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If you could have anything you want...


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In the midst of running umpteen errands today, I stopped in at my daughter's elementary school to drop off a bus permission form. A van pulled in behind me, and out stepped someone wondering "where the gymnasium was?". It seemed like a strange question for a parent to ask, and so my eyes must have prompted the person to then identify themselves as Connecticut Ballet coming to put on a lecture demonstration. Kicking myself for having forgotten today was the day; I escorted them in and notified the office. Unforturnately, I couldn't stay to watch, so I wished them merde and ran off.

As I raced around my other errands, I kept wondering what they did and thinking about what I wished they might do.

Lec/dems in elementary schools... whatever you do has to work without benefit of lighting, usually on a terrible floor, with an even worse sound system and an unsuitable stage.

What would you wish they would do to inspire an interest in dance? How would you structure an ideal lec/dem? How would you get across to children the aspects of dance that captivated your own interest when you fell in love with art form? It's tricky not having a decent stage /rehearsal set-up...

I found myself wishing they would do barre/warm-ups in close amongst the students rather than up on a stage. I hoped they would talk about what dance was "about"... demonstrate how it can be about "energy", how it can be about expressing emotions... the precision and agility involved... it's roots in the royal courts and martial training and in folk dancing...

I vaguely remember from my youth, Joseph Carow leading lec/demos that got kids involved in the competitive aspect ... having girls dueling for multiple pirrouettes... the kids seemed to be fascinated as they added on another and another... wondering when they were going to miss (I seem to remember he had a couple girls who could pull off 13 from time to time)... and for teenage audience he had some sort of thing about having the guys do "ballet push-ups"... lying on their back balancing a girl above them in "the bird" (I believe I've also heard this overhead lift called "angel") and then proceeding to do push-ups that instead of raising them from teh floor raised and lowered the girl. They would follow the lecture/dem part with a more traditional performance... I believe they were very successful.

I suppose there needs to be a girl on pointe in a tutu demonstrating bourees at some point... and a guy who can jump....

What makes for a succesful lec/dem?

I tried to quiz my 6-year-old, but couldn't get much info... except that someone had gone on pointe, a guy had lifted two girls at once, and that all the dancers had done jazz, and that one costume made them look like a turkey particularly when they bobbled their heads (I'm still having a hard time picturing what that must have been). She was very excited to tell me that they were from Mansfield... which I translated to mean that they were from "Connecticut". I asked if the kids had enjoyed it, if they had found it interesting... and she said "Oh Yes! Particularly Merce [a friend of hers] was very excited and he asked them a difficult question that they couldn't answer!!" What question? "What two people invented ballet?".

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Many non-ballet kids think that ballerinas go up on their own toes with no support from a shoe, so that would be one thing I would want. Let the kids handle, touch and explore a new pointe show then give them a used, ready to be tossed shoe to see the difference.

And if the floor permits have the men dancers do lots of leaping, jumping and lifting so the young boys in attendence see that ballet ain't no "sissy" sport. :)

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I love the idea of having them do barre/warm up amongst the kids. In fact, I don't have anything to add to your scenario -- I think you've covered it pretty well! Middle schoolers, especially, would like your "competitive" aspect, although I know the purists among us would cringe. In order to convey the expressiveness of dance, it could work to have two dancers dance the same bit -- one going through the motions, one really expressing the part. Then have the kids discuss what they noticed, liked, felt, etc. Which would they want to see again? (and then, DO that one again).

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I like the idea of having them see the shoes, and think most kids would like to see slippers as well as pointe shoes. Of course, getting everyone as close as possible is also good.

All that said, I took my 4-yo niece to warmup class (NOT designed for an audience) before a performance last year, and my sister reported later that she found the class just as fascinating as the performance. Of course, during the class she did have the benefit of my commentary (e.g., 'Look at the girl in blue. See how beautiful her arm/leg/head is?')

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I think children like to do things, so I would envision a demonstration that starts with some catchy music, and then ask the kids to do some sort of movements to the music.

Then, it would be great to show how these simple movements are extended through the ballet form.

Also might be fun to do something about "dancing like an Egyptian" (which I believe is based on hierogrylphics which attempted to show full movement), and explain how turnout is related to the same concept.(..or scratch that if there is no relation -- I just attempted to try and look up the history behind/purpose of turnout and only tracked down -- "allows the body to move more easily in more directions").

It would also be neat if one of the kids could "partner" a dancer on pointe -- I don't know how feasible this is, but I'm imagining asking a boy to hold out his hand and have the demo dancer show how his support enables her to balance.

It's interesting to think how many ways these could be approached -- through music, through themes like balance, ballet as "sport" (muscles used in ballet versus other sports), familiar themes (from literature, especially) and so on.

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Oh, the years of my life I've spent watching lec-dems!

When I taught dance history, a class that wound up attracting a significant number of non-dancers since it fulfilled a distribution requirement, I would always bring a pointe shoe with me to my first lectures on Romanticism. I'd bang it on the table at the beginning of the lecture, which would wake up the snoozers in the back rows, and then pass it around the class. Always, always, someone would try tapping it on their head.

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I think these suggestions are terrific. May I add one more. . . because elementary and middle school kids are surrounded by popular music and 'street' dancing, it might be really interesting to take some of the more popular hiphop movements and show how they can be treated balletically. I'm thinking for example, of a number of turns that are really turned in soutenous, and so on. . .

An aside to the pointe shoe suggestion. . . the kindergardners at my son's school do a 'shoe study' every year which includes collecting different kinds of unusual shoes. I gave them a pair of old pointe shoes which have inspired much conversation.

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I was watching the movie "Honey" (young woman wants to make it as a hip-hop star...) with my daughter this past weekend, and one of the dance scences included moves which looked very much like ballet.

The connection is definitely there...

sandik, I was very intrigued with your story about tapping the pointe shoe on the head -- what is the basis of this impulse, I wonder?

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In order to convey the expressiveness of dance, it could work to have two dancers dance the same bit -- one going through the motions, one really expressing the part.

And even with one just going through the motions and the other dancing full out! Reminds me of the double pas deux "Bifocals" from Christopher d'Amboise's tribute to Ben Franklin's inventions "Franklin Court". I wonder if that ballet is still in rep, it had some very nice parts to it.

It would also be neat if one of the kids could "partner" a dancer on pointe -- I don't know how feasible this is, but I'm imagining asking a boy to hold out his hand and have the demo dancer show how his support enables her to balance.

Actually, I got some print-outs of digital photos the school took, and it seems they did this. The boy looked very proud/amused, though the dancer seemed to have to bend her knees a little to reach his shoulder... very cute. I was pleased to see that the children in the audience looked entranced. Also, that the line of the dancers looked pretty good, all considered (particularly considering the space, lack of time for warming up, and a non-professional photographer... they must have held that line long enough for the idea to register in the photographer's mind).

sandik, I was very intrigued with your story about tapping the pointe shoe on the head -- what is the basis of this impulse, I wonder?
Hee! Hee! Hee!!
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:offtopic: Franklin Court hasn't been done in years, but was still listed in their rep, last I checked.

We used to do a shortened barre at lec-dems, where the exercises were all choreographed into one fifteen-minute piece of music. While we danced, another dancer "narrated," to explain what was happening and why it was necessary. I always wondered if that interested the kids, or just put them to sleep!

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sandik, I was very intrigued with your story about tapping the pointe shoe on the head -- what is the basis of this impulse, I wonder?

Silliness, mostly.

It was mostly young men, and I think they were feeling a bit embarrased by the whole situation -- this was a way to dispell tension.

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