Brandon Sears and Lindsey Pitts of the Nashville Ballet work with children during an outreach performance.
Brandon Sears and Lindsey Pitts of the Nashville Ballet work with children during an outreach performance.

In the United States, ballet doesn't draw large audiences. Even in the nation?s largest cities, ballet troupes often struggle to survive. So many of them make reaching out to the wider public a top priority.

Reaching out

That's the case with the Nashville Ballet, which conducts about 150 traveling performances each year.

The Nashville Ballet's Leigh Anne Strickland doesn't need to pump up her audience. The children of Glengarry Elementary School are already excited to see a ballet performed in their school gymnasium.

"Nashville Ballet's mission is to create, perform, teach and promote dance," says Strickland, who coordinates outreach for the ballet. "So a huge part, component of that mission, is to bring the ballets and the dancers out of the studio environment to expose more people to the art form of ballet."

Learning process

The ballet coordinates these performances with State of Tennessee student requirements. So part of Strickland's job is to find connections between a ballet performance and what the children are learning in history, literature, math and science.

The Nashville Ballet's Outreach and Community En
The Nashville Ballet?s Outreach and Community Engagement program reaches 42,000 children annually, through dance performances and interactive activities.

Even the company's portable stage backdrops find a place in the curriculum.

"A lot of the teachers like the fact that our drops incorporate a pulley system," Strickland says. "So in their science classes, when they're talking about simple machines, all the kids and teachers want to come up and see the pulley system that helps the drops go up and down."

Strickland also uses dance to meet the requirements for physical activity each school day. During the performance, she has the kids up and dancing before they even realize what they're doing.

Today, the troupe performs a ballet called "Borreguita and the Coyote." It's a Spanish folk tale about a quick-witted lamb who outsmarts a hungry coyote. Once the dancers demonstrate some of the movements, the students appreciate the skills involved.

"They use a lot of tippy-toes and they run and chase themselves," says Dana.  

"The jumping, the jumping. I never jumped that high before," Emmanuel says.

Unique opportunity

Glengarry Elementary School is in a neighborhood with a large immigrant population. According to school officials, Arabic is the first language of most of the students.

The Nashville Ballet conducts about 150 traveling
The Nashville Ballet conducts about 150 traveling performances - such as Anne Frank (pictured here) - for students across Tennessee each year.

"For some of them, this is the only time that they'll ever experience the ballet. Their parents would not take them?could not afford to take them to see a ballet," says music teacher Donna Taylor. "The kids get an excitement about that and hopefully, in the future then, they'll make that more of priority, when they have families, to experience that kind of thing with their own children."

And Taylor says there are other advantages to having the ballet come to the school.

"They relate so much more, one-on-one, to a real person being there that they can see and ask questions to."

And some of these students could some day become ballet dancers. Troupe member Sarah Cordia remembers seeing ballet outreaches when she was a student.

"So it was really cool to see, you know, older dancers come to school and perform and do what I was working towards," says Cordia.

The Nashville Ballet charges some schools for these performances. But for Glengarry Elementary, the program is underwritten by government grants and private donations.