Category

dance & Art

Choosing a first instrument

By | dance & Art, fun for children, Music and singing

by Oliver Roberts
Penguin Instrumentors

As a parent the topic of music lessons will likely crop up at some point and knowing how to help your child with lessons can feel like a total mystery: “Which instrument should I choose?” “Are group or private lessons best?” “What should I look for in a teacher?” These are just a few of the questions parents can face before starting lessons. However, supporting your child in their musical pursuits doesn’t have to be a challenge and we have put together a few tips to help you and your child answer that all-important first question of which instrument to choose!

Before we get started
As obvious as it may seem, the first questions you should be asking yourself when choosing an instrument are “Will my child find this fun and enjoy the experience?” and “Does my child have any preference?” After all, enjoyment leads to enthusiasm, enthusiasm leads to engagement and engagement leads to – reward!

So which instrument?
The biggest decision when starting music lessons is deciding on the instrument your child should learn. But luckily this isn’t something you need to fret over because there is no wrong answer. The transferable skills learnt from being musical in general are just as important as the specific instrument being learnt. Besides, there are always opportunities to press pause if your child isn’t enjoying lessons and try something different.

So, assuming that you don’t already have an instrument in mind, the first step in choosing an instrument is to find out which instruments are easily available to you. This may mean researching what the local teachers in your area can offer or which instruments are taught at your child’s school. The size of the instrument may also be worth considering. Pianos for example are a fab first instrument, however, they are also pretty large pieces of furniture and not all of us have the space to house them (although a digital piano or keyboard are good alternatives if a piano won’t fit). Other instruments like cellos, saxophones and some of the larger brass instruments can also be heavy and tricky for younger hands to grip properly.

Age
Your child’s age is a big factor in choosing an instrument. The earliest recommended ages for most musical instruments is generally about seven or eight years old, with the ukulele and recorder being a bit younger, and guitars, big brass and drums being a little older. This is largely due to the development of a child’s fine motor skills. However, if your child is showing an interest in music before this age then activities like singing around the house, group music sessions for infants or even having fun with rhythms during impromptu drumming sessions (using household items) can all make for great introductions to music.

Cost
Budget is another important consideration when picking out an instrument. There are instruments to fit all budgets and prices can range from just a few pounds to tens of thousands. However, some music shops may offer financing options for pricier instruments and some schools and music schemes offer to loan instruments to their pupils. It may also be worth noting that not all instruments are always treated equal when it comes to lesson prices with orchestral, piano and singing lessons typically priced higher than guitar, ukulele and drums which may become significant over the long-term.

Motivations
The last thing to think about when weighing up your options is the reason for learning. Almost any instrument can fit any musical aspiration, however, there are a couple of points to be aware of. If you think a casual approach to music would work best for your child then maybe the guitar, drums or piano would be your best choice because of their relative ease when starting out. On the other hand, orchestral instruments may take a little longer before the practice starts yielding the same results but they are fantastic for providing unique social experiences with opportunities to perform in orchestras, chamber groups and other ensembles as well as large repertoires of truly beautiful solo pieces to enjoy. It is also fairly common for children to start learning an instrument like the piano and after a year or two switch onto something else

Size
Once you’ve decided which instrument is right for you and your child, the next question will be, what size? Most instruments come in varying sizes which are suitable for the different ages of children and many music shops will have someone who can help you find the correctly proportioned instrument to suit your child.

Still undecided?
At the end of the day, there are always ‘the big three’. Piano, violin and guitar and if in doubt you can always plump for one of these. There is a wide range of instruments available to buy, many teachers to choose from and a variety of directions that lessons can be taken from classical grades to pop, jazz and folk. And if that doesn’t work out, you can always change your mind and try something else!

Instrumentors is a music lessons service established in Brighton & Hove specialising in private one-to-one tuition and online lesson management.
www.instrumentors.co.uk

 

Live is best

By | dance & Art, fun for children, Music and singing, Theatre

With the summer holidays around the corner, there is a bit more time to treat children to a trip to see a live performance at your local theatre. Younger children will enjoy a show during the day, and you can take older children in the evening without worrying so much about getting them to bed on time.

Many theatres have more shows on for children during the school holidays and may also run workshops for those who want to get more involved.

Live theatre can be a magical and memorable experience but recent research by Birbeck, University of London, has also shown that taking youngsters to watch a theatre performance could provide a host of developmental benefits, including improved emotional intelligence and opportunities to discuss difficult subjects.

It is now widely accepted that play-acting and role-play is a fundamental part of development, allowing children to engage in different personalities, work their way through complex social relationships and navigate emotional issues. Watching a live performance can offer some of the same benefits. Many of the shows aimed at children have an under-lying moral message and subjects such as love, friendship and bullying are often explored in a fun and safe environment, which can bring about unexpected but important conversations once the show has finished.

Going to the theatre as a family is also a great bonding experience. Parents don’t have to worry about entertaining their children (it’s being done for them on the stage) and everyone can relax, sit back and enjoy the show together. There are all sorts of shows on at local theatres during the summer. Some shows are for the very young and are short and interactive to keep little ones engaged, while others are full length plays aimed at older children. Many shows are now based on children’s favourite books such as The Very Hungry Caterpillar or books by David Walliams or Jacqueline Wilson. There are also live performances and sing-a-longs of films such as Frozen or children’s favourite television shows. These can be a good first introduction to the theatre for young children as they will be very familiar with the story and characters.

In order to get the most out of any show, get children excited and looking forward to the show in advance. If the show you are going to has a soundtrack, you could listen to it in advance. This is a great way to get children familiar with the show without overloading them with too much information. If you know the basics of the story, you could tell it at bedtime the night before so children will know what to expect, but family-friendly shows are normally easy to understand.

Going to see a live performance is a truly memorable experience and it is a wonderful way to spark a child’s imagination – you never know where it may lead them!

Kids Week in the West End

Kids Week in London is a wonderful opportunity to see a West End show.
The price of West End theatre shows puts it out of reach for many people, but Kids Week makes it far more affordable and is a way of encouraging families to go to the theatre.

A child aged 16 or under can go free to any participating show when accompanied by an adult paying full price, and you can buy up to two extra children’s tickets at half price. And there are no booking or postage fees to pay! It has proved so popular that it is no longer just on for a week, but for the whole of August.

Tickets are now on sale. The top shows sell out very quickly, but you can normally pick up tickets for the lesser known shows fairly easily and perhaps see something that you may not normally go to.

For further details go to www.officiallondontheatre.com/kids-week

Ballet isn’t just pink tutus!

By | dance & Art, Education, Uncategorized
by Tabitha McConnell
Dance Art Studio

Many children dream of becoming a ballerina, wearing the tutu and being right up on their toes. But there is so much more to the ballet curriculum than this. While these aspirations give children something to work towards, dance also provides achievable goals that can be met across a single lesson or across a term, teaching children self-motivation.

So why take your child to dance class when you can just put some music on at home? With the guidance of a qualified teacher, your child is not just learning dance but a variety of cross-curricular skills. Ballet, for example, teaches another language – French. Other subjects covered through the dance curricular include: history, religious studies, music and drama. Our modern-day society and multiple other subjects can be expressed through dance, giving children the opportunity to create their own movements and sequences, also known as choreographing.

There are many long-term benefits of continuing dance; your child is learning discipline through a structured environment, from a different mentor. Student’s uniforms must be smart, they must listen in class and be in time with the music. At competitions, points are deducted if the performer is seen to look untidy or messy in appearance. This teaches students the importance of
good appearance, therefore making them more employable in the future. Many studies
have suggested that a tidy appearance leads to a tidier mind and work ethic.

Encouraging your child to begin dance at a young age will increase their chances of staying physically active throughout life, therefore improving their overall health. Dance develops essential motor patterns that are a key part of many sports.

A shocking 80% of four year olds are showing a significant delay in their motor development. Through dance children gain the vital motor skills needed for everyday life. Simple skills like balancing, jumping and the transference of weight are learnt. These skills assist with everyday life with movements such as reaching for something on the top shelf and increase flexibility. Dance is also a suitable complementary activity to many other sports such as netball, as it assists with footwork, or javelin as it assists with balance. Dance skills are particularly beneficial when playing football, as they increases children’s mobility and therefore angles at which they can kick the ball. Dance is for both girls and boys, with many schemes in place to encourage boys to dance. Starting boys dancing at a young age is teaching all children that stereotypes can be defied and that they should do what they really enjoy.

Is dance really physically challenging my child? You may perceive ballet as a softer dance form and ask if it really challenges a child’s physique. Dance can be classified as vigorous exercise as student’s heart rates are elevated by more than 60% for over half of the lesson. This does not mean dance isn’t suitable for those looking for a more relaxing, less strenuous exercise form; with so many genres available under the dance bracket there is something for all. Dance is so versatile and inclusive that it caters for all capabilities. Ballet has also been shown to increase lung capacity and efficiency with only two hourly sessions a week. Dance is one of few sports to work nearly all the muscle groups counteracting the effects of repetitive strain injuries. Core strength is also developed, which permits good posture and facilitates ease of breathing.

Not only does dance positively influence a child’s physical development but also their cognitive development as they are learning both time-management and self-discipline. These skills are transferable to other parts of life, such as school work. Dance students are also asked to learn and recall patterns of movement, further challenging both their memories and mental capabilities. This challenge has been shown to reduce the effects of many cognitive diseases at an older age. Let’s not forget, dance classes are also where children make friends for life as they develop team skills through group work in a friendly environment.

Ballet offers so much more than just pointed toes; it offers children the opportunity to express themselves freely, whether that be using their butterfly wings to fly away, or joining the marching band and playing their favourite instrument. This is something very few other physical activity schemes offer. This creativity is so important to a child as it enables them to explore their inner selves in addition to the physical world, creating emotional experiences and memories that will remain with them for life. I would highly advise all children are given the opportunity to dance, whether this be something they wish to pursue as a career, perform as a hobby or just use as a regular class for fitness purposes. The positive effects on their social, cognitive and physical development are numerous.

Dance Art Studio is located in the Fiveways and Preston Park area of Brighton offering under 5s and graded ballet, tap and modern. Boys tap and jazz, teen jazz, adult tap and jazzfit.
We also hold summer workshops.
www.danceartstudio.co.uk

Far-reaching benefits of drama

By | dance & Art, Education, fun for children, Mental health

As the new school year beckons, many parents will be thinking about after-school clubs that their children will enjoy,and that will benefit them.

The reason for doing sport are well documented and shouldn’t be forgotten, but remember drama also provides many benefits that go far beyond the stage.

In a good drama class, children will do much more than remember lines and act. Children will learn about voice projection, improvisation and movement. Improvisation will help children to think quickly without panicking, and to use their imagination to think about what will happen next and how their character would react.

We often moan about teenagers who are monosyllabic and can’t look you in the eye. Children who attend drama classes, even if it is just for fun, will learn how to look confidently at their audience and project their voice clearly. Speaking clearly, without mumbling, will become instinctive and when they go into the work environment, they will be far more comfortable in interviews and public speaking.

Drama also encourages teamwork and confidence. A good teacher will instil an understanding that every part in a play is important and a play will only be as good as the whole team. Confident children go to drama classes as their parents feel they will be comfortable on a stage, but introverted children will also benefit. The confident children who tend to ‘takeover’ will learn the important skills of co-operation and how to listen, and everyone will be encouraged to contribute and take part. Gradually, the children who were less confident will find their voice and be happy to be heard in a safe environment.

Any class outside school increases a child’s social circle and allows them to meet new friends and build new relationships. Children who have been labelled ‘loud’ or ‘quiet and shy’ at school can start afresh without any pre-conceptions about them. This is important for all types of children and you may be surprised about how much your child flourishes in a new environment.

The benefits of drama are far-reaching and will help a child in so many areas of school life and adulthood. Children will learn not only how to project their voice and to feel comfortable when speaking in public, but the equally important skills of empathy and understanding, which are so important in today’s world.

Hitting the high notes!

By | dance & Art, Education, fun for children, Music and singing, play

Experienced music teachers Sam Dixon and Carolyn Hextall, who run the music department at Brighton College Nursery, Pre-Prep & Prep School, sing the praises for a subject that is becoming increasingly sidelined in many schools.

music for childrenMusic helps us learn
No one doubts that learning music is fun. Sometimes, however, this concept can belittle the advantages that learning music brings and leads to it being given less emphasis in schools than other subjects. Research has shown that being taught music enhances skills such as concentration, memory and focus as well as offering physical and creative benefits to children. Similarly, an increase in the number of teaching hours dedicated to music and the provision of instrumental lessons for pupils can result in overall school improvement.

Busting the myth
There is a common misconception that those who achieve great results in music are naturally talented or gifted. It is a myth that often discourages children, or parents from families without a musical history, to embrace music as a subject. Music is a discipline just like sport or, let’s face it, any subject where success is achieved by children because they enjoy it and are therefore happy to dedicate time and energy to it. Enjoyment and dedication; these are two essential ingredients.

An early start
It is never too early for children to enjoy music and to start performing. Children as young as three can start to learn written notation presented in a fun, active way. Introducing them to the ‘Musical Family’ of Grandpa Semibreve, Daddy Dotted Minim and Baby Crotchet help to bring the notes alive. They learn the musical value of each note by physically moving in a way that suits the different characters; slow footsteps mark out the four beats of Grandpa Semibreve, whilst Daddy Dotted Minim loves to waltz – the children absolutely love the characters and the information sticks.

Keep it moving
Methods such as this introduce the body as an instrument and our youngest pupils begin to connect music with movement, the mind with the body. Note recognition becomes physically embodied at a tender age and this helps to combat any trepidation surrounding their learning to ‘read’ music when they are older. Pulse and rhythm can also be embedded as early as possible through the use of dance along videos and regular opportunities to use simple percussion instruments or even the banging of a humble bucket. Singing is fundamental to the development of ear training
and use of the solfege system helps children to improve their vocal control and develop a strong understanding of the musical scale.

The show must go on
The fundamental principle of performance underpins music teaching at all levels and learning an instrument or singing gives children the opportunity to become involved in musical ensembles, performing with one other, and to explore a wide range of repertoire. Participation in ensembles as varied as orchestras, jazz and swing bands, percussion groups, pop groups, guitar, classical and piano ensembles are a brilliant ways for children to develop the important skills of listening, responding and analyzing. They allow children to work on the art of preparation and offer them vital performance opportunities on all scales.

Technology in music
When composition is introduced at a very young age, through call and response and simple improvisation children respond quickly to the introduction of songwriting, writing music to accompany films or music from particular genres. In a world where so much music is produced by technology, an understanding of notation and composition software such as Cubase and Sibelius is important and should be encouraged.

Making connections
Listening to a wide range of music and putting it into a historical and cultural context helps children to appreciate the links between music and other subjects being learnt at school.
So, when we listen to Baroque music and introduce pupils to the towering genius J.S. Bach, we consider what else was happening at that time. Who was on the throne in England and what was happening in Bach’s hometown? Was he a practical joker like Mozart or, like Handel, did he have a legendary temper? Researching contemporary pieces which use similar techniques, for example Goldfinger’s ‘Superman’ which uses a Baroque ground bass, makes their learning feel more relevant and accessible.

Onwards and upwards
Learning music is a three way process between parent, pupil and teacher. Each one relies on the other for their commitment, participation and development. Parents are key in providing a regular, realistic practice time for children who learn an instrument and ensuring it takes place in an appropriate environment. They can also help by exposing their children to a smorgasbord of different musical styles; it could be as easy as exploring the different channels on the radio, attending concerts or joining local choirs and community music groups. Music is such a wonderful thing to explore with children and parents really do not have to be the expert. If there is something you enjoy, share it with your children. An enthusiastic response to their practice efforts or dancing along to your favorite tunes is all it takes to get started.

Sam Dixon and Carolyn Hextall run the music department at Brighton College Nursery, Pre-Prep & Prep School educating over 500 pupils between the ages of three and 13 in curriculum music. Their provision is supported by a body of over 30 visiting instrumental music teachers who deliver individual and group lessons to the children.
www.brightoncollege.org.uk

Top tips for sleepovers

By | dance & Art, family, Food & Eating, fun for children, Music and singing, parties, play
by Kitty Jones
The Dreamy Den Company

Sleepovers are a childhood staple but can be a daunting time for parents. Have no fear, we’ve put together some helpful tips and advice for a smooth sleepover experience.

1 Food
Hungry children are no fun so make sure you have plenty of food and snacks to keep them fuelled and happy. Self-serve stations are great fun and easy to prepare, try a burger bar, taco bar or a noodle/pasta bar with a selection of toppings and sides. Grab some recyclable ‘take-out’ boxes to minimise washing up.

2 Setting up camp
Living rooms are a good option due to size and TV access for movies but make sure pets can be relocated and the TV usage is monitored so they don’t stumble across any late night horrors by accident. And don’t forget to move any precious ornaments!

3 Midnight feast
This definitely doesn’t have to be at midnight – as hopefully everyone will be asleep by then! Consider having a break in the movie and doing a fruit fondue or a popcorn bar with a selection of toppings and sauces. Try some sugar alternatives to keep the sugar rush under control.

4 Entertainment
Garden games are great for summer and for burning off energy. For rainy days you can try DIY pamper packs or craft packs. Alternatively hire an external entertainer to come in and give you a few hours peace. Movies are great for later on and you can always have a pre-selected list to minimise arguments.

5 Nervous children
Be open and discuss action plans with parents beforehand, especially if a child has never been to a sleepover before. Make sure you know where each child’s parent will be and always get two contact numbers from parents.

6 The morning after
Choose your collection time as mid-morning giving the children a chance to have breakfast and, most importantly, don’t plan too much for the next day, you may all need a few impromptu naps to recover!

Choosing the perfect dance class for your child

By | children's health, dance & Art, Education, family, fun for children, Uncategorized
by Rianna Parchment
Kicks Dance

Children love music and they love to dance! But with so many dance classes run locally, how do you choose the right one?

Have a read below of my top tips when choosing the perfect dance class for your child:

Are you looking for a school that is technique driven, or just good fun?
Whilst dance schools are united in their passion for dance, their mission and ethos can differ. Some schools focus on preparing children for exams and competitions, whilst others prefer to focus on the fun and enjoyment of dance. Is your child interested in taking exams and competing, or would they prefer a more ‘stress-free’ class?

Top tip: Speak to other parents who have children taking different types of classes to see which atmosphere and environment might best suit your child.

What do others say about the school?
Once you’ve narrowed down the local options in your chosen ‘type’ of school, have a look at their website and social media pages to find out a bit more about them. Are the staff qualified and experienced? Do they come highly recommended by other parents?

Top tip: Asking in local Facebook groups is a great way to get the best recommendations from other local parents.

What is the commitment?
Of course, as an extracurricular activity, dance classes are intended to take up free time. However, it’s a good idea to know whether your child’s class will change day as they get older and progress, or whether there will be extra rehearsals or costs involved during the year for shows, exams, competitions or uniform.

Top tip: Many schools have a Parent Handbook or similar with this information in one place.

Time to talk
A huge part of getting a feel for a dance school is speaking with the owner or principal about their school. This is an opportunity for you to find out the answers to any questions you may have, but also to get a first impression of their customer service and ethos
in practice.

Top tip: Many dance school owners teach during ‘after-school’ hours. If you can, try calling during the school day, but if this is not practical for you, don’t forget to leave a message for them to call
you back.

Finally – give the class a try!
Sign up for a trial class (some schools even offer this for free!) It’s not unusual for some children to feel anxious for the first time in a new class, so see how the teacher responds
to this.

Top tip: Remember that depending on the age of your child, many dance schools will not permit you to watch the class due to safeguarding reasons. My advice is to get to the class a few minutes early to have a look around, meet the class teacher and get a feel for the class environment.

Whether your child is interested in classes just for fun, or to pursue a future career, it’s so important that they feel welcome, safe and inspired in their first dance class. Do your research, follow your gut feeling and find your child’s perfect dance class!

Kicks Dance provides fun, friendly and stress-free dance classes for children aged 18 months – 11 years in your local area. Every child is a star – give yours the chance to sparkle!
www.kicksdance.co.uk

Drama – improves children’s writing

By | dance & Art, Education

Drama can improve the quality of children’s writing and their motivation to write, research from Leeds Beckett University shows.
Working with Leeds Beckett’s Carnegie School of Education and the Alive and Kicking Theatre Company, Key Stage 2 (KS2) teachers in a Bradford primary school were trained in using drama to make writing more meaningful for children.

Alive and Kicking, working with children The Leeds Beckett researchers, led by Dr Tom Dobson and Lisa Stephenson, found that, after two terms, the children became highly motivated to write and developed a personal investment in the process of writing and in their final written pieces. Their writing was also found to be highly sophisticated and to meet the technical requirement of the national curriculum testing.

Dr Dobson, Principal Lecturer with expertise in creative writing, explained: “We observed taught lessons as well as the children’s writing and their reflections on the processes involved. Our findings show that the children’s motivation to write and the quality of their writing is improved by their involvement in drama. The main reason behind this is that drama provides children with an embodied experience of character, setting and story which the children can draw upon in their writing – when children write about their embodied experience, the act of writing becomes a problem-solving activity where the children think about how to translate their embodied experiences into text.

“We observed one class literally run to fetch their writing journals in a drama lesson and the children often spoke about how their writing had ‘real meaning’ for them. Surely these are the kinds of writers our schools should be nurturing.”

The research was funded by the United Kingdom Literary Association (UKLA).

The teachers were trained to use drama and to adopt the identity of a writer when teaching writing to their classes. At a time when government testing of spelling, punctuation and grammar can lead to less creativity in the teaching of writing, this research provides compelling alternative approaches for schools and their teachers to engage children and give them a strong investment in their writing, whilst also being able to satisfy curriculum demands and statutory testing.

John Mee, Associate Director at Alive and Kicking Theatre Company, said: “In all our work at Alive and Kicking we attempt to build dramas that create a problem to be solved and serve to introduce creative thinking, adoption of role, skill sets in art, music, design, story making and storytelling.

“To be able to work with every child and every member of staff across KS2 in our partner schools was terrific. Here we are now with a developed relationship with the lead teacher and an opportunity to take this work on into other schools as we work across the north of England.At Alive and Kicking we have always been intent upon reflecting on the strategies, techniques and forms that we use to create relationships and to build characters, narrative and dramatic tension. Here we have a moment to look at our work through the eyes of the children, the teachers and the researchers in detail and within a theoretical framework that we do not always have time for.

“Our learning from this work will be incorporated directly into our new planning and we will engage the teachers we work with in seeking opportunities to write within and beyond the drama, to build writing links that reflect and steer us into the next action in our stories. The work outlined in this paper should be a clarion call to teachers and teacher trainers to consider the launch pad that drama can offer in terms of context and purpose for writing.”

Let’s dance…

By | dance & Art, Education
by Rianna Parchment
Kicks Dance

It will come as no surprise to you that as a dance teacher, I believe the benefits of dance for children are endless! With news headlines regularly expressing concern about childhood obesity, both parents and schools are on the lookout for children’s activities that promote and develop a healthy lifestyle. With many activities to choose from, what is it that makes dance classes so beneficial for children?

The physical benefits of dance lessons are obvious (and plentiful!). The physical act of moving your body causes your heart to beat faster and pump blood around your body, which helps to increase your cardiovascular fitness. In children’s dance classes, the repetition of exercises and routines helps to improve stamina and muscle memory. Regular dance lessons can help to strengthen muscles and improve balance whilst working towards developing flexibility and mobility. These are especially important for little bodies to help them become stronger, and to develop a good posture, alongside their co-ordination and motor skills.
The best part is that children enjoy dancing to music they love, so they are often reaping all these physical benefits without even realising.

Just as important as the physical benefits, the social aspects of a dance class also make it an important activity for children. Children learn to work with others who may not be in their class or may even go to a different school. Aside from the obvious benefit of making new friends, they learn how to communicate with other children, and how to share ideas with children who may not agree with them, whilst being kind to each other. They get the opportunity to regularly perform in front of their peers and get feedback and praise that contributes to a development in their self-esteem. Dance classes encourage children to learn how to follow instructions and use their problem-solving skills to approach tasks that they may find difficult.

If I had to choose, my favourite benefit of dance for children is it’s positive impact on a child’s mental health. In lots of dance classes, children come into the class without their parent. For some children, this alone is a big step, which makes them feel a little bit exposed and anxious. Even for some more confident children, the thought of performing in front of their peers induces some level of anxiety. As a dance teacher, I find there is nothing more rewarding than gently encouraging a child outside of their ‘comfort zone’ and inspiring them to share their ideas or try something new. During a dance class, you are able to see children grow in confidence and realise that they are capable of doing something that had previously scared them – be that volunteering an idea to the rest of the class, asking a child they don’t know to be their partner or even just coming in to the studio without their parent. Things that may seem like small achievements, such as coming into class alone or showing the rest of the class a favourite dance move, can be instrumental in developing a shy child’s self-esteem and make a difference to their confidence.

Dance classes provide the perfect opportunity for children to take part in a physical activity, which helps them to keep fit, but also to have fun and feel good – developing their social skills, creativity, confidence and self-esteem!

Kicks Dance is a fun, friendly dance business providing dance classes, workshops, parties and PE Support
for children aged 18 months – 11 years. Kicks has recently opened a sparkly new franchise in Reigate and Redhill!
www.kicksdance.co.uk

The joys of panto

By | Christmas, dance & Art, Winter
by Mark Phillips
Ropetackle Arts Centre
Images by Richie Mountain

Pantomime is a curious British institution. Each year as we head into Christmas, theatres up and down the country start planning their festive finales; a magical mix of comedy, music, drama and spectacle, all aimed at bringing families together and sparking imaginations.

The funny thing about panto, or should I say one of the many funny things, is that it’s neither originally British, nor anything to do with Christmas. In fact, British panto emerged from Italy, and specifically the Commedia dell’arte – an ancient theatre show of improvised comedy. Commedia dell’arte featured a range of stock characters which today we recognise as the dame, the villain, the hero, the fairy and so on. As for being a Christmas tradition, well, that remains something of a mystery. While pantos have always been performed during holiday seasons, one theory suggests the Italian form merged with an ancient English folk play traditionally performed around Christmas time, and featuring several stock characters similar to those in Commedia dell’arte.

So, that’s enough history, how do pantos remain such an enduring feature of our festive calendars? Well, there are many reasons. Panto nowadays is very much a family affair, particularly geared towards entertaining children but always amusing the adults (innuendo, anyone?) Pantos draw from a wide pool of fairy tales from all over the world. English stories such as Dick Whittington and Jack and the Beanstalk stand alongside European tales like Cinderella and Puss in Boots. One of the most popular pantos, Aladdin, is an ancient folk tale from the Middle East! Add to this modern twists on classic novels such as Treasure Island and Peter Pan, and you’ve no shortage of enchanting adventures to choose from.

The magic of panto is not just in the story, it’s in the whole experience. Pantos are a chance for families to share quality time together. With increasingly busy lifestyles and the demands of work, time together as a family is a precious thing, and panto is a chance to treasure it. Pantos make the imagined real. For around two hours, families can escape from reality and immerse themselves in a fantastical world of fun, magic, excitement and togetherness. The traditional battle of good versus evil underscores every panto. And even though we all know who wins, there is nothing quite so uplifting as seeing these morals reaffirmed. But not so fast, there’s tension, there’s anticipation, there’s always what if… So the shared sense of happiness that eventually fills the auditorium is palpable, and for children – the triumph of good over evil is a powerful message of hope and inspiration.

Of course, nothing is quite what it seems in panto, and this is perhaps its most joyful quality – the chance to join in! Panto wouldn’t be panto without audience participation. With the fourth wall well and truly dismantled, the unexpected is laid out before you. Unlike other shows, you can shape the turn of events (well, kind of). Will the dame look behind herself? Will the hero know where to turn? Will the villain ever get the message (booooo)!? Boys and girls, it’s over to you. There’s nothing quite like the passion of children, energised by a gripping story and moved to cheer, jeer, laugh, sing and, in some instances, give frank advice (don’t you just love them). Participation like this makes the magic of panto just that bit more real.

So that’s why after all these years, panto is still going strong. It’s little wonder that celebrities (cough) line up to play leading roles, but more than this, many panto companies now feature local children in their productions. Companies that support this give children vital opportunities to benefit from the developmental and creative fulfilment of theatre and arts participation. Look out for local auditions and drama groups and get your children involved now. Drama improves children’s well-being in many ways, and panto is the perfect platform for aspiring performers. But remember, being in the audience is just as much fun as being on stage at panto, so whatever your inclination, panto has it covered.

And there you have it. The joys of panto. That curious, British-but-kind-of-Italian, Christmas-but-let-me-come-back-to-you-on-that, magical, interactive theatrical fairy tale extravaganza. Full of love, happiness, courage, fear, comedy, farce, triumph and festivity. Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without it. But if you’re still debating whether it’s worth visiting the panto this year, listen up. Boys and girls, you know what to do, altogether now… “Oh yes it is!”

Ropetackle Arts Centre in Shoreham offers a year-round programme of family events including its Christmas panto – discover what’s on
www.ropetacklecentre.co.uk