The popular idea that all children are naturally graceful is quite erroneous. Far too many children are ill-developed, and from sheer neglect are allowed to get into the habit of adopting faulty positions, which may lead to permanent lack of grace and symmetry.
Even at six or seven years of age there are children whose shoulder-blades stick out like wings behind, and whose little chests are sunken and depressed. Later on in childhood, at fourteen or fifteen, lack of grace is still more apparent; and the hobbledehoy girl, in spite of popular ideas on the subject, very rarely grows into a graceful woman.
To make a child graceful, systematic care is necessary, from the beginning. It requires constant watching to prevent a child developing bad muscular habits, which may be impossible to eradicate if left indefinitely to Nature. "She will grow out of it," says the careless mother with a daughter who stoops, and the same remark is sometimes made concerning slight degrees of lateral curvature, which is far more prevalent than mothers know. " His right shoulder is a little higher than the other, but it is not of any serious consequence," I heard a mother once remark concerning her little boy, who had a very marked curvature of the spine, in blissful ignorance and an almost criminal airiness of manner. A child, in nine cases out of ten, will not grow out of a muscular deformity. Further, in the later stages of these cases the bones, as well as the muscles, become involved, and permanent deformity is the result.
This article is written with the idea of teaching mothers some simple methods of making a child graceful in its early years. It will, in the second place, if the directions given are followed carefully, prevent the occurrence of minor deformities, of round shoulders, weak backs, weak ankles, which in their slighter degrees are very common causes of apparent lack of grace.
In order to make a child graceful it is necessary to teach her how to stand. Watch how the child stands when at ease. Note if one shoulder droops, or if she has any tendency to stand in a lop-sided position, with the stomach protruded or the head thrust forward. Teach her how to maintain balance by rocking backwards and forwards on the balls of the toes and the heels alternately. Instead of continually telling the child to stand straight and walk erect, provide her with a few simple exercises which will ensure what you desire. One of the best is for the child to walk up and down a room balancing a light box or basket on her head. Another is to practise regularly a few simple muscular exercises to tone the muscles, such as are described in the Woman's Medical Book, pages 509 and 622 of this Encyclopedia. Devote a short time every day to dancing exercises.
A child, especially a little girl, is very imitative, and if you will take the trouble to show her a few dancing movements she will soon display pleasure and pride in practising them. This should be done to a musical accompaniment, and in a spirit of enjoyment, not as a mere task which the child has to get through. Let her stand easily, and raise the arms one higher than the other as the first movement. Then teach her to keep time to the music whilst moving her arms up and down, first the right hand upand left down, and then vice versa. If the child is only five or six years of age it is very rare to find that the muscles are supple in the first instance. You will probably be surprised to discover how stiff and ungraceful she is.
To acquire a graceful carriage of the head the child should clasp the hands behind the head and bend the latter as far back as possible
Bare-foot dancing is of benefit to the muscles of feet and ankles, and tends to preserve the beauty of the foot and develop the calves
It is essential to teach the child a supple and graceful movement of the arms
Then teach her a few steps. Let her rest on one knee with one arm raised. In a few days she will do this simple movement more easily and gracefully, because her muscles are being educated.
Poise of the Head The little girl who knows how to carry her head gracefully has learnt one of the secrets of grace and beauty. Head and neck exercises are excellent for developing the muscles. Let the child kneel with her hands clasped behind her head, and bend her head backwards as far as she can. Then bring the head to the natural position again. Repeat this exercise standing, with the arms folded behind the shoulder-blades. Another exercise consists in resting the hands on hips,. and bending the head sideways towards the right shoulder. Be very careful that she does not raise her shoulder to meet her head. Repeat this movement alternately to the right and left six times. The graceful child must practise balance. The first time she raises her left foot forwards and outwards she will find it extremely difficult to maintain the position, but let her repeat the exercise several times during the day, and gradually she will acquire "co-ordination," which simply means the power of controlling the muscles. To practise the art of balancing, let two children stand together and support each other with the arms raised on the other child's shoulder. Let them at the same time raise their right foot outwards and forwards, and then their left.
Dancing, as well as toning the muscular system, is an excellent health tonic. The free movement provides that the child must breathe deeply. Thus the expansion of the chest is improved, and after six weeks dancing the "chest expansion" will be found to have increased half an inch to an inch. That, in itself, makes for grace and erect carriage. Dancing also increases the circulation of the blood. The blood flows more rapidly through the brain, the organs, and the tissues, and a good supply of rich, healthy blood is one of the essentials Of growth and development. The deep breathing previously mentioned means that more air is taken into the chest, hence the blood gets a liberal supply of oxygen, which feeds the tissues throughout the body.
Deep breathing is the best possible measure for the prevention of consumption. The lungs are exercised, the fresh air penetrates to all parts of the lungs, and the seeds of consumption have far less chance of settling in later life if the lungs have been properly developed in childhood.
Dancing acts beneficially upon the digestive system. It tones the muscles of the abdomen, and prevents constipation. It ensures good appetite and the easy digestion of food. Every organ is improved in tone, whilst the effect of dancing upon the muscular system is very great. The child who is taught dancing at home learns unconsciously how to move gracefully. She will never walk on her heels, as women who have never learned the art of motion are apt to do. She does not turn her toes in, because " pointing the toes " is one of the very first things the child who is to be graceful has to learn. She learns how to move her arms. Suppleness of the wrist is gradually acquired if the child is taught how to move her arms up and down.
Whenever possible bare-foot dancing should be practised. The benefit to the ankles is very great, as also it is to the muscles of the feet and calves, because the natural heel is not falsely supported by a shoe. The tendo achilles, which is the tendon for raising the heel from the ground, is strengthened, with the result that the child dances naturally on her toes. Most of the well-known dancers strongly favour the idea of dancing with bare feet. From the medical standpoint, it is the best way of preventing such everyday deformities as flat feet, weak ankles, and wasted calf muscles The child's foot is a very much neglected part of its anatomy. The foot of the young baby is beautiful, but the foot of the girl of twenty is rarely fit to be seen. A graceful carriage with a cramped, ill-developed foot is an impossibility. Too many women walk badly and almost waddle who might be graceful to-day if they had learned dancing bare-foot in their youth.
A Supple Waist
The graceful child must acquire suppleness of the waist muscles. Bending exercises will best ensure a supple body and graceful line from chest to hip.
Let the child stand straight, with the arms raised above the head, and then bend slowly until the finger-tips touch the toes. This should be repeated four times at first, and afterwards, when the muscles respond more easily, the movement should be repeated six or eight times in succession.
Whilst standing straight, with the arms horizontal, the child should bend, first to the right, dipping the right hand downwards at the same time, and then to the left.
In a later article " skipping " will be dealt with fully, as it is one of the best exercises for providing grace and health in the nursery. One of the advantages of dancing, skipping, and simple movements such as are described above is the pleasure conferred upon the child. There is plenty of variety. The child likes the idea of music, and prefers " dancing exercises " to stereotyped "drill," and the interest of the child grows as she finds that she has more command over her muscles.