Tickled pink

Left: instructor Alicia Penny and her students in the Angelina Ballerina program, clockwise from top left: Gabrielle Chute, Kailee Dixon, Layla Spence, Elizabeth Meier, Alissa Ahrens, Madeline Gomes and Ryen Wise. - Hannah CUMMINS/submitted photos
Left: instructor Alicia Penny and her students in the Angelina Ballerina program, clockwise from top left: Gabrielle Chute, Kailee Dixon, Layla Spence, Elizabeth Meier, Alissa Ahrens, Madeline Gomes and Ryen Wise.
— image credit: Hannah CUMMINS/submitted photos

Young dancers in Walnut Grove are following in the tiny pink paw prints of a fictional mouse. And learning a few important lessons along the way.

Last summer, Walnut Grove School of Ballet introduced the Angelina Ballerina program to some of its youngest students — girls aged three to five years old.

The program is based on a popular British children’s television show which follows an eight-year-old girl — in this case a cartoon mouse — through her day, including to her beloved dance classes.

Kitted out with some pretty adorable pink tutus and too-cute-to-be-believed mouse ears the students follow a curriculum that builds ballet and creative movement around a story from an Angelina book, a recorded dance lesson and, of course, music.

The character gives instruction on a recorded CD to the girls as they learn steps, positioning and partnering. Elements such as taking positions in sequence are mapped out on the floor for the young dancers who are not yet able to read.

Although the program has been available in England, Australia and New Zealand for the past two years, Angelina Ballerina only danced her way into North American studios last spring.

More than just lessons in dance technique, the Angelina Ballerina series also takes a position on the importance of leading a healthy lifestyle — specifically proper nutrition and all-around physical fitness.

With each monthly lesson plan built around an Angelina story, the program promotes literacy while stressing the importance of making healthy food choices and being active, said Sam Beckford, director of the Walnut Grove School of Dance.

It also encourages the girls to try new things and not be afraid to fail.

“It doesn’t criticize kids for failing. There’s too much emphasis on performance these days,” he said.

Even Angelina doesn’t succeed at everything she tries, Beckford noted.

Having a familiar, friendly face like Angelina’s puts the young students at ease when they might otherwise be unsure about trying something new, he explained.

“The majority (of the students) are familiar with the character from TV — familiar and comfortable.”

Beckford heard about the Angelina Ballerina program through contacts in the dance world, but he admits he wasn’t completely sold at first.

“When you have a program based on a cartoon character, you think it’s going to be gimmicky,” he said.

But among his dance instructors is a school teacher who, he said, has assured him that Angelina Ballerina is, in fact, an educationally sound set of lessons.

Instructor Alicia Penny, who at 23 has already been dancing for two decades, got her start at the same age as her youngest students.

Each lesson begins with a story which is then tied into the day’s instruction.

Props, such as scarves and maracas, add to the experience, Penny explained.

“I think they have fun. Young students need an element of play.”

To learn more, visit www.musicanddance.org.

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