Historically, ballet styling and technique developed slowly from that of folk dances and court dances. Ballet styling was added to those dances by adult dancers, whose basic movement and coordination skills were complete and in place. Children were not considered old enough for ballet lessons until ages eight to ten, when their basic skills were already well developed. It has only been in the recent generations that dancers under the age of eight even started taking ballet classes, since the basic movement skills needed to execute many of the steps learned in a traditional ballet class require a few years of coordination development.
We can make up for this by adding natural movements, or movements that occur naturally in their growth process and will be of the most use in the years ahead. When the student has a good base of natural movement and coordination skills, ballet technique is much easier to learn. Teachers can add more natural movements to their classes by including them in warm-ups, gentle floor stretches, and/or an occasional aerobic-type exercise.
But why are natural movements so important for pre-ballet students? Let’s take a closer look.
1. It Gets Them Ready for Formal Ballet Class
Teachers sometimes underestimate the importance of basic, coordination-building, natural movement as part of their classroom routine. Skills such as walking, running, marching, skipping, galloping, a basic polka, and the natural pas de basque will provide a wonderful, whole body warm-up as well as teach your students the coordination they need to move forward.
Scientific research over the last 40 years or so tells us that, in addition to the traditional barre work, dancers need a good warm-up before doing pliés, and some time during class for gentle floor stretches. We must keep in mind that, in previous generations, dancers were also far more physically active outside of class than they can be now. Warm-ups are what get the blood flowing, wake up the muscles, and tune-in the dancer’s mind to be more alert and focused during class.
2. It Teaches Space Awareness
When you have your students warm up with natural movement, you are able to teach them the fundamental skill of space awareness. Have your students dance these steps in various patterns: in a small circle, in a big circle, in a straight line, in a row, follow the leader, etc. This will help them learn how to dance in relation to the other dancers around them.
The youngest ones will need to keep a consistent shape while practicing natural movement skills. For example, they will do best if you always have them dance in a small circle. They feel more secure this way, and they can follow the spots on the floor. As they get older (around six or seven), they will be ready to explore all the ways that they can use this movement around the room.
Other times, it may be a good idea to allow them to choose the pattern they want to dance in. Teach them to skip around the room freely, with no bumping. This will be hard at first, since children find it very funny to bump into one another, but you must teach them that dancers need to move around the room in their own “dancing space” and that “dancers don’t bump.”
3. It’s Something They Can Do
You may find that your youngest students are just not ready for skipping (see this article for pre-skipping skills you can practice with them), and that they find it very frustrating to even try. Following a logical pattern of progression based on their stage of physical development, you can help them learn the skills they need in order to move up on the scale of natural movement steps.
For example, maybe your four-year-olds have mastered ballet walks, ballet runs, and marching, but many of them still can’t skip. A good way to get them to fill in what is missing would be to teach them how to hop on one foot, first holding hands and then on their own.
Take it slowly. Your students will be happier and respond better when they are told to do something they know they can do. When you announce that “we are going to practice our skips now,” it should be received as something that they enjoy, that no one is frustrated with, and that will help them with their sautés in the future.
4. It’s a Building Block for Classical Direction
There are many things you can do to increase the level of difficulty in your natural movements. Skipping, for example, can be learned forward, backward, in a small circle, or holding hands. You can also add classical direction to your natural movements by teaching them to lift the knees to a horizontal position, hold the arms in demi second, point the toes next to the knee, stretch the supporting knee, and point the toes of the supporting foot.
When learning the polka, the students can learn to use their épaulement, add appropriate arm movements (which is not usually recommended until they have comfortably mastered what their feet are doing), add turnout, move in a circle, or dance with a partner. Pas de basque is also a movement that can be simplified and broken down to the most essential elements at first, to be later elaborated upon by slowly adding specific artistic elements.
The benefits of natural movement go much further than we think. Skills in petit allegro, turning, grand allegro, and general artistry are developed in tandem with the perfecting of natural movements. The best part? It’s natural. This means that most children will be able to catch on to these skills quickly (in most cases), and they will feel right at home doing them once they know them.
- Understanding Your Student’s Growth Process
- Hints for a Happy Class
- Don’t Be a Skipper, Teach Them to Skip!
- Increase Your Effectiveness in Skills Training