by Leni Manaa-Hoppenworth

Now Playing: Maria Cancilla–Teacher, A Fairytale Ballet

If you say your pre-schooler takes creative movement dance class, that’s one thing. But if you say your child goes to A Fairytale Ballet, well…that, perhaps, may be something entirely different.

You might notice the difference right away as you walk into the school: vibrant hues of purples, pinks and green, like the colors of a flower garden. There are French doors which separate the waiting area from the classroom, but the children line up at the kid-sized door (think Alice in Wonderland). Alaina Bomke, director and teacher at the school, greets me from behind the front desk which is decorated with flowered tutus. An abundance of light fills the waiting room in this corner storefront which is currently filled with chatting moms and younger siblings. “We have about 430 dancers between our Chicago and Evanston locations,” says Ms. Bomke. “Each class has a max of 12 but the average is 8 to 10. This year we’ll perform Swan Lake at the Athenaeum on June 11th.”
As in other “traditional” creative movement classes, basic ballet principles and steps are introduced and practiced. What sets A Fairytale Ballet apart is that every class is a story- themed class. Today they will hear, read, act and dance “Sleeping Beauty”. It is one of 60 stories in the yearlong curriculum. The girls are giddy with anticipation as Miss Maria Cancilla guides them carefully through the miniature entrance into fairytale land. Miss Maria has been at A Fairytale Ballet for three years. “I love my job,” she says sincerely with a beaming smile. “I get to play all day.”

“Let’s get our high heels on!” It’s undeniably a girly-girl’s class. After dressing each one in a fuchsia tutu dress, they each get a matching bouquet of roses. They tip toe with glee in a circle. It’s time to act out the story. Each of them cups a precious miniature gift box in their hands. They bring these presents to the baby Princess Aurora. They fly high over clouds and low under the trees. Indeed, concepts such as high and low, close and far, are reinforced throughout the class. As their brochure states: “Dance is an excellent way for students to learn about spatial awareness and depth perception.”
So, although the class is steeped in fun and fantasy, there are definite lessons to be learned. They count aloud the number of steps to the top of the tower “What happens next?” Miss Maria asks often. She believes that A Fairytale Ballet is a wonderful introduction to a structured class. By centering each class on a story, she feels that dancers have the opportunity to work on reading comprehension and memory while they’re having fun.

“They do have fun with the stories and costumes,” says one mom. “But Miss Maria is teaching them things, too. My daughter is absorbing the ballet terminology.” One by one she calls the girls by name. “Show me your favorite step!” Plié, passé, tendu. The class evolves from standing in one place to movement across the room. Why, I ask the group of moms, did they choose this dance school among all others? “Miss Maria!” they reply practically in unison. “She’s strict but nurturing.”

In the quiet classroom the seven budding ballerinas are “sleeping”, waiting for their prince to come. As Miss Maria weaves through the group, she gently places a hand on each dancer and magically each dancer breaks out into joyous dance. “It’s a very positive experience for them,” says Miss Maria. “I hear them say ‘I love it. I get to pretend!’”
Maria Cancilla is currently in rehearsal with Korzatkowski Contemporary Dance (KCD) for this summer’s presentation of “Dear Friends and Gentle Hearts” at Klasen Hall.

A Fairytale Ballet “Where imagination and dance live happily ever after”, is located at 3234 N. Southport Ave. For class times and info call Alaina at 773-477-4488.