Wednesday, July 3, 2019


Traditional ballets have some commonality with traditional fairy tales. Old stories of good and evil with a healthy dose of romance. Beautiful princess', handsome princes and strange characters offering temptations, fulfilling their own desires with magic or granting wishes for a price by way of poison apples, witches spells, dolls coming to life to dance or by some other wizardry. Maybe the common aspects come from the time and place originated. It is my understanding that the Grimm brothers weren't the actual authors of the many tales they recorded but the collectors of the tales. Many of both fairy tales and ballets have a dark aspect, a kind of creepiness included.
The story of Coppelia is one of the early ballet stories. The music was written by Clement Philibert Leo Delibes, a french composer of the Romatic era (1815-1910). The ballet is based on a short story written by the German writer E.T.A. Hoffmann, (the same writer of the original novel the more commonly familiar Nutcracker ballet was based on). The ballet includes a comedic twist within it's theme of the potential havoc that results from a man attempting to create a live human replica based on his own desire.

As for traditional classical ballets, the stories are old and probably also based on stories from the oral traditions where they first appeared. Usually they include a romance, good and evil or at least some mischief and the everyone dances around happy ending. Or as a favorite stand up comedian, Brian Regan, shares about his efforts to understand ballet performances, "he loves her, she doesn't love him, she loves someone else and they all dance around for a couple of hours" his description could be a condensed version of Coppelia with the addition of  the wedding finale. In the story of Coppelia, one of the someones is a mechanical doll created by the toy maker Coppelias. The addition of the characterization of mechanical dolls adds to the variety of  physical dance movement, delightfully performed by the ballerinas.

Why am I writing about a specific ballet? (besides to share and brag a little) about the accomplishment of our last graduating home school student. Mostly, I want to share and give an example of learning by following a students interests, how so many subjects including academics can be covered by, or at least touched upon, by interest led learning. I want to share our experience so that it can serve as an illustration of the value of doing and learning in the bigger world. Participating in the world by following interests can lead to intense and relevant learning for any student.


My daughter's participation in this production is just one of the examples from our homeschooling experience of how it really can work. That most, if not all, subjects can be learned through actual participation in events, projects and work. Sometimes homeschool families need encouragement to follow the lead of their students. Sometimes, it is the students themselves, who need reassurance of the value of what they are doing. For some students, confirmation of that value may not come to them often enough before they venture into the real world as young adults.

My daughter, the aspiring ballerina/dancer was cast in the role of Swanhilde for this classic ballet. As a homeschool student, completing high school, we considered her acceptance of the role as a part of her completion of her homeschool high school journey. The many hours of learning and practice fulfilled more than one requirement for her transcripts. This was an interest led unit study. An extreme interest led unit study.

Based on learning this role, there was immersion into the story as told through the dance and the classical music of this ballet. Through her participation, she covered to some degree; subjects of music, western civilization & history, themes in literature, art history, technology, internet based research, performance, and business. For some of these topics her awareness was simply increased, for others a deeper understanding was achieved. There were the many hours of the physical demands of dance needed to learn the choreography. That combined with the listening, learning about the music and the history created an intense unit study. The dedication to continue was supported by her learning about the importance of attention to her own needs for rest and good nutrition. There was learning about planning, organization and following through on a big commitment.

An added bonus to this kind of a homeschool approach to learning: If you, as a homeschool parent, continue to have any reservation about the big question of socialization or are still confronted by the question from others, is how this answers those questions. An approach that puts you and/or your children right smack in the middle of projects like this offer a very real opportunity for what the goals of socialization really are; to interact in a real, professional way with people of all ages who are working to accomplish a common goal, where the outcome is dependent on dedication, trust and the need to support everyone involved to do their very best.

I am most happy to say that this is, in fact,  the thing I am most proud of about my daughter's participation in this production. She handled herself with grace while consistently working over time to achieve the goal of knowing and performing her part to her full capability. Her character traits of a strong work ethic, support for other cast members, respect for teachers and of avoiding drama or gossip were evident throughout. These are all qualities that improve the result of any endeavor. Seeing this and practicing it in real situations provides value far beyond what I or an isolated classroom experience could hope to impart. Wherever my daughter's dance career takes her, these qualities will create the most value to herself and those she interacts with through out her life.

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