Bob Davis: Teaching the arts, and when not to giggle
Dec 15, 2013 | 2727 views |  0 comments | 33 33 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Photo: Special to The Star
Photo: Special to The Star
Introducing arts into the grade-school classroom turns on a spigot of deep learning, according to several serious academic studies.

Among the benefits children receive for learning via the arts are:

• Development of a rich imagination.

• Sharpened critical-thinking skills.

• Improved self confidence.

• Heightened abilities at language and other forms of communication.

• Enhanced memory.

• Richer social skills.

• Better coordination and motor skills.

And that’s just naming a few.

None of the above was likely on the minds of about 25 third-graders seated on the gym floor at Golden Springs Elementary in Anniston two weeks ago. They were focused on a 19th-century story involving soldiers, fairies, a mouse king and a nutcracker.

Jessica Futral and Betsy Davis, two of the Knox Concert Series’ valuable army of volunteers, visited the school to explain the details of “The Nutcracker” ballet.

Davis told the Christmastime story above the din of the gym’s heater, which was working overtime on a cold and rainy Monday morning. Futral, a dancer in her mid-20s who has studied for more than 20 years, explained the nuances of ballet. Tips included when to applaud and when not to laugh, important lessons for energetic third-graders.

Posters showed scenes from the famous ballet. Here was Drosselmeyer holding court with the children at the Christmas party. There was the Sugar Plum Fairy in all her beauty and grace.

The Golden Springs third-graders took turns handling ballet shoes.

Futral even demonstrated a few dance moves to the music of “The Nutcracker.”

Davis and Futral were seeding the clouds, as it were, preparing the students for what they would experience the following week. Over November and early December, the same demonstration was repeated for third-graders in classrooms across the county.

Last Monday and Tuesday, approximately 1,800 third-graders from Calhoun County, including those from Golden Springs, filed into the Anniston Performing Arts Center to watch the Alabama Ballet perform George Balanchine’s “The Nutcracker.”

During an intermission Monday morning, the house lights came up as directors of the Alabama Ballet asked the third-graders if they had any questions. Hundreds of hands shot up into the air. The faces of the children were beaming, and their heads with brimming with questions:

How does it snow on stage?

How does Clara’s bed seem to move around on the stage by magic?

Do the Alabama Ballet dancers ever get hurt?

All the academic studies touting the benefits of an arts-based education were confirmed last week in the faces of 1,800 children.

This year marked a change for the Knox Concert Series, which began offering third-graders a chance to see “The Nutcracker” more than 25 years ago. In previous years, there weren’t enough seats in the performance center to accommodate the number of third-graders in Calhoun County for one performance. Schools had to attend on alternating years.

Knox added a second performance this year, meaning that over Monday and Tuesday every third-grader in the county had a chance to see the famed ballet.

Such an undertaking wasn’t cheap, however. The Knox Concert Series could use your help volunteering time or money or both. To learn more, visit, or send a message to Mandi King, 256-235-2553 or

The payoff for your investment is the joy in delivering the arts to third-graders. Psst, don’t say anything, but it’s good for them, too.

Bob Davis is associate publisher/editor of The Anniston Star. Contact him at 256-235-3540 or Twitter: @EditorBobDavis.
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