This can be a tough age for ballet, especially depending on how long the student has been taking ballet prior to this age.
Ballet Dress Code
When I was the director of the ballet program at Town and Village School of Dance in Paris, Kentucky, I had a dress code that seemed to get the kids excited about moving into the next level. I can’t remember the basic colors anymore, but everyone wore pink tights and shoes (the girls anyway–boys wore black leggings and white shirts with white socks and shoes), and each level had a different color and style of leotard. Some had short sleeved maroon leotards, others had camisole green, and the oldest group could wear any style of black. You wouldn’t think a simple thing such as dress code could motivate students, but it really did. And at the age of 10-12 was about the time they were allowed to start wearing camisole leotards instead of short sleeved or cap sleeves. They couldn’t wait to get into that level so they could look more grown up and wear a completely new color (it was like a forest green).
As far as exercises go, this age group is looking forward to pointe as the next big step. It may not happen for the next 2-3 years for them, but explaining how releves can be done by snatching the foot underneath or by going over to the toes (and telling them that this is important information for them to know when they go on pointe), also piques their interest, because they know right around the corner they will be looking forward to pointe shoes. Sometimes at this age, if the students have been taking ballet previously, I would allow them to get the pre-pointe shoes that have a hard box and no shank, just so they can get the feeling of working in a pointe shoe without actually going up on the toes.
Some steps I remember this age group enjoying were waltz turns that sweep across the floor, varying the arm movements and allowing them to really travel and feel like they are dancing. Also teaching them emboite turns is great at this age, and pirouettes. I always started out with pirouettes from 5th position, working on 1/4 turns first, then 1/2 turns and single full turns. They also enjoy learning jumps that have beats in them, such as royale, jete battu, as well as entrechat quatre and assemble battu.
At the Barre
At the barre, adding doubles to frappes is always a fun exercise, especially once they understand it and can do it. Also adding some simple turns at the barre is good at this age. It can be frustrating at first, but I think flic-flacs are great to teach to this age level, both en dehors and en dedans. Rond de jambe en l’air is great, starting out at 45 degrees so they can keep their alignment squared off, and having them do stretching exercises with a partner can also be helpful. The person holding the working dancer’s leg when it is 90 degrees side can learn how to tell if the person is using their turnout and letting go of the big muscles or not. “Let me have the weight” is a good thing to have them communicate, so the working person can relax the muscles and settle into a very square, turned out position that is right for them, before the other person lets go and allows them to imprint the feeling in their muscles.
Perk up the Ballet Class
Using fun music is always a good way to perk up class if you feel they are losing interest. Keeping them challenged is the most important thing you can do to make them feel that they are learning new things all the time and that they are getting ready for pointe work. Doing lots of releves on one or two legs to strengthen their calves and ankles is important. Working through the feet so they can articulate very clearly between a fully pointed foot and a foot pointed just at the metartarsal is good for strengthening their feet and toes.
Give them things that are too hard for them to do in the center, without the aid of the barre, such as entrechat quatre or even entrechat six, jete battu or assemble battu, sissone, etc. Maybe even allow them to observe your most advanced students in a class where they can see them doing these steps with ease will also serve to keep them interested in continuing their ballet education so they can make it to that point too.
Good luck and let me know if any of these are helpful tips. If you have more to add, please share them in the comments!