Five Ways to Get Your Kid to Enjoy Classical Ballet

With Operation Get My Kid to Appreciate Opera a success, I figured I would try my luck at the next cultural frontier: The ballet.

Each month I’ll be taking my children to unlikely kid-friendly events as a challenge to see what they are capable of understanding and enjoying. Last month was a shocking success as I took my seven-year-old daughter to see the Barber of Seville at the Metropolitan Opera. This month I pushed the boundaries as I took my five-year-old son Oscar to see the New York City Ballet’s performance of Sleeping Beauty. While I wouldn’t call it a shocking success, I would classify it as an evening we’ll never forget.

Here’s 5 ways to get your kid to go to the ballet—or opera, or another grown-up activity.

1. Talk it out. When I told Oscar I was taking him to the ballet, he asked, “Is this just for girls?” My head just about exploded. While I remained calm on the outside, inside I was shocked that even at the age of five, he had already formed a gender stereotype in his head. What have I done wrong as a mother?! I told him while many girls participate in the ballet, there are also a lot of boy dancers as well. We looked at amazing pictures (see slideshow above) and watched a few videos on YouTube showcasing male classical ballet dancers. This clip of the Anaheim Ballet’s final Nutcracker rehearsal gave Oscar a chance to see all the many roles males and females play in classical ballet. Before Sleeping Beauty started, I told him to squeeze my hand when he saw a boy enter the stage. It became a fun game.

2.  Pique interest. Oscar was fascinated when I told him there would be no words in the ballet and that the story would be told through movement. I had him show me how he would convey anger, happiness, sadness, and surprise without using words. He was forced to use his body to speak. Dancers, I told him, do the same thing with the help of costumes, set, and music. To make sure he did not get confused during the performance, I gave him a brief overview of the ballet’s storyline to give him things to look out for. He couldn’t wait to see the evil faerie and her minions!

3. Use props. While we waited for the ballet to begin, I told Oscar to draw the things in the David H. Koch Theatre he wanted to remember. He chose to draw the chandelier, his red seat, and once the show started, Princess Aurora herself! The pictures he drew will be treasured.

4. Have realistic expectation. Remember when I said this wasn’t a shocking success? Here’s why: Oscar only lasted through half of the show. As Act 1 was coming to a close, I had a decision to make: Either sit through another hour and half forcing him to sit quietly and enjoy the show (and possibly disturb everyone around us as his wiggles set in) or leave now on a good note. For all Oscar knew, the show was over and he enjoyed himself. We left the theatre happy and chatting about our date over a giant plate of chocolate mousse from a nearby restaurant.

5. Kid swap! Looking back, I wish I had told my husband to take my daughter out for lunch and bring her to the lobby during the intermission so we could do a kid swap. It’s my biggest regret and a lesson I’ve learned from this event. Not only for selfish reasons (I would have liked to see how the ballet ended) but also because it would have given another kid a chance to experience this wonderful event.