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jump around

Could ballet help kids learn maths, and prevent obesity?

One school says its kids love learning ballet.

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JUMPING, GALLOPING, LEAPING around the room. Pretending they’re frogs, making diamond shapes and holding a long neck.

The sprightly First Class pupils of Dublin’s St Phillip’s the Apostle national school look like they’re having the time of their lives as they practice ballet in Dublin’s Dance House.

It might not look quite like the traditional version of ballet at all, but their deputy principal Geraldine O’Sullivan says that it has huge benefits for them. It helps them focus, improves their maths, and increases their physical fitness.

The children are learning with Ballet Ireland, and the pupils we meet are only on their second class, but are clearly loving the time out of the classroom.

Surprise benefits

“Because we had seen it in another school and the staff there were so enthusiastic about it, we thought this could be good for our children too,” recalls O’Sullivan of how they decided to bring ballet to St Phillip’s.

Stephen Brennan is the man charged with teaching the children the dance moves, and O’Sullivan describes him as a “fantastic teacher”.

“That’s very important, that the person who is representing Ballet Ireland is a good instructor, and the children love him.”

She says Brennan challenges the children and “takes no nonsense from them”. “They have to concentrate and listen to him, and respond to what he tells them.”

For O’Sullivan, the benefits of ballet for the pupils are far-reaching. Brennan is all about encouraging the children to try new things.

He’ll do a series of movements and then he’ll have a child compose a little dance, and the others will copy that – and that gives them a great sense of achievement and confidence.

Then there are the physical benefits, which is pertinent at a time when child obesity is on the rise.

“The physical exercise is wonderful – it’s great for their mobility, and the whole thing of crossing over the body is very good for their mental thinking, logic and all of that. It increases their concentration, their listening skills, their coordination, rhythm, movement to music.”

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“The more physical activity we can have them engaged in in school is beneficial. The fact they enjoy it so much means they could go on and take dance or sport,” suggested O’Sullivan.

There are also some surprise benefits. “It also helps mathematically, because they’re counting, they’re thinking. They’re thinking in sets of jumps: three and three. He’ll tell them to do four gallops and three claps.”

They don’t even know that it’s a lesson, they know it’s ballet but the whole thing of the listening skills, the concentration, the responding to the verbal messages he gives them, the strength, stamina.

“They’re standing upright and it’s something we would try to achieve with our children so when they go out in the world they are tall, straight [standing], confident people and I think the ballet is helping with that.”

But the big thing, O’Sullivan says, is the enjoyment the children get out of attending the classes.

The students attend the classes for 12 weeks, then get to show their skills off to their parents at the end.

And if any of the children want to go on to become dancers in the future? “That would be great”.

Meet the apprentice

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“I know it’s a cliché but it’s very hard work. People often think that’s great, they can go up on their toes, but there’s a lot of work behind that. But also, it’s very rewarding. It is so difficult but there’s always something work on.” – Kate Haughton

Kate Haughton (21) is an apprentice with Ballet Ireland – a role that didn’t exist until this year.

With a mum and granny who were ballet teachers, it’s no surprise that she went on to study ballet at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. After three years, it was time to enter the professional world – but that wasn’t as easy as you might imagine.

“They want people with experience,” explains Haughton – and that’s hard to come by when you’re fresh out of college.

She auditioned for Ballet Ireland not realising there was an apprenticeship scheme, but the company told her they could prepare her for the professional world.

Haughton and her fellow apprentice are part of the company. “We do the morning class with them all and we do the rehearsals with them and we’re in the shows with them”.

Their mentor, a longtime Ballet Ireland dancer, takes the two apprentices for private coaching. “But she’s also there as a support.”

Haughton says that apprenticeships are becoming more popular, due to the realisation that “you go from training where you have these people telling you exactly what to do 24/7 and you have all these classes, and then it’s straight into the professional world where you’ve very much on your own.”

With apprenticeship, they have a helping hand to guide them.

Read: Think ballet can’t be badass? This ad will prove you wrong>

Read: VIDEO: The secrets behind the scenes at the ballet>

Read: A kettle, a hammer, an Ouch Pouch: the painful secrets of making a ballet shoe fit>

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