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5 Tips for Teaching Ballet to elementary students

For many non-specialist teachers, teaching dance itself is intimidating – let alone including ballet, the most technical of all dance styles.

However, teaching ballet to your primary students can be really rewarding. It makes a mysterious and possibly intimidating art more accessible and less scary. It also helps to neutralize stereotypes and misconceptions at an age where students are most open to changing ideas… or even better, catching them BEFORE they learn any stereotypes!

Plus – ballet can be really fun.

Ballet Lesson Plan Ideas

Even if you’re not a dancer, you can include a little ballet in your dance curriculum fairly easily. Here are some tips for getting the most buy-in from your students and make teaching about ballet more fun and relevant.

1) Learn WITH your students.

In order for this to work, you need to be willing to put yourself out there with them. Try the steps. Practice the posture. You don’t need to be better than your students – you just need to model the joy and the effort. If you are enthusiastic about ballet and are willing to learn with them, they will buy in too.

2) Leverage vocabulary about strength.

One of the things that kids *think* they don’t like about ballet is that it is “slow” or “boring” or (shudder) “girly”. Many of the kids who think this have never actually *seen* any ballet. If you talk about and show examples of how difficult some of the steps are and how strong dancers have to be to complete them, they’ll begin to see it as a challenge.

3) Watch some ballet!

If you’re trying to teach about ballet without watching any ballet – what are you even doing? There are tons of full-length professional performances to be found on YouTube, but short clips are just as valuable, if not more so since you can choose just the best bits and really keep your students attention. Here are just a couple for quick inspiration:
Dance of the Sugarplum Fairy from The Nutcracker (one of the most widely known ballet characters, especially for young people)
Coda from the pas de deux from The Black Swan (this is the famous section where the ballerina completes 32 fouetté turns in a row)

4) Ballet is really about story.

Ballet, as a dance form, was created to tell stories. Using a ballet with a familiar story (such as Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty) is a great way to get them to tolerate ballet long enough to realize how interesting it is.

5) Teach them about the shoes.

My primary classes are FASCINATED when I bring in my toe shoes to show them. Most kids have no idea how they work or how difficult they actually are to use properly. I find it helpful to discuss how getting your first pair of pointe shoes is considered a rite of passage that must be earned, and connecting this to rites of passage that might be relevant in the lives of your students.
You don’t need to have your own shoes to bring in – there are lots of great videos featuring real dancers that can help your students understand how they work.
How Pointe Shoes Are Made
How Ballet Dancers Prepare Their Pointe Shoes

Bonus Tip: Make curriculum connections.

Perhaps obviously, you can teach the music of ballet – it is perfect for showing students how story can be told through music. But the terminology of ballet is also French – making it a natural connection for some physical activity during French class, or for French Immersion schools where dance is taught in French.

Reasons to teach your students about ballet:

  1. Ballet is a gateway to a treasure trove of beautiful music.
  2. Ballet is the base technique for many of our other modern styles.
  3. Introducing students to ballet when they are young will normalize it.
ballet lesson plan

If you’d like more help teaching your students about ballet:
My Ballet Workbook: The Elements of Dance (Gr 1-3)

Introduce your primary students to a classic style of dance! This workbook is a print-and-go resource for students to learn the Elements of Dance within the context of ballet. The workbook is created by a former competitive dancer and applies directly to the “Elements of Dance” curriculum guidelines.
The package includes:
– A 14 page student workbook that includes both information, colouring, and activities
– A suggested list of activities to go with each lesson.