Ballet must be one of the oldest extra-curricular activities that ever existed. Mums like myself must have been rushing to and from practice, finding the correct shade of stockings, and sewing elastic into shoes for hundreds of years! Although I dare say there couldn’t have been as many different shades of pink stockings to choose from in the 1800s.
My daughter has always loved pink, princesses and fairies, and so I wasn’t surprised when she expressed an interest in ballet when she was still at preschool. Not having ever done the sport myself I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I was more than happy for my little ballerina to pursue her interest. We waited until after she had started kindergarten because we didn’t want to push her into anything too early, and took her along from Term 3. We found the nearest School of Ballet (conveniently running out of our local primary school) which also happens to be a very warm and friendly environment with a great community feel. We were lucky. I have heard of other schools that take things very seriously and wouldn’t have matched our laid-back family style.
Ballet runs with the school year, breaking for school holidays, with an end-of-year concert. At this primary level, they have practice once or twice a week and are offered the opportunity to do exams. Rather than striking panic into the hearts of tiny dancers, I have heard that the examination experience gives the girls and boys a real sense of achievement. There is certainly nothing wrong with a bit of self-discipline and motivation from a young age.
We are now coming up to the end-of-year concert, where all the age groups work together to put on a show. Rehearsals, dress-rehearsals, costumes, hair and yes, even make-up. Now before you paint me the same colour as Toddlers and Tiaras, the make-up is purely so their little faces don’t drown out under the stage lights, none of them look like pageant contestants, I promise.
I have heard so many criticisms of ballet over the years, and growing up as a tomboy you would have never found me in a tutu, but perhaps joining in on the ballet-bagging. But now, no matter what I thought before, I want my daughter to have the freedom to chase her dreams. I have come across those who think much like me at 10 years of age when I thought that ballet was a prissy airy-fairy non-sport. You simply don’t realise the strength and coordination that is required. This year my daughter and I went with her ballet class to An Introduction to The Australian Ballet at the Opera House. Swanky. It was superb to watch the ballet core warm up and then perform. The muscles on those men and women were incredible (and bulging), their grace and form spectacular. No one can tell me that studying ballet for years does nothing for intense physical fitness and strength. It’s hardcore.
Ballet is one of few activities that combine physical, mental and classical exercise. While many other sports develop strategic thinking for the individual and some sports focus on the team, dance incorporates both. Every dancer must be focused not only on their own steps, but how they are moving as a group. The physical demands of this discipline are tough and students develop strong bodies, great posture and also rhythm. These are all qualities we want for our growing children right? Then lose the cliche and get on the ballet bus.
Not having a dance background, I hadn’t been exposed to much ballet until a year ago. I still get excited when I see a ballerina dance in Pointe shoes, yes those super hard-toed ballet slippers, their focus and balance is incredible. At rehearsals the other day I saw a young girl performing en pointe for the first time after only having two months practise. I felt so proud of her it almost brought a tear to my eye, and it wasn’t even my child!
I have developed so much respect for this sport and will now defend it to the end of the earth, which it needs as the world view in general is of pretty ballerinas in their tutus spinning in circles. How wrong the world is. I highly recommend it to anyone thinking about an extra-curricular activity. My advice is to find an environment that you and your child feel comfortable in. Forcing kids into a serious discipline too young could scare them off. Ballet is low-maintenance and generally not pricey unless concert costumes become elaborate works of art. My daughter has made new friends, had fun, and is slowly learning to dance with grace, as well as still riding her bike too fast and playing in the mud.