was dangling over a lion pit and her life depended on it her grasp around my calf. My heart sank a little bit that we weren't going to get to try the experience after all because I didn't want for us to be a distraction. More like a fly on a wall. But Miss Laura let me stay in the corner (mamas wait outside so as not to distract the tiny dancers) until my little monkey calmed down and became comfortable.

It took a few minutes, as Miss Laura led the class through an opening good morning song and some silly, fun stretching. But when the hula hoops came out, the gloves came off, and the World's Cutest Human forgot me as she pranced off to join the class. She swung the hoop around, and climbed inside Miss Laura's hoop with the other three gals, as their imaginations transformed them into passengers of a now-shared hula hoop choo-choo train (one of the World's Cutest Human's favorite things, as a matter of fact).

From there, my girl was hooked. They played with parachutes, they were tightrope walkers along a rope on the ground, they climbed into the tunnel of a "book" (folded up tumble mat) and so much more. A permanent smile was plastered across their sweet faces and happy laughter continued throughout the 45-minute class.

Miss Laura's intention for the Creative Movement class is to allow the kids to play and explore, while singing, dancing and acting out fun activities, introducing them to a class-like structure where they learn to listen, laugh, share and be confident.

"The important thing is to have fun while learning some basics of dance and movement," Miss Laura said. "For instance, a simple twirl, bending knees, going on tippy toe, skipping and acting like a ballerina, swaying like a flower, jumping like a bunny... these all lead to basic dance steps like pirouette, plié, relévé, chassés, etc."

She added, "We also introduce a little tumbling and the mini trampoline each week, along with hula hoops, bean bags and other props they can play with and use, which encourages creativity."

Miss Laura's own background is in theatre, voice and dance, having performed in Mary Poppins on Broadway for six years, in addition to many other well known productions. She's toured throughout the U.S. and Canada teaching and performing. As though that's not enough incredible accomplishment, Miss Laura is also a certified Pilates instructor, choreographer and jewelry maker. She certainly knows what she's doing!

In between games, Miss Laura asks the girls to stand on the purple wall (giving her a chance to reset the activity), which they dutifully did... most of the time. It was cute when they did, but it was even cuter when they didn't.

Because when they weren't listening, they were squealing gleefully and wrapping their arms around Miss Laura. That's the best part of teaching this class, she says.

"The hugs at the beginning and end of every class, they just run to me with big smiles and giggles to say hello and goodbye, and that just makes my day," Miss Laura said.

"There are times in class where they give me ideas or share with me a creative move they came up with all on their own. This class allows them 45 minutes of pure fun, music, dance, acting, and they grow and learn so quickly. It's amazing to watch."

Having been granted the privilege to watch myself, I would have to agree. Is it too early to sign up for September?

Find Next Step Broadway on the interwebs: