Extra Fun for Swan Lake

Swan Lake is a very dramatic story that takes place in Russia.

Swan Lake is a beloved ballet. Dancers have long been inspired by the the graceful “S” shaped birds that glide through the air and water alike. And the music for the ballet (by Peter Tchaikovsky) is STRONG: it’s romantic, it’s dramatic, it’s sad and it’s glorious. And that’s part of what makes the ballet so special: it’s full of extremes. Let’s start on a few STEAM ideas to get you more interested in Swan Lake!

Science: Day/Night, Light/Dark

In the ballet, the Princess Odette is cursed by Count von Rothbart to be a swan by day. She becomes Odette again when the sun sets. By day she’s a swan, by night, she’s Odette.

You know already that there’s light during the day and dark at night. Day and night, just like Light and Dark are OPPOSITES. So are Black and White. You might already figure out where I’m going here:-)

Swan Lake is special to ballerinas–it contains TWO roles which only ONE DANCER does: Odette and Odile are the same dancer in two different costumes. Doesn’t that sound like Odette having to be an animal during the day and herself at night? Humans and animals aren’t exactly opposites but when you think about it, pretty much everything in the story of Swan Lake leans on a PAIR: day/night, white/black, animal/human, good/evil.

Engineering: Symmetry

Maybe the most beloved dance in the whole of Swan Lake is the Dance of the Little Swans, or the Pas de Quatre (dance for four). In this two minute dance, the dancers hold hands and stand close together. And they do EXACTLY the same things at EXACTLY the same time. When dancers are this close together, an error could hurt their neighbor and ruin the dance for the whole group, so they practice a lot to keep the conformity–which is why this dance is just mesmerizing to watch. Also, notice that every movement the dancers do in one direction they repeat in the other direction, too. They almost look like a machine and this is partly because their shapes are SYMMETRICAL.

Symmetry may sound like a big, new idea, but you’ve seen it a lot. Symmetry occurs when two sides of an object are the same, or “equal.” There are TONS of things you can do with symmetry in art, and as dance is an art, it makes sense we’d like to see symmetry there as well.

Art: Melodrama, Swan Making

Swan Lake is a story with a lot of OPPOSITES in it, right? Opposites are pairs that show the EXTREMES of something. Stories that have a lot of extremes are called MELODRAMAS. These are usually serious stories with big problems and bigger feelings. Remember when Odette and Siegfried realize they love each other? They don’t smile and hug like might happen in real life–instead, the bad guy comes and breaks them up and Odette goes running into the sun. These are EXTREME situations and they’re like that to help you feel STRONGLY. That’s also part of the intrigue of Swan Lake! The extremes give you a lot to feel and a lot to think about.

I mentioned ballet has a long love affair with swans–and we show it in lots of ways. There are many, many swan-inspired projects you do when you’re young and you dance. I, myself, liked to sculpt and made lots of wire swans, but I’ve found a few charming swan crafts to do which I think are very good for the mind of the dancer. As you craft swans, out of whatever material you like, you get a chance to study the animal, the shape, the curves, it’s very instructive because in time you’ll be dancing in front of a mirror and trying to make your body do things you’ve seen. You will try to “fly” with your big jumps, stretch your neck longer, or make your port de bras look like a “swan dive.” Here are a few swan crafts to help you study the lines.

Math: French words for Numbers

You don’t have to learn many, but you need to learn a few. Two, three and four are the most important for now!

vonRothbart SlideShow

I love pictures of Swan Lake because people have been so inspired by it they’ve been very creative in the costumes and the imagery. The best example of creativity among the different productions of the ballet is how we see the bad guy: Count von Rothbart. Sometimes he looks like a bird of prey, other times, he’s witchy, sometimes he looks kind of messy, with torn robes, sometimes he’s like a butterfly or a goat!

Symmetry Slideshow: Corps de Ballet

The villain (aka bad guy) is typically in dark colors, and the swans are always in white. When many dancers wear white tutus together, they make the stage look full and clean and they can be very impressive in their numbers. This is something people always expect of Swan Lake–an impressive stage filled with white tutus. It’s another point of inspiration that I hope you enjoy!

Extra fun with Song of the Nightingale

This modern ballet is a simple story about appreciating what you have. It’s timely for Thanksgiving and it lets us go to a country we haven’t yet seen in our ballet voyages: China! Please enjoy these tiny extras for homeschool, fun and deepening our studies into ballet culture!

Our ballet story this week takes place in China!

Science: Senses

The Song of the Nightingale is a lot about our senses. The Chinese Emperor is so used to hearing the Nightingale he forgets she’s there. And when he gets the mechanical bird he is delighted how the toy sings. Maybe it replaces the real Nightingale?

I wanted to send along directions for little toys that also trick your senses. Maybe you’ve seen these: Thaumatropes. You can make them with handles or strings. You see, the eye lingers on the things it sees for a moment–even after that thing is gone–and that’s how you can see the bird inside the cage even if you know the bird and the cage are two different pictures in two different places!

To add technology to this mix, you might see the second video is from a place called The George Eastman Museum. This is a FILM museum, George Eastman founded Kodak, the film company. When you see a movie, you see one image at a time but they happen so close together your mind puts them together and you feel like you are seeing movement. That’s how we experience movies on film!

Engineering: Mechanical Birds

There are a lot of ways to make bird toys. We are going to start small with things you can make simple mechanisms for. You’ll see quickly how much art you can put into these projects! Just think how you could color this bird!

These wings can move…but we have to find a way to move them.
This projects shows you how to make moving wings AND make the bird fly!

Art: Costumes & Sets

The Nightingale fights with sickness. The emperor dances with sickness. The servants dance.

This is a drawing of the original costumes for The Song of the Nightingale. This was a ballet made by the famous Ballet Russes. They were a ballet company that brought together some of the most important artists of their time! Igor Stravinsky, the writer of this ballet’s music (also wrote Firebird, Petrushka and many others) did a lot with the Ballet Russes. And they often brought artists in to design costumes and sets. The sets and costumes for this ballet were designed by Henri Matisse, an artist you may have heard of before.

Coloring Book: Coming Soon

Watch the Ballet Online:

This ballet is hardly a half hour and features some of the lovely costuming you see above!

Fun, Final note: Birds!

Birds, I understand, are super trainable–like dogs! And there was a culture in China where people would take their pet song birds outside and even go to cafes with them to enjoy their friends, tea and bird song. Doesn’t that sound beautiful?! Here is a five minute, silent video of people at a bird cafe. See the birdcages hanging from the roof? What a lovely custom!

Tiny Extra Fun for La Bayadere

La Bayadere takes place in Ancient India! One thing you’ll notice when you see India on a map is that it’s got a lot of water around it and when a body of land has a lot of water around it, the place is usually HUMID. Humid places are wet: you can feel water in the air, it rains often and it might even be a warm place with little pockets where the water stays in the ground like lakes or rivers. Also notice, India is pretty BIG!

India is big and next to a lot of water!

India has a lot of green plants, because it’s got so much water. It’s got LOTS of rivers.

The first picture can be downloaded for coloring: make sure you have a big blue crayon to outline the rivers!

And now that you see how much water there is, consider this: the story of La Bayadere starts when they find a FIRE they can’t put out.

Science: Fire (in many forms)

You probably already know that water puts out (or extinguishes) fire, but if we don’t have enough water to cover the flames, a fire can keep going and eat up whatever is in its path. How can fire do that?

Fire is very both strong and beautiful. Did you notice in this video, the teacher talked about the colors inside the fire? In La Bayadere, we also see the dancers move their bodies to show they are looking at the SHAPE and MOVEMENT of the fire.

There are lots of ways to look at and think about an element like fire and doing crafts to work through what you see when you see fire is a really good way to start. What do you observe about fire when you recreate it using paper, crayons and glue?

This one is for my preschoolers.
This 2D and 3D model may be best for my kindergarteners.
This 3D mixed media project may be best for my elementary school dancers.

I know that, when I was young, I got really frustrated that my art didn’t show others what I saw when I looked at things. If you’ve ever had that feeling, don’t worry, we aren’t stopping at coloring, drawing or crafting: we are also DANCING. The fire can be in your dancing, too. It is for Nikiya!

When Nikiya dances, she looks like a graceful flame.

Watch the Ballet Online

La Bayadere is a high water mark in classical ballet and, as such, it’s not 100% easy for children to consume. I share this in the event you’d like to share one piece or another with your child but I don’t rightly expect that anyone will share this with their 2-10year old and make it through two hours of high drama in toe shoes. Mind you, it’s one rousing performance and the video production is great: clear and colorful and well danced. You’ll see many characters my abridged storytelling glosses over (e.g. servants, ghosts, tigers) and you’ll see dramas here that put “Real Housewives” to shame.

All this said, the music we use to dance through the story is from the KINGDOM OF SHADES scene, beginning 1:34 and this video’s Kingdom scene is breathtaking.

Coloring Book!

Extra Fun for Giselle

Giselle is a girl with “weak constitution” (meaning she gets sick very easily) who lives in the Rhineland. The Rhineland is a very green part of Germany. You can see Germany in red on the world map here:

Science: The Rhineland

This a map of The Rhineland. Do you see the thick blue line on this map?

The Rhineland is a part of Germany around the Rhine river. Like any place around a river, lots of plants grow nearby. The area is known for vineyards (fields of grapes), and the famous Palatine Forest. The Willis (who are make believe) are supposed to live in the Palantine Forest. You can imagine how thick the trees there must be, and how dark the forest is! Here is a little travelogue video with about the forest. It’s lovely but what I’d like you to notice how OLD everything in this area is, and old areas often have old buildings. In this video they say the Forest had something like 500 castles!

The castles and big fancy houses are usually on the top of the hills and the villages are down below near the water and in the valleys. This is a neat illustration I found of a view of a castle, or a big house, from the valley. You can imagine Albrecht and his fiance walking down the hill to Giselle’s tavern!

Can you see the castle on the hill?

The Rhineland has a “Wine Walk” which is so called because the area had vineyards and those vineyards grew the grapes they’d make into wine. They’ve been doing this for centuries! Imagine: Giselle’s tavern could have been a house on what we now call the wine walk!

Technology: Timber Frame Houses

Do you notice anything special about these houses? They have wood beams on the outside making beautiful patterns around the windows and walls of the house! These are Timber Framed Houses and they are all over Europe, but especially in Germany. People could make these houses for themselves and, if they made the frames strong enough, they could take the house apart wall by wall and carry the walls to their new home location and just rebuild the walls somewhere new!

Can you see the wood frames on the outside of the house?

Engineering: Paper House

There are so many methods of making houses from paper, but the reason making a paper Timber Frame house is smart is that the principle of building whole, movable walls matches the principle of making walls from paper and folding them to build a 3D building! I might also mention that this project matches the principle of Gingerbread House building, and so is a wintry type of activity. See this darling blog, for a very DIY how-to. The basics are simple.

Paper House making is a craft people love so much they do it into their adulthood and as a result lots of templates for real-world houses exist. This Templom House Cut-Out Template looks quite hard to build because of it’s careful details! While this Model Villa is probably good for my clever dancers!

Click on the picture to download the 6 page description–or just follow the picture you see on the first page:-)

Willis Slideshow

Giselle is a romantic tragedy, but when I tell the story I don’t focus on those elements. It’s a “white ballet,” so called because it features a corps de ballet (rows of ballerinas) wearing white tutus and the sad mood is really felt with these tutus in the “woods,” so I’ve put together a little slideshow of Willis.

Math: Centuries & Daisy Petals

Giselle takes place in the middle ages. The middle ages happened between the 5th century (400-499) and the 15th century (1400-1499). That’s 1,000 years we think passed without many changes or new technologies.

We are in the year 2020, which we call the 21st Century. I know it seems like we should call it the 20th century. It works like this: The first century was 1-99. The second century was 100-199. The third century was 200-299. And on and on!

When Albrecht says he likes Giselle, she picks a daisy and plays “he loves me, he loves me not.” This is an old game of “chance.” The idea is that if someone you liked also liked you in return, you’d pick a daisy that could tell you that. But there isn’t too much magic to this game (it is a game, and not really a way to learn if someone likes you:-) It’s a simple example of EVEN AND ODD NUMBERS. Have you learned about these in school, yet? You usually hear about it in first or second grade.

If a daisy has an ODD NUMBER of petals then, when you play “he loves me, he loves me not” you’ll end on “he loves me.” But, if the daisy has an EVEN NUMBER of petals, you’ll end on “he loves me not.” So if you had the ability to count the petals before you played “he loves me, he loves me not” you’d know the answer before you began! I guess you can only really count the petals on a daisy if you’re drawing it yourself:-)

Giselle Coloring Book

Extra Fun for Don Quixote

Don Quixote is a very special, very old and very BIG book. As you might guess, big books are full stories–often more than one–and this ballet is based on just the first few chapters in the big, old, magic novel written by Miguel Cervantes.

This is my favorite ballet. When I was young, my mother gave me a VHS tape (remember those?) of Baryshnikov and Cynthia Harvey dancing this ballet and I watched it to shreds. This is the production I link to below.

Science: Spain and Wind

Have you been to the beach? Did you notice it can be really windy at the beach? It’s almost always windy near the water and if you look at the country of Spain, you see it has water almost all around it. The picture below is trying to show with arrows the directions of the winds–so you can see Spain is sunny and windy!

Wind is energy and Spain makes a lot of wind energy! Here is a video that explains how wind is energy you can feel but not see.

Wind can be turned into energy! And that’s why Spain has so many wind farms! This is what wind farms look like. You may have seen one nearby…maybe in the East Bay?

Wind farms are hilly pieces of land covered in wind turbines–that’s why these look different, they’re doing a different job than windmills do but they’re not windmills, they’re TURBINES. Wind turbines capture wind energy to share with a community, so houses can turn on lights or power computers or run air conditioning.

Technology: Windmills

There are lots of kinds of windmills, and the most famous kind, the kind in Don Quixote, aren’t the kind we use today. The kind in Don Quixote grind wheat. This kind of windmill is very old. They look like this. In fact, this is a picture of exactly the windmills in the book by Cervantes!

The Windmills in Don Quixote are the kind that grind wheat. The wind moves the SAILS on the windmill (this is the part that bonks Don Quixote on the head) and that makes a big wooden plate turn inside the building. The miller puts grain berries down and the wood plates push the mill stones to grind the wheat until it turns into flour. This is what you’re eating when you eat bread!

Did you notice: this building MOVES. How many buildings do you know that move?

What other buildings move?

Imagine you were like Don Quixote and you couldn’t see very well. Cover your eyes with your hands and just look through your fingers, or try to look through a piece of fabric to see what it’s like not to see clearly. Then imagine you saw a building move. Can you imagine why Don Quixote thought the windmill was a monster?!

Engineering: Make a Windmill

The simplest windmill is a pinwheel. We can make simple ones or tricky ones.

Simple Pinwheels.
Trickier Pinwheels.

There are countless methods using Toilet Paper Rolls, Ice Cream Cups, or Solo Cups. There are also demonstrations for how to make a wind turbine out of plastic soda bottles but they require drills and therefore can’t be done without a parent. This said, it’s incredible engineering with things you already have around the house!

And if you’d like to make a fan in the style Kitri has, see here:

Art: Coloring Book!

Photos: Kitri

I got a lot of feedback from the children on the photo slideshow for Firebird so, I’ve created one below for Kitri, the ballet’s “star.”

I’ve put a still moment first so you can see the roses, tassels, and embroidery this character’s costume is know for, but what you’re most likely to notice is I took photos of Kitri doing a SISSONNE. This is a step we learn as it’s done by Basil (a la seconde), but Kitri is the one who made it famous. This is in part because a dancer named Gelsey Kirkland did this step on the cover of Time Magazine–this was a very big deal. That magazine cover is the last image of the slideshow.

When I was studying ballet, my teacher didn’t call it a sissonne dérrière, which is the step’s name, instead she called it a Kirkland jump.

Watch the Don Quixote Online

As promised, here is the production I fell in love with as a girl. All on youtube. <3

Don Quixote Coloring Book

Extra Fun for Sylvia

You have heard this music before: whether it accompanied Buggs Bunny, Chico Marx or Knight Rider, Leo Delibe’s ballet score is more familiar than you expect–and yet the ballet is barely known. If more people knew about Sylvia, more people would love it, so with that, let me send you some cute activities and access topics to help you get your child more intrigued by classical ballet using Leo Delibe’s mythic romance, Sylvia!

Science: Sea Caves

The story goes that Aminta sees Sylvia and Sylvia blames Cupid for letting her be seen. She gets mad, shoots an arrow at Cupid and Aminta jumps in front of it. Of course Cupid won’t let him be hurt, but to make Sylvia feel bad Aminta sleeps as if he’s hurt. When Sylvia comes to check on Aminta, Orion (the bad guy) kidnaps her and takes her to his Sea Cave.

In a tale so full of fairies and fauns, it’s funny that Orion is not so clear: sometimes he’s human, sometimes he’s a demi-god, but no matter what he’s always the baddie. So his cave has an underworld-vibe. Sometimes, set design makes it looks like a Solution Cave, all red and fiery, other times there are smooth stone walls and water. What kind of cave do you see in the ballet linked to below?

Technology: Bows and Arrows

Sylvia and her girl squad of fairies (Nymphs) all carry bows and arrows, and are related to Diana (aka Artemis), the hunter goddess. I told my dancers last week the fairies use a bow and arrow like Merida in Brave, so they expect a little intel on this.

When the children learn leaping, I tell them about arrows and show them how an arrow that’s bent or broken can only hit the ground. If your leg is going to fly through the air like an arrow, it has to be straight and sharp. I feel the below video does a much better job of describing the phenomenon than I could. A wonderful archer named Nu also gives a longer description which would be a greater use to parents than children, but it doesn’t hurt to share.

Engineering: Make A Mini Bow & Arrow

Below, see a tiny project to make a tiny bow and arrow!

Art: Motifs

This story is about fairies but the fairies aren’t airy or light: they’re feisty and physical. And did you notice: no wings!

Wings are a MOTIF. This is a detail in art which you see repeated. Each time and place it’s repeated it means a slightly different thing and when you look at all the times you saw the motif you can get a bigger idea of what it’s means to the story!

So how do we know they are fairies? In this ballet, we have “nymphs” who are like Diana so they have motifs in their costumes to show what they are and who they are like. I’ve made this little photo gallery of images of Diana. Notice she always has a bow, sometimes has a dog or a deer, and (most importantly) wears an emblem that looks like a crescent moon. Do you see how the bow can also look like a moon?!

Watch Sylvia in Full: here

I could share a more modern production (this one was shot in the early 70s) but this production is so very charming, I think you’ll like it!

Sylvia Coloring Book:

Tiny Extra Fun for FIREBIRD

The Firebird Suite was written by Igor Stravinsky for the Ballet Russes and the collaborations between those artists were historically valuable and inspired to folklore. Children find Firebird entrancing and I presume they have for a very long time. Your dancer might remember that the young farmer, Ivan, from The Little Humpbacked Horse, found a Firebird feather. This is a continuation of lore among stories. I describe it to the children using movies: If you see R2D2 in a Star Wars movie and then see a totally different Star Wars TV show or cartoon with a character that’s just like R2D2, this is because the movies and shows about Star Wars all happen in the same universe. (They understand this somewhat despite it being rather conceptual.)

As we’re only enjoying the story of Firebird for two weeks, I’m doing an abridged STEAM entry on the ballet: we’ll touch on apples (because golden apples are lure of Katschei, the story’s villain) and the many versions of the Firebird’s costume.

Science: The Oxidation of Apples

The apples in Katschei’s Garden are magical and golden (special!), but the apples in season in the fall are available everywhere (not special). It’s a lower elementary tradition to talk about oxidation in apples. Your preschooler or kindergartener can also participate in this simple science, as they can observe the cause and effect of an apple browning after it’s cut, whether or not they absorb the words “oxidation” or “molecule.” A simply described experiment for observing oxidation follows.

I’m also fond of this “next step” video in which the science teacher observed the browning of the cut apple and looked for different ways to prevent that.

Art: The Firebird

She’s a character from folklore, so we’ve had a long time to imagine how she looks. She is always a girl, cruelly changed into a magical bird by a mean magician (Katschei) and she always sacrifices herself so that her captor is stopped from wrongdoing. She’s dynamic and highly honorable, but only occasionally feminine.

The original costume drawing for The Firebird is not what you’d call pretty. There’s a great video on this from the NYMoMA the parents will like more than the children. But I’m providing a little feast for the eyes below. See how many ways we have imagined the Firebird? How many colors make the fire? Perhaps use these for inspiration when you color the coloring sheet below the slideshow.

I hope this is easy to print.

Watch The Ballet Online

As always, here is a link to see the ballet in its entirety online. Firebird usually takes less than an hour and it’s full of captivating imagery so it’s got a fighting chance of keeping any child’s attention. The link below is to a production with super star Diana Vishneva.

The Firebird Suite Coloring Book

Extra Fun for The Pharaohs Daughter

This month, we go to Ancient Egypt with the ballet, The Pharaohs Daughter! It’s a rarely performed, but highly revered, ballet with music by Cesare Pugni. The story resembles The Nutcracker Suite, in that it revolves around a dream. But here, the dream belongs to a man: English Lord John Bull. He goes to Egypt to study the pyramids and when a sand storm traps him inside one, he falls asleep by the mummy of a Pharaoh’s Daughter and dreams of loving her when she was alive.

Our STEAM homeschool activities are especially fun this month, and I hope you enjoy sharing these with your high-achieving, dancers!

Science: Sandstorms

As this may be your child’s first exposure to Ancient Egypt, a primer can be helpful. Note: I avoid the topic of mummification as it’s not developmentally appropriate. This said, children’s videos on the topic do exist: example here. Below, see a primer.

Sandstorms are a common weather events in Egypt. This lovely old documentary video shows soldiers braving the storm. We tend to call them Dust Storms in America (we have them in the dry states). Watch this wonderful meteorologist explain to a new first grader how sandstorms form.

Technology: The Nile River’s Boats

The Nile River is at the heart of all life in modern and Ancient Egypt: the River sources water for drinking, washing, watering crops and TRANSPORTATION. This wonderful video not only shows why the Nile was important, but also mentions NUBIANS, who are part of The Pharaoh’s Daughter, the ballet we study this month!

For good reason, Egypt is incredibly proud of their boats and the technologies they developed to work with the Nile in its seasons. This NatGeoKids adventure revolves around a Felucca boat and dips into different ports to sample the pleasures, including paddle boats! I highly recommend subscribing to NatGeo on Youtube!

Engineering: Pyramids

What spectacular cartoons we have online about how the pyramids were made. It’s a fascinating system of problems with remarkable answers. The following videos features some big words, but the visual demonstrations are just great! And so many projects can come from these lessons.

People have been fascinated with pyramids for centuries and some of us (kinesthetic learners) need to make things to understand things. This example of a kinesthetic learner figuring out pyramids is just wonderful: his medium is wood.

Art: Draw an Egyptian Boat of Pharoah

Math: Pyramid Block Project

Ancient Egyptians famously created many forms of measurement math which we use today–they came up with the 24 hour day and 365 Day Year. (The National Geographic primer on Ancient Egypt is FANTASTIC, but for older students.)

The pyramid crafts I direct you to (below) will work with children from Toddler to Pre-Teen because pyramids are magically efficient and vary from simple to elaborate; you choose what to do based on your abilities/interest. Below, find a collection of links to pyramids you can build with your child–or, set your child up with THE RIGHT NUMBER OF BUILDING TOOLS (math) and let them figure it out. All pyramids are made of single materials for simple counting.

Make your pyramid for what you have on hand!

Choose paper, legos, medium sized blocks, foam, matchsticks, bamboo skewers (careful, pointy!), play-doh, magnet balls (aka BuckyBalls), dominoes, cardboard, matches (hard!) and dollar bills. And, of course, origami pyramids. The PBS show NOVA made this cut out template as part of a pamphlet on pyramid excavation.

Craft sticks (aka popsicle sticks) pyramids often require crafters to cut the sticks (this isn’t safe or developmentally appropriate), but I found two videos that DO NOT require wood cutting, but still demonstrate 3-D values: 3-D simple Tetrahedron and Stacked Center “Temple” (video made by kids, adorable bloopers).

Watch the Ballet Online

You can see a lovely but older production of The Pharoah’s Daughter here. Please note: the video has a glitch (1:15-1:26) that causes it to repeat a little more than 10 minutes of content.

This classical ballet was recently revived by the Bolshoi with Svetlana Zakharova (my personal favorite dancer). Available on DVD (click the image).

Pharaohs Daughter Ballet Coloring Book

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:

Extra Fun with The Little Humpbacked Horse

This magic fable gives us a chance to look at the build of a ballet production, the harvest of a farm, how to make our toys fly and how to paint a puppet!!!

Science: Plowing Earth

The Little Humpbacked Horse begins at Ivan’s family farm, where we see farm equipment, typically a scythe or a plow. A PLOW is a basic farming tool that pokes into the dirt to loosen it and make it easier for air, water and sun to fall on anything we plant there. This lovely little video shows a plow breaking up the earth and a farmer dropping seeds into holes he makes for them. Simple and easy to follow.

Seeds need the air, sun and water to grow. Plows help.

Technology: The Scythe

The SCYTHE is a basic cutting tool that helps the farmer cut wheat, grass or any tall crops so s/he doesn’t have to bend over and hurt his/her back in the process. The Gentleman Farmer calls it FarmFit and shows how to do it properly below.

Like an ancient lawnmower–and you are the motor.

Engineering: Pulleys

If you’ve ever seen someone “fly” onstage, you know they’re not really flying, they’re lifted by ropes. The people get into the air with the help of a PULLEY. I made this simple, silly video to show how a “Firebird Feather” can help Ivan Fly.

I made a pulley, but the better video is linked to PULLEY.

Art: Puppet Painting

For a while I’ve had requests for puppet painting workshops–I’m open to the idea, but I thought I’d commit the act to video first. Below find videos for painting both Ballerinas and Cavaliers. In my demonstration I use a bamboo rice paddle, but when I’ve done workshops in preschools I’ve given everyone plastic spoons and sharpies.

I use bamboo rice paddles and acrylics…
…but you can use a plastic spoon and sharpies.

Math: Rows, Columns & Corps de Ballet

Corps (pronounced “core”) de ballet are groups of dancers who usually dance in unison. The word “Corps” means “body” and perhaps “Corps de Ballet” refers to the majority or heart of the company. For the dancers to move in unison means they are doing the same things at the same time, and to show that off, dance teachers put them into ROWS and COLUMNS. Costumes help as well. Can you see the unison?

Click to see Corps de Ballet dancers working together in this video.

When you have a class of 12 or 15 (common sizes) a dance teacher has to organize the dancers into rows. Here is a small video showing this principle using glass gems. Dancers think of it as choreography, but math teachers call it Array Division.

Putting dancers on a stage involves math.