There's plenty of dance on television these days, but nothing fires the imagination like close-up experience of the real thing. And this is doubly true of children, whose proneness to hero-worship can lead them to heroic feats of emulation. Usually, of course, these heroes are sports stars; but the passage from sport to dance can be just a short step. Adam Cooper and Darcy Bussell make just as exhilarating role-models as Pete Sampras and Steffi Graf.
As companies go, Adventures in Motion Pictures, with their long record of hits and their sold out mega-hit production of Swan Lake, are the likeliest to win new converts. The audiences who thronged London's Picadilly Theatre over the past five months - avid for yet another glimpse of their all-male flock of menacing swans - were notably youthful.
AMP are about to tour one of their previous hits, Highland Fling, which is artistic director Matthew Bourne's extraordinary reworking of La Sylphide: The Roses Theatre, Tewkesbury February 18, Northcott Theatre, Devon February 20-22, The Place Theatre, London February 25-March 1, Mac, Cannon Hill Park, Birmingham March 8, The Derngate, Northampton, March 11, The Corn Exchange, King's Lynn, March12, Farnham Maltings, Farnham March 14. If you miss this you miss the only chance of seeing them for a while, except on video, since thereafter they are taking Swan Lake on an extended world tour.
This company has an exemplary education programme, with workshops and lecture demonstrations; costumes, sets, and props can be viewed; information packs and ideas for follow-up work are provided.
At the classical end of the market, Chance to Dance is the title of a collaboration between the Royal Ballet and the Dance Theatre of Harlem. Since 1991 many thousands of children and young adults have participated in it, going to lecture-demonstrations, joining in dance sessions, and seeing performances at Covent Garden.
But this is also a scholarship scheme: specially talented children who pass an audition get free dance kit, weekly classes, and ultimately the chance of a career. The next Covent Garden schools matinee performance will be on April 12, when the programme will consist of two Balanchine classics and a new work by Glen Tetley.
Dance Bites, meanwhile, is the name of a project by which the Royal Ballet involves young dancers, musicians, and designers in a creative network. But the company's overriding aim is to preserve the 19th-century classics alongside the creation of new work: it offers backstage tours including wig-making and wardrobe departments. They intend to continue this policy while being exiled to other venues during Covent Garden's impending two-year closure.
Birmingham Royal Ballet's education department assisted by city council funding is having great success in its drive to strengthen dance's position in the curriculum. "Thank you for making us use our imaginations," wrote one grateful boy recently; "I didn't know ballet was such fun," wrote another. Design and composition workshops are complemented by stage lighting demonstrations and backstage tours of the Hippodrome Theatre. When classes are booked for schools matinees, in-sevice training sessions for teachers, with ideas for practical work, are provided free.
A-level groups have the chance of study days and evenings on their set work, Frederick Ashton's The Dream, which the company have in their repertory, and which they perform at six venues round the country. Dance Track is the name of the company's selective scheme for 8 to 10-year-olds: its aim is to identify and nurture - through free weekly classes - those with talent.
Many of these activities are duplicated by Glasgow-based Scottish Ballet, whose education unit, entitled Steps Out, offers workshops and classes in jazz, tap and ballet. Guided backstage tours and the chance to watch rehearsals - and fence with the company's fight director - are also on offer. Forthcoming productions: Romeo and Juliet, Theatre Royal Glasgow April 3-12, Edinburgh Festival Theatre April 15-19, His Majesty's Theatre Aberdeen April 22-26, Theatre Royal Newcastle May 6-10, New Theatre Hill May 13-17. La SylphideTroy Games, New Victoria Theatre Woking, February 25-March 1, Swan Theatre High Wycombe, April 29-May 3, Lyceum Theatre Sheffield, May 20-24. Reductions available - ring Box Office to book school parties.
The educational facilities offered by Northern Ballet, based in Leeds, are no less competitive. Their forthcoming revival (February 25 - 1 March) of Christopher Gable's acclaimed production of Romeo and Juliet will make an excellent taster. And on Thursday 27 February they are holding a Talk and Watch session, at which, after a preliminary talk, pupils will be able to see dancers doing their daily class. This is a unique opportunity to witness balletic life in the raw.
Meanwhile the Arts Council's Dance Pack provides useful information about dance companies all over the country, and in every mode including black and Asian dance.
Bookings through the education departments: Adventures in Motion Pictures: Simon Lacey, 0171 833 5803; The Royal Ballet: Amanda Jones or Darryl Jaffray, 0171 212 9410; Birmingham Royal Ballet: Jane Hackett, 0121 622 2555; Northern Ballet: Greta Dawson, 0113 274 5355; The Arts Council: 0171 333 0100
Scottish Ballet: Lorna Pickford, 0141 331 2931