by Casey Davenport
Are your ballet babes bored with barre? One typical Friday afternoon I watched as the 6-, 7-, and 8-year-old petit rats in my Ballet 1 class spent their precious barre time focusing on all the fundamentals that will serve their future dance goals—fidgeting, lip-synching the latest pop tune, and posing for imaginary selfies.
All sarcasm aside, I love teaching this age and level of dancers. The information I impart in these classes will be some of the most important material these dancers will ever learn. I’m always thinking up new ways to get their attention.
Feeling flustered as my ill-focused charges fidgeted through fondus, I switched from the barre accompaniment I was using to a selection by David Plumpton, a ballet accompanist known for making use of pop, kids’ songs, and musical theater numbers. Aha! A small light flickered across a few faces. I thought, “Thank goodness for Elsa—or is it Annie?”
I decided to capitalize on that interest. “Now a small contest,” I said. “Whoever can guess the name of this song will get a sticker after class. But you have to complete the exercise and be the first to raise your hand at the finish.”
Bam! Suddenly I saw eyes up, ears perked, bodies engaged. Hands flew up at the end of the exercise. The contest immediately focused the dancers on what they were doing. Since then they often ask to play the “name that tune” game, and I reward the winners with ballet stickers or coloring sheets at the end of class.
You can adapt this game for any level or age group, and make it more complex for older students by asking them to name other elements of the music, such as the artist or the time signature. This game opens everyone’s ears to the music and minds to the movement.
Casey Davenport teaches ballet in the Portland, Oregon, area and is the founder of the Facebook page Ballet Teachers Unite!