For me, beginning ballet is a treat! I've often heard teachers complain about short attention spans and unruly students, but I absolutely love my beginners!
Here are my tips and tricks for making beginning ballet fun:
1 - Don't expect perfection! - I know this one is obvious, but I have to put it out there as a caveat. Expect slow and steady improvement. Expect slip ups in classroom behavior from time to time. Expect success, but don't expect perfection. Little bodies (and brains) can't always perform up to an adult standard, and we have to recognize their effort.
2 - Keep Moving - Standing still is hard to do and a skill that we have to learn. You know your dancers have to stand still between exercises and while waiting in line so reduce the downtime to keep them on track. During barre work in beginning ballet, I alternate between explaining the pattern and having the dancers follow my lead. When I explain a pattern, I have my dancers moving with me to practice, and when I don't explain a pattern, I make sure that it repeats multiple times in the space of the music so that I can correct their bodies while they're moving. This tip sounds elementary but after recording my own classes years ago and watching them back, I realized that I was talking for a good portion of their movement time, and if I had been asked before watching those videos, I would have been certain that I kept the talking to a minimum.
3 - Create Engagement - Have the dancers say the combinations with you as you dance them. They will learn words like devant, à la seconde, derrière, dégagé, and rond de jambe very quickly this way because they are associating them to the movement they're performing. If they're talking with you, they're not off-topic talking with their friends. Give them rules and jobs to remember. I have three rules for grand battement and my beginning ballet dancers bounce up and down with excitement to recite them to the class. (If you're wondering: 1. Don't bend your knees! 2. No thuds! - I hate when they're legs come down hard and fast with a thump. 3. Don't do anything funny with your body to make your leg look higher. No leaning back or hunching forward. No picking up your supporting heel.) Engagement means they have the opportunity to talk and move in a healthy and helpful way that facilitates learning. They NEED this!
4 - Consistent Class Format - I never skip a section of class. We might only get to stretch for 2 minutes if I'm running behind but don't skip it. Young dancers thrive on consistency. (My class format is: 5 minutes of gentle stretching and strengthening with a gentle butterfly stretch, stretching and flexing the feet, turning the legs in and out, balancing on our tails, and rolling through the back and recovering to a sitting position to engage the core. 20-25 minutes of barre. 5 minutes of stretching. 7-8 minutes of center with sautés, port de bras and basics like pas de bourrée. 15-20 minutes of traveling. and 3-5 minutes of a focused free dance.) Consistency also gives young dancers agency. We use portable barres so my dancers know that as soon as their barre is put away they are to sit down in a zig-zag line in the center. It's their responsibility, and it allows them to go from one activity to the next with a purpose. Agency is incredibly important for maintaining focus during transitions.
5 - Focus on the Positive! - Use this tip across the board. Focus on the positives of movement and focus on the positives in your classroom. If a dancer is excited to show you some movement they've been practicing at home, ask them to show you at the beginning or end of class, but do watch, give positive feedback, and acknowledge their love of movement. Very few of these children will grow up to be ballerinas, but we want them to appreciate the art and to love movement of all kinds. Your reactions play a large part in acknowledging their efforts and furthering their love. Don't forget that! And focus on the positive in your classroom. When you look out at our dancers and see 9 slouching and 1 standing up tall, call out the positive and watch the other dancers follow that lead. "I love your tall back Elizabeth!" will earn me 10 tall backs, while "Let's all sit up tall" will only earn me a few. Reward the good behavior and improved technique rather than focusing on the bad. Your dancers will see you as a positive teacher and will see ballet class as a positive experience.
Do you have any tricks to share? Comment and share your ideas!
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