Movement is a natural means of expression and communication that evolves from early childhood. We speak continuously with gestures, various walking patterns, even our posture. How boring communication would be without it.
Dance, like drama is also an act of communication. Why then when asked to do either of these art forms must the first obstacle overcome be one of inhibition. It has been my experience that students find physical expression with their peers difficult. This is especially true in their seventh and eighth grade years. Adolescence strikes again! There is a strong resistance to the unknown for fear of being wrong, appearing awkward and in result, being laughed at. This is apparent in the amount of energy, the importance placed upon, and the hours of individual rehearsal time put into learning the latest “street dancing” steps. These dances serve a viable purpose as all social dancing has throughout the history of mankind.
These types of dances only survive being used as performance material after careful staging. Even then it would be the rare audience that could make it through a full evening performance.
I have also found that teaching “dance” in a ten week or twenty week program meeting only twice a week difficult. This is because of the frustration on the students part with the muscle control necessary. Reaching a high level of dance technique takes years of intense training. This translates back to the fear of the unknown and inhibition on the students part.
I hope to alleviate this difficulty by designing a course in which the main objective will be to obtain confidence in movement, as well as an understanding of the power available, when this confidence moves into his/her everyday life.
I use the word movement in place of dance simply because “dance” seems to imply a certain amount of skill and technique which the student may or may not have. This will be less intimidating to the beginning dance student. It will also allow him/her to use movements from his/ her everyday experiences.
Folk dances also use everyday experiences and movements. The part folk dancing will play in this curriculum is simply that of a stepping stone from social dancing to dance as an art form.
Folk dancing does not demand a highly developed skill or formal technique for it to be enjoyable or for that matter performed. The same could be said for social dancing. A major difference being that social dancing can and often times does change with each generation where as folk dances are handed down generation to generation. Another difference would be that social dances are not meant to be viewed but to be actively participated in. Folk dances can and often do have meaning and thus can be shared with and understood by an audience. A common belief might be that folk dances are simple. They are in fact full of intricate rhythm patterns that can be a vast source of choreographic material and easily developed to the level of dance as an art form.
What I hope to achieve is a rechanneling of the energy and motivation the students show for social dancing (which is currently “street dancing” or “rap dancing”) into student choreographed, dramatic dances that have a story, an idea or perhaps just a single feeling that is clearly communicated using their own natural movements. Thus creating their own contemporary folk dances.
Our ancestors experienced the excitement and sense of accomplishment of choreographing and dancing their own dances. Dances that express the joys and sorrows of a way of life. Our students today are certainly as creative and capable of just such an expression and in this expression they can honestly experience dance as an art form.
Perhaps the most difficult part of making dances is the same with all artists. Finding an idea that is important enough to you as an individual to express in an art form.
I believe that limiting the choice of ideas for the students to choose from will provide a focus. Limiting the choices will also allow more time to be spent learning the skills necessary to construct and perform a dance. The choice of ideas and materials from which ideas can be found could change to fit the needs of various teaching situations.
I have chosen “Family Ties in Latin American Fiction” because of the high percentage of Hispanic students in my classes. Family situations and family characters are something that students can clearly identify. In addition students will be motivated by the use of social and folk dances as learning tools. Social and folk dancing are both for and about people. This will allow for a smooth progression towards dance as an art form using family situations as the theme.
Each class should begin with warm-up exercises. There are two strong arguments for the necessity of this: to physically prepare the muscles and ligaments for the demands of the dance class, including prevention of strain and injury and to mentally establish an atmosphere that is conducive to dance. Students need time to establish their concentration and to clear their minds of other school activities. A warm-up will help them make this transition. An example of a warm-up exercise would be to have students stand with feet parallel, slightly apart and to bend slowly forward, starting with the head and rolling down through each vertebra. This should be done with legs straight but not locked, in eight slow counts. Hang, with body relaxed for eight counts and then reverse the movement, rolling to an upright position in another eight counts. A complete warm-up can be found on page forty-three of the book
which is listed in the bibliography of this unit.
The warm-up and movement section of each class offers excellent opportunities to emphasize which movements are fundamental to all humans. These include jumping, darting, expanding, contracting, turning, raising and sliding. As we move through our day executing everyday experiences we often combine these seven movements to include locomotive movements (running, walking, and rolling) elevating movements (hopping, skipping, and jumping) and gesturing movements (advancing-retreating, opening-closing, and rising-sinking).
To achieve a full understanding of fundamental and locomotive movements the students will be asked to bring their own music and “street dances” to class. They will perform for each other and discuss which movements fall into which category. In teaching movement be aware that demonstration will often times communicate more clearly and in less time than discussion.
A second assignment will be to analyze movements that occur during the students time at school verses time spent at home. These movements can then be used as material for short improvisations.
The warm-up and movement section of class can also be used to effectively teach use of stage space. The movement sequences that travel (locomotive movements) can be executed on horizontal, vertical and diagonal lines from all points of the stage. By dividing the class into groups the students will learn through participation and observation the stronger and weaker areas and floor patterns of the stage space. An example of this would be to move from the upstage right corner on a diagonal line passing through center stage to the downstage left corner; this being one of the most powerful floor patterns. The students will also learn the terms upstage, downstage, stage right and left, center stage, etc. more easily if they associate with them from the beginning of the course and the class. It is not necessary to teach this on a stage. If in a classroom mark the stage area with chairs and designate the front. The concepts of stage space and stage terminology can be reinforced with the diagrams included in this unit.
The purpose of introducing these basic elements early in the course is to begin building a common language about movement. By establishing this the students will be able to begin composing dances with the knowledge needed to clearly communicate as choreographer to dancer and as dancer to choreographer.
In one aspect the students will have an advantage because of the lack of years of technique classes. They will bring to the choreographic process few if any pre-conceived dance step sequences. Arranging and recombining of popular dance steps should be avoided for creativity sake. The next step from recognizing fundamental movements will be to see them clearly for what they contain. To break them down into basic elements. The design the movement makes in space and time and how it relates to other objects; the energy level or dynamics of the movement; and the rhythm. The last element will make the most significant difference as far as the artistic level of the movement. Why? What was/is the motivation behind the movement? The elements the students will concentrate on are design, energy, rhythm and motivation.
An assignment would be to have the class choreograph a movement from a pre-determined motivation. Within the movement there should be two (if not more) clear differences in design, energy and rhythm.