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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 Ballet Basics 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.
Design in choreography can be broken down into two basic areas, symmetrical and asymmetrical. Symmetry creates a feeling of stability while asymmetry is cause for stimulation. This can be explained clearly with examples such as passing through a symmetrically shaped doorway without hesitating to consider its safety. The same doorway with a list to one side would cause a moments hesitation and thought before passing through. Symmetry and asymmetry can also be shown with photographs and diagrams of various architecture, artwork and human form. An assignment would be to tear pages from dance, sports or fashion magazines of human figures and separate them into symmetrical and asymmetrical poses.
The two areas of design, symmetry and asymmetry can be further broken down into oppositional or successional shapes. The lines of the body are either opposed and in sharp contrast to each other such as when right angles exist or are curved and follow in succession without a visual break or interruption. This can be seen clearly in the diagrams included in this paper.
There is an opposite effect caused by these two elements and full understanding of this effect on the audience is necessary for the choreographer. Oppositional lines and shapes create a feeling of power or force. Right angles suggest energy and vitality. Successional designs cause a calming effect. When the curves or lines are not broken by angles the eye can view the design without interruption. Various combinations of these elements are necessary for contrast and the alleviation of boredom for the audience. Symmetrical succession perhaps would be too boring where as asymmetrical succession would have enough stimulation to create the desired effect while keeping the audience awake.
To solidify these ideas an assignment for the students will be to create four stationary shapes in space using their own bodies. Two symmetrical and two asymmetrical one of each demonstrating opposition and succession. These will be performed the first half of the next class and the last half will be used to combine the single body shapes into designs for two bodies demonstrating the same elements.
The students should now be ready for the next assignment which will be to create shapes that express a feeling to a set idea. These will be limited to family situations and related feelings and will serve as a lead into the interpretation of short stories into movement. Once again the ideas for choreography could change for different classroom needs. An example of this would be the birth of a child as the idea. The students will explore their own feelings and natural reactions to this occurring in their lives. Would they be angry, sad, joyful? How would they physically express their feelings? If this is uncomfortable for some students the assignment could be made more specific by giving another role to explore the idea from. How might a grandmother feel, an older brother, the father? The students should be encouraged to invent or use actual situations to fill in the blanks. Writing down their idea in short scenarios would be helpful. After researching their ideas the students will once again create a stationary shape using their own bodies which express their feeling of the given idea.
These single body shapes can than be expanded into shapes for two or more bodies using the students own scenarios. How might joy be expressed by two bodies in space? Jealousy? These shapes should incorporate all the elements of design used in the first assignment, as well as expressing the idea. There should be a clear understanding of design in space at this point and they are now ready to intelligently explore the concept of design in time. This should be kept as simple as possible. The concept that the succession of design in space causes an overall shape is an abstract idea and will be difficult for most young students to grasp. It should be touched on but not allowed to cause frustration. As stated earlier I believe the easiest method to teach this will be to show a dance phrase and have the students draw the line of the overall movement.
The designing of a phrase of movement is the next step in choreographing a dance. Every dance has a beginning, middle and end with high and low points for contrasts. The dance will be made up of phrases made up of the succession of designs in space which will contain the basic elements of design, symmetry and asymmetry. Phrases like complete dances also have a beginning, middle and end. They should also have high and low points and should vary in length for interest. Phrasing in a simplistic form can be separated into three categories: high point at the beginning, high point in the middle, and high point at the end. (See diagrams) The high point of a phrase may be caused by an increase in energy, an increase of tempo, a sudden change in movement quality or a literal interpretation of being high in space.
The assignment for this will be to create three phrases using their designs in space showing an idea as the high points. The connecting movement could be taken from the fundamental movements learned in the warm-up period of each class from social or folk dances, basic locomotive steps or combinations of all these. The length of the phrases should be assigned as in four counts, eight counts and twelve counts. Direction changes and variations in rhythm and energy should also be explored. A classroom activity will be to perform “street dances”, break them down into phrases, pin point the high points and freeze movements to show the designs in space.
Design in dance as it relates to the stage space will be taught throughout the progression of the course. This can be done with side coaching and asking questions. Where is front? Is that the best angle for the leg from the audience viewpoint? When student gives directions they should use stage terms such as, upstage right or downstage center. These can be taught with diagrams and from using the terms from the beginning of the class in the warm-up. Example: First group kicking combination from upstage right corner to downstage left corner and be on center stage by the fourth kick! Students can learn and become familiar with the weak and strong areas of the stage by viewing other students assignments. Then the student will express his/her opinion of whether it could be staged differently to increase the desired effect.
Have the class perform their phrases alternating energy levels. First perform phrase in slow motion as smoothly as possible. Second perform same phrase with tension. The same movements performed with different energy can evoke a completely different feeling in the audience. Another assignment will be to create a phrase where more than one energy level is occurring at once. The feet could be rapid fire steps while the torso and arms are floating smoothly through the space. Spanish dance is a good example of this.
Energy will give life to the dance and the lack of it will most assuredly cause its death. Each student will have his or her own energy level that movement feels comfortable. It’s up to the teacher to broaden the comfort level to allow for contrast.
The students will now be ready for the introduction of the literature material from which the ideas for their final projects will be selected. This list will include:
A synopsis of “Macario” and “The Captive” are included in this unit. The above list of short stories will be on file in the Y.N.H.T.I. office.
- “The Captive”—Borges
- “The South”—Borges
The student should read the selections keeping “motivation” upper most in their minds. They should look for a character or situation which they can clearly relate to. These interpretations of the literature could range from the abstract to the literal. A single idea or feeling could be extracted from the story or a literal translation performed with a full cast of dancers portraying the characters. As stated in the opening sentence of this paper “Movement is a natural means of expression and communication.” The students should now have a large “vocabulary” of movements to communicate their ideas to an audience. The elements of design will allow students to stylize everyday movements (which would include the locomotive and fundamental movements taught during the warm-up) and social and folk dancing steps making them uniquely their own.
Each short story will be assigned as an in class reading. First silently then out loud, asking questions as it’s read through the second time. In addition to searching for motivation the students should ask themselves:
The characters should be analyzed as such:
- 1. What is the main idea of the story?
- 2. What are the high points?
- 3. What elements of design would best express the main idea?
- 4. What elements of design would best express the high points?
Before these discussions it should be emphasized that there are no wrong answers. The interpretation of literature is personal and individual. Once there is a clear understanding of the story have the class begin moving. Pantomime sections of the story or improvise movements expressing a selected emotion such as the joy of the parents in “The Captive.” The students should immediately begin pulling from and relating the stories to his/her own experience.
- 1. Who is the character?
- 2. What does the character want?
- 3. Why does the character do what he/she does?
- 4. Which elements of design best suit each character?
Once the student has made his/her final selection for the final choreography project the above story and character analyses should be completed in writing. This will help the student to obtain a full understanding of his/her ideas and motivation from which he/she will dance.
Music should be selected that will complement the ideas. Music from the countries where the stories take place should be researched. Tangoes for Jorges Luis Borge’s “The South” could work well with the story line. Students could also compose music using percussion instruments, dance in silence or use sound effects.
The story begins with Godmother having ordered Macario to sit by the sewer. Board in hand he is ready to kill the frogs which have been keeping Godmother awake with their endless croaking. Felipa does not want him to hurt the frogs but even though he loves her more, Godmother gives the orders. His thoughts are in a simple, clear manner. Toads are black, as are Godmothers eyes and bad to eat. Frogs are green, as are Felipa’s eyes and good to eat. Sitting by the sewer his life comes to the reader through his thoughts.
The behavior that Godmother sees as “sinful” is his insatiable appetite and the banging of his head hours on end against pillars and floors. She tells him if there are scorpions and cockroaches in his room it’s because he will burn in hell for banging his head. He locks himself in his room and as the insects crawl across his body he refuses to light the torch for fear of his own sins finding him. He believes and trusts Godmother because when she offers him food it is given but when the townspeople offer him food they throw rocks.
Felipa is his source of comfort. She seems to understand his hunger and often gives him her portion of food. Previously to the time of the story she had allowed him to nurse “the sweet hot milk” from her breast and to sleep with her until dawn. She goes to confession everyday to help drive the devils from him.
The opposing forces of the Godmother’s unnatural coldness verses Felipa’s natural warmth causes many conflicts in the simple mind of Macario. The terror he feels when confronted by his Godmother with his own sins, death and eternal damnation are the fears of his mind and nights. The realistic fears of his days are those of being bruised and bloodied by the stones of the townspeople. These feelings are in strong conflict with the nurturing and warmth of Felipa’s body and in her words of prayer asking pardon for Macario.
These conflicts provide excellent possibilities for movement and motivation for the students final choreography projects. Macario’s terror and agitation (head banging) could be interpreted in percussive movement that contain asymmetrical and oppositional elements of design. His relationship with Felipa could be interpreted in swinging movements using symmetrical and successional elements of design. The character of the Godmother is one of conflict, power and fortitude. These characteristics could be enhanced with proper use of the stage space. The Godmother entering from an upstage corner moving towards Macario on a diagonal path would give the impression that she was descending upon him. Her movements could be kept to those of opposition to further enhance the feeling of conflict and power.
The students could use this story as the motivation for a dance expressing self-discovery. Asking themselves and the audience “who am I” while expressing any of the range of emotions these family characters experienced from the initial kidnapping up until the moment of recognition. This story is an abstract form offers many possibilities for the students to draw from his/her own personal experiences with family ties. Perhaps there has been a loss of a family member through death or a breaking up of a family through divorce. Perhaps a student has contemplated or actually run away from home. These situations would all cause inner reflections leading to self-discovery.
Format for implementing assignments included throughout unit.
Each class will follow a planned order. This order could vary depending on material to be covered. Only in cases of class not involving movement should warm-up period be omitted. These should be kept to a minimum.
- A. Develop self-confidence through the process of preparing assignment pertaining to the basic elements of design in movement.
- B. Develop capability to communicate ideas using movement and the human body as the tools of expression.
- C. Develop a sense of and appreciation for good design in dance.
- D. Develop ability to work, communicate and evaluate harmoniously and intellectually in a group.
- E. Develop ability to create expressive dance movement that is skillfully unique and artistically stimulating.
Begin each class with a warm-up period. Dance is extremely physical and requires warming up as an athlete does before a workout or sports event. Failing to do this could result in strain or other injury. Slow, movements using large muscle groups should be done first. Swings, bounces, and plies with minimum force are good to begin warming up.
- 1. Warm-up
- 2. Review and practice of movements
- 3. Presentation of new movements
- 4. Movement combination using stage space
- 5. Presentation of assignment
- 6. Classroom time to experiment with assignment
- 7. Presentation of homework assignments and fellow student evaluations
- 8. Cool-down exercise or improvisation
Confidence can be built with a slow transition from the known to the unknown. Begin with familiar movements from social or folk dances and break them down into locomotive and fundamental movements. From this basis new movement can be introduced with little frustration.
Stage space and terminology can also be effectively taught during the warm-up period. (See diagram and terminology list). Participation and observation of movement combinations across the floor will teach strong and weak areas and correct name for each area. The class should not move into the area of choreography until a strong dance vocabulary is established.
Assignments are included throughout the unit for each of the elements of design. The size of the class will dictate the number of class periods each assignment will need. This will also depend on the rate at which the majority of students grasp the basic concepts of the movement problem. This will also vary from class to class and lesson to lesson. The class should be paced, spending neither too much nor too little time on a given element. Too much time will result in boredom, too little time in frustration.
Experimentation, spontaneity, freedom and exploration should be strongly encouraged. To avoid embarrassment in the presentation of assignments as stated above, work from the known to the unknown. Have the class work on assignments as a whole, than small groups, with partners performing for each other and last, as solos before the class as an audience. Do not force performance—the main objective is that the students create the movements and understand the elements. The student who is uncomfortable performing could begin by choreographing movement for a fellow student.
Discussion and evaluation are essential elements of the learning process. As a word of caution do not spend more time in talk than is necessary. Dance is movement and a dance-class should be an activity class. Say what is important and necessary in the fewest words possible. This should also be encouraged of the students when evaluating each others assignments. Criticism should be discouraged and discussions should be conducted in a positive, constructive, and impartial manner. Encourage respect amongst the students for each others work.
End each class with a group exercise or improvisation. This could range from a breathing exercise, cool down stretches, to a theater game such as having the class move through the space with eyes closed not bumping into each other. Leave sufficient time for this so class will not be dismissed from a state of chaos.
On Stage—within the performing area
Off Stage—outside the performing area
Wings—offstage right or left
Exist/Entrances—openings into performing area
Fly Space—area above stage, scenery may be flown in or out
Proscenium—opening between audience and stage
Apron—stage area which projects beyond curtain line
House—part of theater occupied by audience
Cross—Movement between points on stage
Above — upstage of . . .
Below—downstage of . . .
Open Up—turn more toward audience
This book is written for the beginning composer of dances. Covers all basic principles of choreography. Has an excellent glossary of dance and choreography terms. Speaks briefly of Social and Folk dancing in opening chapter.Hammond, Sandra Noll. Ballet Basics. Palo Alto, California: Mayfield Publishing Co., 1974.
This book is a must for teachers using this unit with little dance background. It is written specifically for the beginning adult dance student. It includes a history of ballet, the format of a ballet class including detailed descriptions and diagrams of ballet exercises, an excellent vocabulary of ballet terms and many suggestions for the prevention of injuries.Humphrey, Doris. The Art of Making Dances. New York: Grove Press, 1959.
An excellent book for the skills of choreography. Expounds on all elements of the unit. Especially the elements of design. Basic knowledge of dance is helpful for comfortable reading of this book.Lockhart, Aileene. Modern Dance. WM. C. Brown Company Publishers, 1966.
This book is a wealth of information. Includes many diagrams of dance for structuring dance classes, improvisation ideas, music for class and a chapter on application of traditional folk patterns.
“The Captive” written by the Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges can be found in this collection of his stories. A copy of this story will also be on file in the Y.N.H.T.I. office. See synopsis included in unit.Howes, Barbara, ed. Eye of the Heart. New York: Bobbs-Merrill Company, Inc., 1973.
“Macario” written by the Mexican writer Juan Rulfo and “Paseo” written by the Chilean writer Jose Donoso can be found in this collection of Latin American short stories. A copy of each of these stories will also be on file in the Y.N.H.T.I. office. See synopsis of “Macario” included in unit. The narrator of “Paseo” is reflecting back on his childhood of how the insignificant intrusion of a little white dog changed the life of his unmarried aunt. This story could be used for individual character analysis or perhaps an abstract interpretation of how outside forces can break apart a family.Monegal, E.R. and A.T. Reid, ed. Borges: A Reader. New York: E.P. Dutton, 1981.
“The South” written by the Argentine Jorge Lins Borges can be found in this book. This story contains many possibilities for movement and motivation for choreography. From the family history, to the scene of the accident, to the hospital, to the train trip returning to a childhood home to convalesce and especially the final scene in the general story when the main character, Juan Dahlmann finds himself in a life threatening situation. This story could be explored from the aspect that Dahlmann actually dies in the hospital and the final scene is a dream. A copy of this story is also on file in Y.N.H.T.I. office.
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