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Children at the ballet?

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Another can of worms, inspired by the "Is ballet for the masses?" thread. Stephen Pollard groused in the Times of London about ill-behaved audiences, particularly parents with children.

dirac mentioned a term Calvin Trillin coined, the "baby bigot". In some senses, being a childless man, I may be one. I do expect parents to bring their children out in public to socialize them. I don't expect them to do it in lieu of a babysitter.

I also recognize certain venues as being for children and families, like the New Victory's dance programming and I regard matinees as being usually less etiquette savvy; I expect them to be a place where children learn to behave in public (and hopefully, adults learn to turn off their cell phones and not bring entire duffel bags of cellophane wrapped candies with them to performances. . .) At the same time, I paid for the ticket, I have a right to enjoy the performance. It's the same as I feel about smoking in public; the person who is introducing an element into a situation with a potential for disturbance is the one obligated to insure others will not be disturbed.

We've talked often about the circle of Hell where we'd consign the adult violators of theater eitquette, but how do you all feel about children at the ballet? Should they only be allowed in after a certain age? Are you ever disturbed by them? Do you wish they weren't there?

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I don't think you can have an age requirement; some three-year-olds are better behaved than the throat-clearing, cellophane-rattling, cell-phone answering, smooching and whispering adults we've all encountered (and who live again in Pollard's piece).

I wrote on a thread about audiences some months ago one very egregious case of a little girl who talked at the top of her lungs, sat on top of the seat (put the seat back up, sit on top of it) so that the people behind her couldn't see, and kicked the back of the seats of the people in front of her. The usher for that side of the house was practically gang tackled by her victims at intermission and they were afraid to do anything (i.e., make her extended family take her out of the theater) because the family didn't think there was a problem. (I suggested what they were telling airplane passengers to do at the time -- throw a blanket over her and drag her up the aisle.) And the house manager finally intervened.

Most parents I've seen try shushing the child and, after the third yelp or wail, take them out. I'd like to believe that most people are responsible. I have to say that I've never had an audience problem at our local modern dance venue, Dance Place, although children are regularly part of the audience. Most are children of dancers and have been playing in studios all their lives. They know they have to stay out of the way of large people who jump at them!

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In the last performance of "Jewels" that I attended, I really wished that the two children

around 8 in the next loge weren't there, especially when the boy started making a lot of disgusting noises with his mouth in the middle of "Emeralds"... :mad:

But I think that in general it's a matter of education by the parents (they're the ones who should be blamed), and also a matter of choice of the program. Some works are better suited to young children than others- one of my cousins was 8 when she attended her first ballet performance, and behaved really well, but it was a narrative ballet ("Giselle") and I had told her about the story before so that she wouldn't feel lost, also she took dance classes then and so was interested in seeing the dancers. But I wouldn't have brought her to see an abstract work, for example, or a work with a too complicated plot: for example, I have an awful memory of sitting next to a family with two kids in a POB mixed bill with Tudor's "Lilac Garden", Taylor's "Speaking in Tongue", and MacMillan's "Song of the Earth"- they spent most of the evening complaining that they were bored and they wanted to go home... I suspect that their parents had no idea what the ballets look like when they booked some tickets, but clearly it was some wasted money for the kids! Probably the main problem is that there is quite a difference between bringing a child to the ballet because you think that s/he will enjoy it, and bringing him/her because you don't want to spend some money to pay a baby-sitter...

Perhaps it would be wise for ballet companies to write in their season brochures a minimal age for each program (perhaps not compulsory, but to give some advice to the parents). Also I wouldn't be shocked by having a minimal age for all performances if it's really low- I don't think that a child before, say, 4 would benefit much from a ballet program (except when it's targeted especially at children). Some theaters do special programs for children, for example the Maison de la Danse regularly programs some (with cheap prices, and some special subscriptions for the adults going with the children), and it sounds like a good idea to me. Also some orchestras make special concerts for a family audience (generally shorter than usual concerts, with an introductive talk, and a reduced price- for example the Orchestre Philarmonique de Radio-France will make such concerts about Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring" in March at the Théâtre du Châtelet, the seats will cost 4,5 euros each but only the adults with children will be authorized to attend it...)

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A friend once observed, and my own observations have tended to confirm, that when families come with children, it is more often the adults who engage in inconsiderate, intrusive behavior. I remember a mom with her 8-year-old daughter at a performance of Watermill, followed by one of those light, frothy Robbins pieces. I warned her before the curtain of how difficult Watermill might be for her daughter to sit through, but it turned out -- in that case -- not to be a problem.

My latest Nutcracker was spoiled by an adult who kept insisting that the child with her (I did not get a mother-daughter vibe from them) pay attention to the stage action. The girl got increasingly cranky and angry, and it was only after Grown-Up let the child fall asleep that my neighbors and I got our due peace.

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I never took my children (I have 4) to the ballet before I thought they were old enough to be able to sit somewhat quietly through the whole thing. I also abide by the rule that if your child is misbehaving you leave. Period. When you have a young child you have to understand when you pony up the money that you take a chance you may not get to sit through the whole thing. Kids are kids after all and this is not Disney World. The problem is is that there are parents out there who (1) don't understand the limitations of child maturity and ability and (2) are probably problems themselves. What came first...the misbehaved child or the parent?

I also would never take a child to a ballet that was a leotard ballet...and only took the 3-4 year olds to Nutcracker. The only other ballet I took them to was Midsummer. These are ones they can relate to...not a strictly plotless ballet that they will go nuts sitting through.

My worst experience with a boorish parent was at a Nut performance by NYCB. I was there to see my daughter be a Pollichnelle for the first time. What did I get? A family came in behind us...with a 2 or 3 year old. Somewhere half way through the party scene the kid gets ansty. The parents must have brought a bag of things to amuse child...of course getting to it was noisy...involved loud rustling through bag and then whispers about "How about this...no well we have...rustle rustle..." "Antsy kid noises..." It was totally aggravating. This went on through most of the 1st Act. During intermission, I turned around and asked if they could try to be quieter. Then Angels came on...more whispers and rustling. I turned around and shushed them. I must have shushed them numerous times. Right about when my daughter was about to come on stage they left. But they didn't only leave...he leaned over and told me "Thanks you B!@##, thanks for !@#$%^ our show so we have to leave...I'll be waiting for you after the show..."

Ok...whose fault was that? The child or the parent for taking the child when the child was obviously not mature enough to sit through a whole Nut performance? It's not the child...it's the parent.

Know thy child is the golden rule. The other rule is that misbehaved kids probably are coming from parents who need some lessons in good parenting.

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Let us not forget that many children brought to the ballet today are the dancers or audience members of tomorrow. I agree that there is an unwritten ettiquette which we all have to learn in order to be a member of the audience, and this

includes children. I, too have gone to the theater with young children hoping for a glorious afternoon together and had to leave when it turned into something else. I have also left grocery carts full of groceries at the store when my children did not heed my warning about behavior expectations. I had to follow through, but secretly hoped the cart would still be there when I returned hours later to finish shopping -- it never was. I have to say, and I think many of you would agree, I have experienced more well-behaved than ill-behaved children, of all ages, in the theater. It's that old squeaky-wheel thing, you know.

In fact, the whispered comments of children, which I have overheard, during performances has actually added to my appreciation of a performance with the addition of the child's perspective. Some of these comments are embedded in my memory, even years later. Like the one 3 year-old who towards the end of a Nut, Act 1, turned to his mother and asked, "Why don't they talk?" Mom answered, "they are talking, but they're talking with their bodies." Or, the 4 year-old who turned to her mother while watching Snow corps and with great concern asked, "Where are their mommys?" Her mother replied, "their mothers are probably sitting in this audience watching them dance, just like we are watching them dance." Both of the children continued to ask questions during the performances. I never felt this detracted from the performance. Instead, I was particularly glad the children were there having the


Certainly boorish people come in all sizes and ages. Just as they are being removed from airplanes before they even leave the gate today, so should the boorish be removed from the theater, if they lack the common sense or audience ettiquette to know when to do it themselves.

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"How do you like children, Mr. Fields?"


Alexandra is correct in that the children of dancers are almost preternaturally well-behaved at performances in general. Even very little ones get the idea that when the music is on, and people are moving, it's time to keep quiet. One example I can remember was a ONE-year-old who sat patiently through the matinee watching Mommy and Daddy dance, and then watched the evening performance to the point where he turned to Grandma and said, in a low, little voice, "I can't anymore." And promptly fell asleep. The subject matter? Hamlet! He is Richard Marsden, late NYCB and presently with the Sacramento Ballet.

I think, on the whole, the anecdotes received so far are correct. The parents are usually a worse problem than the kids. At least in my experience.

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I remember taking my daughter to the orchestra when she was four.Usually she was fine but once I thought I was going to die-she was so noisy.I ended up taking her out that time.I still tried and sometimes it worked,other times I removed her and ate the ticket! It's really hard being the parent of a little kid but I wanted her exposed early and often.I just appriciate when the adult removes them when needed!!

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This is a topic that comes up at the elementary school where I work: teaching children how to be a respectful audience member. It's a forgotten, or perhaps abandoned, art, I'm afraid. Recently, out of desperation, we've decided, as a staff, to take on this issue with our student body because we believe that most children DO have the ability to maintain silence and respect during a performance.

I grew up during the days of large Catholic families. We attended church every Sunday. Children were quiet during Mass; the very few who became noisy were brought out of the room by their parent. I don't know why our culture thinks that children aren't capable of maintaining silence. MOST can if we have that expectation of them.

I don't believe in an age limit for children attending the ballet although an age recommendation might be nice for parents who aren't familiar with ballet but want an enriching experience for their children.

Most of the time I don't mind the little kiddies at the ballet. Often their comments, particularly during the story ballets, are endearing. As long as they're basically quiet but just ask an occasional question-not too loudly-every now and then, I'm not annoyed.

But wherever there's a child behaving inappropriately at the ballet, there's also a disrespectful adult. And that DOES get under my skin. I've shushed some parents through the years and glared at some kids. It hasn't helped. I've also employed my most diplomatic skills: "That's my daughter up on the stage. I'd really love to watch her without interruption." That comment is effective: it's elicited sympathy and quiet every time I've resorted to it. Maybe we can all use that line regardless of who's on the stage :D

Justdoit, I appreciate your story of leaving the supermarket empty-handed in order to follow-through. In the long run, it's SO much easier to do that just once or twice with a child than to have to deal with a chronically whining, obnoxious child. Slightly off tangent here, but if parents weren't so afraid of their kids, the kids would be better behaved and we wouldn't be having this discussion.

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Leigh, I have to say that I throw my hat in with all the previous posters.

All children mature at different ages...some never do.

Agreed, however, that a note of suggestion to ticket buyers might be a good idea, and I think it should be de rigueur that when there is an offending human being of any age and there are other members of the audience savvy enough to complain to the powers that be, during the first intermission, they should do it and do it quickly! Perhaps the offenders might be placed in "stocks" in the main lobby for the duration of the performance?

dancermom2, your story reminds me of that recent Metropolitan Diary (section of the NY Times) where the well behaved couple in the audience was moved to another section of the theater in order to join "the witness protection program"!:eek: And, vagansmom, aren't you thankful for your religious upbringing, now? ;)

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I took my granddaughter to see SFB's Nuts. She loved all the character dances and was having a simply wonderful time until Suger Plum, etc., started. With that she lost all interest and slumped in her seat in a gesture of disgust. Bless her; that was her only disgusted gesture and the day was a rousing success. Need I add that I'm proud of her mother, who is my daughter!!


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I agree with what has been said, too.

The lack of respect and consideration for others, as seen in (children and adults in) audiences and schools (and other places) around the world, probably has many reasons.

It is probably true that television and other "private entertainment" entities contribute to this, as was mentioned in the other thread (is ballet for the masses), as well as general neglect of kids in some families.

I do not mean that the kids are not well-kept or well-fed; they just are not taken that seriously, so why should they take anything else seriously?

In our family we seldom get a chance to eat together, due to theatre-times, but we have taken the children to concerts, plays, ballets and operas from a very young age. (under one year old)

Our kids are used to it.

They know they have to be quiet - as quiet as they can.

If they need to know something, they have to wait.

It is hard sometimes, though.

(We try to prepare them beforehand with information on the play/ opera, etc. It is sadly impossible to prepare them for much of the "tanztheater" stuff... so we do not go often to those.) ;)


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Once during the second act of Washington Ballet's "Where the Wild Things Are", a little girl near me commented quietly to her parents, "This is a long movie." However, she and the many other children around me behaved quite well for the most part.

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May I speak as one of the children who was taken as well as a parent now who takes her nine year old son, when appropriate, to live performances of all kinds.

I was lucky, I was taught by my parents not only how to behave in general, but even when (and when not) to applaud at the ballet, the opera, the symphony, etc. I began with matinees -- followed by a special dinner at General Lee's chinese restaurant with my parents. These experiences in large measure, formed my love for the arts of all kinds, and gave me the grounding to become an avid ballet student in my forties.

In contrast, my brother did not have these experiences. IN fact I remember on a couple of vacations a babysitter showing up so that my parents and I could go to the ballet. And even today, he could care less.

That's why I take my son. Why I insist that he learn how to behave appropriately. And why sometimes, he turns to me and says, in his understated way when he doesn't want to admit that I was right, "it was alright."

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When our daughter was a student dancer her father would sometimes transport her to and from her Young Dancer demonstrations at elementary schools. He got such a kick out of watching all the little girls spinning and twirling as they left the auditorium following the "performance".

When several years later she performed the Siren in Prodigal Son, his comment when leaving his seat at intermission was he wanted to go outside and watch all the little girls twisting thier bodies around all the little boys. ;)

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Ah, I took my kids - even when they were under one year old - to performances which were _for children_. (usually plays or concerts)

I admit, we were quite lucky, for my husband works in the theatre (and was often onstage), so we could rather easily get a "box" seat, where it is much easier to leave suddenly without disturbing others; as well as to return again. ;)

Otherwise, we did not take them to operas or ballets which were not especially for kids until they were about four or so.

By that time they had learned - pretty well - how to behave in these circumstances.


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During holidays I simply couldn't resist the open-air performances in Italy, so I started to take my children to the ballet at age 4 and 6. I remember my eldest daughter, hardly breathing (!) and mesmerized by "La fille mal gardée"...while the other was playing in the sand of the old Roman Theater ;)

I was convinced it had something to do with age...but after 11 years, nothing has changed ! She goes wild about movies and animation, read masses of books and started recently to see drama....but no ballet ! In the meanwhile her sister is in fulltime ballettraining....

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I agree with all the posts so far and can only add that if a child is misbehaving, it's up to the adult to either quiet the child or take them out.

then again, sometimes I think the ones that just let their children misbehave are probably the same people who stand in front of me at the art museum while I'm looking at a painting :D

I think adults should use discretion in what performances to bring children to, and as Leigh said, matinees are generally considered family orientated.

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My friend and I took her 5 year old to see The Nut (matinee) this year - her first ballet .... her first anything longer than 1/2 hour actually. My friend had gone armed with various bribes in order to get her usually hyperactive daughter to sit still throughout the performance (the 'sit still until the interval and you will have this for being a good girl' scenario). Bless her little socks, she didn't move through the whole thing - she was mesmerised, and wanted to go back in and see it again straight away when it finised :cool: .

On the other hand, in the row in front of us were two women with a little girl, who was fine, and two boys, one of which paid no attention at all to what was going on and spent his time forcing open as many binocular cases as he could reach (you have to pay for them - 40p)! Mum totally ignored him all through and then when he gave a pair of binoculars to his little brother who showed them to his mother, she then told the little one off!

It took all of my patience to get through the performance without saying anything. I was brought up to show respect to others in public places (ie restaurants, theatre etc) from a very early age and wouldn't dream of letting my children (if I get around to having any) behave in such a disrespectful manner.


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I may be wrong, but I believe the last time I bought theater tickets (for a musical, no less) I was informed by the Ticketmaster agent that tickets are not sold for children under 5. Anyone else have this experience?

I took my daughter to Coppelia at the age of five and she was so enchanted that I didn't have to worry. At six we went to Beauty which was a little too long, so she took a nice nap.

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Well, once my godmother had the idea to bring her 3 years old daughter (who's also my godaughter ! ) to the annual performance of my ballet school in the Salle Pleyel. MY dad was a little sceptical about that idea, but the girl surprised everyone. I was told she stayed quiet during all the performance, and looked mesmerized by the ballet. After seing it she decided she had to become a principal, and is now a pupil of the POB school !

I think a well brought up kid can attend a ballet performance very young, if he's provided with some instructions about manners (not speaking during the performance !) and the story of the balllet, before the beginning ( and not durind the actual performance !) . I saw my very first POB performance when I was four, and I knew if I wouldn't stay calm then I wouln't be allowed to go again ! But I will restrain that view: I'm not sure it would a good idea to bring a kid seing the modern version of Giselle by Mats Ek eg.

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My mum started taking us (my brother and me ) to ballets and musicals when we were about four/ five. She said we always were well behaved although we did ask the occasional whispered question. But at my end of the year ballet concerts parents are requested not to bring very young children because it is quite long (and crying, screaming babies/ toddlers upset audience members, hinted at but not really stated by the studio manager). But guess what? Some parents who do bring their little ones WILL NOT take the child out when they start screaming and all that noise comes out on the video of the performance. What do you think of that?

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monte, I think that the crying baby sounds on your performance video is terrible!! There must be some way to give these parents a heads up that noisy children are not allowed! Believe me, though, I've been at those end of the year recitals and, sadly, there are often some of the most poorly behaving parents with their noisy children! :( As the saying goes: "The apple doesn't fall far from the tree."

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