It is the most natural thing in the world for little girls to be donning tights and leotards, to have their hair up in a bun, do a twirl and wave their pink glittered wands to strike the very advanced arabesque with their back leg raised as high as they can go. This is why moms, no sooner than their daughters learn to walk, call us at any given day and time of the year to ask to enroll their little aspiring ballerinas in ballet class.
Our age requirement in the past was a strict 5, with the exception of some very bright 4 year olds who answered to the standard ‘what’s your name’ and ‘do you want to dance ballet’ questions and joined the curtsy line without their moms or yayas in tow. Even then, we felt our 4 year olds experienced early fatigue and developed a complex about having to be “perfect” to deserve admission. I myself a very young starter at 2, who had the luxury of special attention and partial treatment from my ballet teacher father, got tired of ballet as early as age 13 and went through that phase of disparaging what I was turning into.
But times have changed and we’ve learned through the years. For one, it seems the world is just churning out super babies – taller, healthier, smarter, more adaptable, not to mention tech savvy. And on our part, we’ve come to realise and accept that the value of dance education is in the learning and not the becoming.
For every baby ballet class of 15, only a handful stay on after summer to join our recital at the end of the year. For every 100 students who have “walked like a princess” across our wooden floors balancing toy tiaras on their heads, only one had it in their destiny to become a professional dancer. The rest of the 99 became doctors, bankers and lawyers, business owners, musicians or artists in another field, moms (and dads), it’s been hard to keep track where everyone has gone really. On random occasions, their grownup selves find a way to let us know that they have but fond memories of their time in the studio. Our senior star student Nina, who recently graduated magna cum laude from DLSU, wrote in her proposed graduation speech how much ballet was a big part of her academic success. Probably not the more popular set of words to inspire a big batch of kids entering the work force, Nina lost the chance to address her graduating class to another’s speech, but we at the studio already saw it as a win that Nina found a remarkable sense of accomplishment and value in dancing, without really being a dancer.
We set our Baby Ballet program strategically in summer to put our young starters together in a comfortable batch of beginners. As mentioned earlier, not a lot of them stay, which is our intention really to have them come back the next summers until they are ready to enter ballet proper. Sadly, some don’t even stay the whole 2 months of summer. As excited as parents are to enroll their babies, dress them up, take photos, the excitement only lasts a month – just about the right amount of time to do an impressive social media run and claim the right to say that their child indeed took ballet lessons.
Such is the reality. All I have control over is what we do in the studio, and the only thing that I can do is teach the kids to dance. In my class, more than doing splits on the floor and learning technical steps prematurely, a child learns to relate to and dance with a group, figure out a combination of simple steps without merely shadowing my movements, and tell a story to an audience through dance. Babies as they are at home, they are not treated as babies in the studio. In my class, there is no carrying, no baby talk, no coaxing. When a child loses her place on the dance floor, she is not taken by the arm and put in her place. She is given a chance to find her own way. I believe that kids are capable of so much more than some parents or especially yayas allow. You just have to connect with each child, speak to them and not over them, build relationships, and at the same time keep a class structure intact. And this is the formula that has worked for our school for years.
We are not in the business of producing dancers. At least such is not the focus of our Baby Ballet program. I see my purpose in little victories that happen everyday in the studio – weaning children with separation anxiety, having water breaks without anyone running to their yayas to open their water bottles, watching these little girls help each other zip up their own costumes during rehearsals. One of my favorite recent success stories is that of a little girl who used to spin around and around until she got dizzy and would run around the room endlessly that I had to catch and hold her and keep her from moving lest she drop to the floor from exhaustion. She has since moved on to ballet proper, has danced wonderfully in 2 recitals, and is now able to focus and harness her energy and channel it to her dancing.
Summer is just around the corner and we brace ourselves yet again for another wave of baby ballerinas to flock to the studio. New faces, a new mix of different personalities clashing on the first day. New relationships to build and personalised programs to create. So far it seems, this never gets old. -JJ
The author, or Teacher Jacqui as she is called in the studio, has been a dancer all her life but only discovered her knack for teaching kids in 2001 when she proposed to open a baby ballet class as a summer program for TEAM Dance Studio. Teacher Jacqui was first a university lecturer, teaching International Relations subjects to undergraduate classes as big as 40 students per class. After 8 years in the academe, she left and gradually took on more regular classes and more teaching hours at TEAM, and last year was promoted to Principal Teacher. This summer, she opens more baby ballet classes and children’s ballet classes at The Studio (located in her home studio in Pilar Village, Las Pinas). *For a full list of dance classes click here– https://visitthestudio.wordpress.com/pick-a-class/