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Introducing Ballet to children

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I had a very happy moment this morning when my 2.5 year old son decided that he would rather watch a ballet video than one of animals (even though he's never seen one before) and then sat spellbound for the length of Tzigane (Farrell and Martins, who can blame him?).

This led me to wonder, what is a good way to get someone this young interested in watching ballet, and other dance -- especially a boy, who is not as likely to be attracted to the pink toe shoe aspects. I have found it awfully hard to find ballet children's books that aren't of the "pretty tutu" variety, which do not really hold his interest and which I don't like much, either. I think when he is a bit older we will try some dance classes (we are in New York, so have several to choose from, including Alvin Ailey). At what age do you think children can be introduced to live performances? Are videos a good idea? Any other suggestions?

[Moderators – I didn’t think this needed to go in the Moms and Dads forum since it is a pretty general question but please move if you think differently.]

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My daughter (now 10) first saw Nutcracker at 3. That was the starting point of a dance journey for her. She attended perfomances from that point on, in my lap until she was tall enough to see from a seat. Story ballets, particularly, are enchanting to young kids, but she also seemed to enjoy the "shapes" of the Ballanchine, etc. pieces.

Success tips for the very young at the ballet: 1. Talk about how people sit (quietly), what they do (watch w/out talking), etc. before you go. 2. If possible, and an accessible story ballet, get hold of the fairy tale, etc beforehand and read it together. 3. Snacks at intermission (I always smuggled in some goldfish crackers :) -- they were a lifesaver.) 4. Think matinee. Schedule the all-important nap a little early that day...but don't try to skip it if he still naps. 5. Be seated on or near an aisle and 6. Be prepared to leave early if need be. When possible, my husband would attend with us, and we were prepared for one or the other to leave with our young daughter. We never had to. She was fascinated.

She started "class" at 3 -- class for kids that young is lots of movement to music, and her favorite: jumping over the alligator (pre-pre-pre center work). She's still an avid fan of dance, both as a student and an audience member.


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Our story is a bit like MSD's with our dancing daughter.

Interesting boy story:

I have two friends who have boys. When the boys were about 5 they came to our school's performance of Mid-Summer. There was a 13-year-old boy who performed, and is to this day really fun to watch. The 5-year-olds decided that ballet was a pretty neat thing - with all the action. One actually decided to take dance. The other has been to other performances, and hopefully is developing an appreciattion for it.

This is one of the nice aspects of having a small ballet school that affords our dancers performance opportunities. It gets people to come watch who might not otherwise dream of going to a ballet. People who know us will come watch our daughter perform because they don't know anything about ballet - but think it is neat that she is so dedicated to it. That's the case with every kid who performs.


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:) This is not I cannot really fathom, my girls between the ages of four to six (there are only eighteen months between them) also sat spellbound time and time again (tape now sadly worn out) in front of "Tzigane".

Is it the music?

Is it the dance?

Then can some child psychologist explain this to me!

As an adult, one would think that children would prefer something more cute and sweet, but "Tzigane"!

In all fairness, they were also riveted to "The Tales of Beatrix Potter", but that is very much more understandable.

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We, too, began introducing the world of performing arts early on with our daughters. We began with performances that would appeal to their age group beginning at 3 years old ... performances of Peter Pan (Cathy Rigby flying across the stage), the Washington Ballet Nutcracker, Cats even (I know -- but it's a great show for little kids). Then I varied the venues ... did a lot of the Imagination Celebration series for young kids at the Kennedy Center in DC. These are performances targeted by age ... so we began with a mix of theater, dance and concerts in the center's smaller theaters. We saw an amazing array of very well done shows. I also kept them fairly well insulated from TV, video games and computer games while they were little. This is critical! Then they begin to believe that live theater, music and dance is the norm.

On the ballet front, I began with story ballets (Giselle, Swan Lake, Midsummer Night's Dream, et al) only because I knew that they would appeal to them. This really turned them on, coupled with their start in ballet classes (age 4). The Washington Ballet has been fantastic for drawing children to their performances -- we've seen so many delightful story ballets from Peter Pan (Jared Nelson flying across the stage), to Where the Wild Things Are to Cinderella and so many more.

Today, as young teens, they are absolutely hooked. About 2 years ago, I began to take them to all kinds of dance performances, including a modern series, and they are wild for Debbie Allen's annual show here in DC.

I still try to keep them in story ballets when I can just because they love them but now I'm introducing them to a lot more Balanchine, Suzanne Farrell and other groundbreaking choreographers, like William Forsythe whom we will see on Sunday. I try to find "cool" shows to keep them interested [Cirque du Soleil, Blue Man Group (causes deafness) et al] and as many musicals as I can, including touring Broadway shows AND high school productions -- keep that in mind. Local productions are far more affordable and the kids can really identify with the younger casts.

Finally, we try to take them to the smaller dance schools that also perform, like the Maryland Youth Ballet here in the DC area and Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet near Harrisburg, PA. These young dancers are amazing, often have professional guest dancers and again, the girls can relate to the younger casts.

My advice is: go to as much as you can with your child as young as he/she can sit through the performances. VARY the venues. MINIMIZE the pop culture garbage. Don't force one type of art -- it's a sure-fire way to get them to hate it as they get older. And, when they are older, you'll be able to enjoy those heavenly moments of sitting in the theater with your children enjoying the arts together.

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While reading 'Angelina Ballerina' to my 3 year old granddaughter, her 6 year old brother was listening in. When the story was finished he turned to me and said "Don't boys dance"? As you can imagine, that was all this grandmother had to hear! I thought about what videos I should send him and decided on the Balanchine Nutcracker because of all the children in Act I. I told his mother that he would probably only be interested in Act I; but he was glued to the TV for the entire ballet, and then requested a repeat. For his second tape I sent him the Royal Ballet's delightful version of "Peter and the Wolf", performed by students of the School. Both of these tapes have an honored place alongside the Disney fare. I have been looking for a suitable 'Cinderella'---the Ashton version did not hold their attention---.

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atm, you might try the Bolshoi's Cinderella. Some nice special effects in there and pretty good dancing. I'm wondering, though, if perhaps the length of the ballet isn't a factor--it is much longer than both the Nutcracker and Peter and the Wolf.

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When the story was finished he turned to me and said "Don't boys dance"?   

He may like Balanchine's A Midsummer Night's Dream, especially the first act. There's a DVD out, performed by Pacific Northwest Ballet, taped during their London tour. There are a lot of things in it a young boy might like -- Puck's antics and wonderful jumps, Oberon's solo amidst the kids playing bugs and the butterflies, Bottom and his friends, the pas de deux between Titania and the donkey, and the scene with the sword fight and Hippolyta and her hounds. He might not like the "mushy" parts between the two couples, and the two dances with the ladies. But you can always fast forward through those parts :)

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Another idea for kids are condensed,narrated ballets. I know NJ ballet does this a few times during the season, and I'm guessing others must to. The take aballet and condense it to about an hour and narrate it.Since these are geared towards children, the price of tickets are nice :rolleyes: and the audience doesn't mind excited murrmurring,etc... :) Although my DD (7) loves going to these with her friends, she also enjoys attending evening performances to! It is anice option...

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Balletnutter's response reminded of something that we did for several years when my dd was younger. We live near Houston, and the theatre district has an open house every year on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon about the time kids go back to school. All theatre venues downtown are open. Each performing arts organization is represented. In Wortham theatre they have an area where ballerina's are in their beautiful custumes; they have the opera folks doing stuff; all kinds of dancers and musicians are performing; they have an instrument petting zoo where children can play with the symphony's instruments. There are several theatres within a couple of block radius, and a park in the middle of all of it. We had several visits to this event, and I highly recommend it. If you're in Houston, this is a great event - and if you are not - perhaps this is done in your area.


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Afraid that she might not be able to sit through it at a younger age, I waited until my eldest niece was five before taking her to NYCB's Nut, her first ballet, in 1991. I needn't have waited quite so long; the kid was already a critic.

Our Sugar Plum was Heather Watts. As she barely marked the variation, I comforted myself that her failure to dance full-out would go unnoticed by the novice spectator at my side, who'd never as much as seen a pair of pointe shoes until that day. But the little one turned to me and whispered, "She must be tired from so much dancing!" :)

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