Health & Fitness

Ballet makes children as fit as a fiddle

A boy stretches during a ballet lesson in Mombasa. PHOTO | BRIAN WACHIRA | NMG
A boy stretches during a ballet lesson in Mombasa. PHOTO | BRIAN WACHIRA | NMG 

Children dressed in leotards, tights and ballet shoes, do moves that many adults would struggle to do. The children aged five to 13 years are very flexible and they synchronise their moves with precision and without much effort.

“Give me two rond de jambe (circular movements of the leg) and finish with an attitude; split jump, two pirouette turn and finish with a cambré,” says David Mwashighadi, the ballet teacher.

In a ballet class, the children start with stretches. Stretching makes their tender bodies stronger. They do warm-up exercises for 10 to 15 minutes because their young muscles must be ready for the dance moves.

‘‘They exercise their hands, neck, shoulders, waist, thighs and toes,” said Mr Mwashighadi who holds holiday classes in Bamburi, Mombasa.

Other exercises are done on the barre (a long handrail you use for balance). This involves stretches and splits. Floor work involves downward facing dog, sit ups, push-ups, and flex pointing, back straight, pointed toe and swinging legs.

During holidays

Choice of music also matters during the exercise. Mr Mwashighadi prefers pure piano classical playback music for his dancers. The music with high tempo is played during the warm-up session while the slow tempo rhythm is played for the dancers to get the techniques correctly.

Ballet was mostly taught in private schools as the children supplemented class work with activities such as horse-riding, cello playing or dance lessons.

But now ballet is being taught during holidays to keep children busy and away from smartphones and TVs.

The dance also makes the child alert, helping boost concentration as they develop a love for music and rhythm.

Companies such as Dance Centre Kenya offer ballet, tap, jazz, modern, musical theatre and contemporary dance lessons. Their ballet classes at Kitisuru Manor, in Nairobi started last Monday, targeting mostly children on holiday.

Classes such as Mr Mwashighadi’s are fairly priced, reaching many children who could not afford previously. For one hour, a child pays from Sh500 to Sh700 depending on whether one is joining a group class or being taught privately.

He trains about 20 children every session so as to give full attention to everyone. To add fun to the ballet class, he signs up the children for competitions.

“Kenyans still think that ballet dance is hard because it involves stretching and splits while some think it is only for girls, but it is not,’’ the 28-year-old who is a trained dancer says.

He markets himself through social media and it has paid off.

“I take videos and pictures and post them on Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram. Most parents have approached me after viewing the videos and pictures,” he said.