How to make ballet fun?
I hear it all the time, ballet is boring, I want to do jazz, I want to do hip hop or complaints about compulsory ballet. The question I am often asked is how to make ballet fun? Well first off, full disclaimer, let me just put it out there, I think that ballet IS fun. I think that for young children, especially little girls, ballet is a lovely, wonderful and VERY fun thing to do. Little girls dream of being ballerinas, its just about as good if not better than being a princess. So where along the line does ballet start to be not fun? I personally have never had any trouble with the concept of how to make ballet fun. I find it fun and I KNOW that my budding ballerinas just love it and certainly find ballet fun. It melts my heart sometimes to see them trying to hard to get their posture just right or to perform a perfect tendu for me. So I set to thinking, what are the 5 top things that make ballet fun ( besides it being ballet of course, which makes it inherently fun)?
Imagery really brings your ballet class alive and ads a big splash of magic and wonder at the same time. There is no limit to the types of imagery you can use in ballet class and imagery is a key element when it comes to how to make ballet fun. Starting with posture, you can stand tall like a princess, pretend to wear a beautiful crown, wear long drop earrings which make you keep you neck long or you can talk about your tiger tail swishing down between your legs, talk about doing up you zip on your pink pants, the sky is really the limit. When it comes to certain steps, imagery can make a huge difference not only to the enjoyment of a class but how well your young ballerinas learn. Try all sorts of imagery – different images will work for different students.
Take the Plié for example, some imagery that I use includes, the marshmallow room where we use our knees to push the marshmallow out and then it squeezes us back in but we try to stop it, or little fairies that have hold of being ropes attached to our knees that are pulling them out and then pulling against us as we stretch back up. For piqués we can talk about splashing in a pond, or tapping our foot on a very hot surface or trying to wake up the little elf that lives under the floor by doing very tiny taps so as not to scare him. No longer is ballet just about different steps, its a whole magical world of fun and imagination. This type of imagery can be used, adapted and honed right through childhood ballet class.
2. A balanced curriculum
Working to a plan and looking to achieve goals is also super important when it comes to running fun, yet pedagogically sound classes. There is so much to think about when performing ballet steps, it can be exhausting. It is easy for young children to feel bogged down, like they have been standing in the one spot for ever. When thinking about how to make ballet fun, it is important to consider this. Whilst we want to hone technique at a young age it is important to take a longer view approach. They aren’t going to master everything in one lesson or even one term. Just keep moving in the right direction, gently pushing and encouraging the proper technique and it will develop. For this reason it is important not to dwell too long on one step or launch into lengthy explanations about technique.
Our aim is to start laying the groundwork, make them feel special and wonderful and slowly move towards out goal of training technically sound dancers all whilst nurturing a love of dance. Avoid putting children on the barre too early. Most early barre exercises are done facing that barre and unless you have portable barres that can be moved into the centre, you put yourself at a great disadvantage if the whole class is facing away from you and staring at a wall. The moving of barres can also disrupt the class rhythm. It is generally not necessary to use the barre until the children are around 7-8 and then, if you can, use barres that allow the children to see you while they are facing the barre.
When thinking about a balanced curriculum it is important to include different phases. Phases that should always be included are, a foot articulation phase, a ‘barre’ phase (though this will be performed without a barre), a port de bras, some sort of pirouette (may simply be a spotting exercise with pitter patters turns), some allegro and then some steps from the corner. These will start with tippy toe walks, marches and skips and then progress to polkas, gallops etc. Stretching is optional depending on how long you have and which other classes the children are doing. The class should always end of a high note with something that sparks the children’s imaginations and allows them to move freely. (see point 5). The Ballet Blueprint is designed with all 5 points in mind and offers a complete, step by step guide to training young ballet students – complete with imagery, technique checklists, pedagogically sound curriculum. It has never let down and students trained with this method are excelling in all areas of their ballet training. You can check it out here.
Props are not just for preschoolers. Young, beginner ballet classes can also really enjoy props, especially scarves, crowns, wands and bean bags. You can find some great ideas for props here.
Appealing to different senses is very enchanting and interesting for young children. Adding elements like clapping to help with musicality changes the pace of the class and can bring wandering attention back into focus. Ideas are 4 claps and 4 sautés or 4 claps and spring points or clapping out different rhythms, fast, slow, running, skipping.
5. Ending on a high note
This super important when it comes to how to make ballet fun. Great ways to finish the class include improvisation (a theme like night time in the toy shop is always fun), or a fun game. You can find some great action songs for this here. A take home is also a great way to add touch of excitement as well as to reinforce terms and steps covered in class. You can find a great range of colouring pages for boys and girls here.
Ballet is fun just the way it is. These tips will help you to unlock that fun and inspire a love a dance for all your baby ballerinas. Don’t forget, they think you are amazing and wonderful. Praise them for their efforts (tips to make sure your are giving the sort of praise that will really make them thrive can be found here), make them feel special and wonderful and magical and share the wonderful gift that is a love of ballet.