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Core curriculum

By Dina Shmueli

The target population of Ballet study in complementary education is children (mostly girls, in Israel) who feel the desire to move and dance to the sounds of music. Children, who wish to become dancers like they saw on television programs, or attending a live professional ballet performance, usually choose to study in extra-curricular lessons after school hours. But most of the pupils are young 5-6 year old girls, whose parents decide that it is worth for them to develop their natural ability to dance, and develop their bodies and their movement flow.

In many cases at this age, the children start learning as a result of a parental decision (Feldenkreis, 1967), while the decision to continue with, or cease, classes is up to the child at the end of the first year. Some will study the discipline for the sake of learning it (Sherman, 1993), dancing out of love and movement appreciation. Others will study dance as a means to achieve another goal: correct posture, helping the body develop, learning flowing movements and orthopedic improvement of particular parts of the body which are weak or distorted (Sherman, 1993).

Parents frequently demand or ask to provide their children with study materials that are unsuitable for their chronological age and development level. The children also hope to quickly be like their revered models. In such cases it is important to gently, but clearly, explain the principles that guide the teachers in their professional decisions. Professional considerations (or those of the administration) should prevent teachers giving in to the clients’ demands. They should rather try to inform them as to what they should demand. “Sometimes it is preferable not to give the clients what they want, but to help them understand what they are likely to want… I am sure this is part of our professional task” (Eisner, 1998).

One should bear in mind that there will be clients who are not satisfied with these decisions, and terminate their children’s participation in the class. Although the financial loss is painful, professional honesty is of greater concern and more worthwhile in the long run. The curriculum is only for the children’s benefit. Every child who ceases studying ballet at any stage in their lives, should remember it with longing for something they liked doing and which contributed to their lives. A positive contribution to their lives, to their physical image, to their fitness and motor ability also affects the behavior of the adolescent in school (Recanati, 1997).

Constraints that should be considered when planning a curriculum

1 .The decision of the community center administration, regarding the validity of operating a small group. The administration may decide not to open a group of too few pupils, even if they made considerable progress.

2. The decision of the community center administration regarding the number of weekly hours allocated to each group.

3. The decision of the community center administration, regarding the number of days and length of classes each group will function.

3. Acceptance to the group

Acceptance to the group is not dependent on any type of examination. The purpose is to allow anyone interested to learn ballet, in the belief that everyone can develop in this field as they can in other areas of learning. The starting point will vary between children in the same group, and the rate of development will also differ, in particular with regard to the level of physical ability. The understanding of the principles of the discipline will be similar since the groups are divided according to age, each with its own characteristics of psychological and motor development (Lidor, 1994; Tiano, 1999; Sadeh, 1995).

The Curriculum

I will now present the curriculum based on the approach that considers intellectual and psychological involvement in learning (Sherman, 1993). This curriculum for ballet and artistic dance, affords learning through understanding the principles of the various styles. Learning the principles of the discipline, supported by the details of the material studied, helps the pupils acquire a learning system, using independent critical thought, and intensifies the intellectual occupation with dance.

The curriculum suits the researches of cognitive development, according to the pupils’ age as well as the psychology of learning. This is also true of the physiological aspects of child development. Research that combines the study of the body with the study of the mind in a generalized and integrated manner, reinforces the approach that artistic dance contributes to the children’s development and even to their future as adults.

The curriculum is a core curriculum, detailing the most basic study material, suitable to all age groups. At a later stage, when the ability to understand and apply the material is more developed, the teacher will be able to introduce changes and combinations gradually, as the pupils will continue to apply the principles learned while developing and altering the exercises.

The proposed curriculum is relevant to a system, in which the community center administration allows the lessons to be held four times a week, for 3-4½ hours each day. Operating a particularly small group is possible according to suitable professional considerations.

1. The teaching staff

The teaching staff will include teachers with experience in dance, choreography and production. A professional ballet teacher will teach classical ballet. The creative dance teacher has to understand creative development, and be open to all styles and levels of personal ability. Modern dance and jazz should be studied under a teacher who has a broad view of modern dance.

2. Space physical conditions

Lessons should be held in a studio, preferably square, 90 m. by 100 m., with a high ceiling. There should be windows that open to the fresh air, a bar at a suitable height (at the height of the student’s waist) along the wall. The floor should be flexible (not soft), to absorb shocks. There should be a mirror in one specific area which should not be overused. These basic conditions are frequently lacking, which does not prevent organizations offering lessons. I believe it is important to provide proper activities, even if these conditions are absent and even though this detracts from the full experience.

3. The core curriculum

The classical ballet core curriculum will include studying the following principles:

1. Four basic rules:

a. Shoulders and pelvic girdle will always be parallel and facing the same direction.

b. The legs will always be in an outward rotation from the hip joints (the turnout).

c. The back is continuously extended and expanded. The head is raised and moving freely above the spine.

d. The foot will stretch to point, whenever there is no weight on it. (Moreover, it is forbidden to place any weight on the foot in the point position except for when working with blocked shoes).

2. The rules of substituting feet.

3. The positions of the arms and the head are coordinated with the legs.

4. The various weight transfers.

5. The position of the limbs relative to each other.

6. The direction of the body in space (croise’, efasse’ en fass ecartee).

7. The direction of movement in the area available while moving.

8. Coordination: coordinating moving and stopping, bending and straightening, between the different parts of the body and the transition between them.

9. Timing the legs when performing quick jumps.

10. Musicality: the length of the movement, the validity of the movement and its quality at a given tempo.

11. A feeling of uniformity in the body movements.

4. Division into groups according to age

Children aged 4-5 years can be in the same group, but if registration is heavy they should, if possible, be divided into groups according to kindergarten and 1st. grade pupils to assure small groups of no more than 14 pupils.

7-8 year old children can study the same material, but it should be adapted to the lower age group. At this age they learn the same classical material, thus 3rd. grade pupils who did not study dance in the 2nd grwill be included in this group to learn the basics. The group will include no more than 20 pupils.

8-9 year old children (in 3rd. and 4th. grades), who studied the basics the previous year, will be in one group. At this age the differences are greater between children with natural talent and those whose natural dance skills are limited. The body’s strength increases very quickly, motor ability improving through study and exercise (Lidor, 1994), thus it is possible to transfer the better and more talented 4th. grade children to a 5th. grade, more advanced group.

9 and 10-year olds (in 4th. and 5th. grade) can be divided at this age into those with particular high motor and psychomotor ability and those with regular ability. Such a division should be done with the utmost sensitivity to avoid upsetting the children. At the same time, those who can should be allowed to progress more at this important stage of biological development, the development of the central nervous system and the development of the imagination (Tiano, 1999). Those with special potential and desire to progress will be able to do so in a manner that will allow them to realize their desire to be dancers.

Children aged 11 and older (from 6th. grade and above) can be divided according to levels of performance. At this age the central nervous system is developed; the pupils have full understanding of the foundations of the discipline and all that remains is for them to learn additional patterns, new combinations, vary materials, strengthen their bodies and continue caring for them as they rapidly approach physical maturity.

The creative aspect of this age already reaches preliminary understanding of the artistic processes for choreographic creations. The pupils are capable of imagining the entire work, and of planning a dance that considers the stage space available and the participants’ different roles. At the same time, there is a clear differentiation between the pupils’ levels of creativity. Some are full of ideas and solutions while others prefer not to participate in the choreographic decisions.

The curriculum for all the groups

1. Weekly scadual

Sunday

Monday

Tuseday

Wednesday

Thursday

The Killian group

Classical ballet (70 minutes)

The Petitpas group

Classical ballet

(50 minutes)

 

The Petrushka group

1

(45 minutes)

The Isadora group

Classical ballet

(60 minutes)

The Killian group

Modern/jazz/

creative

(75 minutes)

The Petrushka group

2

(50 minutes)

 

The Petitpas group

Modern/jazz/creative

(50 minutes)

The Killian group

Classical ballet

(75 minutes)

The Isadora group

Modern/Jazz/

creative

(60 minutes

The Cabriole group

Classical ballet

(90 minutes)

 

The Cabriole group

Modern/jazz

(50 minutes)

The Cabriole group

Classical ballet

(75 minutes)

     

The Cabriole group

Creative workshop

(75 minutes)

 

Key to the names of the groups:

Petrushka = 5-6 year olds.

Petitpas = 7-8 year olds.

Isadora = 8-9 year olds.

Killian = 9-11 year olds.

Cabriole = 11 year olds (and up to age 14, according to their level of knowledge).

The significance of the names of the groups

As part of the approach that claims dance should be taught from a broad perspective, that also includes history (Gardner, 1993), I suggest naming the groups after choreographers, Ballets and characters from the history of dance. The name of each group should be explained to the participants of that group, which activity can, and should, be expanded by watching a video film about Petitpas, watching the ballet Petrushka, studying the importance of the subject from different aspects, learning about Isadora Duncan and experimenting with different styles as well as watching work by Killian and so on.

Another advantage of naming groups is blurring their categorization on an age basis or according to ‘level’. This is another attempt (that does not always work) to avoid the feeling of superiority or inferiority of one group compared to others.

2. Detail of the specific curriculum for each age group

5-6 year olds (kindergarten and 1st. grade)

Each lesson last 45 minutes. The first 10 minutes are spent on structured exercises intended to inculcate habits of warm up as well as to lengthen the muscles and ligaments. No results or exactitude of movement are demanded. Thereafter the pupils will study such basic concepts as space, time, the limbs and the quality of movement, through experimentation and individual movement and improvisation. Teaching methods should be using equipment such as balloons, flags, hoops, newspapers, strips of material and so on. Simple terms are employed at this age which are well understood by all the pupils, such as open, closed, high, low, fast, slow, straight, crooked, and using different parts of the body. One can, and should, offer suggestions for characters from the children’s world. This part lasts about 30 minutes, approximately the attention span of children at this age.

Once a year, a lesson will be held together with the parents, in which the parents take an active part with the children. No observers or parental substitutes, such as an older brother, are allowed in this lesson (unless for a special reason), in which terms of relativity are taught such as before, after, above, below, in, out, by, to the right, to the left and so on. Understanding these concepts is extremely important in future dance study.

The material can be expanded for 6 year olds by adding different concepts of quality such as soft, heavy, hard, light, airy, and combining them with other aspects such as a soft, airy movement, or, at a later stage, performing on a straight or crooked course. Every combination of more than 2 elements demands concentration and high psychomotor ability, which improves future motor functioning (Lidor, 1994). One can also begin studying basic concepts of technique, such as plié, point, flex, gallop, as well as the first and second positions in the simplest manner. Exact implementation should not be expected, since the stage of maturity for such is still not ripe (Sadeh, 1995).

The material learned the previous year is repeated to enable more mature and complex study, and to enable the pupils who did not study ballet the previous year to learn the material. Freedom of creativity, limited to a specific subject, deepens understanding of that topic, and expands the repertoire of the material studied. Real artistic work develops inventiveness and the ability to express thoughts and values visually (Walkop, undated). In most cases the children have the opportunity to experiment with this material in the playground or while playing other social games. However, in view of the parents’ and, sometimes, the children’s requests, they should be allowed to learn in a structured, yet entertaining, manner, which should be exploited to enrich the musical repertoire. Pleasurable physical activity will affect the body’s shape and structure, reflecting our inner selves (Dichtwald, 1992).

7-8 year olds, 2nd. and 3rd. grade

At this age, when the children are more mature and more capable of understanding language and rules, they have greater ability to perform complicated skills. They can distinguish between left and right, their central nervous system is more developed, they are aware of new situations and their coordination is better (Tiano, 1999). These conditions enable them to start studying structured techniques which rely on clear rules.

The general curriculum for children this age will be comprise twice-weekly lessons of 45-50 minutes, at least one of them will include a lesson in classical ballet. If possible, 3 Ballet classes in duration. The activity in the other lessons will be varied between modern dance, jazz and improvisation.

Classical ballet is a technique with clear rules to be found in every movement and situation, whose execution demands much concentration and attention. Thus at this age only the primary foundations should be taught in the simplest manner, including

1. Rotating the leg from the thigh.

2. Maintaining the correct pelvic position, with lengthening the lower back.

3. Maintaining high foot arches (Heiman, 1998/9).

4. Long and gentle use of the arms.

5. Executing all these eltogether without exerting and straining the muscles and while assuring correct breathing.

The classical ballet lesson will include the following subjects:

1. Positioning the legs: sixth, first, second and third, and later, the small fourth. These positions should first be practiced while standing without any extra movements, so that the positioning of the pelvic girdle, the knee movements and raising the arches of the feet can be corrected (Heiman, 1998/9). Practicing when the body is static allows the pupils to understand the feeling of correct posture and strengthen the muscles relevant for this position.

2. Demi-plié in the positions.

3. Port des bras – forwards and sideways only.

4. Battement tondus in parallel – forwards only.

5. Battement tendu in turnout – forwards and to the side only.

6. Coupé, pas de cheval – forwards and to the side only.

7. Pointé – forwards only.

8. Relevé.

The working arm will not be used, but the hand will rest on the waist.

Correct habits should be inculcated in everything pertaining to working at the bar, including turning from side to side while facing the bar, holding the bar correctly, the correct use of the floor, maintaining a logical distance from the pupil in front and behind and so on.

Center

Transition to working in the center of the room must be orderly. I recommend using a different order each time, alternating between the rows every exercise, so that every pupil will be in the front row at least once every class.

The exercises will comprise elements executed at the bar, using the space, by:

1. Transferring weight from one foot to the other.

2. Moving from one place to another.

3. Performing little jumps on both feet.

4. Slow practice of the arm positions.

In the last part of the lesson, flowing movement along a long path should be permitted, by moving along the diagonal or in a circle. The exercises usually include stylized walking and different types of quick jumps.

To maintain the joy of dancing and the love of movement, one should avoid, during the last part of the lesson, insisting too much on the exact execution of the elements learned at the bar and in the center of the room. These sections will be introduced into free-flowing movement at a more mature stage, when the psychomotor ability will be more developed (Lidor, 1994). Enjoying dancing will afford healthy, vivacious development (Dichtwald, 1992).

In addition to the classical ballet lessons which improve and strengthen the body and its sublimation, one should continue developing the imagination and ability to act that exist at this age (Tiano, 1999). This is done through improvisation lessons based on materials studied the previous year, but with more advanced combinations as regards structure, working in small groups, swiftness and quality of movement, analyzing the results and so on.

Modern dance lessons will be included for a third or half of the year, during which the basics of flowing movement in different directions, sinking to the floor, turns and jumps will be taught. Freedom of movement should be allowed, while maintaining beat through the use of modern, varied and good music. This period in the development of the motor ability should be used to reinforce it.

The jazz lessons will be based on the division and separation of the various parts of the body and the coordination between them. Popular music can be used for pleasure and for motivating learning. Almost every exercise can be comprised of a short dance performed individually, in pairs or in trios. This is the age suitable for intensifying quick reactions to stimuli and a love of games and sports (Tiano, 1999).

8-9 year olds, 3rd. and 4th. grades

At this age, which is in the middle of the stage of concrete operations, the child develops the ability to draw conclusions and use logical thought. Maturity and learning, which started the previous year, affect motor development and physical behavior (Sadeh, 1995). Psychomotor ability improves (Lidor, 1994) and can be employed to achieve further progress.

The general curriculum for this age will include twice-weekly lessons of 60 minutes. More Classical Ballet lessons should be given at that age. The subjects of the alter lessons will vary between modern dance, jazz and improvisations. Many movements, not studied the previous year, will be added in the classical ballet lesson, out of consideration for the pupils’ increasing physical and cognitive ability. Based on practice and knowledge acquired the previous year with regard to the execution of basic movements and maintaining correct posture, one can teach more difficult material. From the point of view of internal and external discipline, the basics have been internalized and one can progress.

9-year old children, who have not studied ballet before, will quickly be able to understand material taught the previous year and integrate in that class, on the condition that they are a minority and physically and mentally developed. The average perception at this age is very good and whoever starts studying ballet then will be motivated to succeed.

The teacher should add new contents to the classical ballet lesson, preserving the simple, easily remembered patterns to assure continuity and coping with correct, exact execution and aware of personal ability.

In addition to the exercises studied the previous year, the following will also be studied:

Grande plié – in the first, second and third positions

Battement tendus in turnout, en croix (from the first position)

Batetment tendus in turnout en croix (from the third position)

“Point lift, point close”, preparation for glissé

Glissé en croix

Ronde de jambes à tèrre, en dehors et en dedans

One must assure slow movements to allow as full and exact execution of positions and movements as possible.

Sous sus et demi-detourné

Small passé

In the center

Croisé position

Port de bras, en croisé

Tendu devant en croisé as preparation for temps liée

Pas-de-bourré

Passé changing legs

Changement de pied

assemble'

From the corner in pairs

Gallope

Polka, at turns and spins

The exercises performed in the center or from the corner can be in small and easy combinations of two consecutive elements. The exercises should be repeated so that the students will become familiar with them and internalize the pattern, and will be able to deal with the physical aspect as suitably and as independently as possible.

Modern dance and jazz lessons will continue to develop coordination, the control of tempo, and progress in different directions in space. The exercises will be based on material studied the previous year, and will be developed into more complicated combinations. Professionally, it would be preferable to teach two classical ballet lessons and one lesson in modern dance or jazz and improvisation each week. But reality prevents this since the cost to the parents would be too high. Moreover, at this age children attend more than one extra-curricular activity and they do not relate to ballet as a study activity in which they have to invest more than in other activities. Friendships are important to them and occupy much of their time (Tiano, 1999).

The amount of time devoted to improvisation was reduced since there is an immediate need at this age to study correct technique and basic exercises. Many work habits are determined at this age, on which domain focus should be laid.

10-11 year-olds, 4th and 5th grades

Considerable progress is made in many fields at this age. The children who now continue studying decide independently that they are interested in this subject and invest more effort in it than in other fields. The central nervous system has matured, and the pupils’ approach to the subject is completely adult. They are thus offered the opportunity to take an active part in their own education for the sake of their personal development (Feldenkreis, 1967).

The facts allow them to cope with more lessons each week and progress more than in the past.

The lessons will last 70-75 minutes. Twice a week the emphasis will be on classical ballet and once a week on other types of movement such as modern dance, jazz, and enrichment in other dance styles. One should not forgo the two classical ballet lessons since physical ability must be reinforced, and they must cope with the rapid growth that many girls experience at this age. Rapid growth alters the physical proportions of the body, and sometimes temporarily weakens the muscles controlling posture. Therefore they must exercise more to fortify the body’s support system and its movements.

The following exercises will be added to the classical ballet lessons:

Port des bras – around and reverse, backwards and forwards

Frappé

Petit battement

Fondue

Rond de jambe en l’air en dehors et en dedans

Fouette

Attitude devant

Grand battement en croix

Developpes en croix

In the center

Temps liée

Balance

Passé sure relevé

Preparing the head for pirouette

The jumps

Echappé, glissade, petit jette, soubresous, pas de chat, sissons fermé

From the corner

Grande jet with chnging legs with glissade, shasse'.

Sissone ferme'é

Each exercise will include at least two elements, with greater emphasis on the rules of combinations and the logical continuity and pattern. One should adhere to conventional patterns since they are logical and based on clean flow of movement as well as being simple to assure internalization and clean work. The length of the lessons affords time to work on most of the elements in every lesson and progress can be faster.

The other lessons will also add elements and styles for enrichment. The creative lessons should be extremely fruitful and reach the level of minor artistic creations.

12-year olds and above, from 6th. grade on

Those continuing at this age are already aware of their personal limitations and ability and have a fairly clear idea whether they want to follow a professional or amateur direction. If possible the group should be divided according to the pupils’ levels of ability and their future intentions. But this age is complicated emotionally and they are easily hurt. A way should be found to help those with professional potential to progress without upsetting their friends who are interested in dancing for amateur purposes only.

The division can be facilitated by holding lessons for the whole group once or twice a week, with additional lessons only for pupils capable of a higher level of professionalism. This should be discussed with each pupil individually, explaining the reasons and involving the parents in the decisions. An experienced professional teacher will be able to see the hidden potential and encourage the pupil to continue with the advanced group, even if she feels it is difficult.

The lessons will last 90 minutes, during which the pupils will gradually learn the entire repertoire of ballet movements. Since the basis is already well organized, the movement infrastructure is ready and understanding complete, the repertoire should be taught gradually, ensuring clean, correct execution. Each week there will be at least two classical ballet lessons, one modern dance or jazz lesson and one lesson chosen by the teacher or the administration as either a lesson in creativity or on technique.

Should the fourth lesson be chosen as a lesson in creativity, in which artistic choreography is developed, participation in community or school events should be initiated to develop awareness of the final product, exhibit it and learn to handle public criticism. This affords an opportunity to discuss the results, for reflection, and encourages developing skills (Gardner, 1993).

Additional events for the entire school

Several general events will take place during the school year:

1. Around the time of the winter festival of Chanuka there will be an open class each group, during which the parents and other family members will observe a lesson. The lesson will be divided according to the subjects studied till then and include explanations that emphasize the main subjects studied by each group.

2. One lesson will be held during the year for two age groups of vastly differing ability, such as for the Pettitpas group with the Killian group, or for the Isadora group with the Cabriole group. They will perform exercises suitable for each group with similar content but at different levels of difficulty and execution. This will enable the older pupils to help the younger ones, while the latter will be able to observe the more advanced work they may perform in the future.

3. At the end of the second trimester the movements studied by each group will be summarized as brief dances with specific movement content and with minimal costume. The summary will be presented to the parents, friends and other guests.

4. At the end of the school year, a special performance will be held focusing on a specific story. The subject chosen will be such that it will lead the participants to indirect study of new contents. A production of the Sleeping Beauty, for example, will teach the pupils a little about Tchaikovsky and about mimicry in ballet; they will watch a video film of a professional performance of the ballet and try to analyze the characters in the story. Another story will include other subjects and a different method of study.

5. Attending quality dance performances should be encouraged throughout the year and the pupils should watch video films suitable to the guided subjects and substance.

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