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The benefits of theatre for children

My First Ballet: Coppelia by the English National Ballet
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I did some research this week about the best family shows for the Easter holidays. I’ve recently written about why the activity of dance is good for children, but this was more about why visiting the theatre can be beneficial.

In a nutshell, it can boost literacy and vocabulary, encourage communication, imagination and curiosity, and lengthen the attention span. Through theatre we are transported into the hearts and minds of the characters, recognising and understanding their actions and feelings which encourages communication and learning empathy – all within a constructed, safe environment. Plus, it’s great fun.

With dance there is even more room for interpretation because of the physical storytelling. As well as elegance and strength, we can utilise analytical thinking, inspire innovation and incite energy. Dance in the theatre can be powerful, hilarious, bold, engaging, surprising.

I spoke to Sue Buckmaster, artistic director of Theatre Rites – a company that makes work specifically for young people and wich is currently showing Rubbish at the South Bank – about why watching work on stage is important.

She said: “The child is equal to the adult. If we go to the theatre it’s because we want to self-reflect, to understand ourselves and the worlds we live in better. It might take our mind off things, or educate us too, but ultimately our main aim when experiencing theatre is for self-reflection and well being – that is also vital for the young child. They also have a need, to exercise that muscle to develop empathy and see something from a different perspective.”

Sue and I also discussed dance in particular, with her saying: “Immersive work is becoming more key to our cultural experience of dance and theatre – to really feel part of it and connected with it. It’s the physical engagement that is so missing in the wonders of going online. There’s something about the live or physical experience that does touch self-reflection in a different way. We can do that digitally but there’s something missing.”

I have to agree that increasingly in this digital era we, and our future generations of children, are missing out on some level of basic understanding of each other through lack of verbal confrontation. It’s lost in the way we communicate with each other via text message, on email or social media. Through theatrical physical confrontation there is much to be learned.

I took my girls to see My First Ballet: Coppelia by the English National Ballet at the weekend and they talked about the characters, the movement, the music, and how one character was mean, and why/how any conflict was resolved. They also gasped, laughed and clapped at the pretty dance sequences, highlighting that their experience of the magic of theatre was as important as observing the meaning of the show.

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