Tuesday, July 5, 2011

From One Pretend Ballerina to Another: Ballet Fun at Home

What do you do when your little girl catches the ballet bug and starts gliding, twirling, and standing en pointe anytime and anywhere? When she insists to be in her pink leotard from her Dress Up Box the whole day, through lunch and naptime? When she makes her pink ballet shoes her house slippers? When she announces that she is a ballerina? When the inevitable question comes…

Are you going to send her to ballet school?

We almost did send her. But then I googled (“what age should a child start ballet?”), asked around, and stumbled upon a thought that changed my mind as fast as a ballerina’s pirouette:

She twirled at play.
She pretended. She imagined. She played.
Why ruin it with formal lessons?

I know ballet classes can be fun. For Little T’s age, the kids just do stretching exercises and different movement activities, and the teachers do not really teach them the ballet positions yet. It’s not like they’re training for Black Swan, right? But like my stand about going to school really early, I believe that it’s still best to just let a very young child, my child who is just three, twirl and pretend to her heart’s content at home. I leave her be and let her imagination flourish as she creates her own little dances.

With the ballet school question settled in my mind, I set out to encourage Little T’s fascination with ballet.  I put on my dancing shoes, twirl and do the pliĆ© with her, and arrange our Learning Basket whenever she asks for “pretend ballet lessons” with me.

BOOK Our “lessons” are based on “The Little Ballerina,” a vintage book I bought at Books for Less because of the charming illustrations of a girl going to ballet classes. Pictures of the first to fifth positions as well as the arabesque and ronds de jambe thrilled Little T and actually inspired her to ask me to “study” it. We also learned all the ballet vocabulary I use freely in this post.

COSTUME Ballet at home does not require a costume but it certainly makes it much more fun and exciting. We have:

  • Three hand-me-down leotards 
  • A pink skirt for a tutu
  • Pink ballet slippers given by Little T’s aunt last Christmas
  • An old pink cape for when she is the “Flying Ballerina”
Leotards can be bought at Yvonne’s at many department stores, but it can be just a one-piece bathing suit! Tutus can be any fluffy skirt. Ballet slippers are available at SM for P150, but dancing barefoot is great too.  

BALLET MAT To help Little T remember, I created a ballet mat with the first to fifth positions by tracing her feet on a manila paper. For clear pictures of the feet and hand positions, I looked at this site.

MUSIC Though Little T dances and does ballet poses all around the house without any music, we still have a dedicated music and dance time. Dance with Me by Kindermusik's ABC Music and Me is our default CD because it has classical, tap, waltz, and jig music.

Little T, Baby Boy, and I dance our own brand of ballet and tap and have a rocking good time feeling the different rhythms of the two dances. I swing Baby Boy in the air for ballet and hug him close to me as I do some tap and Little T prances around us. For your own ballet lessons at home, any classical music you can sway with will be perfect already.

We don't have to be dancers to have a good time dancing with our children. A little creativity and imagination can go a long way. Especially if you are a former pretend ballerina who used to glide, leap, and twirl across the living room.

Make magic!

Little Ballerina by Dorothy Grider
Ballerina! by Peter Sis
Ten Little Ballerinas Sticker Book
ABC Music and Me Dance with Me Magazine and CD
Homemade ballet mat
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Blessie said...

Wow! I'm so glad I read this, as I'm in a similar predicament right now. My daughter is four years old, and I feel she is rather too young for formal lessons. What she can learn in three months now, she can learn in three days when she is six.

In the meantime, I'm gonna go look for that ballet book you mentioned. Mommy will never dance the ballet, but I'm sure we'll have loads of fun reading it!!!

Incidentally, I'm wondering if you ever found the ideal age for starting such formal lessons?

Mariel said...

Hi Blessie! I'm glad to have you here! According to a ballet teacher I know and also a parent with a daughter attending ballet classes, the 3 to 5 age group is really just baby ballet. It's about creative movement and appreciation of the art. That's what Little T and I are doing at home... just lots of twirling and fluttering around. :D By the time they are 6 or 7 years old, they can follow instructions better and their gross motor skills may already allow them to do real ballet (steps, etc). They will learn much quicker too by then, assuming that they really like ballet.

Have fun doing ballet at home! Make magic!

Blessie said...

We will! Thank you!

Lindsay said...

LOVE the vintage book- hope I can find one! Where did you get the ballet bar? I have been looking for one just like that. Thanks!

thelearningbasket said...

Hi Lindsay! The bar is part of a Ballerina set: bar, mat, DVD (which we just watched a couple of times). It was a gift from Little T's grandma :)

Anonymous said...

Mariel, thanks for sharing this post with me! I have signed my daughter up for ballet this year, at a place that does a storied performance rather than just a recital. I appreciate your desire to encourage the JOY of your little one's movement and imagination at home, and I think it's a great idea! When I was a girl, I only took dance lessons for one year. So as a Mom, I know next to nothing about the ballet that my child is learning! This would be a fun way to learn a little with her. (I did, however, still manage to grow into a woman who loves to dance--country/western, salsa & merengue are a few of my favorites!) Who is the author of the vintage book you recommended? I'd like to look it up!

thelearningbasket said...

Hi Karla! Well, I didn't even have a year of dance lessons when I was young :) I just remember twirling and leaping across our living room and doing curtsies. I suppose that's what makes our ballet "lessons" fun also... I'm not afraid to be doing the wrong thing :) The author of the vintage book is Dorothy Grider. I hope you find it!

Alex said...

Thank you for this. My eldest girl has the ballet bug. The bug came to her at 4 and somehow got lost then they were reunited when she was 11. Its still with her at 14. I will share this with her :D

Mariel said...

wow! is she still taking ballet lessons? cool! i really think it's okay to delay formal ballet lessons until they are ready, physically and cognitively :)

Mariel @ The Learning Basket said...

She still does! Sometimes I get really tempted to just enroll her but I keep fretting over the possibility of ballet losing its magic for her. I just supply her with books about ballet, buy her ballet flats, and basically encourage her to imagine what ballet is. After all, rhythm is already covered by her Kindermusik classes (among other things:)) 

Chris said...

how is little T now? does she still like ballet? :) 

Anne @ GreenEggs&Moms said...

It really does! Never thought of doing that (obviously).

Mariel @ The Learning Basket said...

Hi Anne! It makes practicing easier doesn't it? :) Thanks for dropping by!

Anne @ GreenEggs&Moms said...

I love the paper with foot drawings on it :) I took ballet lessons as a kid and let me tell you, if those manila paper types were around, it would have been much easier :)

Glory Paulson said...

this is a great post. i love the insights into "ruining" the fun with formal lessons too early. thanks for sharing it -- i found you through The Wonder Years. best, Glory at 

Amy said...

I love that vintage book, so cute.  I too thought about lessons- 
but I always come back to my goal of providing "an unhurried childhood."   It takes a thoughtful parent to really think about choices like this.  Far too many parents don't seem to weigh the pros and cons before signing their children up for lessons and such.  Your post is a great reminder.

Mariel @ The Learning Basket said...

Hi Amy! I've had some problems with Disqus and I never really got notifications on new comments. Anyway, thank you so much for your comment. I also aim for an unhurried childhood, and I am so glad of our experiences as a family :)