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Ballet Nouveau Colorado steps up nationwide with anti-bullying program

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When President Barack Obama and the first lady convened a White House conference on bullying prevention a couple of weeks back, it was yet another echo of an issue that has been loud in the national dialogue since the Columbine massacre — and which picked up volume last year after a rash of teen suicides linked to bullying.

The recent attention to the issue helps explain why a Colorado company is seeing its own anti-bullying program go national in the coming months.

“Once the shooting happened in (Tucson), I think that’s when the White House really started to take it on,” said Julia Wilkinson Manley, director of Ballet Nouveau Colorado’s dance school. “And this is the stance we have at Ballet Nouveau — civility, politeness and respect.”

The Broomfield company, which has forged its artistic reputation on ambitious multimedia shows, has already exported its anti-bullying program to dance companies (and schools) in Tennessee and Oklahoma — with hopes to expand to even more.

Based on the classic Hans Christian Andersen tale “The Ugly Duckling” and choreographed by former artistic director Robert Mills, it offers a colorful blend of costumes, choreography and music. Think Cyndi Lauper tunes and “Flashdance”-inspired moves alongside classical ballet.

The program, which has been presented to nearly 17,000 area elementary-school students since 2005, aims to entertain kids while teaching them strategies for dealing with bullies.

“It’s very interactive, so they get to answer questions and shout things out,” said Wilkinson Manley. “It’s a sort of a singsong tone, so they’re feeling like they can’t answer the wrong way.”

The program appears to be the only one like it in the country, according to Wilkinson Manley. The feedback from students, teachers and principals has been positive, and Ballet Nouveau has turned away schools because of BNC’s lack of time and resources to perform it.

Dance Theatre of Tennessee, which learned of the program through Ballet Nouveau’s website, has just started performing it for schools this month, and Oklahoma City Ballet — where Mills is now artistic director — also nabbed a grant to bring the program into public schools for its 2012-13 season.

But how exactly does a dance program teach kids an anti-bullying message?

It’s all about reaching students at just the right age.

“With all the other programs that we do in the schools, we see a very definite change that happens in the second part of fifth grade, where the kids start taking on and developing sarcasm and that sort of ‘older kid-ness,’ ” Wilkinson Manley said.

“But we play off the freedom kids have when they’re in elementary school and not necessarily checking every word to make sure it’s ‘cool.’ That’s our artistic weapon.”

Ballet Nouveau trains its staff using the same general best-practices as all elementary-school education, and Wilkinson Manley recently returned from a trip in which she trained the Dance Theatre of Tennessee’s staff on the program.

Finding a relatable tone is also important to the program’s success, according to Wilkinson Manley.

“BNC’s professional dancers did it 2005 through 2008, and for the final two seasons it was performed by our student company,” she said. “I felt that was really effective because kids got to see dancers not much older than themselves telling the story.”

John Wenzel

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Comments
  • comment avatar Jaime April 2, 2011

    It’s so cool to hear the creative ways this important message is being taught to our children. I hope to see more of this!

  • comment avatar Dr Joel Haber April 17, 2011

    Bullying calls are on the rise, because children and teens do not have to feel alone anymore when they have been tormented, isolated and bullied in all sorts of ways. It is a positive bully solution to have a Ballet Nouveau program — civility, politeness and respect debut for kids. Targets of bullying though, need other opportunities to find ways to manage bullying, and there are many ways to help them in addition to this great resource. As the author of “Bullyproof Your Child for Life: Protect Your Child from Teasing, Taunting, and Bullying For Good” I work with thousands of kids and parents a year to teach youth how to respond to bullying and learn the tools and skills necessary to decrease it so they are not continually targeted. When bullies continue and do not stop, the school, sports coach or camp needs to step in. But we can also teach our kids more: Show kids that they can learn bullyproofing skills to get out of a big problem and they can stay strong, face adversity and feel confident and secure they can do it again next time. Check out the skill sets to build confidence and resilience at http://www.toolkitsforkids.com

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