Music for the Ballet Classroom

BalletBarreUnless you are the American Ballet School the likelihood of an instructor having live music in ballet class is slim.  So, most ballet instructors need to use recorded music.  On top of the music being recorded, many dance teachers use classical, which makes it difficult to keep the attention of any student, especially if they are under twelve years old.  Over the past eight years of teaching dance I have learned that if you use music that they can relate to in some way they are more likely to be interested in the class.

Children between the ages of three and seven have the attention span of two seconds.  Everything in the ballet classroom has to have a game like quality to it including the music.  For classes with these age groups I found that disney music or any child type films work best such as Shrek or Despicable Me.  The kids not only recognize the music, but they know the words to the songs.  For example, you can use “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” or “Beauty and the Beast” to do across the floor work such as turning or relevé walks.  For jumping or leaping type exercises you can use music such as “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King” from The Lion King or “Zero to Hero” from Hercules.

As dancers become older and hit between the ages of eight and twelve, continue to connect the music to something the students can relate to such as television shows.  In current pop culture there is Disney Channel’s Austin & Ally or Victorious (which is shown as reruns on Nickelodeon).  Either way there will be music from these shows that they can connect to.  As your students hit this age group you should start to introduce them to classical music, but in a relatable sense, such as music from the ballets such as Sleeping Beauty, Peter Pan, or Cinderella.  All of these ballets have music that is used in many of the classic films that children watch everyday.  Introducing them to classical music early will start to prepare them with what to expect if they decide to go to dance intensives or begin to do auditions.

Hitting the teenage years can be tough for most parents, but in dance classroom this age group can be the best.  I hope that if a teenager is taking dance classes they are serious about the art form in some capacity whether it is to do it professionally, go to college, or it is an activity they enjoy to do.  Either way this age group usually has a strong dance technique to work with as well as being more open minded to music and learning new movement.  I have found playing top 40s music or artists is the best way to reach these students whether it is instrument or with lyrics; I believe that either delivers the same results.  The Vitamin String Quartet does some great instrumental versions of popular songs such as “Fix You” by Coldplay or “Stolen” by Dashboard Confessional.  Not into strings there is also the Piano Tribute Players that take popular songs and turn them into piano versions such as “Chasing Cars” by Snow Patrol or “Don’t Stop Believing” by Journey.

Whatever music you chose for the ballet classroom make it relatable to the kids that you are teaching and be conscious of the age group.  Using the wrong type of music could turn a child away from dance because they find it boring or they just can’t connect to the class.  You need to give children a reason to fall in love with dance.  Use various resources to find music such as your nieces, nephews, cousins, or your friends who have children.  All those resources will be able to tell you what is popular with the kids today.  If all else fails go color and watch the disney channel; it will help you find that inner child.

An Ode to the Early 2000 Pop Music Era

Currently, I have been watching reruns of the S Club 7 series that came out in the late 90s through the early 2000s.  All of you millennials out there know exactly what show I am talking about and are secretly hoping that their 2015 UK reunion tour becomes a world reunion tour.  Needless to say watching this show brought back some nostalgic memories growing up and how great pop music is on top of being catchy as hell.  So, this is an ode to those bands and that great music genre that I secretly had dance parties to in my room as a teenager.  Where I bruised myself a lot trying to come up with cool dance moves while banging into brass bed posts and large wooden furniture.  Good to know that nothing has changed now that I am almost 30; minus the fact that I don’t really do it in secret anymore.

Being a teenager in the late 90s through the early 2000s, music was my escape from life.  Because as a teenager every problem means your life is over.  I don’t know what it is about society, but when you are a teenager, no matter what decade, music has such a profound affect on you for some reason.  Sometimes its relatable lyrics, a catchy tune, or a way to block out your parents from yelling at you about something.  So here are five songs that stick out in my mind the most during “my life is over” phase:

S Club 7 “Bring It All Back” – The years of fox family where my brother and I would be fighting over the TV and I was yelling at him to stop switch between channels.  Something we still fight about to this day when we are watching TV together.  Anyway, this group of British singers, four girls and three boy who came to America to find fame and fortune which they did once they finally got to Los Angeles and Greg Brady (Barry Williams) became their manager.  “Bring It All Back” is one of those inspirational songs about believing in yourself and it doesn’t hurt that it has a nice clean four count beat.

LMNT “Juliet” – Before Matthew Morrison became Mr. Shue on Glee he was in LMNT.  The band was a one hit wonder and I didn’t buy the single till a few years ago after I heard it on a sound system in an H&M store.  After that day, I began frantically searching for what band sang that song.  Every friend I asked had no idea what I was talking about since there are a ton of songs with the title “Juliet.”  But after being on YouTube for a few hours I finally found “Juliet.”

Hilary Duff “Sweet Sixteen” – MTV was starting to come out with a bunch of various reality shows.  “My Super Sweet Sixteen” was all about bratty rich girls and their sweet sixteen parties.  I only watched to see the yelling fit they would pull whether it was that the convertible she got was the wrong right color or that her best friend embarrassed her by dancing the wrong way at her party.  This show is the whole reason why I cannot stand most reality TV shows.  The one good thing about the show was the theme song used.  “Sweet Sixteen” from Hilary Duff’s debut album “Metamorphosis” came out during Duff’s popularity high of the disney channel show Lizzie McGuire.

Fountains of Wayne “Stacy’s Mom” – This song is a classic and for some reason everyone thinks Bowling for Soup sang it, but it is really the pop-punk band Fountains of Wayne.  This song is inappropriate at every turn between using a girl at school to get to her mom to hitting on a woman who is out of your league and is never going to give you the time of day in any sexual way.  This song is for all those boys who have fantasies of older women who they will never get.

Backstreet Boys “Larger Then Life” – The forever feud of Backstreet Boys verses N’SYNC.  Personally, I had all the albums from both groups, but I probably would have been killed if I told a teenage girl that back in the 90s/00s.  Before their was One Direction there were the Backstreet Boys who I know didn’t play instruments, but they danced so it was just as good in my opinion.  This song has a special place in my heart because at one of my many dance camps that I went to growing up we became obsessed with this song.  Five us decided in our weekly talent show that were going to dress up like the Backstreet Boys (with wigs and using mascara and eyeliner pencils to draw facial hair) and create our own choreographed routine to this song.  I can still do that dance by heart, but hey just like the Boys go big or go home.

Oh the memories of my youth.  Everyone says that their generation was the best growing up, but I can honestly say that if you were a 90s/ early 00s kid you had it made.  Don’t get me wrong I still like pop music to this day and you might catch me dancing to some Austin & Ally tunes in my Boston Apartment or One Directions “One Thing”, but I am always excited when I hear a song that brings me back to my years of no responsibilities.  To all the teenagers out there, try not to grow up too fast because your youth is the best time to indulge yourself in pop music and dance like a crazy person.  Adulthood will be there after you have left the phase of “my life is over.”

Male Ballet Dancers Get A Bad Rep

January 22nd was the birthday of famed choreographer and founder of New York City Ballet – George Balanchine.  So, in honor of this amazing man I decided to get a little confrontational on a statement he once said.  “The ballet is a purely female thing; it is a woman, a garden of beautiful flowers, and man is the gardener.”  Balanchine, you are one of my idols in the dance world, but I believe this statement is a bunch of crap.  What about Mikhail Baryshnikov, Ethan Stiefel, Angel Corella, Robert Fairchild, and Justin Peck.   Are they not flowers with their smooth transitions, their immaculate turning capabilities, and the power houses each one of them becomes in any allegro?  Male ballet dancers get a bad rap for either being the “prop” or the “support system” for the female lead.  What really steams me the most is when a male chauvinist feels the need to tell their child that ballet is for girls.

I recently got in an argument with an eight year old (I know real mature) about ballet.  He said, “my dad told me that ballet is for girls.”  Of course being a ballet teacher I told him that his father was wrong and that ballet is for boys and girls.  Needless to say this argument went back and forth for awhile and I pretty much felt like I was arguing with a drunk person.  So, instead of continuing the insanity of fighting, I told him that I would show him some male ballet dancers next week.  I brought in my laptop and pulled up videos of Ethan Stiefel and Angel Corella and this kid was totally blown away.  When his dad came to pick him up from Jazz/ Tap class that day he was telling him all about Ethan Stiefel and that both boys and girls do ballet.

Ballet is not only an art form, but it gives anyone the ability to strengthen every muscle in their body including some that you didn’t even know existed.  The strength a male dancer has to have to carry a 100 pound ballerina twisted up, over their head, across the stage and make it look like it was nothing is not an easy task.  The strength needed to jump feet off the ground without having a trampoline.  The power and control needed to turn multiple times and then stop on a dime with nothing but gravity fighting your every turn.  Dear human population, the next time you feel the need to tell your son that ballet is for girls maybe you should go talk to a football player or better yet watch a video of a male ballet dancer and try to replicate the grace and precision he has in one tiny finger.

Emma Watson is currently fighting for women equality in the world, but I’m fighting for male equality in ballet.  I want to live in a world where a boy is not bulled for his love of dance.  I want to live in a world where a father doesn’t feel that sports are more masculine then ballet.  And I want to live in a world where a boy is educated by his parents to know that ballet welcomes any gender.  Mr. Balanchine you have brought so much to America in the ballet world, but to say that ballet is a female thing and that the male is gardener of the flowers means that the males never get to be the flowers and they are just as much the flowers as the female soloist.

Dance Moms – Where to Begin…

Where do I start about dance moms, and no I do not mean the TV show.  Anyone who is a dance instructor knows all about the types of mothers and/ or fathers that are over barring and think their kids are the next Sylvie Guillem or Mikhail Baryshnikov.  Don’t get me wrong, I think parents should be supportive and take an interest in their children’s hobbies, but when you come into my classroom and are yelling at your five year old to pay attention, it is neither productive or helpful.  There are two types of parents, “parents who want their kids to be a dancer,” I’ll call these parents “forceful parents” and “helicopter parents.”  These parents may sound like their the same, but personally I think the helicopter parent is worse.

First you have the “forceful parents.”  These parents makes their kid take dance class even though they do not want to be there.  For example, lets say you have a daughter named Lucy.  Every time she steps into ballet class she cries, or she sits in the corner and pouts until it’s time to go home.  Not only does this disrupt the class, but Lucy is not having fun because she doesn’t want to be there.  Now you may wonder why I call these parents “forceful parents.”  Anytime I have a conversation with these types of parents they always tell me how they wished they were in dance classes when they were little or as an adolescent and they want to be able to give their child that experience.  Newsflash – Your kid hates it and doesn’t want to be there.  Lucy would rather be in soccer.  Want to know how I know that?  Because I asked her.

Second you have the ‘helicopter parents.”  Helicopter parents are those parents that are trying to give their kid an edge in someway.  Whether it is becoming buddy buddy with the dance studio owner or the instructor so your kid gets a good part or taking the blame when your kid forgets something of vital importance for a competition and you expect another kid to give up theirs because their child has a bigger part in the dance piece.  Dear helicopter parents, your kids are going to become the most dependent babies and/ or continue to make stupid mistakes their entire lives because you have never let them fall flat on their face.  Without failure their is no learning process.

My parents were supportive people in any thing we did.  They had three very different children, one that was into music, one that was obsessed with baseball, and me – the type A personality that had to have control of everything all the time dance fanatic.  While we were growing up, my parents were firm believers that kids needed to learn to fight their own battles at an early age, which is why when something was unfair at an activity we were involved with they stayed out of it and let us handle it in our own way.  My parents were also the type of people to ask us if we were still interested in an activity at a young age.  We were never allowed to quit something in the middle of a season or year, we always had to finish the activity out.  Your children are smarter than you think.  Let them be involved in the decision on whether or not they want to be in dance class and don’t be so involved that they never fail at that activity, your children need to learn and grow, and the only way to do that is with failure.  As the saying goes if you have never failed than you have never succeeded.

What’s In A Song?

We all have those songs that every time it is played it reminds us of a person, an event, or a period of time in our lives.  There are sad songs, party songs, and those never ending songs that stick in your head, but you don’t really want them there.  So, what is so special about these songs?  They are different for everyone, and is it really the song or the memory attached?  For me it has a lot to do with the lyrics.  I’m lyric obsessed and if the songwriter has a great
chorus or verse I’m in, but the memory is just as important, right?

ASDStPatty  Our lives are full of flashbacks and the only thing we have left once something is over are the memories and the pictures.  Fifty years from now someone is going to look through those pictures and have no idea what song was playing, what you were thinking when you decided to wear that skirt that was way too short, or why your friends look like they are being injured because their eyes are shut tight with their fists in the air.  Looking back over my time in college, I met some of the most outrageous and fun girls that are still some of the best friends today; my sorority sisters.  I know it sounds cliche, and there are some of you out there that would say that I paid for my friends, but I can tell you that we always had each others backs even when we were fighting because we were family.   You messed with one of us, then you had to deal with all of us.  I came across some old pictures and it reminded me of the numerous CD mixes that we made for any party that we threw at 47 Monroe, full of rap, top 40s, rock, and of course the Spice Girls!  ‘Wannabe’ was a popular song on our mixes and we would scream it at the top of our lungs (drunkly) along with gesturing every lyric that was sung.  Thank god video cameras were too big to carry around and cellphones had a limited amount of video power that no one wanted to waste on their flip phones.  Needless to say, there are a lot of pictures of us dancing around like fools.  Now every time I hear ‘Wannabe,’ I sing it loudly and dance around (soberly) wishing that I had my best friends with me.

ASDTooCool‘Go Girl’ by Pitbull (featuring Trina and Young Boss) was and still is my “lets get pumped” song.  I was introduce to this song by my pledge sister (in the car).  She put on her sunglasses and started rapping with Pitbull and I couldn’t do anything but laugh because I didn’t know the words.  After that car ride I learned every word and every time I was in the car with her after that we played that song and would again, be hand gesturing every lyric that they spat out on the radio.  This of course made it on our party mixes more than once, and to this day I need to have sunglasses on to sing this song.  I don’t know if it’s an insecurity thing, but I definitely feel cooler with the glasses on.

There is also the “sad song” that makes us feel better when someone breaks our heart.  I have two.  One is ‘The Way We Used to Be’ by The Scarlet Ending and the other one is ‘Gonna Get Over You’ by Sara Bareilles.  Both songs bring something different to the table.  The first one allowed me to wallow in my self pity when that guy broke my heart, and the second one got me out of that funk.  ‘Gonna Get Over You’ makes you want to go around and dance and sing in public, and not care if that cute guy/ girl next to you starts to judge you based on your weirdness.  Newsflash, we are all weird; some of us chose to embrace it publicly more than others.

CJFeolaFinally, there are those songs that you may be embarrassed to sing in public or around your friends because the song is not meant for someone your age or gender.  Luckily, I don’t agree with the status quo, and at this point in my life I don’t find too much embarrassing.  My roommate definitely has video proof of this through a little song called ‘Double Take’ from the Disney Channel show ‘Austin & Ally.’  Yes I know all the words, and even though the show is for twelve-year-olds it has got a great bouncy feel that you can sing to with a ladle in the kitchen.  My little brother and I like to sing Taylor Swift in the car; basically to the point that if she not on the radio station he changes it until he finds one that she’s on.  That is either fan dedication or an unhealthy addiction, either way I understand his obsession.  For example, any time the song ’22’ is played, we both get really high voices when she says,

“I don’t know about you, But I’m feeling 22
Everything will be alright
If you keep me next to you
You don’t know about me
But I’ll bet you want to
Everything will be alright
If we just keep dancing like we’re
22, ooh-ooh”

ASDIceSkatingThis probably sounds more like screaming instead of singing.  Either way I love every second of it.  So, maybe it isn’t about the song at all, but the memories with your favorite people and what those songs represented in that moment in time.  John Lennon was a smart man musically, lyrically, and intellectually, so in his words – “Time you enjoyed wasting was not wasted.”

What are some of your favorite memories and the songs that you associate with them?  I bet there are more then you think.