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school for tiny ballerinas

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This isn't exactly an issue in ballet, but I'm posting on this forum because we've had so many discussions recently about schools and training.

This story from today's Chicago Tribune describes a ballet school devoted to "baby" dancers (ages 2-7).

"I wanted to inspire children at a young age," said Tanya Waits, founder and director of Ballet d'Enfant, a ballet school that exclusively instructs young children (ages 2 through 7) at three Chicago-area locations. A lifetime of dancing, and 17 years of dance instruction, have made Waits a kind of Pied Piper of ballet.

"Dancing was not commonly taught at a child's viewpoint," she said. "I wanted to create a program that could offer kids a way to understand ballet at their level, and intertwine it with fairy tales."

Accordingly, at Ballet d'Enfant's North Side location at 3234 N. Southport Ave., the lobby in which the parents wait, and the studio in which the girls dance, are straight out of a storybook--all pink and purple, with ribbons and castles and mirrors adorning the walls...

...The students then sing the ballet welcome song: "Good day to you/How do you do/I can't wait to dance with you." They work through a few ballet movements, then read a story, then dress in costumes and act out the story to classical compositions like "Swan Lake."

"They are learning ballet moves without realizing it," said Waits.

What do you all think?

While I see a bit of merit in the idea -- get kids interested in the movement and the stories, and the idea of using movement to tell stories -- it all seems over the top. The photos accompanying the print version show a studio bedecked in huge bows -- (and, curiously, mirrors whose bottoms are mounted at waist height for the little dancers.) It does seem like they are selling the "ballerina dream" rather than actual dance training.

This seems like a prime example of a studio meeting --or, perhaps, creating -- a demand for the purposes of making money. It does not feel to me like good training. What happens when these happy, tag-playing gigglers enroll at a regular studio a few years down the road? The discipline is going to come as a rude shock!

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Why exactly do children ages 2-7 need to understand ballet? Ballet training doesn't start until one is at least eight, usually ten. Then again, it sounds as if the place has little to do with ballet and is more like a fantasy daycare center. It's a cute idea, but I can understand the lack of boys--if I had a son, I wouldn't want him going there, either. Ballet has enough of a "girly" image as it is.

Also, what's up with those first few paragraphs? The article makes ballet look first harsh and cruel, then saccharine and silly, and the very last line appears to try to make it seem as if the school is on a par with the great European academies "handing ballet down to the next generation." While it's probably a fun place for the girls to go once a week, I don't think people should try to equate it with real ballet training. There are pre-ballet programs out there that teach useful skills such as musicality and coordination--they actually prepare the child for more intense training while still being fun. There isn't a need for costumes and drawbridges when the classes have substance; in fact, from the descriptions of the class in the article, all the "atmosphere" isn't enough to keep the children's attention.

However, I would like to say that if these "students" eventually become (grown-up) audience members (or even dancers), I am all for Ballet d'Enfant!

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Yes, Hans, and you did it with such diplomacy! The hope you expressed in your last line may well be Ballet d'Enfant's only saving grace. I just hope these little tutu clad children are able to move on to proper training without too much trouble - psychically or physically!

I think the normal pre-ballet programs are great, for a variety of reasons, but this one does make me feel rather ill - but then I've never been big on pink and purple bows. The really scary part is that some people will think this is what ballet is about. :)

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Oh please, can we chill here? It sounds more to me like over-the-top newspaper reporting than over-the-top parenting. These baby ballet classes are a fancy-dress version of creative movement. Of course they don't get discipline and technique, kids aren't ready for it until they are 8 anyway. So what do they get for going here instead of---- suzuki violin, tot gymnastics, baby soccer or for that matter vacation bible school or the mommy-and-me play classes that ran rampant in every church/synagogue community center when my kiddo was that age? Exposure to some of the world's best music (music they may never hear at home), the delight of indulging in fantasy play and having the grownups applaud your imagination, rhythmic movement, cooperative movement, and the base line for ettiquette that many parents utterly fail to teach because they imagine their darling is too very special to be polite. So maybe one in 50 will turn up at a place that teaches ballet when they are six, and spend two more years working on the essentials of posture, politeness and musicality before serious technique begins at age 8. And maybe many of the rest --and their bill-paying, ticket-buying parents -- will turn up some day in the audience with warm anticipation for a evening at the ballet. Maybe your ballet...

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Hope you don't mind a late-comer on this thread, but, thank-you Samba38. You responded more succinctly than I ever could have. I'm all for multiple exposures to wonderful music. And, if dressing up a bit and doing a bit of acting-out I think it sounds just fine. Anyone ever heard of Kindermusik? The theory is to get kids doing mock-performing before the age when they become more self-consious. Seems to have merit. One of my children dances, and the other plays violin!:)

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I was about thirty minutes early to one of my classes one day. As it happens, I was able to listen into the 'babies' class, of children aged 4-6 (this is a guess). Anyway, it sounded like they were having great fun and learning.

They played at being dancing horses and farmers, discussing with the teacher how horses and farmers might dance. They sat around the piano and listened to music, and then made up stories that they could dance to it, and they did improvisation (something my class does at the end of every lesson). The teacher also keeps a stash of fairy wands and ribbons for use in these excercises. They skipped and galloped in time to the music.

It was lovely to hear a group of little girls enjoying and learning about classical music, and how to dance with expression, and to recognize charecteristics of music that gave them different feelings.The studio is just a plain studio, and there were no tutus in sight, but dancing with ribbons to lovely music was evidently enough to transport these little girls into some sort of fairyland. It was heartwarming to hear these little children having such fun dancing, and enjoying learning so much!! :blushing:

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well, certainly this was a long time ago...

But will someone hand me a bucket? The idea is sacchrine and over the top. I think even as a 6 yr old, I would've seen through the tizziness and fairy wings to what was really being pedalled here. (I recall a cute story about a tiny 4 year old joining her first ballet class. She very diligently applied herself to the play acting and seemed quite happy in the class... Until the 3rd week she marched right up to her mother and, hands on hips, asked "So when does the REAL dancing start?")

I hope this woman isn't really pedalling this as ballet. It doesn't really matter what age serious training starts, dressing up in costumes and singing welcome songs is not ballet.

In short, I agree with Hans.

Jane - I think you make a good point. Theres little merit in the external bows and frills in the strange fantasy land 'this woman' has created.... For most children, imagination does the trick. In a class I used to help teach, we'd ask them questions about what they were seeing and experiencing. For instance, after we put on our imaginary ballerina skirts, asking "what colour is your beautiful skirt" got some weird and wonderful answers... I just can't see any merit in Ballet d'Enfant's indulgent drivel.

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Jane, you described a good portion of what I have taught to "baby" classes -- the tots between 3 and 6. The introduction to music is never too early. Facilitating various motor skills within a fun context has great merit, whether marching, skipping, etc. Also learnng spatial relationships -- going in and out of circle, marching backwards without closing in the circle, finding the corners and the middle of a room, lining up behind one another and leaving enough room by making the letter "J"," making staggered lines, creating a circle by blowing up a huge balloon, etc. And stimulating their imaginations by incorporating stories into all of this. I've never done all the hoopla with the bells, bangles and whistles, just tried to mix tender loving care with discipline, play and learning. They always seem so happy to return each week, and they have so much pride in what they accomplish. I never cease to be amazed by what they can and do learn.

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