A favorite poet of mine is Maya Angelou. For this lesson, I will summarize two of her works for lesson models. The first poem, “Sepia Fashion Show”, is written in the voice of a female who expresses her views on the models who walk the fashion run-ways. She sees them as expressionless robot-like characters whose emotions and morals have been faded by their profession which results in their viewing fulfillment by materialistic possessions. . . .
“Their hair, pomaded, faces jaded bones protruding, hip-wise, The models strutted, backed and butted, Then stuck their mouths out lip-wise.”
There is a reason for why she speaks so satirically of the industry and its women. She finds that some of the black women in her community are too preoccupied with their attempts to imitate the models, thereby giving in to society’s ideal of feminine beauty/standards. She refers to this group of individuals as the “Black Bourgeois” and concludes her commentary by reminding them that she knows what they are really about. . . .
“‘Indeed’ they swear, ‘that’s what I’ll wear
When I go country-clubbing’
I’d remind them please, look at those knees
you got a Miss Ann’s scrubbing.”
Each student should be able to pick up a certain tone of voice from the poem and, from their interpretation, create a sequence of movement with the same tone of voice coming through in their movements. The students should all recite the poem aloud, each using only their voices for expression and keeping the body mannerisms to a minimum. Then the students should form small groups and begin creating dance movements. Each group will present its choreography for the poem.
After allowing students to work through and present their choreography, make notes of the various perceptions. The teacher should then read the poem aloud once more and show his/her movement for the student feedback. It is in the feedback session that the teacher should make clear the sarcastic yet humorous tone of the poem and the importance of the dance movements choreographed to mimic this tone. With this, the teacher may now wish to begin experimenting with the students on the comical side of the dance arts. Remember, ballet began with court jesters performing comical mimes for the majesty.
The second poem is “Caged Bird”. This piece of work by Ms. Angelou is very dear to me because my mother would read it to me when I was a little girl. It was one of my favorite poems then, and it remains one of my favorites now. In “Caged Bird”, Ms. Angelou tells a short story of sorts about two kinds of birds—one “free,” and the other “caged”—and the differences in how they behave, think, and sing. . . . “A free bird leaps . . . . and dares to claim the sky”, but the caged bird “stalks down his narrow cage . . . . for the caged bird sings of freedom.”
The poem in its entirety is definitely one of the most beautifully potent literary works that has ever been written. I must admit—with a smile, that this is of course my very biased opinion.
Here, students should form two groups—one representing the “free bird”, the other the “caged bird”. Students should be instructed to decide on a form of musical accompaniment and to choose a specific color to represent each group. Students will choreograph movements to be presented in the following class session. It is in this following session that students will present choreography for “Caged Bird” with chosen musical accompaniment and colors (for costume/dancewear) representing the “free bird” and the “caged bird”.
Use this exercise to prepare students for lyrical dance. Familiarize students with dances based on themes; ie. “Swan Lake”, “West Side Story”, etc. The musical accompaniment and color selections chosen by the students’ groups may differ from that of the teacher, therefore, the teacher should share his/her selections and movement interpretations for the following class session(s). The teacher may wish to use the poem strictly as a student project. Either way, you may find this to be more than a two-day assignment. “Caged Bird” is the type of poem on which a small ballet can be choreographed. The teacher should expand on the exercises done in class when considering the mood and movements for the dance. The teacher may have already created variations for the poem and may wish to teach the students his/her version, although at some point in time, the teacher may find it a satisfactory experience to use some of the students’ ideas for performance. This allows the students to grow and gain confidence in their performance skills. The actual ballet does not have to carry the title of the poem, but it should be noted that you are using this poem as the inspiration for your ballet.