Our Creative Dramatist, Jennifer Viets introduced our preschoolers to the famous composition of Igor Stravinsky ’s The Firebird Suite, whose origin is based on old Russian fairy-tale. When she asked the children, “what is ballet?” most were not sure. A few of them said the word dance. And a few more automatically put their arms up over their heads or spun around.
“We began by mirroring – I brushed up on my basic ballet steps – plie, releve, arabesque, leap, pirouette. When someone would call out, inevitably, that boys did not dance ballet, I was prepared with images I have collected of very strong men and boys dancing ballet and we all tried to copy the moves. I also shared photos of different women including my friend Alana Wallace who is in a wheelchair dancing ballet. I know that 3, 4 and 5 year old children already have entrenched bias and I came prepared to share images that would contradict that bias. And then we free danced to The Firebird Suite. Next, I read Ms. Copeland’s book to them while continuing to play the music. They especially loved the pictures of her in costume as the Firebird.
When I leave a class and do not return for a week I can only hope a part of my lessons will be remembered. Will the teacher extend what I’ve done and share videos of the Firebird ballet? Will they challenge each other in the dress up corner to wear whatever clothing they want rather than conforming to old gender norms? Will they go home and ask for more, more, more? Will they repeat our classroom mantra “we’re all different but the same” under their breath when they see someone moving through life in a wheelchair ? When next asked “who can dance ballet?” will their imaginations take them to a beautiful brown-skinned woman who had to convince an entire nation that she could.
This is anti-bias work. This is the work of a multi-disciplinary teaching artist. This is important work. I’m grateful it is my work." - Jennifer Viets