I feel pretty fortunate to live in an area where we have a world-renowned ballet that’s not only close by, but also accessible in terms of pricing. That means that it’s possible for me to take my 5 kids to the ballet and I’ve done it, lived to tell the tale, and am sharing all my tips for taking kids to the ballet with you today.
It’s not a big secret on this blog that I’m big on doing arts and cultural activities with my kids. I’ve also been a big ballet fan my entire life. As a kid, I did dance lessons (yeah I know, I don’t seem the type). My older kids all did dance lessons when they were younger, and one of my 8 year old twins does ballet and modern dance at our local centre.
Although my older kids stepped down from dance a couple years ago, mostly due to scheduling issues, I’ve gone to see the Royal Winnipeg Ballet several times as an adult. With my son starting ballet this year, and all the kids generally getting older, I decided that it was finally time to bring them to a real show.
Since my partner and I have season tickets (we’re actually going to see Swan Lake tonight) we opted to buy tickets to the Nutcracker instead.
I’m a little late writing this, we actually went on Christmas eve! But these tips will work for any ballet performance.
Explain the Ballet to Your Kids
This is probably the single most important step to making ballet enjoyable for anyone, including children. Explain to your kids what a ballet is (no talking, only music and dance) and, most importantly, what the ballet is about.
The thing about ballet is that yes, it’s an artistic impression of a story, but sometimes that story can still feel very vague. It’s absolutely not going to spoil the ballet if you explain to your children in detail what the plot is including important story beats.
Sometimes it’s also a good idea to even go so far as to watch a version of the story at home beforehand. I saw RWB’s Handmaid’s Tale this fall (a totally new ballet) and enjoyed it so much more for knowing the story.
Often this synopsis is on the ballet’s website or in the program if you need it.
How to Get Kids Interested Beforehand
Alongside explaining the story in advance, you should also hype up your kids if they’re not gung-ho about going to the ballet.
You can play the music for them so they recognize some songs beforehand. I was surprised how happy my kids were to hear Christmas songs they knew in the Nutcracker, for example.
It’s also important to talk to kids about the art and skill of ballet. You could even do some YouTube ballet lessons before you go to really appreciate what the dancers are doing!
Go to a Matinee or Kid-Friendly Ballet
Matinee ballet performances are almost always more casual than evenings. Generally speaking, people expect kids to be there, so there’s a lot more tolerance for disruptions. The other advantage, of course, is that kids will hopefully be better behaved than a performance that goes past (or close to) bedtime.
You should also see if there are any kid-friendly ballet performances being offered too. Sometimes they have special events for kids that include photo ops, demonstrations, and so on.
How to Choose the Right Ballet Performance for Your Family
Just like with anything, some ballets are better for kids than others. First of all, some may have mature content. I know, hard to believe, right? Most ballets will warn you before buying your tickets, and older ballets have plenty of info online aready.
There are basically three types of ballets you can choose from to take your kids to, here’s a breakdown of what you need to consider before booking.
This is your old school ballet stuff. Think Tchaikovsky (Nutcracker, Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty) or popular ballets like Giselle, Coppélia, Don Quixote, La Bayadère, and so on. I don’t know anyone who hasn’t heard a song from at least one of these ballets.
Classical ballet is great because it’s so well known and in the pop culture. Kids appreciate the familiar beats of stories they already know.
For example, the song sung in Disney’s Sleeping Beauty Once Upon a Dream was adapted from Tchaikovsky’s ballet of the same name. Kids who have seen the movie will have an immediate connection both story and musically to the ballet.
On the other hand, classical ballet is arguably the most boring. Usually the choreography, costumes, and sets are more traditional. Some companies reimagine the classics, but they are still rooted in tradition at their core.
In short, if you want the traditional ballet experience, choose a classical ballet.
Obviously we didn’t stop writing ballets in the 1800s and that’s where modern ballet comes in. These are usually newer or brand new productions either adapted from an existing story or written as a whole new one.
Although modern ballet can have traditional elements, the costumes, score, sets, and story are all designed for the audience of today. These are the ballets where you see unique artistic expression, drama, and even humour.
The music is sometimes non-classical style. For Example, I once saw a ballet choreographed entirely to Elton John music.
Modern ballet also often adds lyrical and modern dance styles to their choreography so you end up with a performance that feels more expressive than with rigid ballet dance.
This of course has its drawbacks, though. Modern ballets aren’t necessarily more enjoyable or interesting. If it’s debut ballet, you may not have reviews to draw from to decide if it’s worth going to.
Unlike classical ballets that are still around because they stood the test of time, modern ballet is just that: something new. With kids, new isn’t always better.
In short, choose modern ballet for a lighter, more interesting show but make sure you check out the reviews beforehand.
Ballet for Kids
They absolutely make ballets that are designed for kids! This show isn’t popular anymore but when my daughter was four I took her to see Angelina Ballerina at the opera house in Sydney, Australia. It was an amazing kid-friendly performance that took the beats and presented them with a kid-friendly story and costumes.
If your kids are younger and you have the chance to take them to a kid oriented performance I highly recommend it, especially for your first ballet as a family. Not only will it be easier for you as a parent, the more fun kids have the more likely they are to want to come back.
Some ballets are also made to be family friendly. Our version of the Nutcracker, for example, had a lot of silly elements like the mascot making cameos in the background. The kids loved it!
Let Everyone Get Their Own Enjoyment
Something that I feel strongly about is that arts are subjective and everyone gets their own enjoyment out of a performance. If your child is more interested in watching the orchestra than the dancers who cares, that’s OK. This one was hard for me, but trust me, it makes the ballet way better for everyone.
When we saw the nutcracker my oldest daughter slept through most of it. At first I was annoyed, but she said the music was really relaxing. She had a good time in her own way, and that’s all that matters!
Another example is one of my twins was obsessed with the changing set and kept pointing it out. We had to shush, but otherwise it was nice to see him get something out of it in his own way.
As long as they’re not being disruptive just relax and enjoy the show.
How to Make the Ballet More Fun for Kids
- Get them snacks (like at the movies!)
- Manage your expectations; it’s a long time to sit for kids
- Prep kids beforehand so they know what to expect
- Try to get an aisle seat if you feel you may have to leave mid-performance
- Hype up the performance beforehand
- Make a day of it, especially if it’s a family affair
Why Take Kids to the Ballet?
OK I explained tips for taking the kids to the ballet, but why should you take kids to the ballet anyway? Well, in my opinion at least, it’s important to expose kids to lots of different things. Ballet is one of the many performances we have taken in as a family.
Ballet blends multiple creative aspects: music, dance, set design as well as hard work, fitness, and talent. All of these are good for kids to be exposed to.
Not only that, but we often live in a culture that shuns performances like ballet. Personally, I want to raise the types of kids who are open to new experiences and appreciate the arts; not ones who are “too cool” to go to a ballet. This is especially true for my boys.
I’m going to leave you with this: I didn’t think my 13 year old son had a great time at the Nutcracker. Sure, he had an OK time, but was seemed kind of meh about it. Flashforward to me casually mentioning I’m seeing Swan Lake this weekend and he immediately asked, “can I come too?”. After some chatting it turned out he really enjoyed it and would love to go back again.
Even if it doesn’t feel like it in the moment taking kids to performances like the ballet does matter and it is worth it.