Seven-year-old Amy King stretches her arms high above her head and points her toes, following the lead of Anaheim Ballet co-director Larry Rosenberg.
"Now, explode on top," Rosenberg says, bringing his arms to his sides with a burst of dramatic flair. Amy and the other first-graders at Portola Hills Elementary School mimic the basic ballet motion.
Such hands-on arts appreciation is the goal behind a new Orange County Performing Arts Center program in which professional artists teach their craft to elementary schoolers.
The Trabuco Canyon school is one of three in Orange County to pay to bring the program to campus during its first year. Heninger Elementary in Santa Ana and Serrano Elementary in Orange also participate.
"We want to see the arts become part of the curriculum," said Patricia Wayne, who coordinates the program for the Performing Arts Center.
At Portola Hills, small groups of students attend three workshops a year with Rosenberg, who teaches ballet basics. He spends about 30 days at the school, making sure that every student--from kindergarten through sixth-grade--gets the chance to participate.
Once the students have finished the dance segment, they'll meet five times with visual arts specialist Eliot Fintushel, who will help them make masks. At the end of the school year, a music specialist will pull the program together and teach the students to use their masks in a choreographed dance routine.
The lessons are tailored to each grade level, Wayne said. First-graders concentrate on basic movements: curtsying, stretching their arms into a "Superman" pose and expressing emotion with body motion.
Stephanie Balmer, principal dancer for Anaheim Ballet, joined Rosenberg last week to demonstrate pirouettes, eliciting sighs of admiration from the young audience as she twirled on her toes.
"She's good at it," said Alex Tighe, 6.
Portola Hills' Parent Teacher Assn. raised about $30,000 this year to bring the residency program to the school. The bulk of the money--about $22,000--goes to the three artists' salaries, Wayne said. Each artist gets paid about $80 a workshop with $20 a day for personal expenses like gas and food. The performing arts center gets $4,000, and $2,000 goes to teacher training and materials.
The price may seem steep, but school officials say the program is worth it. It's difficult, they say, to find a program that combines arts and education into a formal curriculum that targets a school's specific needs.
At Heninger Elementary, where nearly all of the students are English language learners, the program provides new, creative ways to teach language acquisition through theater and storytelling workshops, said Damaris Molina, the school's former grant coordinator.
Heninger funds the arts program with Title VII federal grant money designated for bilingual education. Through the arts center's workshops, students learn to express themselves in their native and secondary languages, a goal to which few parents object, Molina said.
Wayne said the center works hard to fit programs into a school's budget. Serrano Elementary School spends about $6,000 a year for a less intensive program. Students attend four workshops total, two with a writer and two with a professional storyteller.
The arts can be a powerful tool in children's lives, Wayne said. "The kids who may not fit into the traditional academic box, they're the ones who really blossom," she said. "Suddenly, they're getting applauded where maybe they weren't before."
Portola Hills first-grader Michael Vitullo, 6, said he enjoys the ballet lessons. "It's fun, but it's hard," he said. "It makes me tired."