It’s not just a suggestion, it’s pretty much a tried and true fact that children need to have at least one short break during their 45 minute to 1 hour ballet class. Most children between the ages of 3 to 9 actually have a really rough time staying attentive unless they are given some time to sit and rest for a few minutes (what I like to call “Talking Time” or “Story Time”), or sometimes they just need to rest their brains for a little while and do something fun!
To be clear, I’m not an advocate of playing games in class too often. Not even every week, I would say. Games are a good break from the routine, but should not be expected, as they can be a waste of valuable class time. This is not to be misunderstood as a way to better “babysit” your students or provide entertainment.
The following games are from Ruth Brinkerhoff’s “Ballet Is Spoken Here!” teacher manual (still in the works, but soon to be released by The Ballet Source). These are not just “Red Light, Green Light”, “Freeze Dance” or “The Hokey Pokey” type dances, either. They are dances that will actually help your students learn and understand ballet concepts. Enjoy, and pass it on to other teachers!
Umbrellas For The Toes
This is a visual image to help with keeping feet and knees in alignment. Tell the students: “Imagine that your knees are umbrellas, and that they must keep the rain off your toes when you do a Demi Plié or a Fondu. Don’t let your toes get wet!”
I have used this idea with students of all ages with good results. Even beginning adults find this visual image helpful.
Looking Through The Window
This fun activity encourages young dancers to turn out for Demi Plié:
Arrange the dancers in three lines in the center of the room. The middle line stands, as they are going to do the Demi Plié. The front line sits and faces back. That back line sits and faces front.
As the middle line does Demi Plié in First position, the dancers in front and back wave at each other through the “window” of the Demi Plié. After four Demi Pliés, another line takes a turn in the middle.
The Demi Plié Box
Young children enjoy doing the Demi Plié in First with their feet placed around the corner of a large box. They can hold onto the top of the box for balance. (Someone will need to hold the other side of the box to steady it.)
This makes their knees go out over their toes. The feet are turned out to make “the corner of a box”, or 45º, and placed with the inside edges of the feet in full contact with the box.
Looking Over The Fence
For Demi Pointe, or Elevé, dancers can imagine they are rising to look over a fence. What did they see (in their imagination) on the other side of the fence?
Maybe they saw some flowers. What color? What kind? Maybe they saw a puppy. What was it doing?, etc. This might make the practice of Elevé more interesting.
I really enjoy having the students come up with their own storyline for this one. For example, if your dancers rise four times in the course of the exercise, have then come up with 4 parts to a story that they see unfolding on the other side of the fence, each happening at the top of the elevé.
- I see my neighbor’s cat.
- The cat is chasing a butterfly.
- The butterfly gets away.
- The cat slips on a toy and falls right into the flower bed.
Students love coming up with these kinds of silly stories!
Have partners do a Port de Bras mirroring each other. Assign the Port de Bras, or have one partner lead and the other follow. When they get good at working together, it will be hard for the rest of the class to tell which partner is leading!
Climbing The Mountain
Port de Bras is difficult when there is not a clear image in the mind of exactly where the arms need to go. Students need to be able to visualize the positions, and the pathways between.
Having a visual image of something concrete and familiar helps performance and memory. The image of a mountain can help students learn a difficult concept: the pathway of a Classical Port de Bras. What seems so easy to us teachers can be very hazy and confusing to students because of their limited experience with Ballet.
The front of the mountain is steep. You will need climbing gear. You will need to sky dive or use climbing gear coming down the front. The sides are gentle slopes. You can walk up easily, and you can slide or ski down.”
Climbing up the face of the mountain, then sliding or skiing down the two sides of the mountain makes the normal pathway of a Classical Port de Bras. Climbing up the sides of the mountain, then sky diving down in front makes the pathway of the Reverse Port de Bras.
Can You Hear the Step?
Clap the rhythms of a Chassé Coupé, a Balancé a Glissade and a Pas de Bourrée. Each has its own rhythm pattern. Glissade and Chassé Coupé have a similar meter, but the accent is in a different place. The other two are quite different. Balancé is a 3/4 meter with three even steps: “one, two, three.” Pas de Bourrée is intended to be danced as a triplet rhythm with two upbeats: “and a one.”
- Practice with the class until they can clap the rhythms with you.
- You clap a rhythm, and the class dances the step as you clap.
- Divide the class in half. Half will clap a rhythm (chosen by them, or by you), and the other half must fit the correct step to the claps.
You can also do a version of this exercise with your younger ones using the beats for marches, skips, gallops, the polka, etc.
Clap and Dance
Clapping to the music may help students to dance the step on the music. Give them strong guidance (clap with them) until they are able to do it correctly alone.
- The class claps the rhythm of one of the steps with you, to the music, for 8 measures.
- You continue clapping with the music while the students stop clapping and dance the step for the next 8 measures.
- You also stop clapping as they dance the step for another 8 measures. Tell them to continue to “hear” the claps in their head on this last part.
Note: Some students may not realize that the clapping sounds represent the instant at which their feet connect with the floor! Quite often those with little or no Ballet experience will assume they are to be in the air on the claps. You may want to review this concept with your class before playing either of the above clapping games.
What are your favorite classroom games and activities? Submit your suggestions in the comments below.
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