.Happy Feet

Rachel Tan believes ballet teaches preschoolers more than just how to stand on tiptoe.

The preschoolers start by lining up and then skipping in a circle. What they learn next might set them on a course to become prima ballerinas. At the very least, it boosts their coordination and confidence.

Even for tiny tots, ballet lessons have benefits far beyond the physical, said Rachel Tan, who directs the Fremont-based Rachel’s Ballet school and has created a series of free Movement and Music classes for three- to five-year-olds at the Fremont Library (2400 Stevenson Blvd., Fremont). The next class is set for Tuesday, June 1.

The movements and original music for each class are designed around a different animal, holiday, fictional character, or other theme. After skipping in a circle, “we perform a series of simple stretches while seated, emphasizing good posture,” Tan explained. “All the movements are performed symmetrically, to the right and to the left, to enhance balance and coordination — and all the while the children are learning simple dance techniques, such as landing each jump with a nice soft bend.”

The classes’ themes are drawn from the Enchanted Doorway series created by South African brother-and-sister dancer/keyboardist team Merle and Brian Sepel; these include “Jungle Adventure,” “Funfair Adventure,” and “Undersea Adventure.” Composed by Brian Sepal specifically for each session, the original music employs electronic sounds to evoke the ambience and animals relevant to each theme.

“In the Undersea Adventure, we waddle like penguins, gallop like seahorses, and our arms flow and sway like seaweed,” Tan said, “and in the Funfair Adventure we bend, stretch, and rise up and down like the horses on the carousel and pretend to pet the lambs at the petting zoo.”

After graduating from the University of Washington, Tan choreographed and danced in the Pacific Northwest and Asia. To earn a teaching certificate from the London-based Royal Academy of Dance, she trained six days a week for four years. Her first studio was in her garage, but in 2001 she was able to open a RAD-certified dance school in Fremont’s Mission Gateway Center; in 2008, a second location opened in Fremont’s Mission Valley Center.

“Aside from the benefits regular exercise gives, ballet also provides a means of self-expression for students,” said Tan, who is trained in the RAD and Imperial Society of Teachers of Dancing techniques. RAD’s preschool and pre-primary/primary program was developed for this purpose. “Its program encourages creativity by engaging the students in planning exercises set to musical pieces and to express emotion through storytelling.” That’s a far cry from the Hollywood stereotype that shows ballet students practicing slavishly under the scornful gaze of martinet teachers.

The Fremont Library classes are taught by Tan and fellow RAD-certified, London-trained co-instructor Bambi Fleeman, who specializes in teaching young children.

Tan said that at any age, ballet can improve body awareness, control, personal discipline, posture, carriage, muscle tone, mental and physical confidence, and overall health while inspiring an appreciation for music and art. “By making children feel good about what they are doing, we help to nurture good self-esteem,” Tan said. 2:15 p.m., free. ACLibrary.org


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