Ballet may not be the first thing you think of when you are looking for family oriented entertainment but did you know that ballet companies are creating productions and programs that are attractive to all different ages and budgets?  Ballet has had to adapt to modern audiences and that means less full-length classical ballet like Swan Lake and more new choreography and shorter programs intended for it youngest fans.  But more than just entertainment, ballet can be beneficial for children because it can be educational, culturally diverse, athletically powerful, historical and, of course, beautiful.

New York Theatre Ballet

Photo: Christopher Duggan

Whether you are traveling in the U.S. or abroad, seeing a ballet is the wonderful way to support the local culture and expose your family to an historical art form that has been celebrated for hundreds of years by both kings and commoners alike.  With a little research you can find productions for all ages in most big cities throughout the world.

1. It Overcome Language Barriers

Unlike musicals or plays, ballet overcomes language barriers because there is no speaking. In many classical ballets, the stories, like Cinderella, are already well known to children so they can easily follow along. Children are also naturally more responsive to physical miming and the over-the-top comic acting that occurs in classical ballet.

2. Ballet Needs More Male Dancers! Or at Least More Male Fans

The time to expose boys to the art of ballet is when they are young and have less pre-conceived ideas of stereotypical masculinity. Parents should stress the gymnastic athleticism that goes into the dance and the muscular form and strength of the dancers. Many reputable schools in the U.S. offer free or reduced price classes to boys to encourage the exploration of this art form.

There is no need to worry if boys (or girls) are not familiar with ballet. Someone once told me that when compared with attending a sporting event of which you know nothing about, the first timer will get much more out of a ballet performance than the sporting event.

New York Theatre Ballet

Photo: Christopher Duggan

3. It Caters to Families

New York Theatre Ballet

Alice-in-Wonderland Follies.  Photo courtesy of New York Theatre Ballet

If worrying about how your children might behave has been keeping you from going to a performance, it is time to reconsider. Once considered stuffy, ballet companies are changing.  They know that they need to attract a new generation of ballet goers and are creating programs just for children and families.

For instance, the New York Theatre ballet in NYC produces special one-hour programs throughout the city of classic children’s favorites like Cinderella. These reduced price performances often include a dancing demonstration with audience participation and even a drawing to win free dance lessons. They are performed in spaces that are more relaxed and accessible, like their upcoming production of Alice-in-Wonderland Follies at the 92nd Y in Manhattan.

4. Ballet is Culturally Diverse

A recent autobiography written by American Ballet Theater principal dancer, Misty Copeland, has brought attention to the fact that the larger ballet companies in the U.S. are not as racially diverse as they should be. However, ballet is a touring art and there are plenty of other traveling companies from all over the world who come to North America to perform.

In New York City, the Brooklyn Academy of Music is a cluster of performing art centers includes opera, theatre, film and dance.  Each year its Next Wave Festival features culturally diverse dance companies from all over to perform at the annual festival.

Whether you travel home or abroad, each ballet company will have its own character that is often a reflection of its locale. In France, Ballet Preljocaj’s home is in beautiful Aix-en-Provence in the South of France. Le Pavillion Noir theater, where they dance, is a modern glass and steel structure that reflects the company’s cutting edge dance style. If you can’t make it to France, you can see them during as they tour extensively all over the world.

Ballet Preljocaj

Ballet Preljocaj Photo: Jean-Claude Carbonne

Seeing something out of your comfort zone can end up being the best experience.  On a recent trip to Edinburgh, Scotland, on a whim, we purchased tickets for the Fringe Festival to see a production called Balletronic. The performance was a fusion of ballet and modern dance accompanied by Latin and Celtic music. The athleticism of the performers and the upbeat modern music was perfect for tweens and teens. It ended up being the highlight of our trip to that city.

King Louis XIV ballet

King Louis XIV of France dancing Ballet de la Nuit 1653. Wikicommons CC BY-SA 3.0

5. It’s Historical!

Ballet began in Renaissance Italy and its name is derived from the Italian word ballo, meaning dance. It was an aristocratic diversion and was even performed by a 14 year-old King of France, Louis XIV in the 17th century. In fact, men often played the important roles until the 19th century when the ladies turned the tables on them and the prima ballerina was born. That century also brought the advent of dancing on pointe with a special shoe to support the foot. The 20th century brought with it the world’s greatest choreographer, the Russian-born American, George Balanchine, and the expansion of ballet as an art form for the populous took off.

In the later part of the century into the 21st century, the popularity of ballet has waned somewhat.   Today culture is fast-paced and technology rules– children watch three-minute YouTube videos or check text messages constantly for entertainment. That is why supporting arts like the ballet is so important. Going to the theater to see a ballet is a unique experience because it’s completely live and in the moment. Once a dance is done, that version of it is gone forever.

6. Ballet is Beautiful

Finally, at its core, ballet has the ability to touch people and transcend the ordinary.  At its best, it take your breath away.  The technical detail and strength required to dance Balanchine’s La Sonnambula or the fun kid-friendly Coppelia and the talent to make it look effortless should be appreciated and enjoyed by all ages.