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Trending at the Ballet: #theartsareapowerfulforce

Community OutreachBallet Storytime

Twerking, grumpy cat, the zombie apocalypse, "Duck Dynasty"… These fascinating topics have been trending on the Internet recently. Admittedly, a large majority of us have probably spent some time in the past month watching a horrible video featuring a wrecking ball to see what all the fuss was about (#wedonotapprovethiskindofdancing) or posting a Monday morning meme on our Facebook timelines (#weneedacoffeesponsor). If you want to stay current, you have to know what’s trending. This goes beyond pop culture – even teachers are following educational trending topics. Within the community outreach department, the buzzwords are changing. While older topics in the field of education like bullying and diversity have gone out of focus a bit, things like i-Pad classrooms and the Common Core Standards are popping into the forefront of all of our conversations.

The Ballet’s Community Outreach programs reach over 30,000 people each year. Our numbers continue to increase each year for a variety of reasons; the community likes what we’re doing, arts programming continues to be cut in schools, and we are committed to being a real resource for students across Southeastern Wisconsin. We want to do more than just sashay into a school and do a bit of dancing. We are deeply dedicated to showing teachers how to connect this art form and our programs to other areas of study, and to concrete ways of learning. This year, we are doing a lot of learning ourselves as we find out more about the Common Core Standards, how important this is to teachers and how they are structuring their curriculum.

Common Core Standards are a “set of internationally bench-marked standards” in English Language Arts and Mathematics designed to be adopted by every state and implemented in the 2014-15 school year. While we have just begun to research the “CCSS”, our partner teachers at our Relevé and ResiDANCE schools are stepping in to help us develop our existing workshops to help students with vocabulary, writing, storytelling and real comprehension of content versus regurgitated memorization and meaningless test-taking. Our programs, in particular, Ballet Storytime and the upcoming student matinee of “The Nutcracker,” are showing us that making these connections is inline with how we run our programs and teach students about ballet. In a recent letter to parents about Allen-Field Elementary School’s field trip to “The Nutcracker,” teacher Yuliana Pequeño included a section about the purpose of seeing the ballet with the following:

The purpose of this field trip: Integration of Knowledge and Ideas - Common Core State Standard Reading Literature, Grade 5, Standard 7: Analyze how visual and multimedia elements contribute to the meaning, tone, or beauty of a text (e.g., graphic novel, multimedia presentation of fiction, folktale, myth, poem).

Seeing it put this way, Community Outreach Coordinator Lori Flanigan and I realized our programs give students and teachers a lot to work with already. We teach new vocabulary all the time, whether it’s “plié” or “tunic” or “apprentice.” At a Nutcracker Prep, we ask the kids to tell us the story of “The Nutcracker” – asking questions and giving prompts to help them fill in the blanks. At the beginning of an “Athleticism & Dance” workshop, we spend some time discussing how students feel about ballet, what their impressions and stereotypes are. At the end, we revisit these questions to see if anything has changed. Giving students multiple ways to look at something, and to digest a subject and be able to confidently describe what it is, are methods we use to shed a light on this art form. We have a lot to learn, but we are looking forward to working with our teachers to learn how we can incorporate Milwaukee Ballet’s programming into schools in even deeper ways.

We want our audiences – be they teachers and students, families, or ballet fanatics – to see that there is more to ballet than tutus and tights. Within our community outreach world our motto is, “The Arts are a Powerful Force” and we believe that now more than ever, especially if we can help teachers to accomplish their goals inside the classroom. #balletiseducational

So, teachers and families! Get in touch with us and put us to work. Let’s get Clara, Fritz and Drosselmeyer into the classrooms and imaginations of as many students as possible. There are still tickets available for our Student Matinee Series featuring “The Nutcracker.” These shows are exclusively for students – public, private and homeschooled, and tickets are discounted to $8, $10 and $12. Study Guides are included (with plenty of reading and writing exercises and ways to connect the subject matter of the Tannebaum family traditions to classroom curriculum!) and Ballet Preps available for new groups. #comeseethenutcracker

Alyson Chavez
Director of Community Outreach