ABT’s Make a Ballet Program

3 Feb

by Elizabth Kawalek, Education Intern

During my time as an ABT Intern I was able to accompany the Director of Educational Outreach, Dennis Walters, on his weekly trip to P.S 20 for ABT’s Make A Ballet program.  Throughout the semester I have been working on the syllabus for the program, themed “Colonial Legends”.

How do ballet and colonial legends relate you may ask?  Well, the 5th graders at P.S 20 will happily tell you.  Over the past five weeks they have been learning about American legends, such as Paul Revere (including a trip to Fraunces Tavern in downtown NYC where he is believed to have stayed), and creating their own legends and stories from that time period.  These stories will soon be translated into ballets, but not without a lot of hard work first. Not only are the students learning significant amounts of American History – something near and dear to my heart as a History major- they are also learning how to construct cohesive and creative stories in groups. 

On my first Monday, I walked into a room full of 5th graders with a lot of energy and opinions.  Their main task of the day was to identify the different elements of their stories (setting, characters, conflict, climax, and resolution) and sum them up into one sentence – an assignment that could be difficult for any age when working in a group of five.  As they began to work, I went up to different tables and asked them what their story was about.  Though they needed some organizational help, I was amazed at how creative and complex the stories were.  With some groups, I helped them figure out the exact plot of their story and identify the climax.  Others needed help to describe the story efficiently.  At a time when it seems much less emphasis is placed on how to write and communicate, this one hour lesson taught them so much.  Their enthusiasm for the project was so encouraging! 

After they worked on their stories, we discussed tableaus (living statues).  The kids were so excited to be able to get up and act out a scene, whether it was the start of a race or playing a game of checkers.  Some kids were great, and others had a tough time being creative in front of the class – another reason why the exercise proved so important for the students. 

For the next several weeks Dennis and I worked with the kids and their teachers to develop the stories and presentations.  I helped create worksheets and note cards to assist the children in organizing their thoughts.   So much work and time (I even needed my rusty Spanish skills) to prepare for the presentations for the 4th grade classes.

On the day of the presentations, I walked the kids into the hall before they went up and helped them prepare.  The excitement and nerves were adorable, and it was obvious they had been working very hard (despite when I asked the group if they had practiced I received a resounding “I don’t know).  After these presentations, they will work on transforming their stories into a ballet and have a performance in February.  I cant wait to see how they turn out!

Seeing the program develop was incredibly rewarding.  I was able to be an integral part of the children learning skills and knowledge they will use their entire lives.

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