Damoves brings the joy of dance to toddlers and preschoolers all over Amsterdam. Marta Parlatore spends a day with Carly Verkerk-Wassenaar and learns all the moves that make this dancing school so special.

Like so many Amsterdam mamas, Carly Verkerk-Wassenaar starts her working day on her bicycle. After kissing her husband and 6-month-old baby goodbye, the founder/manager/creative force behind Damoves Dance School hops on her bike, 4-year-old daughter in tow, and sets off into the semi-controlled chaos of an Amsterdam morning. First it’s school drop-off for her daughter, then on to Damoves’ dance studio in De Pijp. Damoves offers classes at five locations spread across Amsterdam, but today she is here, at Eerste Jan Steenstraat. It’s 9 am, and Carly’s first class of the day is about to start. The toddlers are beginning to arrive.

A Passion Stronger than Fear

For as far back as she can remember, Carly’s life has been about dancing. “When I was 12 I studied at the Royal Conservatory in The Hague,” she recalls. “I would travel from my home in Leiden to the Hague every day by train, on my own. It was scary sometimes. I was just a 12-year-old girl with a ballet outfit on.” But her love for dance was stronger than her fear. She completed her educational dance programme at the Conservatory, and went on to jazz performance studies at the Theatre School in Amsterdam. After graduating, she moved to Paris, where she lived and danced professionally for five years, but her career on stage came to an abrupt stop due to a serious back injury.

Some parents who knew I was a professional dancer asked me, “Why don’t you dance with our kids?” and I thought, “Why not?”

Now that her dream of performing professionally had been derailed, Carly needed to figure out her next step. She returned to Amsterdam and began working in a crèche. “It was there that some parents who knew I was a professional dancer asked me, “Why don’t you dance with our kids?” and I thought, “Why not? Especially since it was very difficult at that time to find activities for young children in Amsterdam.” So, Carly started her first dance classes for kids aged two to four in the crèche where she worked, and a new chapter of her dream and her life began.

That was 2006. SInce then, Damoves has grown to 50 classes a week, for toddlers and pre-schoolers, under the guidance of eight teachers, at locations all over Amsterdam.

Damoves’ Formula: Welcoming, Warm, and Fun

One of Carly’s greatest priorities is making plenty of time before class to welcome the children. “I believe it’s crucial that very young children get a warm feeling when they enter the class,” she explains, “Very often, especially for kids this small, my class is the only hour of the week when they are away from their parents, so I do my best to make them feel comfortable.” Once the comfort level has been established, the creativity and the fun can truly start.

After a full hour of dancing I see the children have grown a little bit. They are more confident, they feel their bodies, inside and out, they’re steadier on their feet, and that’s really why I do it.

This week, Carly is rehearsing with the kids in preparation for the “Kijkles”, an open class to which parents are invited; it’s essentially a normal class, but the kids perform little bits from the themes they’ve been working on in their classes.

Some examples of the themes Carly creates for her little dancers are:  

  • Africa: in which dancing with baskets on their heads is actually an exercise in balance and posture, and a ‘fruit picking’ exercise helps develop coordination.
  • The Puppet Maker: in which the puppeteer’s loss of his puppet windup key is an occasion to explore emotions and the movements that express them.  
  • Autumn: in which a blanket full of leaves held and operated by the children together teaches them about collaboration.

“After a full hour of dancing I see the children have grown a little bit, they are more confident,” Carly says with a bright smile. “They feel their bodies, inside and out, they’re steadier on their feet, and that’s really why I do it. I think it’s really important to build up children’s confidence before they go to school, because you know, the school playground can be quite scary.”

Dancer, Mother, Teacher

After classes, it’s back to Amsterdam West, to Damoves’ home office, for administration, staff meetings, and planning. Carly personally creates the lesson plans and themes, and she regularly meets with her teachers, and supplies them with the props they need for a given theme.

At 5 pm she bikes home, where both her daughters are waiting for her. “I’m always so happy to see them!” she exclaims. “And I’m also quite happy that I work only three days a week now, especially since the baby was born – it’s so good to see her grow up as well.” Her daughters’ playful dancing is Carly’s greatest source of inspiration, “My older daughter shows me how girls her age want to dance. She brings home all the new, cool trends from school.”

For Carly, teaching children is a vibrant collaboration which requires great attentiveness and openness to the constantly changing perspectives of young children. Since she became a mother herself, she understands even more about how toddlers and preschoolers learn and grow. It has also made Carly even more passionate about what she does. “I understand better how the mothers who bring their children to my classes feel,” she explains. “Now I know first-hand what a great act of trust it is to allow me to teach them. I consider it a great honour to be able to be the first dance teacher in their lives.”

The new term at Damoves starts in January; find out more about classes and schedules on their website.

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Photo credit: Damoves

Marta Parlatore

Marta Parlatore is a filmmaker, freelance writer, and aspiring novelist who spends most of her days hustling time to write between the challenges of being a Toddler Mama and Household CEO. She's the founder of The Story Desk, a very independent screenwriting collective, and she loves to tell embarrassing stories about motherhood on her personal blog Baby Blues & Rock'N'Roll. Find her also on Facebook and Instagram.