Controlling the Creative Chaos. Part I: Moving through space

I’ve been thinking about how challenging it is for many teachers to ‘allow’ their younger students to travel from one place to another. It’s so much easier to have children move on their own spot: jumping, turning, melting and popping up, shaking, etc.
Each child is beside another, oriented towards the leader/teacher. That’s the way music teachers often work with children as they sing and dance.

While this is good for the individual, it does not promote negotiating relationships with others, and therefore does not build holistic social competence.  Sure, kids have to keep their hands to themselves, but they aren’t taking turns, sharing the same space, moving with another person.

When I start out with a new group of young children in a school setting, I first teach them how to make a circle.  Typically, we do Down By the Station (Songs for Dancing #1) to travel in a line to a circle.  This teaches, or reinforces, the basic skill of following in a single file line, which every child has to be able to do successfully in public school.  Then we do a series of activities from the circle.

The first time I teach children to  work in a formation that is NOT a circle, I use yoga squares (one mat can be cut into ten squares.  I recommend as a source for inexpensive mats in lots of bright colors).

I toss the squares (which I call ‘dots’) out in the space, then travel around the circle touching each child on the shoulder, singing (to the tune of “If You’re Happy and You Know It”) “When I touch you on the shoulder find a spot (or dot).”  You can also ask them where to touch: knee? back? This is a great way to work on parts of the body.  After we’ve done this a few times, I just sing, “When I touch you on the  _____” and they suggest.  I toss 5 squares, and touch five people, and repeat the process until everyone has found a spot.   When we are ready to transition back to the circle or to line up to leave, I have them make a “pancake pile”  of the dots.  I use the “1,2,3, transition” strategy for this: 1= stand up with your dot.  2 = walk to make a pancake pile.  3 = line up (or make a circle).  As I say each number, they do each thing.  Sometimes I’ll play a three-line melody that ‘says’ the same thing.  (I use a recorder for this, but it could be pitched percussion, guitar, etc.)

Once we are on the yoga squares we can do all kinds of bigger movement that the circle won’t allow.  More room on either side of us!

Young children need to have the concept of ’empty space’ explained.  “Look for empty space for ‘freedom and safety.’ ” Empty space is where ‘the dot is not.’  It’s ‘nobody space.’ Point to empty space.  Everybody points to empty space. It’s above us!  Beside us!  In all the ‘preposition places.’

The first time I teach children to travel, we practice moving ‘where the dot is not’ and then ending on a dot.  A really fun song to practice this is Stick Together Game (Step on the Beat #3) because it asks the dancers to dance around through all the empty spaces, to different places and then stop, stick parts together, then move different ways with their parts stuck together.
Of course, there are lots of other ways to approach this. You  can use any music, including live music, and have students dance in the empty spaces, giving them a nice cue for when to find a spot.  Once they are on a spot, they can dance on their spot (you control the energy and speed here….is the spot a chance for them to recover from big locomotor movement and move gently, such as swaying?  Is is a chance for them to use a lot of energy after doing something controlled, such as tip-toeing, like  jumping or exploding?)

What happens if MORE THAN ONE PERSON ends up on a dot?  I disaster-proof this, by modeling it the first time we are going to travel and find a spot.  I demonstrate ending on a spot with another person and pretending several ‘wrong’ options: getting mad, pushing, etc.  Naw!  That’s not what we do!  Ask your students for a solution that would work better.  How about sharing?
I follow up with a dance-and-find-a-spot activity in which I take away several dots during the dancing time.  When you end on your spot, hold up your fingers to show me how many people are on your dot.  I see two fingers up (for two people)….three.

Continue this activity until everyone has has the opportunity to share a spot.


April 20, 2013. Kate Kuper on Teaching Creative Dance, Transition Magic, Working with Kate's Material.

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