This is the debut article in Cape Cod Wave by our summer intern, Cara McManus, who is also teaching ballet classes to children at Turning Pointe Dance Studio in Falmouth. Cara is a rising junior at Fordham University at Lincoln Center and is in the prestigious Alvin Ailey dance program at the college.
I teach a half-hour long ballet class to 3-year-olds on Saturday mornings at Turning Pointe Dance Studio in Falmouth. Maybe “teach” isn’t exactly the right word–I’m never sure who learns more in that time, the kids or me.
For example, I’ve learned that the wooden bench in the downstage right corner of the room (basic dancer trick for remembering stage directions–it’s always from the point of view of the dancer) contains some magnetic force that affects only 3-year-olds.
Every time we do a dance exercise down the diagonal, the kids rush through the dancing part as fast as they can, eagerly anticipating snagging a prize spot on the bench while I’m preoccupied with watching everyone else take their turn. It’s quite clear that for most of them, lounging on the bench is a million times more exciting than doing an arabesque.
Actually, I’m thinking of removing the bench before class starts this coming Saturday to see what happens.
I’ve also learned that scrapes and boo-boos are both traumatizing experiences and badges of honor. In the middle of stretches, the first little dancer will interrupt to show me her week-old scar. “It hurt really bad,” she’ll proudly declare. Then suddenly everyone will clamor to show me their scars, as if I’m the judge of a “World’s Most Gruesome Boo-boo” contest. I always feel a little callous as I quickly turn their attention back to ballet.
It’s also important for me to quickly learn each kid’s personality. Of course there’s always the visible troublemaker–the one who swings on the barres, refuses to participate in certain exercises, and so on.
But there’s also the harder-to-spot invisible troublemaker–the one who sneaks into other kids’ personal dancing space, or worms her way to the front of the line in every exercise.
Then there’s the happy-go-lucky kid who doesn’t care that he’s not doing the steps right; he’s just having fun. This one likes to fall a lot; whether on purpose or by accident, who knows.
And don’t forget the kid who can’t bear to be separated from daddy. He carries her into the room and patiently spends the first five minutes of class extracting her from his leg to participate. But as soon as her momentum winds down, she realizes he’s not there anymore, and thus begins the “I want my daddy!” opera.
More gratifying is the outgoing kid who just loves ballet and soaks it all in. She makes sure you see her doing all the steps, and is the center of attention in the freestyle “statues” game at the end of class (everyone dances around with a scarf and freezes when the music stops).
Closest to my heart, though, is the silent, perfectly disciplined kid who loves dancing just as much, but is too shy to put on a show of it. That was me at that age, and I hope she continues to love dance just as much as I have.
I adore every single one of them, from the troublemakers to the dance enthusiasts, and I hope they’re learning just as much as I am. They keep coming back every week, so I must be doing something right. Either that or their parents are forcing them. It’s a toss-up.
– Cara McManus