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Crafts for Exploring Artistry With Young Ballet Students This Summer

young children in dance class

Summer dance sessions are full of excitement and a big part of that is getting to spend extra time at the studio. Lots of studios offer summer camps to take advantage of the long days and give students opportunities to explore artistry that they aren't able to provide during the regular school year. For our very youngest dancers, creating crafts and then dancing with them is a super-fun way to introduce elements of artistry! Here are some ideas for each of the elements of artistry that we focus on at Geeky Ballerina:

  • Breath--when dancers integrate their breathing with their movement, it can lead to really magical results. Coordination improves, movement feels easier, and expressive messages read more clearly. Being aware of our ability to consciously change our breathing patterns is the first step in developing this element. I love to introduce bubble painting to the littlest dancers because they can see the effect their breath is having. Young kids learn by doing and benefit from seeing the cause and effect clearly linked, so this activity is perfect!

  • Somatic awareness--helping dancers develop an awareness of their own body is one of the most complex tasks in a dance class. Young children are in the very beginning stages of this learning. Capes are a great tool during this exploration because you can prompt dancers to feel different parts of their body against the fabric. You can make the capes as part of your craft project or make them at home and bring puff paints, rhinestone stickers, etc., and keep the in-studio project to just decorating them.

  • Body carriage--as dancers get older and more advanced they will explore subtle possibilities in their body carriage but with our beginners we focus on tall, proud, and strong. What better way to do this than to pretend to be royalty? Paper plate crowns are simple to make and also require a little bit of extra attention to posture for little kids to keep them on their heads while dancing. I love activities like this where students don't realize how hard they're working!

  • Line--it's pretty easy for kids to understand the lines created by their body because they can see in the mirror "Oh! My leg is straight like a carrot" or "My arms are round like a circle." As dancers advance they will need to understand the concept of energetically extending their lines beyond their physical body. This idea is too abstract to talk about with young dancers but just because you don't talk about a concept doesn't mean you can't play with it. Craft your own ribbon wands and help your littlest cuties see the effect of their movement through space. You can explore how small wrist movements lead to much bigger movement in the ribbons, how elbow movements lead to even bigger ribbon movement, and how shoulder movements make the ribbons dance bigger than ever!

  • Eye-line--wandering eyes during dance are very distracting to the audience and often unhelpful to the dancer themselves. Making binoculars and dancing while looking through them helps kids become aware of where they are looking. With these sweet young beginners we aren't trying to fine-tune anything (and eye-line is a pretty subtle detail), we just want to increase their awareness of how they are moving and choices they could make.

  • Carving through three-dimensional space--speaking of awareness, little kids are not particularly aware of the back of their bodies or the space behind them. Often at this age we are trying really hard to help them stay in their own space bubble. Since young kids aren't great at abstract thinking, grab some hula hoops (but act quickly because hula hoops at the dollar store sell out FAST this time of year) and let your little ones decorate their own with stickers, ribbons, etc. Your dancers can then dance with their own hoop on the floor, holding it, or as a "home base" to return to when waiting their turn. And if you feel ready to explore moving through the space behind them, have your dancers hold their hula hoop gently against their stomach with the hoop reaching behind them. This will give them tactile feedback if/when they bump into something while also creating a buffer of space to help avoid serious crashes.

  • Dynamics--often called "quality of movement," dynamics is the variety of ways a single movement can be done. We can tendu softly, sharply, lightly, etc. I love to use different types of paint to explore this idea and I usually spread out the concept over several days. One one day we will play with watercolor, another day with thick finger paint, and another day with colored shaving cream. The amount of effort to move each type of paint along the paper is different. When kids have physically experienced different movement qualities required to paint they have a life experience to refer to when we explore movement qualities with our whole bodies.

  • Musicality--dancing and music have gone together since before recorded history. Incorporating simple musical instruments helps students learn about rhythm and also helps them develop coordination as they match their movement to the sound they are making with their very own instrument. (Matching the sound from a speaker is a little harder.) Many studios invest in high-quality pre-school instrument sets for their classrooms but it can also be fun to let the kids make their own tambourines. Plus this way they can take their instrument home and show their family how much fun and learning happened in class!

  • Acting--this is one of the easiest elements of artistry to explore with young children because most of them love to play pretend! Kids don't usually need extra motivation to practicing their pretend/acting skills but making masks adds to the fun. Allowing kids to make their own---to choose their own character---adds to their sense of empowerment in the classroom which ultimately leads to more learning and a healthier classroom environment (but that's a different blog post). Besides, kids are super creative and I love being surprised by the masks they choose to make. Sure, I'm expecting to see plenty of Bluey and Bingo this summer, but I'm sure I'll also see something completely new like a robot dragonfly or a cranky princess.

When I first started teaching I thought that summer crafts were just a way to kill time while kids were in class long enough for parents to actually run errands. But I was wrong. Well-chosen crafts can be simple, inexpensive, and deeply increase the creative exploration happening in your summer dance classes.

I'd love to see how you incorporate crafts + artistry + dance this summer. Tag #geekyballerina in your social media posts so I don't miss them!


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