After-School Ballet at Nativity: New Dancing Shoes

Partner Agency: Nativity Academy

Arts Group: Louisville Ballet School

Author, Author Organization: Stacey Blakeman, Outreach Manager, Louisville Ballet

What was the first day of programming like? The last day?

Louisville Ballet School is currently working with Nativity Academy as a part of their enrichment programming for the 17-18 school-year. At Nativity, all students stay in school until 5PM, and enrichment teachers work with students weekly from 4:00 – 5:00 PM in seven-week sessions. Some students choose to continue in the same class for the duration of the school year and some rotate through different classes each session.

We began our first session in October 2017 with about 10 students, all girls in grades 5, 6 & 7. Some were eager to begin and already comfortable moving their bodies, coming to the class with some experience in dance. Some others were a little hesitant; as this was the first time they had taken a dance class before. As a new face and teacher in the building, I needed to build their trust a bit. I typically start the first day with some kind of ice-breaker game, and since most of them already know one another, it really was just for me to learn their names and to get a feel of the personalities in the room. The girls were a bit shy and reserved, so I had to work extra hard to pull the movement out of them. But, we finally made it through the end of the game and were ready to get to work. We talked about where ballet comes from and began to learn a few basic positions and movements. Each of our lessons always ends with time for journaling, where students take notes of new vocabulary words and do some reflection on the days’ lesson.

Fast forward to the next week, the girls received their new ballet shoes and slowly started to let their guard down. By week three, the guard is completely down, the girls are having fun and having lots of opinions about each of the ballet exercises they learn. “it’s too hard, it’s too fast, I’m tired, can we just sit down…” Dancing and focusing your energy at the end of a long day is hard, so now we have lots of new obstacles to overcome each week! Finding our balance between having fun and getting the work done is difficult as learning ballet takes a great deal of focus and concentration. But new strides continue to be made by the girls.

What challenge have you faced this year? How did your agency/partnership solve it?

The biggest challenge for our ballet program is that the sessions rotate every seven weeks. This is great for students who want to try new things each session, but there are some students who want to continue in the same class. As teachers, we have to find a way to keep the returning students engaged while helping the new students catch up to where we are in the curriculum. You don’t want to overwhelm the new students, but you also don’t want to loose the attention of those who have already learned certain things. At the same time, in ballet, there is a lot of repetition necessary in order to learn the technique, and some students want to just keep going and not pay attention to the details. We talk a lot about how even professional ballet dancers do demi plies everyday, and will continue to do so for as long as they are dancing!

What is one new thing you’ve learned/observed about the relationship between the arts and the wellbeing of the students served through Kosair® this year?

I think for me it just reinforces what I already know and believe, that the arts are so important for all human beings. Especially movement and dance! There is so much research being done today on the benefits of dance education for all people. This includes early childhood, K-12, adults, people with disabilities, and senior citizens. The brain-body connection is real and moving can help us in so many ways that go far beyond the physical benefits that most people think of when it comes to dancing.  There are social-emotional benefits as well as cognitive and academic benefits. Studies have shown that students who are physically active exhibit better focus and faster cognitive processing as well as better memory retention.

Is there a moment or student transformation that sticks out to you this year? Has something surprised you?

We’ve had lots of ups and downs in class behavior. The need to sit and talk about how to make the class work better for everyone has become integral. Everyone wants to feel like their opinion matters and that they have a voice that needs to be heard. We do lots of check-ins at the beginning of class where students get to say what is on their mind, how we can have a good day, and then we get to work. What sticks out for me is the reminder that students teach us new things about our teaching practice everyday. Each group is unique and requires a different approach.

What personal outcome are you most looking forward to achieving through programming?

I want to continue growing as a teacher and learn how to find success in small amount. I want to feel more confident at the end of the year and have put more tools in my belt for the next experience.

How has this partnership/programming aligned with your organization’s mission and goals for Greater Louisville?

The outreach work we do at Louisville Ballet is at the heart of our mission and goals. We strive to serve our community through the art of ballet and dance. That includes providing access to the art form on a multitude of platforms. In working at Nativity, we are teaching students whose families do not have the means to support the cost of dance training at a professional ballet school. I feel incredibly proud that we are able to bring the same commitment to teaching the art out into the community at no cost to the participant. I am so grateful to the Arts for Kosair Kids Grant for making it possible for me to do the work I do!

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