Thursday, December 30, 2010

Magic Wands

Magic wands are extremely helpful when teaching young children. You can also use magic bells... magic anything really. And the best part about them, is that they work! For my creative movement preschool program, I use an earth bell and refer to it as the magic bell. When I ring it, everything freezes.  Silent signals are extremely useful with this age group and all age groups really. Calling it magic is what gives it its power. The children make it work.

I start each creative movement class in a circle. I do a check-in at every circle to help students get focused and prepared for the class which requires a lot of listening and following directions. During this check-in, I look at each student directly making eye contact with them, then I roll them a ball. The rule is only the person with the ball can talk. I ask everyone the same question, and they roll the ball back to me after they answer. For initial groups this exercise also helps me learn everyone's name. In later groups, I may ask questions like what is your favorite color?food? After the check-in, I bring out magic bell. I ask the students to help me check if magic bell is working today. If magic bell is working, then we can have class. If magic bell is not working, we cannot have class. I ask everyone to wiggle and shake (they love this). When I hit magic bell, they freeze.

With one group, students were getting a bit over excited with the movement activity, this is what magic bell is for - behavior management. I ring the bell so that everyone will freeze; but on this day, they keep going. I rang it again, but the children still did not freeze. Then, I turned off the music and said, "Oh no! Magic bell is broken! We have to end class." The children look stunned and disappointed. I ask them, "should we try magic bell one more time?" They say yes. Then, like I check at the beginning of class, I ask them to wiggle and shake, I ring the bell, and they freeze. We have not had any issues with magic bell not working in this class since.

I also used magic wands in my preschool creative movement class for our Nutcracker inspired classes. We galloped pretending we were reindeer pulling a sleigh to the Sugar Plum Fairy's palace follow-the-leader style. I led the students all around the space eventually ending the exercise with everyone sitting on the mats facing the dance space. For this performance score, some children pretend to be the "honored guests" while students take turns being the various dancers from the Land of the Sweets. I pass out magic wands (straws with sparkly ribbon coming out held together with a staple covered by big sparkly snowflake foam stickers). The dancers were given a palate of twirling, sliding, and pointing for the Sugar Plum Fairy dance. I demonstrated the dance moves they could play with and turned on the music; then one of students (four years) said, "It's light and airy." Yes it is! What I also love about the magic wands is that there is no gender preference; boys and girls in all three classes were equally excited and expressive with them as well as with scarves as the Arabian dancers.

The next class after this one was their final class of the eight week creative movement program. When I rolled the ball to each student at the start of class, I asked them to tell me a dance, game, or exercise, anything we have done in class, that they would like to do. They would be designing the final class.

All three classes asked for the wands and the Red Carpet game. What great feedback.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Trying Something New

Often times, you can plan and design what you think is an amazing lesson (or program) that your students will have a great time with, and it goes okay but not great, but the thing that you made up on the spot with just what you had around you, is the most creative innovative program that draws the most excited responses from students. And sometimes you can plan something, then actually get to implement it, and have it actually work. Those times are awesome.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

12 Kids-A-Leaping

Every year around this time, I find some way to integrate music from Tchaikovsky's The Nutcracker. The music offers wonderful inspiration for creative movement classes for children and adolescents. This past week in the preschool creative movement class, I introduced Nutcracker music to the students for leaps over the "snow" (batting). For young students, they don't need much to jump over to get them actually jumping, something as simple as colorful tape stuck to the floor can be all they need to encourage a jump. I like to make a story out of the exercise, or some guided imagery, turning the props and the activity into something exciting. I told the students that the batting is the snow and they are the leaping reindeer. I also told them how I was a reindeer in the Nutcracker when I was five; clearly the experience has been inspiring!

When leading exercises for children this young it is absolutely necessary to show them where to start and where to finish their turn. I put a large foam square puzzle piece on the floor - this is the start. Then I demonstrate how to run and leap over the batting. The child's turn is finished when they return and sit back down on the mats. I crank up what a former student referred to as "the big song" and stand on the side with my tambourine. As each child leaps over the batting, I hit the tambournine! This adds drama and excitement and the kids love it.

During the winter months, I have a lot of fun creating classes using the batting and other white fabric or tulle as props to encourage movement in the children who are natural performers and for who play is their language. For children who struggle with imagintive play - and there are children who do - the props can be their way in.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Strut Your Stuff

With my fabulous new teaching prop - the 8 feet or so long rectangle stretch of curtain fabric - I created a game (although it may exist in another form under a different name) that I will now refer to as The Red Carpet. In this game, I lay out the long stretch of fabric. Each student has a turn to strut down the "red carpet" while their teachers (or whoever) pretend to be the paparazzi taking their photos. When they get to the end of the fabric, they turn back and strike a pose. This game was enhanced by the Bee Gees Staying Alive. Each student got a turn to strut down the red carpet however they wanted to. Some skipped, some ran, some went on all fours, and when they got to the end, they all struck a pose, even if it took a few trys. This game allows each student the opportunity to have a solo, to be creative in their own way, to have all the attention. I also got the teachers to take a walk down the red carpet, which of course the kids LOVED!

Note: In the space where I am teaching this preschool creative movement class, the floor is covered by a large square rug which is great for defining space and setting boundaries. It also holds the fabric in place. I would not do this game with this fabric on a smooth slippery floor.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Dance Story

This week was the final class of my eight week creative movement class for girls. It was a great ending. We repeated the yoga warm-up from last week and another version of Dancing Group Cactus Pose with Earth Bell. Since it was the last class, I pulled out the scarves and let them free dance for about 10 minutes after the warm-up. While they danced, I called out what I saw - which was awesome because I saw so much of what we had been working on throughout the class. In their free dance they showed axial and locomotor movement, mirroring/joining, contrasting, and levels. I also called out their groupings - a trio over there, a duet up here, a solo! This helped them become more aware of each other and though I desperately tried to direct them to the center together to find a group ending, what ultimately worked was yelling out Final Pose! It was sensational.

I am very proud of what occurred next in our dance class. I asked the girls to gather around the big board. We are going to write a story. Since our theme is nature, I encouraged them to use nature words (reminded them of the list from last week) and laid out the yoga cards to help stimulate ideas. In the round, each girl contributed a sentence. We were able to make it around the group twice. They did a phenomenal job. And the little tough nut participated all the way until she was picked up right at the end of the story. I think her experience in the dance class ended on a good note. I'll never really know, but I think so.

Then I put on music from  Groove Armada's album Vertigo. Great beats and mostly instrumental, great for a dance class and for creative writing exercises. It's also music that I like, personally, and it has been a reliable teaching aide for years. I have actually been using music from this particular album with elementary and junior high kids for about 10 years. Good music is good music.

I gave the girls the scarves - they love using them and the props totally help them to expand their range and palette of movement. Then with the music, I narrated their story, and they danced the story to life. It was awesome! There was a mountain, and snow, and girls playing, and a castle, and a dragon, and a star that came and went, and it was just incredible. And they really did have a beginning, middle, and end.

I am proud of my girls.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Fire. Wind. Water.

The inspiration for class this week (and next week) is Nature. We began with breathing exercises, then yoga poses. All the poses we did were inspired by the natural world: Star Pose, Tree Pose, Mountain Pose,Crooked Branch Pose, and Group Yucca Pose. These poses come from the Children's Book of Yoga by Thia Luby, a resource I use often when integrating yoga into the dance and drama classes I teach.

I wrote all the poses on index cards and decorated them with a picture of the natural object resembling the pose. Before I showed the girls a pose, I showed them the card and had them say it back to me. Then we would do the pose together. They all seemed to enjoy this warm-up activity.

The next part of class got them traveling in the dance space. The rules to the game are -while I shake the tambourine move freely in the space. When I hit the tambourine, create your own Cactus Pose, a tableau of bendy and spiky shapes with your body. This was a lot of fun. Then I challenged them to create cacti poses with a partner when I hit the tambourine, then as an entire group. It was a lot of fun to lead this exercise and the girls seemed to have a great time bending their bodies in interesting ways to become the spiky plants. I enjoy leading the group improv activity structure that goes from solo movement, to partners, to small group, to whole group all together; the structure has a great build-up and is a great format for team/group-building. Mirroring exercises are also successful in this format.

Next we gathered around the big board to do some brainstorming and more literacy. This exercise can be improved with some really great visual images of nature, or by holding the class outside.  It was dark out during the class, so looking out the windows wasn't much help. Not that it really would have been that much help since I teach this class in the middle of a city. However, the girls were able to come up with a great list of nature words to play with.

I introduced the girls to one of my favorite physical theatre improvisation exercises; an adaptation of Natural Phenomenon. Thank you Ruth Zapora and my exposure to Action Theatre for this one. I would call out a word from their list - wind, sunshine, waves, thunder storm, etc. and they would embody that natural phenomenon in movement. Then, we did a performance score.

First I had them do stage crosses. One girl was babbling brook, one was fire, and one was wind.  Then I had them cross as duets, then as a trio. For the last run, I used a little side-coaching telling them to respond to each other - "Fire- what happens when wind shows up?" and the dancer had a great movement response! She got it, and the other dancers did a great job too. Fun was had all around. Those are the moments I love to be around for when I am teaching. When you get to witness when one of your students gets it, discovers something, has an "aha" moment.

That's why it is great to be a teacher.