Philadelphia’s beloved contemporary ballet company BalletX has been an enthusiastic leader bringing art to the community. Key to this is Dance eXchange, an educational program the company has been conducting annually since 2014.
This year, they brought teaching artists (Kate Carr and David Amado) and live musicians (Andrew Mars and Julian Hartwell) into Bache-Martin School and Chester A. Arthur School two times a week. Third and fourth graders totaling 95 students learned how to enjoy and love dancing directly from the artists.
According to BalletX cofounder Christine Cox, the purpose of Dance eXchange is to let the children find adventures and love that they might have never known without this experience. It is not only about dancing, but also giving depth to the children’s personality, communication skills, self-confidence, and determination. After treating the kids to a little break and pizza dinner after the final rehearsal, teaching artist Kate Carr talked about how Dance eXchange gives confidence and joy to the kids. “They are sort of skeptical at first” she said, “but now they would say I can’t believe I am dancing!”
The program is based on Sunset, o639 Hours, one of BalletX’s most popular repertoires. The children watched a performance and talked about it in their classroom, then created dance pieces with the Kate and David based on the themes of the ballet—adventure, travel, aviation, and flight.
The choreographies are made to let kids enjoy the physical activity by introducing fun games: Lots of stretching their bodies, jumping high and squeezing themselves, wiggling their fingers, stepping feet. It is not about who is better and worse. Each kid has their favorite special moment. One of them would pop, another would look cool with one of the step, and another would pose with such a proud face. They are encouraged to do their best and not to be afraid of making mistakes. And their happiness and smiles are contagious. Who can not feel encouraged and empowered seeing the future of the world looking completely satisfied and happy?
After the children’s performance, the dancers of BalletX performed an excerpt from Sunset, o639 Hours. The scene is one of the most poetic and enchanting in the ballet. The dancers wave like an ocean, and the captain and his wife dance their love dreamingly. The same children who were skipping and so excitedly their performance are now in complete silence, gazing at the dancers with the shiny eyes.
Theater might not be for everyone, but it is a great learning place for anyone regardless of age and gender—for both those on the stage and those in the audience. We learn how to keep our boundaries and respect each other, sharing what we love and cherish. It lets us be emotional and recognize the feeling. It tells us things are never black or white nor good or bad. There will never be a good performance without the ability to communicate and cooperate.
All of those fundamental skills may be crucial more than ever. The effort and devotion BalletX puts into this project is priceless for the future and development of the children. As Mayor Jim Kenney said at the opening speech before the performance, “Art is absolutely necessary. Don’t not try it”.
[The Prince Theater, 1412 Chestnut Street] January 24-25, 2017; balletx.org.