What is learning at Swarthmore Ballet Theatre like?

If you know me, then you know our whole family is in a state of nearly permanent excitement because our oldest is performing in Sleeping Beauty! Friends have had so many questions. I thought I would answer some of them here for you, in case you were too shy to ask!

What do they have to wear to class? Do you have to do something crazy with their hair?

Children have a choice of allowable dancewear – the school provides a list – all of it has been easy for me to find locally (or online), on a budget. Girls have to have their hair in buns. It took me a few minutes to figure it out the first time, but there are tons of YouTube videos that walk you through it. (Your children will be totally amused by watching the videos with you, by the way!) By my third attempt I could do two buns in less than fifteen minutes. Your child will look VERY elegant! Hair has to be up securely to ensure that hair doesn’t get in the dancers’ eyes when turning across the floor. But I have found that for my daughters, taking that special time to quietly put up their hair and talk about ballet is a ritual that makes them feel like they are about to do something very important. (My son, on the other hand, has very little prep time and this is the LEAST expensive sport we equip him for – one more reason that boys should TOTALLY take ballet!)

Is the class very strict?

Children are expected to stay quiet and on task. This is easy for them to do because the teacher is always happy to see them and keeps them very busy doing work that they enjoy. There are no raised voices or unhappy words – the children are motivated to do their best because of the teacher’s seemingly boundless enthusiasm for their efforts, and their own pride in their work. (Yes, even the four year olds.) Most of that work is learning actual ballet terms and movements. (You can imagine our shock when French words started spilling out of our children’s mouths last year after their second class!) They also learn the stories of the great ballets and learn to appreciate and recognize the music of the composers. You will get how amazing that is when you have classical music playing and a little voice says, “The Firebird by Stravinsky!” Consensus among most of the parents I’ve talked to is that the kids all seem to be proud that so much is expected of them.

Are the classes expensive?

The cost of professional level Ballet classes for three kids at SBT is less than a YMCA membership. (!!!!)

What about recitals and costumes? Do they charge extra for that?

There are no recitals. (Yes, you heard me right!!!!) Your child may be invited to perform in a full-length ballet at the non-profit Lori Ardis Ballet Company. (And when that happens you know that I, and half of Swarthmore, will be standing out on the sidewalk two weeks ahead of time, waiting in line to buy tickets to see your child dance!!!!!!)

If my child is in the Ballet, how much do I pay for costumes?


Even the youngest dancers enjoy rehearsals. And they earn several free classes in exchange for performing!

Dancers are given their costumes and many hours of rehearsal, which are an invaluable learning experience. You will not pay for any of it!!!

As a matter of fact, your dancer will be given several weeks of FREE CLASSES (not rehearsals) during the production, when the Ballet School is on hiatus. My son was very excited to realize that performing in the Ballet was the equivalent of his first job, since he was going to be attending dance classes that he earned by performing!

Does your child get tired of rehearsing?

My son had a blast in rehearsals. The ballets are choreographed on the dancers, which means that Mrs. Ardis and Mrs Flynn spend time figuring out what the dancers can do and helping them develop skills that will allow them to add complexity to the dance. The Hop-o’-My-Thumb dancers all worked very hard on Russian splits. Because they worked hard, this difficult jump was added to their dance!

Rehearsals were short in the beginning and when they were longer nearer the time of performances, the little dancers were permitted to watch the older dancers rehearse, which they really seemed to enjoy.

Don’t I have to take my children to Philly if I want them to get professional training?

My oldest is only eight but I have been coming to watch productions since before he began taking classes. I wondered how one teacher at a small local ballet school could get such a large number of students to this level by herself. As I learned, Mrs. Ardis, herself a former professional ballet dancer, teaches, AND she brings in principal dancers from the Pennsylvania Ballet to teach classes all year long. As a matter of fact, there is a summer intensive with a few available spots left. I wrote a little about last year’s summer intensive here. Last year, Amy Aldridge taught the students a dance that she performed at the International Dance Festival at Vail, Colorado, immediately after leaving Swarthmore. Rumor has it that Amy so loved teaching the SBT dancers that she cried when she had to leave and gave a “group hug”. She is teaching again this summer July 6 through July 10. Even if your dancer is enrolled at another ballet school, they can audition to attend. Check the school website to learn more.

Want to know more? Visit the school’s website: http://swarthmoreballettheatre.com


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5 responses to “What is learning at Swarthmore Ballet Theatre like?

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