Extra Fun for Graduation Ball

This month’s ballet is Graduation Ball! Set in Vienna in the mid 1800’s (for heightened nostalgia), it’s the story of a finishing school dance to which a class of cadets has been invited. This will be our dancers’ first exposure to Johann Strauss!

Our STEAM activity suggestions are playful and associative and I hope you enjoy!!!

Science: Physics of Fouetté!

The step we call the hardest in ballet is the fouetté, and towards the end of Graduation Ball, there is a contest where two tutu-ed dancers do 12 and then 24 fouetté in a row. The step is a pirouette (a spin on one foot) that ends with the dancer putting one leg out and using it to build momentum and pirouette again.

My dancers are not ready to fouetté on their own–they won’t even learn the preliminary step (pirouette) for a while, but when you see a ballet in its entirety you’re likely to see fouettés, which really does inspire awe and wonder! I found this darling TED video on the PHYSICS of fouettés!

Technology: Chandeliers & Gas Lighting

Part of the magic of Graduation Ball is the warm glow and the golden walls of the Ballroom. In this scene, we have both Chandeliers and Candelabra. Chandeliers are glass or crystal hanging lamps that contain flame and usually have dangling glass or crystal to refract the flame and light more space. In the image below you can also see candelabra (candleholder with arms for many candles) because a chandelier lights from above and a candelabra lights so people could better faces.

Chandeliers versus candelabra.

Children are familiar with candles–the wick catches flame and the wax fuels it. Lanterns also have a wick but instead of wax they use oil or gas as fuel. If your family celebrates Diwali, your child may already know oil lamps. They come in so many sizes and shapes! I’ll bet your child didn’t know Alladin’s lamp was missing a wick:-)

Bet you didn’t know Alladin’s lamp was missing a wick!

In the 1800s gas lines were built into the walls of houses. The gas (kerosene, etc) travelled from the wall through small pipes and into lanterns like these.

Can you see the wicks and the gas blowing out underneath them?

Chandeliers could use both gas technology and candles. The kind of lamp, lantern or chandelier you had depended upon the make of your home (if it had gas lines in the walls) and how much light you needed (a ball room needs a lot!).

There are plenty of online tutorials on making your own oil lamp. I find the ones about survival to be the most compelling, but this Mason Jar DIY is the simplest.

Engineering: The Drummer

In Graduation Ball, a drummer has a very springy solo. His jumps look like the drumstick as it bounces off the tight surface of a drum. Drums are simple instruments and there are many ways to make them. There are Drums made from wood, from scratch, from plastic cups, or even out of packing tape! But, for my druthers, the best to make at home is the TIN CAN drum. Have fun with it!

Art: Color the Parts of Temps Lie

This month we learn balancé. This step is commonly paired with waltz music as it has a 1, 2, 3, or down-up-up rhythm. For balancé, we shift weight from one foot to the other. In order to best support your child learning the most basic (and hardest) element of our beloved waltz step, I offer a coloring sheet. Coloring can provide a meditation on the position of the body which is very instructive and often soothing.

Math: The Waltz

Johann Strauss is the name associated with most famous waltzes, and while he wrote many, his most famous is The Blue Danube Waltz, which occasionally appears in this ballet but not in the version I’m suggesting to watch. I know it’s silly, but when I was young, I heard someone sing the Blue Danube with these lyrics.

“The Blue Danube Waltz by Strauss, the Louse.

He lives in a house, with Mickey Mouse.”

I realize this isn’t the apex of refinement, but the principle of waltz timing stuck to me so well after I heard that. Each line is 9 counts and completes a whole phrase (I hope I used that term correctly) so you have a sense of a 3 beat bar.

To count a waltz beat, you only have to say 1, 2, 3, with each number lasting the same amount of time, but to dance it, we tend to say “down, up, up” with more time given to the first (and preparatory) down beat. This wonderful balance video shows step timing and, therefore, waltz beat.

Watch the Ballet Online:

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