Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Culturally Enriching Experiences

By Brandi M. Seals

Last night my husband and I went to see the Ballet Folklorico de Mexico at the Walton Arts Center in Northwest Arkansas. The ballet was fantastic. There was great music, excellent costumes and beautiful dances. What I noticed most though was the number of young children in the audience. Normally I would not recommend taking small children to a ballet, but in this case I will make an exception.

I am all for giving your children new experiences and a ballet is a great choice. However, for small children a ballet can seem tedious and long. Last year when we went to see The Nutcracker one person near us brought her daughter. The girl was maybe 4 at the oldest and while she enjoyed the costumes, it was clear that she grew tired of the event. She began swinging her feet, then kicking her chair and then resorted to climbing all over her mother. The little girl was disruptive but for good reason. Three hours of sitting quietly in a dark theater is too much to ask of a young child. That is why I would usually recommend waiting to kids are a bit older before heading out to the ballet.

However, the Ballet Folklorico de Mexico is no traditional ballet. There are no tights and tutus. Instead there are brightly colored dresses that catch the eye. There are no lulls where the story drags on. In fact there really is not much story telling. There is simply a mariachi band and wonderfully choreographed dances. Did I mention that this ballet is only about 2 hours long? That should be more tolerable for the young kids, plus the loud music and bright colors should keep them entertained.

I loved that the ballet is not like a traditional ballet. It offers children and adults alike an opportunity to go to a cultural enriching event and learn a little about the Hispanic culture.

Next time you want to take your child to something but you know they are just too young to enjoy it properly, consider trying to find an alternative that works well. The Ballet Folklorico de Mexico is a wonderful alternative to a regular ballet performance. If they are not traveling to your area any time soon, you could consider seeing something like River Dance or another touring dance troop that amps up the energy with fast beat tunes.

If ballet is not your thing but you do want to broaden your child's horizons, why not visit an art museum? Museums are great for kids. They love looking at art that fascinates them (just do not let them get too close, some kids like to touch the paintings and sculptures). Try to go outside the museum's peak hours to give you and your child a little space and some more time to look around.

Hands on historical museums are also a great choice. Your child will get to learn about the past and finally get a chance to touch the things around. Sometimes it can be tough for young kids to go hands free when they are so accustomed to checking everything out with their hands.

An alternative to traditional museums is to check out a children's museum. See if there are any children's museums in your area by searching online or checking the phone book. They are specially designed with tots in mind and try to get kids interested with bright colors, unique textures, and more. Plus they are generally very hands on.

If you are an opera fan, your child may not be quite ready to sit through Carmen, but he or she may love sitting through someone singing children’s songs. It may not be quite as culturally enriching as you would hope, but it might just cultivate an interest in music. Plus, as your child ages, you can work up to going to the opera.

Plays are a lot like ballets and are often too long for young children to sit through. But, there are several plays that cater to children. Check at your local performing arts center to see what is coming up. If there is no performing arts center nearby, you could always check to see what events are coming up at the schools and colleges. The performances may not be as flawless here but you may cultivate a real interest for your child.

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