It’s true; they still call me “Miss Debbie,” but it’s been a long time since I’ve taught pre ballet classes.
There was a stretch in my life when I taught eight a week. I remember my first class vividly. I had the good fortune of working at a studio (Ballet School of Chapel Hill) which had exceptional faculty and great creative dance curriculum. M’Liss Dorrance prepared me well, and I planned my first lesson carefully. It was great—except I was done with the entire class plan in ten minutes, leaving 35 minutes left to fill and nine little faces staring up at me. So I imagined what it was like to be four years old again and had a lot of fun with them.
I learned how to pace myself and also learned that kids are a lot smarter than you think they are. I learned quickly that these were big people in little bodies—their personalities well formed. When I stopped talking to them like they didn’t understand English, we had a great time. Just as a side note—there were often big tears in front of whomever it was who brought them, but as soon as the door closed, long faces turned into happy ones and they were ready to go.
Technique was never talked about; everything was approached from a creative perspective. We opened and closed a big flower with points and flexes. Pliés in second position were French doors opening and closing. Ronde de jambs were trips through the forest that finished with cups of tea in the castle—you would get there (en dehors) and have to return home (en dedans). Grand battements were the Three Bears.
The studio was filled with horses of different colors that galloped across the diagonal, and you got to ride your favorite color. Piqués were Prince and Princess walks, and there was an imaginary wardrobe filled with costumes that we were constantly returning to. We splashed and tiptoed through puddles. We made popcorn along with raindrops, lightning and thunder. We jumped over the river high enough so the crocodile couldn’t bite your feet. You get the idea.
My classes grew larger, but I became a better teacher and was able to manage them with the same level of delight and structure. I learned as much as my little dancers. I learned quickly that when recital time came, they were able to show that they had indeed learned a lot through carefully choreographed little “dances” made just for them.
Though I don’t teach these classes anymore, I have been so impressed with our Danceworks youth faculty because I believe they fully embrace and imbue Danceworks’ joy, health and creativity.
I visited one of our four-year-old classes on a recent afternoon, thinking I could do an interview with the students and ask why they liked coming to Danceworks. I entered and found a circle of stars—one for each student to sit on. There was one extra. I sat down and we exchanged our names. I used to have students clap their names as they said them—I should have remembered this; it makes it so much easier.
I asked my first question: Why do you like to dance?
Aya: We have an extra star!
Nina: (Drums her hands on the floor.)
Muni: My Mom brings me. I come here every week.
Minnie: I like marching.
A.J.: I get to tip toe.
Aya: It’s so much fun running and dancing at home.
Moving on to question number two: What do you like about your teacher?
Nina: I like wearing tap shoes.
A.J.: (Silence—Okay, maybe not the best question.)
Minnie: She teaches me to dance. (There we go.)
Muni: She teaches flips and hops. (Ms. Faith is nine months pregnant …just saying.)
Last Question: What do you like best about putting your dance shoes on?
Nina: (taps her feet on the floor. Nina likes rhythm.)
I remembered why I liked teaching these little guys. You never know what to expect out of them—they keep you on your toes. They say what they think, they are full of life and they love you unconditionally. –Deb Farris
Plié – to bend ankles, knees and hips
Ronde de Jambe – circle of the leg; en dehors – outward; and en dedans – inward
Grand Battement – great beat
Piqué – to prick
Learn more about youth classes at Danceworks here. Our fall session registration is going on now, and the session begins September 4, 2013!