How I Introduce: The Sleeping Beauty

Pre-ballet can encompass an amazing scope. Yes, I teach 1st position, pointed ankles, ballet skips, posture at the barre, standing in line, sharing props, how to not eat your ballet skirt during class, and also, dance history. Not all of my little ones

From The Scottish Ballet’s Sleeping Beauty

will go on to dance through high school or beyond, but they are all dance-appreciators in training, and I want them to leave my class with some familiarity of the ballet cannon. The Nutcracker is an obvious place to start, and I do start there every fall. My studio produces a full-scale Nutcracker every year, and even if we didn’t, that annual classic is most likely the ballet a young student will be taken to at some point in their lives. Once Nutcracker is out of the way, I find the easiest bridge to make for my students from their knowledge to the world of full-length ballets, especially for the littlest ones (3.5 yrs-6 yrs), is the bridge to The Sleeping Beauty. Thanks Disney. 

My lessons on the “great ballets” tend to come in the last section of class. Legs are tired, attentions are tired…everyone could use a sit down story time. I frame this activity as a game…we are going to get to read together a little bit and then do some free dancing to act out the story. Fortunately with the demographic where I work, being read to is already seen as a treat, so I meet little resistance. Though I use this “game” mostly with my youngest students (3.5 to 7 yrs), older students also have fun getting to have a bit of “free dance” time on a rainy or post-show day, or any time we need to mix up the routine.

My lesson for Sleeping Beauty looks like this:

The Sleeping Beauty – Andre Previn & the London Symphony Orchestra

MUSICTchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty – André Previn & the London Symphony Orchestra

These are the tracks I use from the cd. Track #15 doesn’t actually happen in the ballet during the scene I use it for, but I use #15 because it has a melody the kids recognize (“Once Upon a Dream”). Each character name is linked to a professional video of that dance. I’ve also listed notes on our “movement vocabulary” for each dance.

Track #9 – CHRISTENING – Song Bird Fairy… fingers!

Track #16 -CHRISTENING – Lilac Fairy….grand arms like the Sugar Plum fairy

Track #11 – CHRISTENING – Evil Fairy…..throws her spells out her fingers and hunches over (I fast forward about 30ish seconds to the dramatic music…it’s loud!).

Track #15 – 16th BIRTHDAY – Aurora….holds her rose from the old woman proudly in 2 hands(we skip the princes), then prick!

Track #48 – WEDDING – Pus & Boots & the White Cat….sneaky, playful cat hands…grooming and posing


DK – The Illustrated Book of Ballet Stories by Barbara Newman


BOOK – The Illustrated Book of Ballet Stories – DK – By Barbara Newman

This is a pretty good starter book for ballet lessons. Good features include….a cd, both illustrations and photos from actual performances, pictures of dancers in class clothes demonstrating key steps, multiple ballets represented including Nutcracker, Sleeping Beauty, Swan Lake, Coppelia, & Giselle. Down side…a little too wordy and busy to be ideal for my youngest. Right now it is the only Sleeping Beauty book I have, and my kids have loved it this past month when I’ve used it.

Wedding Scene Page from DK’s Ballet Stories Book

Step-by-Step Lesson Plans

  • Preparation/Scaffolding: If I knew at the start of class that I planned to do the activity today, I might drop little tidbits during other activities…we might practice fast “Songbird Fairy” fingers while we stretch, or practice “cat hands” between plies and jumps, etc.
  • Reading: At reading time, the students arrange themselves around my stool and I tell the story with the words and pictures—reading more or less of the actual text depending on the book’s wordiness, the class’s age and their level of attention. If they are ansty, I read just enough to get us dancing again…and if they are melting exhausted, I might go into more detail or point out more costume features or facial expressions in the pictures.
  • Movement Vocabulary: As I read I demonstrate a few identifying gestures for the dancing we will do, and they copy me. This is our “vocabulary” for that ballet. For Sleeping Beauty we practice the fast twinkly fingers of the Songbird Fairy, the cat claws of Puss & Boots and the White Cat in the wedding scene, Aurora holding up the pink rose proudly (just as Clara held up the Nutcracker Doll). I usually point out the garland dance and explain what a garland of flowers is because, though we may not do it in class, it is a very well-known and recognizable trope.
  • Transition to Dancing: When it’s dancing time I put on a cd I’ve prepared with a few key songs. I announce where we are in the story, who we all are, and maybe a costume detail for them to imagine they are putting on, remind them of our “vocabulary,” and turn them loose! For the Songbird Fairy that might sound like this…..”Ok, we’re at Aurora’s Christening (or baby party). She’s a little baby in the cradle and we are the songbird fairy, the one with fast fingers. Put on your yellow tutus…and here we go!” (As you teachers know, that dialogue was all happening while I was getting the cd ready.) I use these same prompts when transitioning to a new song.
  • Guided Free Dance: I dance around with the girls, demonstrating the “vocabulary” and making suggestions with my body or with words. For example, I might say, “The Songbird Fairy might leap with her fast fingers, or turn with her fast fingers.” And then with my body I might show how sometimes she places them behind her back. I might let each song play for anywhere from 20-60 seconds, depending on the time we have and their excitement.
  • Closing: We all meet back on the tape line or in a circle (a very important step in ending the free roaming and refocusing attentions….more important the younger the class). In the style of one of the characters from the ballet we then curtsey or bow “to say thank you to each other for dancing with us, and thank you to our teacher for guiding us, and thank you to the people who made the story for us to dance to.”

~                     ~                     ~

Still want more tidbits and goodies about the ballet The Sleeping Beauty? Check out The Ballet Bag’s The Sleeping Beauty post. It is awesome.

Happy Dancing!   ~Linda

One Response to “How I Introduce: The Sleeping Beauty”
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  1. […] taking a break for some Halloween dancing (see my post on that here), or I may begin teaching The Sleeping Beauty…followed by Halloween dancing….and begin The Nutcracker the first week in […]

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