Dance Class: Plies and Politesse
Fledgling ballerinas learn good manners as well as pirouettes
By Devin Banerjee
San Jose Mercury News
Aug. 6, 2009 -- Sally McDowell grew up in the South, where she said "proper etiquette was the norm in our house." But she thought she left that behind when she recently moved from Virginia to the very laid-back Bay Area.
"I never thought we would find etiquette classes in California," she said.
When McDowell arrived at Mountain View's Pacific Ballet Academy Wednesday afternoon to pick up her daughter Phoebe, she was shocked. Twenty-three students, all between the ages of 6 and 10, were seated at long tables -- napkins in lap, feet on the ground, elbows off the table and backs straight. "May you please pass the cheese?" asked 7-year-old Kevin Jump.
The academy's summer dance camp, which runs 8:30 a.m. until 2 p.m. for three weeks, features dance, yoga, arts and crafts, nutrition and what many now label a remnant of the past: etiquette class. But for instructor Karen Dycaico, it's only proper that children continue to be educated in good manners.
"A lot of children are so used to eating in front of the television, that it's really nice to see children with good graces and manners, learning how to respect the food on the table that they're given," she said.
Wednesday afternoon, after a long day of dancing for the students, that food consisted of lemonade, fruit, ham and cheese sandwiches and an array of desserts -- ready to be served to the primary schoolers by slightly older volunteers from the ballet academy. But first, a group refresher:
"No singing at the table!" advised Kate Gough.
"Even if you don't have food in your mouth," added Amanda Fischer.
"Don't pick your nose at the table!" exclaimed Sophia, the youngest of Dycaico's three children.
Dycaico, who has taught at Pacific Ballet for six years, believes etiquette is an essential link in any dancer's chain of development.
"To develop a dancer, I believe, takes development of the whole person," she said. "You have to build up their character and build up how they behave in every way."
But for at least one of the young students, the half-hour to an hour dedicated to etiquette class isn't just about building character.
"It's my favorite part of the day," said 9-year-old Emily Jump. "We get to sit down with friends and we don't have to dance all the time and we get to eat this awesome food."
On Dycaico's end, keeping the young group seated for 45 minutes was an accomplishment in and of itself.
"They can go to the most formal places, and they can sit and be comfortable," she said. "We are raising these children to be the children who will probably be leaders in our world -- and it's really important that these children are able to do that."
And for Debbie McFarland, mother of 6-year-old student Rachel, the benefit isn't just for the kids.
"It's good for the parents, too," she said with a laugh. "They remind us what good manners are."
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