For many of us, ballet lessons were a rite of passage growing up. I still remember my very first performance - a sailor dance that came with a hat I couldn’t have been more thrilled to wear. And as a child that eschewed all sports and spent 364 days a year planning how to avoid the next swimming carnival, ballet was my saving grace when it came to physical activity. Pretty Little Ballerinas founder Lizzy Walkom has dedicated herself to recreating that magic for her students, but like everything else, her business was thrown into limbo with the Coronavirus lockdown…
Thankfully, no one can pivot quite like a professional dancer, which is how Lizzy managed to turn her entire studio business of seven years into an online portal – in under 48 hours. “The day before the lockdown I was actually in studio filming online classes”, Lizzy tells us. “I didn’t expect to be launching so soon, but am thankful I had this in the works and was able to launch sooner than planned.”
What that means for you? If you’ve got young children at home, you can now get them to their ballet classes from the comfort of your living room, and you don’t even need to make sure they’ve brought their ballet bag. “With so much change in the world”, Lizzy explains, “it must be hard for little ones to understand and grasp it all. By continuing to offer classes through an online platform it helps children to stay in routine and continue development, along with keeping things (to a certain degree) normal.” And personally, I’m all for anything that gets my daughter skipping, hopping, and jumping without me having to lift a finger.
The care and thought that’s gone into creating Pretty Little Ballerinas’ online offering speaks for itself. The classes can be done without any uniform or equipment (or experience!) – but weekly lessons come with suggested props and even activity guides to help you make them. If you’re feeling inspired, you might find yourself collecting twigs and flowers to make a magic wand for class. Or if you’re short on time, you’ll be directed to the kitchen to grab a wooden spoon. Wand sorted. Now that’s magic.
We spoke to Lizzy about how she turned her business around, why it’s so important to keep classes up during lockdown, and how you can join in the fun from anywhere in the world.
How long have your classes been running in person? Can you tell us a little about your journey to starting the studio?
Pretty Little Ballerinas began 7 years ago, with the first studio opening in the heart of Surry Hills. Since then I have opened studios in Rushcutters Bay, Erskineville, Coogee, and most recently Vaucluse.
Ballet has always been a part of my life from a very young age. Every free moment I had growing up I would be dancing – dancing on my way to school, dancing in my bedroom after my classes had finished for the day, dancing in the backyard on the weekends. I don’t think there has been a day I haven’t done a pirouette, grand jeté, plie or sauté. After finishing full-time classical training, I went on to become a Royal Academy of Dance teacher, and from there I fell in love with sharing my love and passion for ballet to others, especially little ones. There is something truly special about introducing ballet to young children.
What was your initial reaction when the lockdown came into place?
My initial reaction was ‘nooooo!’ It was heartbreaking, but had to be done. I worked incredibly hard for those 2 days following to set up live classes and online classes for the children. I had actually been planning for some time to start offering online classes. This first came about after a number of parents had expressed how much their child would love to come to Pretty Little Ballerinas classes every day. There were also families who had moved interstate, or to a new area, asking if I could please open up a studio in their area. The day before the lockdown I was actually in studio filming online classes. I didn’t expect to be launching so soon, but am thankful I had this in the works and was able to launch sooner than planned.
What is the difference between the live classes and the online offering?
LIVE! is a replacement to our regular in studio classes. Live classes are offered 3 times per week and a membership allows access to all 3 lessons per week.
ONLINE is a growing library of classes. Children can dance along to our classes as often as they like, from anywhere in the world. ONLINE is a great option for those interstate or even remote areas where classes are simply not available.
What ages do you cater for online?
Our ONLINE classes are designed for 2-5 years. LIVE! classes are for ages 2-5 years and RAD classes 5-8 years.
Do you have to have previously attended classes in-person to join in online?
Everyone is welcome to join our ONLINE and LIVE! classes. Children learn and adapt so quickly, picking up new steps and ballet terminology really well. The explanation of exercises and ballet terminology is seen throughout all our classes. We always go over the steps and positions before starting that exercise or step with the music, and this helps to ensure the children have a better understanding and are learning correctly.
What if you don't have ballet shoes or suitable clothing for classes - can children still join in?
Of course they can still join in! The most important thing is for a child to feel happy and comfortable. In the classes online we often mention that if you don’t have ballet shoes that it is completely fine, we can always use our imagination to pretend we are wearing ballet shoes or a big fluffy tutu, or ballet leggings and leotard for the boys.
Why do you think it's so important to keep the classes running?
With so much change in the world it must be hard for little ones to understand and grasp it all. By continuing to offer classes through an online platform it helps children to stay in routine and continue development, along with keeping things (to a certain degree) normal.