In a city that offers so many choices of after school activities – cooking, debate club, rock band, Model UN, photography, and even Lego Robotics – ballet can seem like a quaint choice. And yet, this classical dance form boasts a long and storied tradition of grace, strength, and self-discipline. The word “ballet” evokes images of gravity-defying leaps, delicate steps, great tragedies, and ornate costumes. Classics like Swan Lake and The Nutcracker remain as popular as ever, while contemporary ballets by choreographers such as Merce Cunningham, Matthew Bourne, and Robert Joffrey seek to innovate the genre by introducing elements of contemporary dance.
As a pursuit, ballet offers several benefits. For one, it is physically challenging. Though professional dancers make pirouettes and jetés look effortless, ballet works muscles in the arms, legs, and torso to condition strength, flexibility, motion, and endurance. Like many other forms of exercise, ballet can alleviate stress, improve spatial awareness, and promote overall cardiovascular health. Secondly, ballet can foster self-esteem in children. As they begin to improve and perform in front of audiences, students gain a sense of pride and accomplishment that can extend to other parts of their lives.
Being part of a classroom community also helps kids develop social skills and fosters a sense of trust. “We have a great family atmosphere at our school,” says ballet teacher and On Pointe Dance Studio Founder Chlöe Brydges. “The big [kids]take the little ones to the toilet, and the little ones look to the big ones for inspiration.”
Ballet also teaches self-discipline, which kids must internalize in order to master the various dance techniques. Flora Zeta Cheong-Leen is the founder of The Conservatory of International Style and Cultural Arts (CISCA). She speaks plainly about the challenges that kids will have to face in ballet: “[Parents] can be soft with their kids at home, but we will be tough,” she says. “In that 45 minutes to an hour that we have them in class, the discipline must be on.”
Most of the ballet schools in Beijing follow teaching standards set out by the Royal Academy of Dance (RAD), an internationally-recognized examination board and training syllabus. The curriculum diverges into two streams: a graded stream and a vocational advanced stream. The latter is designed for students who want to pursue a career in professional dance, while the former is better-suited to those who wish to continue doing ballet for leisure. All students start out in the graded stream and generally indicate their interest in the vocational advanced stream around Grade 4 or 5. The move means increased training hours, more difficult exams, and an emphasis on technique. To evaluate students, RAD holds yearly accredited examinations overseen by a RAD-certified inspector.
The best age to start ballet largely depends on the individual; some children will have the attention span to follow instructions from an early age, while others will not. Most kids begin between the ages of 4 and 8; before 8 years of age, a student’s bones are still too soft to get into the finer points of technique. Younger children (ages 3-4) can develop their coordination, rhythm, strength, and stamina through loosely-structured pre-ballet lessons called creative movement classes. These sessions will form the foundation of their ballet training later on.
That being said, kids who show an interest past the age of 10 should not be discouraged from participating in ballet. Even teens and adults can – and should – get in on the action, insists Cheong-Leen. They may not become professional dancers, but they will gain a new and rewarding pursuit that will rewire the way they move. “Grace is learned,” says Cheong-Leen. “It is a process, and it can be adopted. There is no such thing as a ‘worst student,’ because ballet is something that can be expressed instantly.”
On Pointe Dance Studio
Founded in August 2012, On Pointe Dance Studio is a dance school that offers beginner to advanced classes for expat kids aged 4 and up. The school’s ballet syllabus conforms to Royal Academy of Dance (RAD) standards, with accredited annual examinations taking place every year from May to June. Jazz and tap classes follow Imperial Society of Teachers of Dance (ISTD) standards; the former focuses on styles ranging from Broadway to commercial jazz. The ballet curriculum diverges into two paths: a graded stream and a vocational advanced stream. All students take part in the former until they reach the required age and skill level to opt for the latter. Currently, On Pointe’s students come from ISB, BSB, DCB, WAB, and more.
Areas: Dongzhimenwai, Shunyi
Teacher certifications: The lead teachers at On Pointe are Chlöe Brydges for ballet and Paul Charles for jazz and tap. Brydges is a RAD-certified dancer with 12 years of teaching experience who has toured with companies all over the world. Charles is a stage and screen actor who graduated from the Guilford School of Acting; he is trained in jazz, tap, ballet, and contemporary dance. Senior ballet students serve as teaching assistants, and there’s a max teacher-to-student ratio of 1:10 (1:5 is typical for younger children).
Cost: RMB 100/60-minute class, RMB 150/90-minute class, RMB 75/45-minute class (creative movement)
Language spoken: English
Hours of operation: British School of Beijing (Shunyi Campus): Mon-Fri 3.30pm or 4pm to 8.30-8.45pm; East Lake Villas: Sun (according to students’ needs)
Addresses: 1) British School of Beijing (Shunyi Campus), 9 Anhua Jie, Shunyi District 顺义区安华街9号南院北京英国学校; 2) East Lake Villas, 35 Dongzhimenwai Dajie, Dongcheng District 东城区东直门外大街35号东湖别墅
Contact: 183 1094 5950, firstname.lastname@example.org,
Ballet Pro Dance Studio
Offering ballet courses for ages 4.5 and up, Ballet Pro is a Hong Kong-based dance company that expanded to Beijing in 2003. The school’s curriculum combines elements from RAD, the Vaganova Academy of Russian Ballet, and Beijing Dance Academy. In addition to ballet classes, Ballet Pro hosts seminars, workshops, performances, and dance residencies. Ballet Pro’s CBD classes at Qijiayuan are taught in English and Chinese, while other branches offer Chinese classes only.
Areas: Lido, CBD, Changping
Teacher certifications: Teachers come from the Royal Academy of Dance (RAD), the National Ballet of China, and the Dance Academy of China.
Cost: RMB 2,880 for 24 classes
Languages spoken: Chinese, bilingual English/Chinese (check website for details)
Hours of operation (Qijiayuan): Wed 1.30-3pm (adult), 4.45-5.30pm
(ages 5-6), 5.45-6.30pm (ages 4.5-6)
Addresses: 1) Qijiayuan Diplomatic Residence Compound Clubhouse, Jianguomenwai Dajie, Chaoyang District 朝阳区建国门外大街齐家园外交公寓会所; 2) Lido Place Clubhouse, 6 Jiangtai Lu, Chaoyang District 将台路6号丽都乡村俱乐部; 3) Rm 301, Unit 2, Bldg 6, Zone 1, Tiantongyuan, Changping District 昌平区天通苑1区6号楼2单元301室
Contact (Qijiayuan): Ms. Eng at 135 2034 7722 (English),
Mr. Peng at 133 8108 1081 (Chinese), email@example.com,
The Conservatory of International Style and Cultural Arts (CISCA) 北京天爱国际艺术培训学院
Co-founded by ballerina, actress, model, and entrepreneur Flora Zeta Cheong-Leen in 2009, CISCA aims to become a training ground for professional performing artists of all stripes. In addition to ballet, the center offers martial arts and modeling classes. CISCA currently has around 400 students representing a mix of expats and locals. In
addition to its three locations in Beijing, CISCA holds ballet classes at a number of international schools, including MSB, BSB, Daystar, BJNTA, New Garden, and TFLH.
Areas: CBD, Lido, Shunyi South
Teacher certifications: Cheong-Leen is a graduate of both the Royal Ballet School in the UK and Paris Opera in France. She has performed throughout Italy, Germany, China, and the US. After returning to Hong Kong, she starred in several feature-length movies and studied costume design. The winner of several performing arts awards, Cheong-Leen currently serves as the director of the Hong Kong Ballet and co-chairman of the Hong Kong Ballet Guild. In addition, all but a few of CISCA’s ballet teachers are also professional dancers who perform in independent productions. All teachers are bilingual.
Cost: Starting from RMB 165/45-minute class; RMB 1,600/10 classes
Languages spoken: English and Chinese
Hours of operation: Varies according to location; call for more information.
Address: 1) Quanfa Garden Clubhouse, 2 Xiangjiang Beilu, Chaoyang District (8470 5630) 朝阳区香江北路2号泉发花园会所; 2) Rm C208, Lido Country Club, 6 Jiangtai Lu, Chaoyang District (6438 1677) 朝阳区将台路6号丽都乡村俱乐部C208; 3) Gemdale International Garden Clubhouse, 91 Jianguo Lu, Chaoyang District (8470 5630) 朝阳区建国路91号金地国际花园俱乐部
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org, www.cisca.com.cn/english
photo by VivaXiao Photography Studio