All seventh and eighth grade students in New Haven are fortunate to receive dance and drama classes. I have taught dance at Roberto Clemente Middle School for the past seven years. The student body is made up primarily of Black American and Hispanic students living in the Hill section of New Haven. Both races share an African heritage that is evident in both cultures (especially in their dance traditions). I have often taught different aspects of Black dance in class but I feel a study of Black dance would benefit the students greatly. Discovering similarities in their dances will also enhance the relationships between both cultures as well.
Learning the history of Black dance through chronological periods in time will also enhance the students knowledge already gained as well as thread their insights together. The students are often embarrassed by their history and that seems an awful shame. I think the students often think their history begins with slavery which has been perceived by them to be an embarrassing part of American history that sheds a poor light on their ancestors. I have often told my students that they should not be embarrassed by the slave movement but should feel pride like the Jewish community that their race survived. By focusing on the history of Black dance from Africa to present time, students will learn that slavery was a small part of their history. They will also gain more pride and self esteem as young Black adults who must further their education and go on to contribute their abilities and strengths as Blacks in America so that our history can continue to thrive with notable acts from our community.
The proposed unit is intended to teach students to use research for choreography. Students will embark on a study of this history through paintings, books, photography, and poetry. The collected data will be used to reinterpret their findings and tell stories through dance. The culmination of these prepared stories will ultimately be presented in a video the students will prepare together.
The video format will consist of various poses or “live pictures” taken from noted photography depicting Black history. Paintings will also be used as sources for inspiring choreography. Each picture will be reenacted by students as a living still life that evolves into a story told through movement. We will take a dance from different periods of African American history: African history, The Amistad Revolt, Migration, Jazz and Harlem Renaissance, Modern dance, Ballet, and finally, Integration of Dance Styles.
This unit will initially be presented with historical information that is essential for teaching the history of Black dance. That material will be followed by lesson plans in chronological order that mirror the periods of Black dance/history covered in the unit.