Abu Dhabi children delighted by new glee club

The organiser of the new programme at The Music Club is Stephanie Sell, a 30-year-old Briton who admits to being a diehard ‘Gleek’, the term to describe fans of the show.

Abu Dhabi's first Glee Club session takes place at the Music Hub. Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. Mona Al-Marzooqi/ The National
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ABU DHABI // “I like it, I like it, I like it!” This was eight-year-old Mia Bongiovanni’s reaction as she tugged at her mother’s arms after taking part in the first glee club at The Music Hub class yesterday.

Inspired by the popular US television comedy show Glee, the programme teaches children performing arts through contemporary music and Broadway show tunes.

The club’s organiser is Stephanie Sell, who admits to being a diehard “Gleek”, the term to describe fans of the show.

“I wanted to do something similar to what I taught back in England, which was Stagecoach, where they came and they did an hour of drama, an hour of singing, an hour of dance. I wanted to kind of condense that into one session and make it a singing club with a difference,” said Ms Sell, a 30-year-old Briton.

Mia was one of about 24 children to pile into a brightly lit classroom at the new music school to take part in what is thought to be the first glee club in the capital.

“I was just waiting for them to come out and give me the thumbs up,” said Mia’s mother, Deb Waldman, whose older daughter, Cecilia Bongiovanni, 9, was also in the class.

“I figured they would like it. They just love singing. They’re always with their friends, dancing and singing, so I thought they might as well try it.”

The hour-long class started by playing an icebreaker drama game called Whoosh. The giggling children stood in a circle as they passed an invisible ball to each other and yelled out sound effects like whoosh, ba-doing and zap.

“I’m looking for drama, I’m looking for enthusiasm,” Ms Sell said to the class, which included one boy.

The group then crowded around a piano where Ms Sell led them through a voice-warming exercise.

“Why do you think we should warm our voices before we sing?” Ms Sell asked Isabella, a pupil.

“So you can sing high and low,” Isabella said.

“To clear our voices?” asked another pupil. “To make sure we’re comfortable with what we’re singing?” said another.

“Yes, all those answers are right,” Ms Sell said. “Our voice is a muscle. So the same way we have muscles in our arms, in our legs, you wouldn’t go and run a race without warming up your body first, so we don’t go and sing songs without warming up our voices, because if you do, you can damage it.”

With that, the children followed Ms Sell’s lead and hummed the G note in unison. They then went on to sing warm-up songs like Boogie Woogie Washer Woman and another about Indian food.

Ms Sell said her glee club was meant to combine singing, dance and drama in one comprehensive class. At the end of the 14-week programme, the children will stage a production.

“This is not just about learning to be the best performer,” she said. “The thing with drama and the performing arts is there are other skills that you learn, life skills, like confidence, how to work as part of a team, there are all those skills that maybe aren’t so obvious that they will take away from this.

“So, it’s not just about who’s the best singer, who’s the best dancer, it’s about who can work as part of a team, and you know their confidence will grow.”

By the end of the class, the pupils were belting out Katy Perry’s Roar with such enthusiasm, the parents packed in the hallway stopped talking to pay attention. One pulled out her iPhone to record the moment. They rewarded the children with applause at the end of the class.

Ms Sell said the overwhelming response from the community had prompted her to offer three classes, one for children ages 6 to 9, another for 10 to 13, and a third for 14 and over.

The Music Hub, which hosts the glee club, also offers private and group music lessons to children and adults.

Music Hub owner Yana Welch said she knew there was a demand for a performing arts programme in Abu Dhabi, but did not anticipate the popularity of the glee club.

“This is great,” she said of the overflowing rooms filled with parents registering their children. “I didn’t expect that there would be that many people coming. It’s fabulous to see that many.

“I don’t think there is any other school which is offering a similar educational programme as we do.”