Students at Ashland Elementary School are getting lots of exercise these days while learning the basics of ballet, thanks to the work of two young ballerinas from Sayre School.
Jamie Rosenstein and Ellie Fogg, juniors at Sayre, teach free, basic ballet classes to students from kindergarten through fifth-grade one afternoon a week as part of the after-school Ashland Creative Activities Program.
Jamie and Ellie, both 17, said the classes have caught on in a big way, so much so that several boys at Ashland have overcome their initial reluctance and are taking part.
"The first time we came out, the boys would kind of stand in the back and say, 'Oh, we can't do that.' But not anymore," Jamie said.
Each class session lasts about two hours and features lots of leaps, kicks, stretches and other ballet moves. The kids usually are panting and sweating by the time class ends. Most of the children have never tried ballet before.
Ashland student Amya Ross, 10, said that taking the ballet classes has been an eye-opening experience for her.
"I always thought ballet would be easy when I watched it on television," Amya said. "It's not. It's hard. But it is lots of fun, and you get a real workout at the same time without even noticing it."
Jordan Lewis, also 10, said he'd never tried ballet before, but he quickly found that he likes it. He said he particularly likes the jumping and kicking parts.
"It's lots of fun," he said.
Rae Coleman, who directs Ashland's after-school program, said school officials like the ballet program because it provides the students with an opportunity for physical activity, something many of them might miss out on otherwise.
"When the girls contacted me about coming to teach ballet, we thought it would be a great addition to our program," Coleman said. "And it has been."
Jamie and Ellie have been dancing ballet "since we were about 3," and they now perform with the Lexington Ballet. Jamie said she began thinking about teaching a basic ballet class for kids last year as a public service to help youngsters experience the joy of dance. Ellie immediately signed on when she heard about the idea.
"We thought it would be fun to teach the kids," Ellie said. "A lot of kids don't get a chance to experience ballet at a young age because it can be really expensive to take classes."
The two teens contacted Ashland Elementary last fall about the possibility of offering classes there. School officials liked the idea, but it took several weeks to work out the logistics. The ballet classes, which the teens teach for free, started in January.
Ellie and Jamie try to give the Ashland students a taste of basic ballet positions and steps, without loading them down with too many complex ideas and moves. The emphasis is on creative movement, flexibility, physical activity and fun, they said.
"We try to make it like a game for the younger kids," Ellie said.
"It's easy for them to get frustrated if you ask them to do too much," Jamie said. "You don't want them to get discouraged after the first class.
"But you also want them to be really learning things, not just out there running around."
Apparently they are. The dance teachers said that because many ballet positions have French names, the students are learning a bit of French along with their ballet moves.