By Cathy Pelletier
She’s impossible not to look at—as, all smiles, front and centre stage—the three-year-old gracefully points her toe.
Clad in a tiny black bodysuit covered at the midsection by a swirling mass of green tulle tutu, the tot’s dainty hand reaches up to touch an elegant strand of fake pearls ‘round her neck. Grinning wildly now, she fans her tutu on either side, as if preparing to take flight, and loses herself for a moment in the music.
By the time her little legs bend into an impressive plié, and she blows a kiss—right on cue, along with the more advanced among her troupe of young dancers—the crowd is spellbound, smiles spread throughout the auditorium; even if it is largely made up of parents.
Hands on their hips, the pre-school aged troupe joins hands and bows—mostly in unison—as the airwaves fill with applause at the end; the dancers’ delight contagious among every audience member. Upon hearing the applause, many tot performers feel compelled to join in the clapping, expressions of self-pride evident on all their faces for delivering glee to the masses. With approving nods from their teachers, they run out into the awaiting open arms of their fans; a feel-good moment for all.
There’s something infinitely timeless, pure and magical about seeing tots with tutus and coiffed bun hairdos glide across the floor in small ballet slippers.
Amidst the widespread terror and turmoil that now bombards us with ever-increasing regularity, it’s beyond uplifting to see our youth stretch and strive to attain a state of beauty, grace, and poise through pursuit of this time-honoured, classic form of dance.
The very act of making these young bodies much more fluid—not to mention healthy—through positive, creative self-expression has become a mission that gives meaning to Meghan Cecchini’s life.
Having taken her first steps on the Thorold Community Activities Group stage as a Teeny Ballerina at age three, the talented 23-year-old now teaches that same class that launched her career, and takes pride in inspiring confidence, discipline, and most of all, an extremely fun form of fitness in Niagara’s budding ballerinas.
After taking lessons and dancing competitively for 15 years in both ballet and tap, her lengthy dance background, coupled with her passion and youthful energy, make her an ideal instructor for fellow ballet and tap enthusiasts.
A record-breaking 21 tots enrolled in the fall session of the popular Teeny Ballerina class at the TCAG, located in the Nick Basciano Centre at 131 Richmond Street, Thorold.
The new session began Nov. 23, and runs every Monday except Dec. 21 and 28 before restarting for a brand new session on Jan. 4, 2016 for boys and girls from three to six years old.
For those seeking a more modern genre, Junior Hip Hop lessons are also offered to youth aged six through 12 at the TCAG by instructor Katrina Garner, who also has years of experience as a competitive dancer to her credit.
“We get a lot of boys in hip hop and we’ve had lots of boys” enroll in ballet as well, maintains Cecchini. “We try and open their eyes.”
And in a world where teens and pre-teens seem surgically attached to technological gadgets, it’s comforting to know there are alternative, infinitely healthier ways of molding their young bodies, minds and spirits.
Seven-year-old Kaitlyn Moccia was quite shy but “She’s a little more outgoing,” says Jen, her mom, since taking Teeny Ballerina, Tap, and Hip Hop classes.
Building confidence is one of the many benefits of dancing, explains Cecchini.
“I see it in the younger kids who are hiding behind mom the entire (first) class, and by the end of the 10-week session, they march in by themselves. Mom is in the lobby and they take their spot on the stage.”
Emma, age four, was given the choice to take ballet, piano, or skating lessons and she chose ballet, according to Julie Baker, Emma’s mom. “She dances all around the house” and has become “more theatrical,” Baker smiles.
Some of the more outgoing students tend to take matters into their own hands, adds Cecchini, and help the less confident “come out of their shells.”
“Physically, it helps them stay active and starts really good habits” from a young age. Plus, “it can do wonderful things for their posture.”
“Besides all of the obvious things like improved flexibility, balance, strength, and coordination, there is evidence that students that study dance (at the professional level) are high achievers when they move on to study for ‘regular’ jobs. I have many friends that are doctors, lawyers, and university professors in their second careers. I’m not sure if there are scientific studies about this, but the anecdotal evidence suggests that dancers are highly motivated, quick learners (this comes from learning choreography on the spot), good problem-solvers, and manage their time well.”
Vollick shares the following story from one of his former students who now dances with the San Antonio Ballet.
“About ten years ago, some parents told me that their 10-year-old son said to them, “Mr. Vollick isn’t teaching us to be elegant dancers, he’s teaching us to be elegant people.”
Does the world seem like it’s rotating on a slightly darker, more foreboding axis these days? Perhaps.
But watching our youth take their place with pride and dignity on the stage, swaying in graceful rhythm to the music as a freeing form of self-expression, reassures us that beauty still abounds in this world, if we look for it.
For more information about the Teeny Ballerina, Junior Hip Hop, and other youth programs, call the TCAG at 905-227-0545 or visit www.thoroldgoup.org.