Ballet Class Blogging: School of Fish

Second semester at Groove with Me is underway, and my class (for girls ages 6–8) is going swimmingly—pun intended. Our recital piece will be to music from Disney’s The Little Mermaid, and they’ll be dancing to the upbeat Caribbean tune, “Under the Sea.”


So far the girls love it, and since they recognize the music and enjoy the moves, they stay more focused during class. I’ve noticed qualities in the girls I haven’t seen before, including frustration when they can’t perfect something right away. It’s interesting; I challenge them on a weekly basis, but I haven’t noticed this level of investment. It’s wonderful to see.


Teaching the routine has had its struggles. The biggest challenge is the first 30 seconds of the dance: They chassé sideways while staying in two vertical lines. For some reason, staying in line while moving sideways is a task they cannot master. I’ve tried to simplify it for practice—have them walk, and then march in time—but the lines are still pretty messy. I’ve drawn diagrams, given them imagery, and done demonstrations. Still, there is something that isn’t clicking.


Yes, I could change the choreography to make it easier, but I’m convinced they’re fully capable of performing these steps in line—it has to be that I’m not conveying the information clearly. Tomorrow, I’m going to try something new: Have each dancer hold on to the shoulders of the person in front of her, and make a train of sideways chassé-ing dancers.


If this technique doesn’t get the point across, I’m out of ideas. Is there something I’m forgetting? Is it worth marking the floor with taped Xs for only 30 seconds or so of the routine? Let me know if you’ve tried a certain technique that works—I’m very curious and eager to try a new strategy.


On the bright side, I teach young children who are struggling with staying in line—so perhaps I should count my blessings and simply be thankful I don’t have to come up with unique or surprising formations that cleverly transition into other shapes. While I want my students to learn to make the most of a space in a compelling way, they’re not exactly at a level of performing La Bayadere’s "Kingdom of the Shades” entrance.


But, for all teachers out there sick of the triangles and over-used parallelograms, check out this article, “In Good Shape,” by Jen Jones. She consults with a few choreographers who offer great advice for creating new formations and conveying them clearly to an audience.





Photo: Getty. I'm searching for cheap scuba gear I can have my children use for accessories on stage!


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