LONDON, United Kingdom – How do you help your child with the 11+, set them up with additional UCAS points (university entrance points) while at the same time nurturing discipline, rhythm, precision and fitness? Ballet of course! More specifically, by following the Royal Academy of Dance syllabus with a qualified instructor, along with approximately 230,000 other people from around the world who sit the exams each year.
“With arts provision shrinking in our mainstream schools, more and more parents are looking for quality performing opportunities for their children within their local area,” says Katie Pick, Principle at Primrose Hill Ballet Schools in London. We all know how well children can thrive during dance lessons as it is a fun exercise as well as a creative outlet. As Katie adds:
Dancing & Performing can make a person feel physically refreshed and improve their mood, confidence and ability to socialise with other students involved within the shows and the school.
Primrose Hill Ballet Schools opened its doors 5 years ago and offers Royal Academy of Dance Ballet Classes and Imperial Society of Teachers of Dance Modern and Tap Classes from 3 years of age. Katie and her team coach children from the age of 6 for ballet exams: “The most recent exam results were exceptional, all students passed with high Merits & Distinctions!” highlights the Principal.
Katie will soon be adding Musical Theatre Classes to the weekly timetable along with Pointe Work Classes for students who are currently attending Grade 5 and above. She also runs a Musical Theatre Summer School and stages a spectacular ballet production once every 2 years.
This summer the Primrose Hill Ballet Schools presented a wonderful production of “The Adventures of Alice” showcasing multiple characters from various dance disciplines ingeniously put together with imaginative and mystical routines within the acts. As Katie highlights: “The Adventures of Alice allowed us to cater for several dance styles including Ballet, Modern & Tap within the same theme.”
A kaleidoscope of talent
A lot of effort, dedication and many hours of hard work made the show a huge success. So let’s jump into the detail and discover what’s involved in putting on such a production.
“I would first select the music for each class by listening to Soundtracks, Ballet Volumes and Films. The choreography would then be set using the theme of music selected and most importantly within the limitations for that specific age group,” says Katie.
Once the choreography had been fully staged, Katie explains that it is necessary to piece the production together ensuring there are suitable links between each number: “It’s far more professional to have good linking numbers rather than the ‘Lights Up & Down’ effect every few minutes!”
The next step would be to cast all the characters for the show, which we imagine would be something like the X-Factor. Unfortunately, there were no buzzers involved; Katie works with the children week in week out sometimes for many years and has a good idea what roles will play to the strengths of each individual.
Then, it comes to organise the costumes, which can be tricky with 170 children to cater for. “Costumes are generally sourced from theatre hire companies and often require lots of stitching at home until the early hours of the morning,” recalls Katie. The stitching continues right up to the performance with broken wings, bunny tails, skirts and even tights being mended backstage!
And a show wouldn’t be complete without a proper stage. “Having watched many versions of Alice in Wonderland, it was apparent we would need something quite garish and bold, so I chose strong and vibrant colours along with a centre piece of The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party,” the Principal explains.
It will be alright on the night
The parents among us will appreciate how hard it can be to get a nervous and excited child to follow any instruction. Now imagine 170 children following hundreds of instructions on everything from hair, makeup and costume changes to eating schedules and bathroom breaks! This is what back stage looked like and everything had to be done in near silence so the audience would not hear it.
There were all sorts of characters from buzzy bees, baby rabbits and mystical butterflies to jellyfish and queen cards, among others, moving quickly to their places, completing their routines and exiting the stage to prepare for the next routine. It was like a magical conveyor belt of talented youngsters!
What really makes these performances so impressive, fun and unique is the enormous collective effort, patience and dedication shown by performers and teachers alike.
What was also remarkable is the discipline and concentration that each child exhibited during the shows. Counting beats and steps in their heads while co-ordinating their movements with the group and not forgetting to smile and look professional isn’t easy. Amazingly, some of the leading characters, like Alice, had memorised all the steps for every part in the show! This couldn’t have been achieved without endless repetitions of each choreography featured on the stage. “As well as strengthening connections in the brain, repetition has strong emotional implications for young learners,” says Katie who also adds:
Children enjoy repetition because it helps them feel confident with a new skill and allows them to actively participate.
And the show itself? Apart from the occasional slip of a young bunny rabbit and the associated gasp from the audience, it went off without a hitch! There were so many wonderful moments throughout the production and all of the performers put on a fantastic show. One of the real highlights of the evening was a beautiful and gracious duet between the Mad Hatter and Alice, who put together an impressive, fun and skilful tap routine, receiving a huge cheer!
As the final curtain fell, an army of proud parents and families raised the roof in appreciation of the collective efforts of the students and the teachers. After a short summer break, preparation has already begun for next years exams and upcoming performances. We can’t wait to see what Katie has in store!