I just returned from two transformative weeks in New York City at the Dance Education Laboratory (DEL)
I took two workshops: DEL Essentials and DEL Early Childhood
Essentials was a three-day intensive with a broad spectrum of people, from professional dancers to college students to working dance educators from New York, across the country (like myself), and the globe (Spain, Taiwan, Korea, to name three). We learned the philosophy of DEL, centered on developing a movement sentence of action words, which either stands alone or emerges from thematic content. From that point of departure, one layers on exploration through the Laban movement vocabulary and then further develops the material through choreographic tools. It’s very open-ended and student-centered.
We looked at advocacy as well, because each of us needs an articulate and persuasive argument for why dance is so important in education. Advocacy promotes understanding and support, so vital to our existence and continuation.
Early Childhood was a five-day workshop. We went in depth, developing a lesson and unit progression, writing our own unit and lesson progressions and sharing them, and learning more about child development and behavior management.
I recommend these workshops. They pair nicely with the Laban concept-based approach of Anne Green Gilbert . If you are already familiar Anne’s lesson progression and brain-compatible work, you will find the DEL work to reveal another facet of dance pedagogy.
Plus, you get to meet great people doing meaningful work in exciting New York City. I loved my time there.
You can register for next summer’s classes after January. Tell ‘em Kate sent you!
This is the 5th post in my “Thoughts on Teaching” Series.
I just completed a two-week residency with a group of 4th graders at a public elementary school in my town. This was a large (28) and diverse group. There were a lot of concentration problems. Some were ‘too cool for school’ and their self-consciousness distracted them. Here were a few issues that came up.
Issue 1: “I don’t want to work with my partner”
A former college student of mine shadowed me on the residency. One of her questions was, “what do you do when kids don’t want to work together?”
Boy, does this one come up in every day life!
It can be very frustrating when one of two children (paired by their classroom teacher rather than self-selected) digs in and says, “he won’t do anything” about his partner.
For us, patience is a virtue. Try several points of entry, and remember that tomorrow is a new day.
1) “Show me what you’ve got.” I just ask them to show me anything and use it as a catalyst to build.
2) “What’s your idea?” Hear from both parties, and model pulling different ideas together. This is a good solution to the problem of: “my partner won’t do anything I say.”
3) “Take a break.” One person may be unable to work that day. Let her sit out, while the compliant student creates. The next day, they may be able to work together and there will be material to start from.
Issue 2: Listening
What’s the point of teaching if you cover the material but the material does not cover the child?
Some quick solutions:
1) “If you can hear me, put your hands on your __________” (head, shoulders, etc.) A quick scan around the room tells you who was tuned out.
2) Have them show (or tell) you. SHOW – When you review what you’ve just presented, have the group raise their hands when they hear the cue (or whatever the content is you are trying to impress upon them). TELL – If you call on the students who know, you’ll still have the space cadets floating out there. So ask the space cadets instead. Sometimes I will tell specific students that I will be calling on them immediately after I give the instruction, and they will have to repeat the key point.
3) Break it into chunks. Smaller bits are easier to digest.
Issue 2: Owning It
When students create and then perform their dances with no energy, apathetically, with small and cramped movements, and a sense of embarrassment, they need coaching.
1) Show 2 ways – Demonstrate the self-conscious, boring way and the energized, committed way.
Have students show, with their fingers indicating #1 or #2, which way was more interesting to watch. (They always pick the committed way). Then talk about why. “The audience doesn’t want to see your attitude about the thing you are doing. They want to see the content. Be committed to what you are doing. Let the audience see it.”
2) Make it bigger! Dances often ‘shrink’ in energy and size. Get everyone on his or her feet and have the students experience a big kinesphere of space, reaching in all directions. This gets the blood flowing and serves as a ‘reset’ too. Then, when they return to their dances, use the kinesphere image for overall size and energy.
3) It’s yours. Remind students that these are their creations. Own it!
I was just reading an article about drama in the classroom versus theater for the stage. The author, quoting from a work she’d co-authored, described drama as focused on “the process of the experience for students and teachers, not on a product produced for others.” The co-authors described theater as “a disciplined artistic experience in which artists work and re-work the same material with the goal of performing it perfectly for an audience.” (A Dramatic Approach to Reading Comprehension, Kelner and Flynn, Heinemann, 2006)
These descriptions were a light bulb moment for me in thinking about creative dance compared to studio techniques, and the way we explain them to others.
The objective in most studio training, as in the description of theater above, is to polish and perfect in order to perform. Many hours of training go into “working and re-working the same material with the goal of performing it perfectly for an audience.” Striving for technical excellence sometimes obscures the reason that many of us were drawn to dance in the first place, namely for the feeling of freedom and joy that we get from moving.
Whenever we are called upon to stand up for the value of creative dance in a studio setting, it is worth remembering – and helping studio parents and administrators to understand – the ‘process’ nature of creative dance and its importance in a well-rounded dance education.
Creative dance provides a lab, an incubator, for improvisation, problem solving, invention, collaboration and critical thinking. Through it we learn the language of dance, dance making, and dance appreciation. While we may choose to polish and share what we create, ‘process’ is at the top of the list.
Ultimately, we can bring the versatile skills of creative dance to the study of ALL techniques to help us become better choreographers and more expressive dancers.
This week I worked with several challenging 1st grade groups in the music room. Not a big room, and at least 4 students had poor impulse control.
However, I wanted to do The Stick Together Game (from Step on the Beat) as a follow up to teaching Body Shape Jam (from AlphaBeat) for a lesson on Body Parts. This would involve traveling, stopping, connecting parts, then traveling again with parts connected.
Here’s how I set them up for traveling. First, we did a call and response of “General Space, Go!” with voice and gesture, clapping the syllables of ‘general space,’ and pointing across for ‘go.’
Next, I demonstrated traveling, with words recited rhythmically, while playing the pulse on my hand-held drum:
Move into the empty space/ bodies moves-mouths don’t/ listen for the stopping sound/ stop on your spot//
Each short phrase was 4 beats long, so the demonstration was 2 8’s long, which is a good duration for general space traveling practice. The last 4 counts included shaking the drum to indicate the stop was coming and playing a strong double beat to indicate stop.
I kept my key words to address body control, spatial awareness, and listening skills, which are crucial to success.
Then, we did it as a group, with my words and drum. A third practice was ‘drum talk’ only.
Happy to say that, when we did the group activity in general space, it was a success.
I might add that my locomotor choice for this activity started with walking on the pulse. We could graduate to gallop or skip if students demonstrated the crucial success skills. But not the ‘r’-sounding one (let the children figure that out themselves!)
I’ve talked about Apples and Oranges in other blog posts, as well as in “What to do with…”
(If you don’t already have it, you can purchase Step on the Beat through my website, katekuper.com, or from West Music.)
Today I worked with a challenging group of 1st graders with poor body control, and poor interactive and listening skills.
Thought I’d do Apples and Oranges as a partner dance.
We started with slap and clap, building up from one slap/clap each to two each.
For the ‘circle round’ part –I would typically do as a right and left elbow swing – I had them ‘gypsy’ around = circle around a shared axis with only eye contact, not touching. Next, I attempted the elbow swings.
Not gratified by the outcome, I switched strategies.
We formed a circle, still standing next to partners. Each partner committed to being either an Apple or an Orange, and I checked for understanding with raise of hands.
I explained the ground rules for traveling – skip, gallop or side slide – and demonstrated the duration by modeling.
Then each group practiced.
I had to stop the activity to remind NO RUNNING. (In fact, I had to interrupt individual dancers during the activity for the same infraction…. but no injuries occurred and cooperation was restored!)
Next, we did slap, clap and turn around on our spots, as I have adapted for 4 & 5 year olds.
In the repetition of the dance, I had them turn to their partners for slap and clap. This gave the dance just enough social interaction/cooperative skill building to be satisfying to the age group.
The positive outcome reminded me that we educators can blend strategies from different developmentally appropriate categories to get just the right balance, instead of staying away from the activity all together.
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.
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.
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)!
I first met Karen in the 1990s. She has hugely influenced my understanding of applied arts learning and teaching in all dimensions. If you teach drama, you should know about Karen and her materials.
About the Artist
Karen L. Erickson, professional artist and Executive Director of Creative Directions, provides training in playwriting, directing, drama education, and arts integration nationally and internationally. Erickson is a Workshop Leader for the Kennedy Center’s professional development programs, including Partners in Education.
Erickson is a certified teacher of theater, language arts, and speech communications. Author of seven drama education books, she co-authored the Illinois Learning Standards for Fine Arts, Chicago Arts Standards, and the Integrated Curriculum Arts Project (ICAP). Erickson served as Artistic Director of Trinity Square Ensemble Theater in Evanston and worked at the Goodman Theatre as Assistant to Tennessee Williams. Erickson continues her work as a playwright and stage director having written fifteen plays for youth and adults produced by theater companies across the United States.
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