Unless 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.