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Sleeping Beauty: Arts Integration Edition

Elementary school students pose together in ballet costumes.
Students of Lake Shore Elementary in costume for their Arts Integration performance

After the final performance of Sleeping Beauty, the professional company took their final bows, hung up their costumes, and celebrated with family and friends. Although these performances represented the end of a long and busy season, our run of Sleeping Beauty had an important postscript: an Arts Integration performance with Anne Arundel County Public Schools.

Longtime fans of Ballet Theatre of Maryland may already know of our partnerships with organizations such as Casey Cares Foundation and Gigi's Playhouse, but another part of our community outreach is a yearly Arts Integration residency with local elementary schools. This program, in which BTM teaching artists share their love of ballet in school gymnasiums, cafeterias, and music rooms, is close to my own heart. Along with fellow company artist Madeline Jones, I have been involved with the program since 2022.

The cover for our Arts Integration performance of Sleeping Beauty features a storybook castle illustration along with details about the performance.

What It's All About

We work closely with Nicole Deming, who is the Dance Teacher Specialist for AACPS as well as a recipient of the award for "Outstanding Leadership in Dance Education" by the Maryland Dance Education Association. She summarizes the program:

"The Ballet Theatre of Maryland partnership program with Anne Arundel County Public Schools showcases the work of our students through a year-long residency and concludes with a culminating performance of a classical ballet in a side-by-side performance with the professional company dancers. The project affords students with limited experiences in the arts an opportunity to be involved in a multi-disciplinary project to include creative writing, visual arts, and dance.

"Each year, we observe the caliber of the project continue to elevate as many of the schools participate each year. The teaching artists, Ms. Cindy and Ms. Maddy, foster a positive and nurturing environment through their engaging lessons and exercising patience with the students as so many of them are first-time performers. Watching the students perform on stage elicits a sense of belonging and nurtures a lifelong appreciation for the arts."

The long-term nature of this program is one of its benefits. As each week builds on the week before, students have many opportunities to learn new things about themselves and the arts.

An elementary school student in a classroom shows a paper with her costume design drawn on it.
Students at Belle Grove Elementary design costumes for their performance.

How It Starts

At the beginning of the school year, participating school teachers choose from a list of different scenes from our chosen story ballet. For Sleeping Beauty, this included moments such as Carabosse's curse, Florimund's search for Princess Aurora, and the final wedding scene. Long before a single step has been taught, students may watch clips of the ballet to learn how their scene fits into the story.

From there, a student writing team at each school asks "What If?" questions to create their own version of their scene. One of my favorite parts of being a teaching artist is reading each school's interpretation! I love the challenge of choosing music and creating simple movement and pantomime that will bring their story to life.

Once the story is in place, many teachers encourage students to design costumes and props for the production. Being involved in these details helps students take ownership over their experience.

Elementary school students, some in a uniform polo and khakis, hold a ballet tendu in a school gym.
Students at Mills Parole work with Madeline Jones

Getting Moving

Once Ms. Maddy and I arrive at our respective schools in January, we work with students on basic ballet positions and steps. Although the program has a performance emphasis, we spend the first few weeks introducing proper terminology, foundational technique, and the joy of movement.

In many cases, our classes become a laboratory for creativity and collaboration. I start every session with a round of "The Name Game," in which students and I stand in a circle and each make up a dance step that goes with the sound of our name. As we work our way around the circle, everyone else will call out a given dancer's name as we repeat their step.

This weekly ritual serves multiple purposes: it transitions us into class, helps me learn everyone's names, and lets students share their creativity. Just like our names, everyone's way of moving is individual and special. When students are feeling bashful, other dancers are quick to raise their hands and offer suggestions. As the program goes on, young dancers confidently find their voices.

Elementary school students dance freely in a school gym.
My students at Overlook Elementary practice using their space in a game of Free Dance

Creating Characters and Choreography

After the first few weeks, Ms. Maddy and I work together with our school teachers to cast dancers into their roles. The focus gradually shifts to staging choreography, with students learning how facial expressions and body movements develop their characters.

This was an enjoyable lesson for Alaina Smith, a student at Lake Shore Elementary. Her favorite part in the process was learning her role as a bunny in Lake Shore's forest scene.

"I liked that we had a lot of movement," she told me. "I had a lot of fun doing it, because I have a pet bunny myself. My mom said it would 'Bring out my inner Chocolate.'"

Each year, the story ballet we choose brings its own unique cast of characters. This season's production was abundant with royalty, courtiers, fairies, and all manner of woodland creatures: bunnies, mice, birds, and more! As we explored their characters, students brainstormed how each one might walk, run, and dance.

Elementary school students in a music room practice their dance. One dancer practices a twirl under another one's arm as others look on.
Park Elementary students practice their choreography

Stepping On Stage

This year's Arts Integration performance returned to Maryland Hall for the first time since 2019. Two days after the professional company closed our run of Sleeping Beauty, Arts Integration students rode school buses from all corners of Anne Arundel County.

Like their professional counterparts, Arts Integration dancers know important stage vocabulary such as upstage and downstage, stage right and stage left. Although being onstage is a big adjustment, students quickly found their footing.

Elementary school students in bright costumes practice dancing onstage
Mills Parole Elementary rehearses onstage on our performance day

As the schools finished up their individual rehearsal time onstage, the professional company arrived from warm-up class at the studio. After a semester of Ms. Maddy and I talking about our colleagues, it was a big deal for students to share the stage with the company.

Elementary school students in colorful costumes stand onstage in a ballet first position in front of a row of professional dancers.
Belle Grove Elementary and I (far left) pose with the company

Students finished getting into costume, found their seats, and the show began. One of the special things about this program is that students watch the show from the audience and only line up in the wings when it's time for their dance. This means that every young dancer has the opportunity to see the company dance live. As students took on roles such as Princess Aurora, Prince Florimund, and the Lilac Fairy, they could draw connections between their parts and those performed by company members.

Right before going onstage, a few students whispered that they were nervous. Once onstage, though, all the hours of practice kicked in; everyone did very well! Our Arts Integration dancers made their family, teachers, and principals proud.

Costumed ballet dancers perform with garlands overhead.
Company and trainee dancers in the Garland Waltz. Photo by Michael West Jr.

The Power of Arts Integration

Our Arts Integration performance of Sleeping Beauty was fleeting, but it has the potential to leave a lasting impression on students. Before the program ended, I spoke with Lindsay Thompson, a 4th-grade teacher at Belle Grove Elementary. She emphasized how positive the residency has been.

"Arts Integration has brought a doorway to our students. I say brought a doorway instead of 'opened a door' because many students may not have known how to find the 'door' into dance. They now have a pathway to a future in the arts. Many students on our team are always eager for the next practice.  We often hear 'Do we have ballet today?' or 'What are we doing in dance today'.  It is amazing to see students who can be so shy within the general education classroom liven up once they begin dancing."

Responses like this one mean a lot to us. At Ballet Theatre of Maryland, we believe that ballet is for everyone. That might mean performing an elaborate production to a sold-out theater, or it might mean walking into a school gym to teach a group of students their first ballet steps. Either way, our mission is to share this art form in whatever ways we can.

The impact of Arts Integration isn't exclusive to our students, either. Since becoming a part of the program in 2021, I have been deeply affected by the experience. Working with students who might not otherwise take ballet has made me more mindful of all of the opportunities that led to my own career. Seeing ballet through their eyes makes the art form all the more precious. After having the honor of working with them, I feel driven to give more as an educator and a performer.

Elementary school students in a cafeteria stand in a row while holding a ballet second position. Many stand with hands on their hips.
Seven Oaks Elementary students work on their 2nd positions

If you would like to support us, please consider donating to the company's programs or purchasing a subscription for next season. Subscriptions are the most cost-effective way to enjoy Ballet Theatre of Maryland's performances throughout the season.

Are you interested in dancing with us? Visit our Summer Classes page to see what we're offering for Ages 3 - Adult.

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