Ideas to incorporate into your curriculum
How can you make learning proper ballet technique fun for young children? Here are some tips I’ve used for more than 22 years.
First, we have “tissue tendu” days. For center floor exercises, students age 5 and up each get one facial tissue, which they place under the ball of the foot. While doing tendus en croix, they must make sure not to lift the foot off the floor and leave the tissue behind. We do the same for rond de jambe. It works wonderfully, and the kids have a blast.
To teach proper hand position, I have the students hold tennis balls—or “magic balls,” as one teacher calls them—sometimes throughout the entire barre. In center we do a whole port de bras series holding a ball in each hand. It really is “magical” to see how their hands go from looking like they’re holding two cheeseburgers to being beautifully shaped.
To help the little ones with alignment and posture, I place a Hello Kitty doll (their favorite) on top of their heads. Their task: not to let it fall off as they do toe-ball-heel walks across the floor.
By the time my students turn 6 they’ve had a lot of practice with this in center; I then take them to the barre to practice pliés with the dolls on top of their heads. I tell them to keep their heads up and not stick their bottoms out; otherwise Hello Kitty will fall off and hurt herself.
These exercises help my youngest students understand proper technique, and they are always begging me to get out the “fun” props in ballet class.
I use these games in my classes for 3- to 5-year-olds to help them review and reinforce skills they’re learning. My preschoolers love them.
On an 8-x-10-inch card, draw a picture or paste a photo of a dance skill. I include: tendu, battement, first and second position, first and second position plié, passé, relevé, arabesque, and curtsy. Write the skill’s name on the bottom of the card and tape the cards on the studio walls in various places.
The children sit in a circle and I stand in the middle. I close my eyes and sing, “Dancers, dancers, how do you do? Dancers, dancers, can you find . . . tendu?” I count to 8 while the dancers tiptoe over to the appropriate skill card and do what’s shown. When I open my eyes, if the dancers have found the right card and are doing the skill correctly, I applaud; if they’re not, we try again. I’ll say, “Let’s try this again. Remember to stretch your leg and point your toes.” Then I sing, “I know you can, I know you can, I know you can find tendu!” Once they’ve found and demonstrated the skill well, we move on to another skill.
Roll the Dice
This game requires one jumbo dice (which can be purchased online) and a large square box, both approximately 10-x-10 inches. I tape the skill cards from the Dancer Greeting game to all sides of the box to create a “skills” dice. (You can change the skills as new ones are taught.)
Dancers sit in a circle. One dancer rolls the number dice, and everyone counts the number of dots. The same dancer rolls the skills dice, names the skill she rolls, and demonstrates the skill as many times as the dots shown on the first dice. Each child gets a turn; for a large class, two children can go at the same time (one does the plain dice and one does the skills dice; both do the skill).
Laurel Soderstrom-Davis, MDE, has owned and directed The Laurel School of Dance in Danville, Illinois, since 1992. She is on the board of directors for Chicago National Association of Dance Masters.
Crystal Hansen owns and directs Moon Struck School of Dance in Buffalo, Minnesota, and has been teaching ballet, tap, jazz, lyrical, and hip-hop for 15 years.