This entry was prompted by a question from reader Kerry B., who is currently teaching at a ballet studio. She wants to know how to integrate the expectations of ballet for young students with the creative, concept-based approach.
Here’s the story dance exemplar she provided, and my response.
Example: “At the Castle”
For ages: 4-5
Driving to the castle, skipping to castle stable, marching with soldiers to get horses, trotting and galloping with horses, marching to dungeon, creeping around dungeon, tip toe out, walking into garden, hopping on stepping stones. Tip toe into room to prepare for ball, group and solo dances at ball, grande waltz, leaving ball
Driving – An American in Paris (Gershwin)
Skipping – Skipping Song from Songs for Dancing (instrumental only)
Trotting & Galloping –
Galloping Song from Songs for Dancing (instrumental only)
The Magic Toy Shop: Tarantella, Shostakovich
Ballet Suite No. 1: Galop, Tchaikovsky
Swan Lake Suite, Op. 20A – 6 Act3: Spanish Dance
Marching – Firebird: Infernal Dance of King Kastchel’s Subjects, Stravinsky
Creeping – Op.46, In The Hall of Mountain King, Edvard Grieg
Tip toe – Walk – Hop – Tip Toe – Ballet Suite No. 1 – Music Box Waltz, Shostakovich
Waltz – From Coppelia
Driving to the castle… pathways and directions in space.
Skipping to castle stable, marching with soldiers to get horses…. light and strong weight (or can continue with previous concepts)
Trotting and galloping with horses….locomotor movement and speed. (Or can continue with previous concepts) Imagination – be the horses.
Marching to dungeon, creeping around dungeon…. levels in space.
Tip toe out, walking into garden, hopping on stepping stones…. structure a phrase with elements from each locomotor movement idea. Repeat it several times. Can bring back the pathway and direction concepts.
Tip toe into room to prepare for ball…. This is a transition to reimagining the environment. Preplan with dancers for where they will end in the space for the next section. Potentially a large circle, so that in the next section, dancers will take turns in the middle.
Group and solo dances at ball…. opportunity for ¾ time lyrical improvisational dancing. Can tap dancers on the shoulder to indicate when they dance in. When you cue them to come out, they tap a dancer to take their place.
Grande waltz…everyone dances!
Leaving ball… end in a final body shape.
We just had our Informance – ‘informal performance’ – which we also call ‘Stay Day’ or ‘Open Class.’ We invite parents, family members, and friends to come, watch, take pictures or video, and best of all – PARTICIPATE! This is the only class where parents can see what a typical class looks like. Otherwise, we are closed to observation.
In the fall, Creative Dance is a mentoring program for college students learning to teach, so we have several people sharing leadership during the lesson. My role is to narrate the rationale behind each section and to lead the final closure activities. In the spring, I teach with one assistant only, and we trade leadership throughout. I continue to narrate before each lesson component.
I asked my students to come up with a “To Do” list that would help them plan future open classes.
HERE IT IS!
Informance/Open Class “To Do” List
At the beginning of the semester, include information about the Open Class. Two weeks before, remind parents about the upcoming informance/open class. The week before, post signs and send out an email reminder.
Print out business cards or flier promoting the class for the next semester and for referrals.
Throughout the semester, track favorites activities from the lesson for Exploring the Concept, Developing Skills, and Creating.
Select from among those favorites to write lesson plans, keeping in mind the possibility of parent participation. Make sure the lesson plan is very complete. Divide up lesson sections among teachers and assistants. Practice parts thoroughly so as to be competent and relaxed in front of the parents.
Have a prepared introduction. This includes introducing all teachers and assistants and a brief summary of the concepts that we’ve worked on during the semester.
Have a prepared short description of the whole lesson structure, with specifics presented before each activity (including the rationale for each component). Integrate remarks into the lesson plan so all teachers and assistants know what’s coming, to help with class flow and a sense of community.
THE DAY BEFORE:
Set up seating for “audience.”
Have a sign when the parents walk in saying “Welcome Dancers and Families” as one last reminder, and to welcome them into our classroom.
Clean/sweep the floor.
Have props and materials all ready set to the side, easy to find.
Have the concept on the board written clear and large so all can see.
Have music on a playlist, organized, easy to find.
THE DAY OF:
Keep the before class-activity really simple, so anyone can join in. (We put out scarves)
Watch the clock or have a timekeeper to keep us on track.
Keep inviting parents and family members to participate throughout the class.
Make closing remarks, at which time you can get promo into parents’ hands.
Follow that with a fun, communal closing activity that includes everyone, and ends with the children and teachers organized for a group photo.
Be prepared for ‘hugs, hand shakes and high fives.”
Have parents help clean up.
Note: A few activities (from Kate’ material) that work well for parent/child involvement in an open class:
Explore: Stick Together Game from Step on the Beat
Developing Skills (or Creating) for All: Apples and Oranges from Step on the Beat
Resting: Resting from Songs for Dancing
Creating (or Explore): Shape Maker/Shape Explorer from Step on the Beat
Closure: The Goodbye Song from Songs for Dancing
In thinking about moving from simple to complex during the course of a single class or a semester AND in thinking about the importance of creative dance as a means of learning ANY content, I talked about Bloom’s Taxonomy with my college students.
We educators are often called upon to justify our methods, especially as teaching artists in schools, and this is one point of departure for supporting evidence.
We looked at the Cognitive Domains (categories): Remembering, Understanding, Applying, Analyzing, Evaluating and Creating.
We discussed how they match up with the lesson components as outlined in Anne Green Gilbert’s books: Warming Up, Introducing the Concept of the day at the board and in the center of the room, Exploring, Developing Skills, Creating and Reflecting.
It is worthwhile to perform this exercise for yourself, comparing Bloom’s to your own class structure. You discover, happily, that one of the reasons children LOVE the class is because it satisfies so many learning dimensions. Children who like to practice hard-wiring skills get to do that during the warm up, developing skills and even creating. Children who like to invent (and may also be writers, painters, actors, etc.) get to do that during exploring and creating. Children who lack a rich vocabulary of spoken language and movement, get to build that during the introduction and throughout the class. Also throughout the class, children learn to interact with others, discover ways of approaching and solving a problem, and become accustom to presenting in front of a group.
An inspiring presenter named Lisa Murphy, who calls herself the Ooey Gooey Lady, suggested that we teachers keep a file of supporting evidence to share when we are called upon to justify our work and our approach. Add this to your file!
Our lab program meets Saturday mornings. We run two rooms simultaneously. There are generally 12 children in a class, who have chosen to take this class (self-selected). After our first day with the children (ages 4-5, 6-7, 8-10) here were some remarks I made in response to my college students’ comments.
Building Trust and Emotional Safety
- Get on your students’ level, physically (particularly important with younger children). Go ahead, squat down!
- Give them something to do right away (we always have interesting props set out on yoga squares so everyone can go to a spot and find something as they come in the door)
- Be enthusiastic and supportive
- Be honest and caring
- Show interest
- Be loving
- Never be afraid of your students. You are the Alpha dog in the pack!
- Give freedom within structure, which conveys permission to be expressive
- Consider the “V” of freedom. Start narrow and gradually open out. (As with good parenting).
- Plan activities that help kids get comfortable with community (like sharing yoga squares with more than one person) and a get-together, welcome, name song
- Be flexible with the shy kids; the transition may be harder on them. But expect that by 3 days into the semester, they will have adjusted. (although our class rule is no parents in the room, I make an exception for the separation of that one child on that first day).
- Make sure all voices are heard (call on others besides the raised hands)
- “No” is a ‘wall’…..look for ‘window’ options instead. “No” is reserved for safety and boundaries (such as it’s not okay to hurt yourself or other people in class)
- Learn and use students’ names frequently. We take pictures of every child wearing a name tag the first day, then never have to use name tags again.
- On Day #1, the room should be creative, but structured enough not to be overwhelming. Otherwise, with too much freedom, issues would arise.
- Set boundaries and expectations the first day, and have an easier time thereafter. Example: Always give instructions while students are seated.
- Establish audio cues the first day that indicate “clean up, time to warm up”. My go-to instrument for the start of class is a recorder (block flute) upon which I play a series of 3 simple motifs based around the notes B-A-G. Each motif guides students to pick up, put away, find a spot for warm up.
Every fall I teach a course called “Creative Dance for Children” that is both a lab program for children ages 4 and 5, 6 and 7 and 8-10 AND a mentoring program for college students who are learning the concept-based approach to teaching dance, based on the work of Anne Green Gilbert. These students attend the lab classes, gradually taking over lesson components as the semester progresses.
This is the first in a series of thoughts on teaching, based on my responses to the college students’ journal entries on different topics.
- Don’t stick with any one activity for too long, yet examined the same concept through many different activities.
- Watch how your students move; it may teach you something about where they are emotionally.
- Give quick directions that did not confuse.
- Make positive reinforcement authentic. Don’t say ‘good job’ in a rote way. Believe it!
- Use ‘Say and Do’ as a means of teaching ALL content. Holistic, multi-model learning is hugely effective for retaining information and ‘owning ‘ it. When we are moving, we are learning.
- Let students figure some things out for themselves. Co-construct the knowledge with them.
- Provide opportunities to take risks by giving students movement challenges.
- Give choices – copy me, invent your own, copy your partner, AND model variety.
- Use the power of visual supports! (words, symbols, drawings, pictures, etc.) to reach ALL learners, including English Language Learners.
- Don’t always teach from the same side of the room. Change ‘front’ to change up the brain, too, for older students.
- Include ‘relating to one another’ in your teaching! Isolation makes dance training much harder! The sense of community we build in the classroom can even spill over into the hallways, lunchrooms and playground. Positive!
- When you keep it moving, keep it structured, and use student demonstrators… kids stay focused and on task. The teacher has control because the students have self-control since they are interested in what is happening.
Last summer I attended a workshop on Language of Dance with Tina Curran. Also teaching was Frederick Curry, certified in Laban Movement Analysis (which you can Google and find out more about).
Each day of the workshop focused on a different umbrella topic, including body, space, shape and relationships, and effort/dynamics. These concept categories are familiar to me through the work of Anne Green Gilbert. But the view lens and perspective of both LOD and LMA gave me a fresh take on concept teaching.
I’m going to talk about space, and in particular the kinesphere, because – since returning from the workshop – I’ve been exploring this in all my teaching to great effect. Lately I’m teaching children ages 4-10, college-aged students and people over the age of 50. Everyone is responding very positively to the learning.
Why am I so excited? Because sensing ourselves in space is so important.
Here’s what I’d like to share.
The kinesphere is the space around us. I give the image of a ‘hamster ball’ – one of those transparent globes that allow your pet to run around the house without getting away from you. I prefer this image to ‘bubble’ because it’s not as fragile. You can touch the inner surfaces without breaking through.
Within the kinesphere, we can grow and shrink, changing size. ‘Extension’ is the word for stretching and reaching the limbs in all directions. ‘Flexion’ is the word for bending our limbs at the joints, shrinking towards the core. Therefore, ‘extension’ moves us towards ‘big’ and ‘flexion’ towards ‘small’.
As we explore extension and flexion within the kinesphere, staying in one place (standing, sitting in a chair, or sitting on the floor would be options), we create pathways. Reaching directly out from the navel or core, we make direct pathways. This is called moving centrally. Upper and lower limbs can move centrally in all directions, challenging balance. Central pathways are straight, direct and radiate from the core.
Peripheral pathways touch the inner surface of the kinesphere. Movers sweep limbs across the space, in curves, in all directions. Tossing over the top is peripheral movement. Keep the image of touching the kinesphere to encourage big reach, and remind movers of the space behind and below, too.
Transverse pathways cross the midline, passing from one side of the kinesphere to the other, in front and behind the body while remaining in one place. Smaller, intricate movements may appear in this exploration. The pathways can take direct or indirect routes as they cross the midline. Encourage movers to explore all limbs, both upper and lower.
After exploring size and pathway in the kinesphere, take a walk or transition into a warm up and see how your sense of space is affected. How does this change your spatial awareness? Do you move with more volume? Are you aware of all sides and dimensions of yourself in the space, not just the front of the body?
This is a great way to start a movement exploration, and establish a bigger and more dimensional sense of self and others.
One of my blog followers asks:
I am trying to do an exercise, movement and dance course and need to prepare a movement sequence featuring air and floor patterns, for an adult class. Are there any resources you can suggest?
I always start by looking in Anne Green Gilbert’s book Creative Dance for All Ages. It’s organized by concept. Under ‘pathways’ you can find ideas.
Anne has just released a 2nd edition of the book. It’s a real step up from the original 1992 publication. I recommend it. If you don’t already own this book, get it. If you have the original, get the new one. She’s included music recommendations using Eric Chappelle’s Contrast and Continuum music and references the BrainDance (what I call ‘The Developmental Movement Pattern Sequence” as found on Brain Bop).
Here’s the link to Creative Dance for All Ages, 2nd edition.
Anyone have other great leads and suggestions?
With early childhood, in the school setting, when the children come to me, I use Down By the Station (from Songs for Dancing) as the transition to entering the gross motor space and forming a circle.
It sets the stage for imaginative play, reminds children that they have not come to ride the bikes or play on the climbing structure, and ends us in a desirable spatial formation.
From there, we either sit or stand for a welcome activity, followed by our warm up.
After doing this song/activity every week for many weeks, the children were no longer ‘transformed.’ Spirited children were getting into other people’s personal space, etc. It has become one more single file line, and we know there are already plenty of those in the school setting!
I DO know that children like to MOVE, and, once the newness wears off, walking on the beat just won’t cut it.
SO…I told the children we were going to do a special kind of train. First it was a JUMPING train. Then, after we’d pointed out all the different animals and plants we saw on our train trip and returned to the song, we were a HOPPING train.
This changed it up just enough to add interest, it was aerobic and exciting, and accomplished the activity objective (get into the space, end in a circle, sing, move, imagine).
Look for different locomotor movements (stomping, turning, tipping side to side), energy qualities (shaky, sharp), or levels (high and low) to spice things up in your own train….or when leading ANY SINGLE FILE LINE.
Think outside the box (car)!
If you are already doing the Developmental Movement Pattern Sequence found on my CD Brain Bop (also called the “Braindance” developed by Anne Green Gilbert), you might enjoy using these same 8 patterns to develop a technical warm up for your students ages 7 or 8 and up.
I suggest working with one or more colleagues to brainstorm ideas that work for ballet, modern, jazz or hip-hop. Start with one technique only, and develop a progressive warm up that follows the sequence while also teaching elements and principles of the technique.
Then, film or otherwise document the different sequences and keep them handy. They can be used on a rotating basis.
In my Creative Dance for Children seminar, college students divided into groups and created. I videoed and posted, so that whoever was lead-teaching had a point of departure. The warm up was refined and improved upon from one week to the next.
In our ages 8-10 class, we divided our semester into 4 weeks each of modern, ballet and hip hop just for the warm up. The rest of the lesson followed a concept-based approach for technique, improvisation and composition. We did refer back to the “technique of the week” in the across the floor phrases, layering on new technique ideas as they were introduced through the warm up over the course of the semester.
In preparation for our “Informance” (informal, open class), students decided ahead of time which of the three different warm ups they wanted to share. That became the warm up for the demonstration class, shared with parents and friends.
I teach basic dance technique, composition and improvisation to college students.
At the end of the semester, they work in small groups on a composition study that gives them an opportunity to apply everything they’ve been learning.
Improvisation and creating from ideas or prompts may not generate dances that follow a steady beat.
However, learning how to manipulate phrase material generally does produce movement that has a beat or pulse. It also helps students learn how to include variety and contrast in their dances and how to rework a small amount of material many different ways.
You can give this movement assignment to teach contrast and variety and the B.E.S.T. concepts . Some easy-to-access concepts for phrase manipulation are: direction, speed, level and movement quality (energy)
Begin with a phrase of 4-6 eights. My starter phrase was 5 eights:
1st 8 beats:
Side slide step/hop diagonally, with arms doing a full circle in the line of direction (LOD). Travel on a shallow diagonal so as to progress across the floor. Do right and left.
2nd 8 beats:
Turn to the right, traveling 3 steps and wrapping arms around with right arm behind, leading in a clockwise direction and stepping out on your right. Continue in the same LOD, with left foot crossing behind, turning counterclockwise 3 steps, and wrapping arms around with left arm behind.
3rd 8 beats:
Over 4 beats – Un-spiral from the wrap, to face forward and jab your left arm up to the high right diagonal, crossing the mid-line. Repeat the jab with right across to left on high diagonal.
Over 4 beats – Jump forward three times, legs parallel wide/crossing/ parallel wide.
4th 8 beats:
Repeat the 3rd set, but this time reaching across to the LOW diagonal.
5th 8 beats:
Two walks over 4 beats. Shimmey and travel forward over 2 beats. Burst out to a shape on count ‘7’ and hold the freeze.
This phrase include direction, level, energy and speed changes.
My objective was to have the students learn several choreographic devices for phrase manipulation: canon, transposition and repetition.
Having learned the phrase, we did it in a canon, starting every 8 beats.
Then we broke into small groups, so students could see different ways of blocking the canon.
We experimented with 1) doing the phrase as a flank, starting side by side and going one by one. Then 2) as a single file line, still going one by one.
We played with having the last dancers catch up to the first one’s so the canon did not end predictably.
For transposition, we change the arms to legs and legs to arms from the 3rd and 4th 8s.
For repetition, we played with the material as it existed, expanding some parts.
Students then manipulated the material in their own ways. They changed the blocking, speed, size, spatial relationships, as well as playing with direction, level and the devices they’d learned.
This taught them that there are alternatives to unison, and that successive movement and contrast adds interest.
This idea is fun to interject into a study that is already in process. Students can use the phrase you learn together and then grow into manipulating their own phrase material. These strategies also expand the language you can use when communicating ideas to dancers and when teaching them what to look for in other performer’s work.
Some of the outcomes were: putting counts to the movement, playing with size, repetition of one motif from the phrase, and having each dancer do a different part from the phrase simultaneously or successively.