Monday, February 24, 2014

Thinking Outside the Book: Ballet Storytime

It's probably no surprise to anyone that a ballet-themed story time is a hit with our young program-goers; after all, how many young ones are in ballet and other dance classes, and how many more love the idea of dancing? And so a ballet story time is really a no-brainer. But what if you think outside the book when planning that story time and partner with a ballet professional in your community for an extra special program experience?

That's what my library district has been doing this week. My colleague made a call to a ballerina with the Missouri Ballet Theatre, and before we knew it, a ballet dancer was scheduled to make a costumed appearance at storytimes at each of our programming branches. Since the real live ballerina is a huge draw for this program, that means restructuring the story time format a bit. Here's what we did.

Ballet Storytime

Welcome & Introduction
     I wanted to make extra sure that all our attendees had time to get into the program room, so I spent the first few minutes of the program time talking to the children (many of whom came in tutus and other fancy dress). We talked about who likes to dance, who takes dance classes, what they wear to dance, and who had been to the ballet. Lots of fans of The Nutcracker here.
     When it was time to get started, I introduced myself and Miss Rachel, our ballerina from the Missouri Ballet Theatre who was in full Sugar Plum Fairy regalia. I also explained the format for our special story time.

Story: Brontorina by James Howe, illustrated by Randy Cecil
     This is truly a dance story of grand proportions: it's got dance, dinosaurs, worries about fitting in, and strong friendship themes. I did my read-aloud of this book standing up, which allowed me a larger range in sharing the illustrations--a necessity considering we had about 60 people show up for the program. There are a few pages that show Brontorina and her dance classmates doing a few ballet steps, and Miss Rachel demonstrated those moves so that the children could get an even better idea of what they look like.

Ballerina Time!
     After the story, Miss Rachel took over for a bit. She invited all of the children (almost all girls, with one lone boy who was equally captivated by the demonstration) to stand and try some ballet steps. The learned to stand in first position, to pli√©, to arabesque, and to relev√©. They finished up their mini lesson with a combination--a short dance, if you will. There was plenty of excited ballet dancing going on.
     After I had the children sit back down, they were able to ask Miss Rachel questions. Questions included how long she had been dancing, what are her favorite ballet roles, and questions about what moves she can do and how much she practices. Our lone male storytime attendee raised his hand last to ask if boys can be ballet dancers, and Miss Rachel happily shared how important male dancers are to ballet.

Craft and Picture Time
     Our event advertisement mentioned that there would be a photo op with the ballet dancer, and many a young friend was clamoring for just that chance. To help with crowd control and keep the line of children waiting to meet the dancer short, I also offered a simple ballet craft at the back of the room. I printed (and a volunteer cut) card stock ballerinas. I set these out with crayons and scissors, and also available were cupcake liners, which could be glued on with glue sticks to create tutus and dancing skirts (see finished craft in above photo). The children could do the craft then get in line for a picture, or vice versa, or any combination that worked for them. I made sure to have plenty of ballet fiction and nonfiction books by the photo op area, too, to encourage folks to check out a book and keep learning about ballet. Having two activities going at once definitely cut down on the waiting time for pictures with Miss Rachel, and it also helped us keep the program at the advertised 45 minutes.

All in all, our Ballet Storytime was a delightful success. I saw several attendees leap and dance out of the library afterwards; I think that's pretty indicative of a meaningful library experience, when you are literally acting out the program as you head home.


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