Ballet Basics (age 6-11) Syllabus
Overall Objectives of Ballet Basics (ages 6-11)
After the ballet-themed Mini Sessions (or if the dancers have not had, or are too old for Mini sessions) this Ballet Basics is intended to be for beginning dancers. Instruction should:
1) preserve and cultivate a love for ballet.
2) preserve and cultivate the dancer's natural movement abilities and grace.
3) be an enjoyable and positive experience for every dancer
4) familiarize dancers with the form and structure of a ballet class: that there is no talking, that we pay attention to and follow a teacher, that we warm up, do barre and center work, and stretch in a ballet class.
Dancers ready to move beyond ballet basics will have relative mastery of the following:
1) listening to and following directions, showing respect to other dancers in class
2) connecting their movements to the dynamics and rhythm of the music
3) be able to maintain an balletic body posture (straight backs, long necks, bellies up) for most of a class and in most movements, and show some control over when their knees should be straight and bent and when their feet should be pointed.
Of note: Though proper names of positions and movements should be used and demonstrated by the teacher, students' ability to remember position and movement names is of secondary importance to executing the steps with relative proficiency after they have seen them consistently demonstrated.
First 5 minutes: Free dance. While dancers arrive, encourage them to dance/move freely to various pieces of music from famous classical ballets. Choose pieces with different dynamics and tempos. Take roll during this time. And as you observe the dancers, give compliments by name on qualities of movement, moves tried, use of space, interpretation of music, etc. (Ex: "Julie, I love how your arms are moving so softly in all directions." "Fred, that was a really high leap." You may also give challenges, like, "Sammi, those were some amazing spins! Can you try spinning the other direction?" Or, "Patrick, your feet were moving in interesting patterns! Can you move your arms more as your feet move?")
Next 2-3 minutes: warm up. Now give directions for dancers to walk, march, run, skip, etc. They may begin with marching, then try marching with their knees up. They may follow you in a circle, or walk on their toes on the diagonal. This "warm up" gets them using gross motor skills, should get their heart rate slightly elevated, helps everyone to participate, and establishes that the rest of the class will be following the teacher's instruction.
Next 15-20 minutes: barre. (Barre should be completed by the time the class is apx half over.)
Next 10 min: stretches (play soothing, relaxing music to this and move seamlessly from one stretch to another. These should NOT be given as combinations.)
Next 5-7 minutes: solos. During this time have all class members sit at the front of the class while one volunteer performs a brief (16-64 count solo), taking turns so each member of the class has the opportunity to "perform" once. You may ask what tempo the dancer would like to dance to, and play musical selections accordingly. This time develops the confidence of the dancers, but also develops dancer observation and audience etiquette. Dancers who do not volunteer to take a turn may be asked by name if they would like a turn. If any dancer declines, respond simply and encouragingly with, "Maybe next week." Once a bow or curtsy has been taught in class, all solos should finish with a bow or curtsy, and class members should clap.
Last 10-15 minutes of class: center work.
Concepts for Barre Work
1) All barre work is to be done in center, in a circle facing the teacher.
2) At this level, the teacher will always be dancing with the students so they can simultaneously watch and mimic her correct and refined movements. The teacher MAY progress to giving a combination before expecting dancers to do it, but as doing so takes time, this should be minimized by simply inviting the dancers to follow along with the teacher.
3) Corrections while dancers follow along are appropriate (ie: "I need to show more straight legs." Or, "Suzie, on this next plie can you keep your back straight and not stick your bum out?") Hands on corrections one-on-one are appropriate and encouraged at this level, but only before or after a combination.
4) ALL barre work should be done with a focus on keeping backs straight, long necks, and bellies pulled up. In other words, participants should begin to LOOK like ballet dancers and not kids doing ballet steps. Class progression and even the tempo within combinations should not exceed the dancers' abilities to maintain their ballet posture.
Positions of the feet: 1st, 2nd, 5th (taught as one foot turned out and placed in front of the other so 3rd position is acceptable, but not verbally referenced
Positions of the arms/Port de bras: round smooth shapes = no angles; 5th low, 1st, and 5th high change levels; 2nd opens the rounded shape. These correspond to the foot positions in later classes.
Plies: demis only; contrast knees bent with knees straight; changing levels with a smooth energy. Relevets can be added.
Tendus: knees straight, pointed toes, sharp energy, direction changes. Begin teaching these concepts in parallel and only brushing the tendu directly forward. When dancers can keep BOTH knees straight, point toes, and use a sharp energy, progress to rotating to 1st position and brushing tendu to alesecond. The final progression in this class is to brush front and side with legs turned out.
Degage: conceptually the same as tendus, but adding a change of levels = the releasing of the pointed foot from the floor.
Grand Battement: leg continues to increase in height from the degage. These can be practiced as "giant kicks" as dancers lay on the floor, taking care to not move their backs or lift their hips.
Ronde de jambe: these are taught only AFTER dancers have mastered tendus to front and side with rotated legs, keeping both knees straight with working foot pointed. Conceptually, the focus is on isolating the movement in the working leg, keeping the rest of the body still, both knees straight, and executed with a smooth energy. In this class, they should come AFTER grand battements. In the ronde de jambe, dancers will first be introduced to placing the leg behind themselves. They should be encouraged to keep both knees straight and facing outward as opposed to towards the floor in the derriere Work only ens de h'ors or to the front, then side, then back.
The following stretches are necessary to develop the mobility required for proper ballet technique and should be included in every class:
1) Frog stretch with back on the floor - this stretch can increase turnout. Focus should be placed on relaxing legs open WHILE keeping lower back on the floor. Draw dancers attention to engaging their stomachs to keep their lower backs on the floor. It is this position of the torso that should be maintained when the dancer is on her feet.
2) "Closing the gate" - progress from the frog stretch to bringing the knees back together, and then opening the "gate" again. Vary the tempo of this opening and closing, helping the dancers to focus on not moving their backs and bellies as the legs move. (These two exercises work hip flexibility, rotation, and abdominal placement.)
3) Sitting center split stretch (or making pizzas/rainbows). Since time in this position is beneficial, "making a pizza" or taking turns telling about something from their day. (This should work hamstrings and inner thigh flexibility.)
4) "Dancer Tacos" - dancers lay on bellies, press up on hands, and then bending knees, try to touch their feet to the tops of their heads. (This stretch works back flexibility.)
5) Toe touches - while sitting, perform these with toes pointed and straight, taking time to work to the fullest pointed arch of the dancers' feet. These can be alternated by doing them standing in first position and bending forward. (This prepares for front extension and combreys forward)
Concepts for Center Work
Time in center should familiarize students with the structure of more advanced dance classes. As such, there should be combinations done in lines, moving forward, and moving from one side of the studio to the other in straight and diagonal lines. Dancers may begin to use the mirror in center work for visual feedback on their shapes, directions, etc.. Especially in the center, dancers should be encouraged to move musically, so choose music that reflects the tempo AND dynamics of the steps. Dancers may also move in a circle, and in groups of 2 or more across the floor. Being to encourage and expect even spacing in rows or with a partner, not allowing dancers to bunch up or crash into one another but maintain their distance or "personal bubbles."
Adage: At this stage of development, this can have 2 focuses: first is balance, and second is beautiful arm movements through ballet positions with head. An example of a combination given towards the end of an 8-10 week session might be beginning facing mirror in parallel, moving arms beautifully from 5th low, through first to 5th high, opening to 2nd, then with arms in 1st, slowly drawing one foot up the leg to stop next to the opposite knee, doing another port de bras, and then slowly returning to parallel. One progression would be to do the same in 1st position, or angling slightly to one corner or another.
Turn Preparation #1: in parallel, progressing towards the end of the session to 5th position: plie on 2 feet, pulling one up quickly to the side of the knee foot pointed, standing leg straight on relevet, replacing both feet to parallel in plie, and straightening both knees. Hands can begin on hips, progressing to being held in 1st position, and from there, progressing to 3rd position for the beginning and ending plies.
Turn Preparation #2: spins. Staying in one place, with knees bent, feet in parallel, have the dancers turn in place trying to "only see themselves in the mirror." (Demonstrate proper spotting and give this language. Do NOT teach spotting as holding one's gaze as long as one can and then whipping it around to see the same thing.) Hands should begin on hips but may progress to being held in 1st position. Other progressions include tempo - moving faster - and trying to turn on elevet or changing levels from low with knees bent to high on elevet.
Jumps: begin with simple jumps up and down, drawing dancers' attention to getting knees straight and feet pointed in the air, and keeping their bodies upright/straight in the landing. Begin with feet in parallel, hands on hips. Progress to 1st position, second, in and out from 1st to second, and in and out from 5th to second, adding arms only as dancers master legs. (Ex: when the dancers can jump in parallel with knees straight, backs upright, and feet pointed, have them try parallel jumps with arms in 1st, then in 5th, then moving. THEN move to 1st, with hands on hips, moving to the arm incorporation. THEN progressing to second, etc..)
Prances (or jumping from one foot to another): to begin, this might just be a fancy jog to the beat with toes pointed, hands on hips. It can progress to jumping forward on to one foot and back on to the other, or from one side to the other in tic-tock fashion, adding arms and holding positions as dancers advance. These may also be done with knees bent and up, or through straight positions in the air. (These can be done moving forward, sideways, or on a diagonal.)
Leaps: these are large jumps from one foot to another incorporating the battement. (These should not be given until battements have been introduced and achieved some level of mastery.) Multiple ballet positions with the arms can be added. You may also focus on the quality of runs in and out of the leap. (done across the room or on a diagonal)
Turn preparation #3: chainnes. Done from the corner, this should be practice for dancers to move across the floor while turning. Encourage them to "only see one thing" and "step towards the thing they are looking at," thus teaching and demonstrating correct spotting. These should progress within a few weeks to only being done on the demi pointe.
Reverance: If there are any boys in the class, teach a nice ballet bow and instruct the boys to do this. Otherwise, instruct on proper curtsies by helping dancers turn both legs up, move with grace, and not drop the back.
PERFORMANCE: Classes that are more than 8 weeks in duration may have a "performance" piece added as part of the experience. This should simply be taught and practiced as a combination in center. Work on the piece should not exceed 5-7 minutes of class time, nor should it begin before week 5 of the session. Teach it 8-16 counts at a time, adding a bit each week, and reviewing what was covered in the previous week. Include instructions on walking to one's spot for the dance gracefully, bowing, and exiting gracefully. Content of the piece at this level is not important. It should be choreography well within the classes average skill set. The objective of the experience is 1) to have something to perform, 2) to create the need to memorize a series of movements, 3) to create a distinct need to be independently counting music. The dance SHOULD NOT exceed 16 counts/week the weeks after week 4 and through the end of the class, LESS the final week when the dance is shared with parents. The dance is a success if dancers are confident, happy, find their spots gracefully, dance on the music, and generally remember the order of the steps. Because the parents will be invited to observe ALL of class, the dance need not cover or highlight all of what the class instructs. If the dancers can perform the dance without teacher instruction, EVEN BETTER (but that may vary from class to class and with the ages of participants).