Let’s Dance

18 08 2010

Beach Ballerina Girl by Mike BairdOne of the things about being prepared to teach primary school is that, with a few exceptions¹, you are expected to teach across the curriculum in every area of learning.For many of my fellow students this meant the fear of being asked to teach Maths, Science, and Technology. No sweat for me, I’m a biologist. But how about something like the Creative Arts?

Luckily, I consider myself a bit of a homo universalis – and dabble a bit in the Arts myself. I was on Australian Idol, thank you very much. You can look at my Flickr to see I enjoy visual arts – mostly photography, collage and sometimes drawing. I also did senior Drama at high school, enjoy the occasional roleplay, and will compulsively consume any movie available to me. But then there is the final dimension of the Arts – Dance. Now some people might consider my singing pretty bad, but that’s nothing compared to catastrophe produced by the uncoordinated disrhythmic spasms of my lanky frame to sounds.

Despite around four years in the schools music tour group, the grace to perform dancing more complicated than a rocker’s headbang tended to elude me. Luckily though, it was gracelessness, not denseness that prevented me from carving up the floor, so the general theory of dance as well as handful of moves from country, jazz, ballroom, hip-hop and other genres still lies buried within my neocortex – so I can fulfill the age old teacher’s mantra – Those who can’t, teach.

Below is my basic dance lesson for middle to upper primary students (8-12 year olds), which could probably be adapted for lower secondary. I used it in my government interview portfolio to demonstrate, that while I am the highly desired young, male math and science primary school teacher, I am oh so much more (and modest, too!²)

Using curriculum language, the lesson aims to give students the opportunity to create with peers a series of simple rhythmic patterns of swinging movements with various body parts to a 4/4 time signature to synthesise a short movement sequence for presentation to the class.

Take A Swing at Dance – Introductory dance lesson for middle-upper primary

Lesson duration: 90-120 minutes. I think I worked it over 3-4 30min sessions over as many weeks (that includes walking to and from the dance room, and one session was interrupted by a lockdown drill)

Resources needed: Rehearsal and performance space (either a studio room, a spare room, or your classroom with the desks pushed aside), music with a 4/4 beat – probably a CD, or failing that a basic instrument like tapsticks could work. The song I used was Hot Hot Hot by Arrow because it was upbeat, repetitive and low on lyrics to distract the children. You can decide to use a different music for your warm ups if you feel like it.

Risks: Body contact – make sure all students respect personal space. Appropriate movements – use your adult intuition to put a stamp to any silly business. Students are also working in groups, so keep an eye out that they are actually working and in their groups. It is probably wise to have a whistle, hand signal or other attention getter to redraw focus onto yourself when needed.

Warm Up: Learn that dancing is moving your body to music. After some optional stretching, ask the students how they feel about dancing, let them know we are doing a dance lesson that will have the ultimate ending that they will work in groups to create and perform a dance. Dance is simple, and does not need to be anything terribly fancy. It is just moving and music or a beat. Practice clapping a simple beat; 1, 2, 3, 4. Ask one student a movement they can do with their arms or hands (e.g. swinging up and down or side-to-side, more complex actions like punching or spirit fingers should be accepted too, if you students are stuck point out the clapping that was just done was a hand/arm movement). Get all students to copy this action. Do it together to the practiced rhythm; 1, 2, 3, 4. Repeat this with another student with legs/feet. Then with the head. Then with the waist or hips. Now put on your music. Get students to follow the beat by clapping; 1, 2, 3, 4. Then do the hand movement. Then do the foot movement. Then the head, then the waist. Now call out to the students which action they will do (e.g. “Okay, hands, now … legs, now… heads, legs, hands, waist, good!”). Speed this up or slow this down depending how your students go with it.

The Lesson/Task: Tell the students you are going to teach them a simple real dance move that they are going to use in the task. This dance move uses the legs. It is called the square or box walk. To a rhythm of 1, 2, 3, 4 walk on the spot in the shape of a square. That is right foot forward slightly, left foot forward slightly, right foot back to where it was, left foot back to where it was. Practice this with the students, without and then with the music. The students task is to work in their assigned groups to take the box walk and add two other body movements to it and put it to the class music (all students are working to the same music). These other movements are going to be using other body parts than the legs and feet (as these are occupied doing the square walk). If students are confused ask or offer suggestions for movements that might be interesting to use.

Rehearsal: Students are now split off into their groups and given rehearsal and discussion time. Give the students time without the music to discuss their movements first, then start the music so they can practice to the music they will be performing to. The teacher should float and observe in this time. Encourage students formulate democratic decisions, have self confidence and stay on task. Breakdancing headspins are cool, but do not fit in with the assigned task which requires students to do their dance while walking in a square.

Performance: Once students have had suitable rehearsal time. Have students perform. Performances should be short. Precede and follow performances with applause to provide encouragement. Ask students to name their dance groups and dance moves if they want to. Add reflection and peer-assessment if you like. Identify the students learning – moving rhythmically to music is dance and can be done in different ways.

Teachers notes: This lesson sort of organically grew from what had originally been planned a single 30 min activity to expose students to ‘creating’ dance and interacting with its elements, rather than just learning the nutbush and macarena as they appeared to be doing with their class teacher. While it is hard to monitor several groups of pre-adolescents engaging in creative process (read: arguing and messing about) with added background music, I was pretty pleased with our end products.

Dance moves my students created were as simple as adding marching arms and then shrugging shoulders to the square walk, or another group that added hand movements rotating a square around the face, and a ‘zombie’ move – arms outstretched and a nodding head. Some students considered some things like adding in structuring devices – such as having dances at different level – or dancer formation to their pieces, which was really outside what I had planned for the lesson. Most students got into the lesson, even those few (mostly boys) students who said they didn’t like or ‘get’ dance. Only one girl decided to not perform, which I think was the result of a creative dispute over whose dance move ideas would be incorporated. There was also a short mini-discussion over creative ownership after two groups incorporated the same dance movement. The definite focus of this lesson was on creation, not on performance, so students weren’t judged or made to feel judged on the artistic credibility or even how well they performed their dance moves – just that they did create something that could be recognised as matching the set task.

Each session started with the warm-up and a rehearsal of the ‘square walk’. I experimented a little with the warm up. Once I asked students what their hobbies were and turned them into dance moves – we ended up with a rugby pass, 1, 2, 3, 4,  carrying shopping bags, 1, 2, 3, 4, playing guitar, 1, 2, 3, 4, and playing x-box, 1, 2, 3, 4.

From here: By the time we got to presentation, my time at the school was up, so I don’t know if it went anywhere from there. If I’d stayed on I would have liked to move onto structuring devices and dance formation, as well as investigating timing (such as double-time movements). Students could also be asked to reflect on their movement sequences – did they match the music, did they match each other, would they match the movements created by their peers – this would lead onto the discussion of meaning in dance – was it a joyous dance, a funny dance, a threatening dance or something else entirely?

Image credit: Cute Little Girl in Pink Dances on the Beach during the Kite Festival by Mike Baird (Flickr CC by A)

¹Those exceptions usually being LOTE (Foreign language), Music (which receives dedicated teachers in Qld), and sometimes the regimented P.E. of H&P.E (but don’t forget the daily Smart Moves program)

² And desperate, give me work… pleaaaaase!!

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