Life lessons from watching live ballet…

It’s ballet show time at the studio and when we approach this time of year I often ask myself Why? Why do we go to this huge effort to bring an entirely different ballet production to our students each year. Every single year… a new ballet production. We must be crazy! Most studios would let this be their only production and this would end their season…. but NO, we get right back up and prepare for June recitals…so why do we continue to produce an entire ballet production in the middle of our season?

Here’s why…. ballet is different than the other dance forms. We are telling a story through our movement, without words, without lyrics. This is an incredible art form for your children to learn and to watch. They are learning what it means to communicate with their bodies and their faces. They are truly having to find a place inside themselves to express happiness, confusion, anger, fear, joy, love… without saying a word. Expressing these emotions on stage in front of friends and family takes courage. It takes maturity. It takes strength. It takes a level of self awareness that is not typical in children, especially teenagers.  Even more than their beautiful technique, when I see my students take themselves to an emotional place that translates on stage, it brings me to tears. It’s growth and it’s beautiful.

Beyond the communication of emotion there is the exposure to classical music. Something that we don’t get to hear enough of in jazz, tap or hip hop class… or in our daily lives. Our dancers learn to count phrases of classical music that only accomplished musicians have the experience of doing. They feel dynamics so subtle that they develop an appreciation for the composers of such music. They recognize the beauty in instrumentation and find a comfort in hearing the sounds they normally would never hear. They leave the ballet show experience with an appreciation for a musical art form that is sometimes lost to our youth. This carries into their adult lives and can truly change them for the better. I truly believe that. What if the next great musician of our time is exposed to their first classical piece of music at the ballet…what if?

Because we are telling a story throughout the show and we cannot speak or use lyrics in our music, we must pay very very close attention to the details of our choreography. Alice is trying to open the doors… but where did she get the key? The Mad Hatter gave her the key… but where did he get it? Was it on the table at the tea party? How does it get there? The mouse falls asleep but who wakes her up? Someone has to remember to nudge her and wake her… The White Rabbit is late…how do we know? Where is the clock? Where do we put the clock while she is dancing? Alice falls down the rabbit hole but how do we show that on stage? How can we all move together to create a caterpillar? These are classic and in depth sequential story telling problems that need to be solved. And we do it together. From the very youngest 6 year old mouse who understands their place in the story to the lead roles in the ballet production. We work together to solve problems, rearrange the scenes and create a story that makes sense. These are classic literature skills that follow them everywhere. Every student understands their place in the overall production and what part they play to tell the story. This is VERY different that the June recital where every class has their individual routines – the ballet classes overlap, combine and work with the lead roles to tell the story as a whole – it’s truly a team effort.

And, of course, our dancers work hard. They work hard enough in ballet class to deserve the chance to show it. They commit themselves to technique classes, pointe classes, summer programs, painful training and they should get the chance to dance a role in a classical ballet before they head off into the world of college and adult life. Will some of them continue their training, sure. Most will move on to intense academics and a traditional life…but they would have had that moment. When they played Sleeping Beauty, or Glinda the Good Witch, Snow White, Willy Wonka, or Alice in Wonderland…and it will have added something special to their life. That is meaningful. It is unique. And it makes it all worth it.

So – if you are wondering if a ballet production is right for our child to watch (or participate in) the answer is YES!  Here are some questions to you can talk about before, during or after the performance:

  • Do you like this type of music? Do you hear violins, pianos, flutes?
  • Do you think Alice is scared, confused, happy?
  • The tea party looks fun! What did you like about that scene?
  • Ohhh…the Queen of Hearts can make a mean face! Let me see your scariest face…
  • What do  you think of that dancing caterpillar? Can you move like that?
  • Those pink flamingos are beautiful! Can you pose like a flamingo?
  • This croquet game is silly! They are using the flamingos to hit the balls – and the balls are hedgehogs – and the hedgehogs are real kids! Can you roll like a hedgehog?
  • What character do you think is most like you? White Rabbit, March Hare, Dormouse, Mad Hatter, Queen of Hearts, Alice?

Please come out on Sunday and support these amazing dancers. Please come out and give your own children the chance to escape into a fantasy world NOT coming at them on a screen. Please come out and introduce your child to a teenage dancer who could be their next role model. Please come out and take a moment for yourself to remember what it was like to be a kid and have the chance to do something this special. Please come out and show the dancers your support. They really are amazing and I can’t wait to witness the magic again!

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