Dance exploration is what I’m offering, I told them. We’ll be listening and responding to different types of music and asking ourselves ‘what makes a dance, a dance?’ Those who chose to stay at least brought their fair share of curiosity which was actually a brilliant start.
We began with crosstown traffic. Half groups line up facing each other several meters apart. The goal: to pass to the opposite side without bumping into others while also responding to the music. An easy on-ramp. I ask them to use different pathways, to try alternating levels as they go. How are they using their arms? What kinds of shapes are they making as they travel? In the process, I vary the music from West African drumming, to a lyrical romantic soundtrack, to workaday pop, to a high energy Bollywood tune. They move, they adapt.
Next, we learn to imagine our own box that is as tall as we can jump, as wide and deep as we can reach. Here is where we can experiment with non-locomotor movements: twisting, turning, curling, stretching, kicking, extending. I say we, because I find my own box and play inside it. Some students turn to watch me. And I catch them wondering. But I continue and they, too, discover the possibilities within their own boxes.
I ask them to pick two or three movements they tried in their box and really liked. They then shared their moves with a partner and found ways to combine their ideas. Again, I offered two slightly different selections of music to experiment with. Depending on the vibe, pairs were asked to share their work in progress and often we had a couple of pairs share at a time to reduce performance anxiety. Some pairs also chose not to share.
If time was left, pairs could join forces and continue to build on their creations.
In the space of 4 days of classes, seeing each grade level group two times, I learned so much about what’s possible in short time frames. Opening the door for individual discovery and creativity to then creating a shallow on-ramp for simple collaboration with the option to add complexity if students chose…
If students chose… Students experienced many, many opportunities in the 40+ minutes to choose, choose, and choose again. Which movements to each kind of music, which partner, which group, which combinations, what kind of performance? All possible because…still playful. No grades, no evaluation; instead appreciation, fun and surprise.
And it mattered that I provided guidance while also participating. I was not as separate from them as they might have expected. By modeling discovery and fun in my own box, I gave a taste of what’s possible. Even the most hesitant movers found an in to exploring their response to the environment.
My loose ideas for structuring a dance exploration workshop for elementary students evolved over the course of the week. I learned to adapt to my audience. With Pre-K I quickly found out that storytelling provided a useful frame for channeling their energies. With tough customers I had to remind myself to not take it personally and to simply ask what might help their engagement: different music? Working alone or with a different group? In most cases we were able to locate a positive solution.
I write all this now as a way to remind myself weeks, months and years later what was possible, successful and worthy. Our MADD (Music, Art, Dance and Drama) Week provided occasion for me to prepare differently. To provoke and receive students’ invention and creative energies in ways that humbled and surprised me. I gave myself and my students license to genuinely explore, test and develop our own approaches not only to dance but to collaboration and community. So much more than any lesson plan could ever articulate.