Getting to the pointe
Laura Cartledge discovers how dance helps children come on in leaps and bounds.
A ‘hobby’ is defined as ‘an activity done regularly in one’s leisure time for pleasure’ but what if it can have other benefits too?
While football will keep children active, chess club aids the brain and art classes may fuel young imaginations there is one after-school activity which ticks all these boxes and more.
“I think ballet is great for the young, for movement, for music, and for boys, too,” says teacher Natalia Shchelokova, “it is about strength – not just pink tutus.
“It’s a very good hobby, it gives discipline as well, which carries over to school work.”
Natalia, a former prima ballerina with the likes of Moscow City Ballet, now passes her expertise on to the next generation by working at the Ruth Stein School of Dance in Chichester.
In fact her own involvement with the school came about when Natalia’s daughter was looking to follow in her footsteps.
“The classes were recommended by my friend,” she explains. “It was amazing.
“What Ruth can do with children from three to 19 in such a short time is remarkable – I know how long it takes with professionals and these can run all over but they don’t.
“There is a real sense of community too, you can see how the parents support Ruth. Someone would be doing the props, another doing the costumes,” she adds. “So I asked if I could help.”
As for her daughter?
“She loves it and keeps pushing me to sign her up for more,” Natalia laughs. “She loved the historical dancing and drama.”
Joe Jarvis, the school’s tap dancing expert, admits being impressed by the ‘talent, focus and positivity of the students’ is the reason he now commutes from his home in London, where he teaches at the Italia Conte school and the Brit School, so he can be a part of it.
“It has a wonderful balance in classes, both for those students who just want to dance for fitness and pleasure and for those who would like to consider taking their skills further,” he enthuses.
“It’s a versatile school catering brilliantly for students whatever their aspirations.
“All of us teachers are ex-professionals so you’re getting a very extensive wealth of experience that gives the students discipline while encouraging them to fulfil their potential,” he adds.
“On top of this I think we all share a similar ethos of making classes fun and exciting as ultimately that’s what dancing should be about.”
The combination is clearly paying off, something the school’s results show – a staggering 73 per cent of students achieved distinctions in the spring’s Royal Academy of Dance ballet exams – but Ruth is passionate that dance is for everyone.
“A sense of achievement is important but it varies on the individual,” she says modestly. “I like the students to feel part of a school not just a class.
“We find a way of fitting them in – regardless of experience – it’s a case of assessment and everybody is welcome to come and try a free session.”
Having first danced aged just three, Ruth then went on to gain scholarships to prestigious schools before heading to Germany and working in theatre.
It comes as no surprise that having a child of her own wasn’t going to see her hang up her pointe shoes and instead Ruth turned to teaching.
“Ballet has been my life,” she admits, “when you really dance it is just part of you.”
While teaching has seen Ruth travel almost as much as she did as a professional it was a move back to England, and Selsey where she had often spent time as a child, which provided the opportunity to take it one step further.
Since the school moved to Chichester in 2010 it has grown and now offers a range of classes from street dance to drama.
“I want to build more on the performing arts side,” says Ruth, “we are known for the ballet but I think the performing art side has some good opportunities.”
So what would Ruth say is the positive impact of dancing?
“What is gives them is a lift, the confidence,” Ruth replies, “and it is so good for a child’s brain to work with someone.”
These skills, coupled with the extensive exercise, make the appeal obvious.
But is it ever too late to start?
“A lot do start young but I actually think, a lot of the time, those that start later are more successful,” she confesses.
“It’s a different approach from when they are young, when they come in older they know they want to do it, there is a focus.”
The Ruth Stein School of Dance is currently rehearsing for a big show on October 31, for more information on this and the classes visit www.ruthsteinschoolofdance.co.uk
September 14, 2014 Travel and Lifestyle