The pedagogy of toddler ballet

15.52, Thursday 20 May 2021

I say ballet, but the lessons we go to with our 2.5 year old on Saturday mornings are exactly the kind of event you’d expect with toddlers – an instructor fruitlessly leading the group through a series of exercises while the kids watch, wave, charge about, and very occasionally sort of join in. There’s very little ballet going on. EXCEPT:

There’s a song at the beginning where you move your head and arms. Clearly that’s warming up.

There are the physical and (interestingly) the psychological atoms of ballet itself. Like: tip-toeing, a game that includes jumping, and also taking it in turns to walk into the centre of the circle and wave to the entire class. That’s the seedling of a solo, right there.

There’s structure which I imagine is common to every ballet class ever. The instructor is called Miss S–. At the end, everyone curtsies (or at least is asked to). A reverence.

But my favourite exercises are those that are about establishing the communications protocol. The song “Head, shoulders, knees and toes” comes up every lesson. Then there’s also a song with maracas where the kids shake up and down, side to side, and into the circle and away from the circle. Cardinal directions!

Being able to accurately reference a body part and a direction is the foundation for high bandwidth communication and rapport between teacher the student. The trick is that the teacher can reference desired behaviour at a distance.

So these seem like important categories to exercise in any new group, such as a work team, coaching relationship, or perhaps even a user with software:

  • the atoms of technique (the physical movements and also the feelings) – these are intended to be composed into sophisticated actions
  • the structure of the interaction (roles, and how a sessions begins and ends)
  • protocol (non-obvious names for objects and actions) – this is how the actors can form a self-improving symbiosis using feedback.

It’s interesting to see how the skeleton of the mental model that will one day become ballet is already being developed, even from the first lesson.

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