Do put your children on the stage

Budding stars can learn to act, sing and dance - and even enjoy all the fun of the circus. Tim Walker reports
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The Independent Online

Children needn't be attention seekers, or even talented actors (though I'm sure all your children are), to enjoy the glare of the spotlight. Performance also builds skills for life, such as confidence, communication, teamwork and self-expression. And there are countless weekend and schoolholiday opportunities for the talented, the highly talented and the simply enthusiastic to discover their inner De Niro and Fonteyn.

The Gate Theatre in Notting Hill, west London, runs free events for young people and their families in the summer months. From 31 July, a week-long drama course for 10- to 12-year-olds will see 16 London children produce a play written specially for them by one of the course leaders.

The Gate's mini summer festival runs from 17 to 19 August. On the first day, 14- to 18-year-olds can learn graffiti from a local artist and expert, and on the final day, younger children and their families can join in a range of activities, including mask-making.

The middle day of the festival is given over to a playwriting workshop for teenagers, which might persuade them to get involved in Gate Ink, the theatre's young writers' course, which runs on Wednesday evenings throughout the school year and culminates in readings of the teenagers' work in front of an audience of theatre professionals.

Ambitious young thesps with an eye on drama school should feel at home auditioning for the National Youth Theatre which, following a rigorous rehearsal period, produces a season of productions in London, Edinburgh and elsewhere. There are places on NYT courses and productions for performers and for young people interested in costume, lighting, sound and stage management.

Stagecoach, Britain's largest part-time theatre school, where children learn to act, dance and sing during their weekly three-hour sessions, holds more than 500 Saturday schools across the country for children aged between four and 19. Four- to seven-year olds have their own 90-minute "early stages" classes, and popular demand is responsible for the "later stages" classes now running for 16- to 19-year olds.

The Belcanto London Academy is a performing arts school based in Eltham, south-east London, whose full-time courses have produced such luminaries as Lee Ryan from the boy band Blue and Emily Juniper, one of the latest cast members to join the West End production of Billy Elliot. Children who like the sound of stage school can get a taste of the experience with Belcanto's summer courses, taught by industry professionals, and their part-time Saturday school for 13- to 16-year-olds. The school's Dynamite production company takes over on Sundays and produces plays for young performers.

In London, the Arts Educational School, known as Arts Ed, has Saturday sessions in drama, singing and dance, including ballet, tap, modern and jazz.

If your son or daughter is more interested in the tango than Tennessee Williams, there are a number of schools that focus specifically on dance. The Northern School of Contemporary Dance in Leeds has a youth dance programme for children aged 13 and upwards with some contemporary dance experience, for 10 weeks beginning in May. There's also a beginners' contemporary dance class in the same period.

The Place, home to the London Contemporary Dance School, has opportunities for children with varied levels of dance experience. For young people who already have a good grounding in dance, the Centre for Advanced Training (CAT) hosts an intensive programme for the keenest 10- to 17-year-olds, preparing them for full-time dance training - at The Place or elsewhere - when they reach 18.

The course takes place every other Sunday in school terms, and intensively over the Easter and summer holidays; the training includes ballet, contemporary dance and Pilates, and children need to pass an audition to get on to the course. For relative beginners, The Place also offers children's Saturday classes, youth and junior dance companies and a summer school in August.

School-age dancers who have set their sights on a career in performance can now get on course early, at 16, on the BA degree in professional dance and performance at the Central School of Ballet.

For children with a more playful idea of performance, the Circus Space in Old Street also teaches skills for life, such as walking a tightrope, keeping plenty of balls in the air, and so on. Their classes, for teenagers down to under-eights, are on Sundays in the school term. There are auditions in August for the London Youth Circus, for 11- to 18-year-olds, which lays the foundation for a career in circus arts - a niche profession, certainly, but fun.

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