Sunday, November 28, 2010

Fun with Fabric

Props can have a profound influence on how children (and adults) move. This week I am using left over fabric to create a "bridge"  for a preschool movement class. The fabric is long and rectangular with dramatic colors and patterns. It can be transformed into whatever I need it to be; this week it is a bridge!

The Bridge Game

Lay the fabric across the floor. Each student has a turn to cross the bridge with a movement challenge like hop, skip, slide, across the bridge (locomotor movement- traveling). The rest of the class each has a spot sitting around the bridge. Their movement is to act like various things that could be in the moat like alligators, fish, waves, lava, and whatever the kids come up with. Their challenge is they cannot move from that spot while acting out the movements (axial movement - in place). When the student makes it across the bridge, they next have to tap out someone in the moat and take their spot. That student is the next to cross the bridge. This game  invites students to explore different kinds of movement and creative expression.The game also allows me time to observe each student's movement individually and make assessments about their gross motor development.

What else can fabric do?

I have used blue tulle as water and waves, and white tulle and white fabric as snow. Fabric in movement and drama can help develop language and pre-math skills because you can explore concepts like under, over, around, inside, outside, through, on, in between, next to, near, and far. You can also just bring in fabric and let the children discover what it can be. They are great at that!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Playing with Constrast

In the dance class with my older girls this week, I expanded on the theme of opposites by introducing them to contrast. In the previous class, we explored opposites in language and literacy, and explored the language in movement. This week we took that a little further. After we did all our warm up exercises, I introduced a movement game. This exercise was originally inspired the drama exercise "Projectiles." I don't know where that game originated, I learned it from a fellow Emerson student while we were teaching together for a youth theatre summer camp many years ago. The structure of the exercise can be found in various drama and movement games. There are also hints of Laban in the version I used in class.

Structured Improvisational Movement:

Prep -I wrote opposite pairs on index cards. The deck included:

soft/hard, open/close, loud/quiet, big/small, hot/cold, heavy/light, on/off 

The Exercise - Each student had a turn to draw a card. As a group, we traveled across the floor (stage cross style), to a marked end point, moving/embodying the first word on the card. When we reached that point, we turned and traveled back to the start moving/embodying the contrasting word. This is a very structured, contained, and low-risk exercise; these kinds of exercises invite a lot of freedom to individuals who may be new to the medium.

My girls had a great time with this exercise. 

We ended class with a performance score. I had three students by this point. I kept two in the performance space and one in the audience, and kept alternating performers. I used one piece of music. In each new duet, they took a moment to whisper to each other, then gave me the music cue. Their improvisational dance score was to show joining/mirroring and contrasting movement. They also needed to show both axial and locomotor movement.

They had a great time and so did I. I left class that night feeling energized and excited to design the final two weeks of the program.

Inspiration: elements

Creative Drama Lesson Plans

I found this website today for creative drama lesson plans. Matt Buchanan hosts a great site that organizes creative drama lessons for the classroom by age level, lesson type, and cross-curriculum content. One of my biggest professional challenges has been figuring out how to organize all my materials. I have a lot of baskets, tote bags, and shelving. I appreciate when someone takes the time to organize materials I can use. I also appreciate sharing curriculum. By doing this, we can make each other better teachers. Exploring new curriculum  provides ideas and also generates new ideas. Lesson plans are like living documents that can be altered and adapted to meet the needs of the students and the style of the teacher.

Creative Drama Lesson Plans

Wednesday, November 24, 2010


This is one of my favorite times of year. I have been celebrating Thanksgiving since last week when my co-teacher and I introduced our pre-k students to the Wompanoag and the Pilgrims. We included in our curriculum Native American folktales from other parts of the country including The Legend of the Indian Paintbrush and The Legend of the Bluebonnet both retold and illustrated by Tomie DePaola and Baby Rattlesnake by Te Ata. This week, we focused the curriculum on being thankful and giving, and of course the turkey fun. When creating curriculum, whether it is for creative movement or a pre-k program, I go through my own reflective and creative process with whatever theme we are working with. So, its been on my mind. Here are some reflections:

A Poem; Because I Say It's A Poem

I am grateful for the opportunity to be a teacher.
I am grateful for my students; they give me energy for teaching and energy to continue my own education.
I am grateful for my education and the people who give me the love and support to pursue it.

and a haiku for the road

I am grateful for,
the harvest and the feasting
thankful for it all

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Three In A Row

A few years ago I was teaching creative movement at a preschool in Berkeley, Ca. I taught three back to back half hour classes for three preschool classes. Today, I began that program at another preschool. I have not taught three in a row in several years. I was sweating! I had no water with me! Otherwise, I came prepared - drum, leaves, scarves, music, radio, and a plan. The first class is really about getting to know my new students and establishing a routine and expectations for the class. Only one student refused to participate, pretty good numbers for a first class. Some children are observers, they need to sit back and take it all in before they are ready to take that first step and try. For many children, this class may be one of their first experiences in the performing arts; I hope to make that experience pleasant and fun so that they are more willing to try other modalities of the arts later on. I hope that one of my next classes will have the element that invites her in, but until then, if she wants to just sit and watch, I am okay with that.

(as long as she or any other sitters are not being disruptive!)

A Group Emerges

Wow. Wow. Wow.

In our last class it became clear to me what this group is about. The group identity emerged. There was a group force. They were one group. I did not realize that until I began writing about it. Groups are created and go through their own gestation period. And then one day when it is ready, the group emerges, it is whole.
Class started a little differently than usual. All the girls arrived in pretty crumby moods. Two reported they were "angry" and stood against the wall. The remaining students were a chorus of "headache," "stomach ache," and "bad day." They were a unified front. I listened to their grumbles for a bit and then devised a new plan for the class. My structured lesson would have to step aside for a moment.

My skills as an improviser kick in. I am creating and performing simultaneously. I am reading the audience and responding to it.

I ask them to choose a spot on the floor and lie down on their backs. I lead them through the three deep breaths we usually begin class with. Then, I lead a guided imagery. We returned to sitting and I lead them through some breathing exercises that I use in my own meditation practice. Stuck breath is the best way I can describe some of my students.

I had them check-in with themselves by finding their pulse. Each girl tried to find her pulse, I went around to each girl and found it, then showed them where to feel on their wrists. Then, I told them we would do an experiment to see if we can get our pulses moving faster. This became a follow the leader game. I started by using an imaginary jump rope and told them we were playing follow-the-leader and I am the leader. I did this for a about a minute then ran over and  tagged one of the students saying  "She's the leader!" We all did her movement. Then, we created a follow-the-leader-line traveling around the space. Each girl had a chance to be tagged and lead the group. After everyone got a turn. We gathered in a circle. The girls were panting and smiling. Without prompting, they all checked their pulses and described how fast they were going. They were smiling, laughing, excited, invigorated and talking to each other about the experience.

After a brief water break, we gathered in front of the white board. A spontaneous conversation erupted about the brain. They were so into it. Each one had a question, or something to share. The group was formed. I then turned this energy onto the book I brought. It was a book about opposites, the theme this week. Again, excitement erupted. I showed the cover and opened the book, they started spontaneously reading it out loud together. I turned the pages, and they read the book as a chorus. Then we went to the white board. Tell me opposite pairs. I couldn't write fast enough.

 We were ready to dance and move the opposite pairs. One girl shouted out Freeze Dance and so we added an element of that to it. I would call out an opposite pair from the list. They would move on the first word, then I would ring the earth bell to signal the next word. After exploring the opposite pair in movement for a bit, I would pause the music, freeze, and share the next pair. They were so into. One of the pairs they came up with was Mom/Dad. This they had a lot of fun acting out. The movement exploration overall seemed to be a great and much needed release for the girls (who were all cranky and unwilling to move less than an hour ago).

There was a pretty large group all the way to the end even though we did lose a couple. All the pains and grumbles and anger was gone. We danced it all away. I tossed the scarves to them and yelled Free dance! Here is where their game happened. One girl said, Hey! Why don't we pass the scarves to each other? And so they did. Some girls had two scarves, some had one. They would dance up to each other and trade scarves, all while dancing. This was their dance. That was their structure, their game. And they created it together. On their own.

An ensemble.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Color Dances Part II

Last night was a great class.

I begin these groups sitting in neutral. This means sitting criss-cross and spines long and straight, hands on our knees. This position alone invites some great dialogue with the girls. We talk about posture and relate posture from dance to our lives. I noticed the little tough one was slouching and not really taking any deep breaths, much like her first class. Without singling her out, I shared with the girls how taking the deep breath actually sends oxygen to our blood which goes to our muscles, which helps our bodies to dance. This opening circle helps me not only to gather the group, but create the group, as well as prepare our minds and bodies for the class. We begin with a deep breath in and out. On the second breath, we exhale all the troubles and worries of the day. Then a third breath for cleansing. Sometimes we gather all the good energy on that inhale. Then, I ring the earth bell. The bell signals class has begun, and we sit in stillness and silence for as long as it rings out.

Next we do the shake down. Two students wanted to lead it, so we did it twice. It is great to find those little moments in the class that invite the girls to take on leadership roles, as small as they may seem. When one of my young students expresses interest in being a leader, I am inclined to give them that moment. The creative movement class can be a fun and safe way for individuals to try out being a leader. They may be more inclined to take on leadership roles outside of the dance class, which is the hope and intention.

Next, we continued the warm-up in a structured free dance reviewing levels. To classical music, we explored movement in low levels, medium, and high. We also recalled dancing in our space (bubbles) as we danced freely. Then, we free danced to the drum, hitting poses of various levels. At some point, I make a game out of it, and the girls laugh as they try to keep up with the drum. It is  a great way to get everyone smiling and not thinking, but doing.

Our literacy component for this week was brainstorming words and phrases associated with different colors. We made lists for red, green, blue, and yellow. This was great. They got very into it (hands were shooting up!) and we read each list out loud together. When it was time to turn these lists into movements, one of the girls said she had some great things to share for the color orange. This turned out to be a great moment; I invited the girls to make their own lists at home and bring them to the class and we will take time to share and dance them. I will be very excited and keep my word if any of the girls return with a color dance of her own.

The design of the next part of class is inspired by an exercise that can be found in Augusto Boal's Games for Actors and Non-Actors. First, we created a circle standing in neutral. Then, each student took a turn to enter the center of the circle where she says a color out loud and a movement for that color. The outer circle mirrors the movement. Once everyone felt confident with the color and corresponding movement, I turned on the music and took out the scarves.

There was such a small group by the end that instead of a performance score I had planned (which was breaking them up into small groups where they would then create a color pattern and dance it),instead we improvised a dance using the movements from the circle. We were the dancers and the audience - drama! We explored these movements in various levels, and played with them, making them our own. It was beautiful and fun and the girls were happy and smiling.They were passing off leadership, they accepted all the offers, and they kept the flow and the rhythm.

It was a true ensemble piece

Oh, we did have an audience. There was a mom, she was smiling. I'm glad she got to see her daughter in a leadership role, being creative, while dancing beautifully.

Next week 's inspiration: opposites

Monday, November 1, 2010

The Power of Scarves

Of my collection, I am down to seven pastel colored scarves. I had seven dancers in class tonight - that worked out perfect.  I used the theme of color to tie the class together and explored levels in movement and dance. The one who started off a tough nut exhibited no-outsiderness today. She volunteered to lead the group in the "shake down" and stayed with the group the entire time she was in class tonight. I am so proud of her. Again she was picked-up before finishing the class, but I think this was the best class yet. No attitude from anyone towards me or the other girls and full participation by everyone who attended. We also had a new student tonight and her expressions throughout class conveyed joy. It is a rather indescribable feeling when you witness and experience someone's joy in response to something you have created for them. Although I have been doing this for about ten years, I am still always a little surprised, like "you really like this?" And then I feel like I did something right. I feel like I did my job. I feel like what I do is meaningful and worth doing.

Sometimes its just a smile from a nine-year-old who joined your class that one time that keeps you motivated, and its enough.

After the warm-up, I placed the scarves in the dance space. I invited each dancer one at a time to choose a scarf and sit in that spot. I put on some Tchaikovsky and we explored our personal dance space, "bubbles," by painting the interior with the scarf. We started low level, reaching and stretching our arms and legs in different ways while "painting" with the scarf, then to medium, then to high. Then we traveled. We danced in a circle dancing with our scarves, each dancer in their own bubble and aware of the other bubbles around them.We had a blast.

 I design my classes with the idea that everyone will be present until the end, although I know this isn't true ever. Girls get picked-up when they get picked-up, sometimes its during my class. I have learned to deal with this and have - overtime- been able to adjust to this and adapt to the environment I am working in - which is just what any teacher would have to do. ADAPT.OVERCOME. IMPROVISE. Wise words passed down to me from my Dad (and also a Clint Eastwood movie). And its true.

The performance score was very simple and amazing. I feel it is so unfair to the world, that most of the time, I alone get to witness their creations. They are often surprisingly sophisticated.Writing about it won't nearly do it justice. When I hit the bell (an earth bell), change levels and keep moving as long as the bell rings out, legato movement. And same with the drum, staccato movement. Of course we used scarves - they loved the scarves and the scarves invited new ways for them to move. It was so cool. They had so much fun keeping up with the bell and the drum, and it looked cool and they found so many shapes in their own bodies. It was great to see them get to that point where by the end of class they were exploring movements that were not their typical movements. They were starting to really get creative and challenge themselves. I could also see them starting to become more aware of each other.

There is something magical about scarves.

There were three dancers left for the last ten minutes; I ended class with free dancing with scarves, but I sort of treated it like a performance score. As they danced, I called out things we had been exploring in the classes that I saw in their free dance, like, "I see axial movement. There's  locomotor movement. Nice levels!" and so on. I think everyone had a good time tonight.