Friday, December 14, 2012

Dancing Again

It’s fall, Armistice Day, and most teachers dive into something new at this time of year because they had a really good idea over the summer. Now, in November, they are coming up for air (after all the “new and exciting” programs/schedules/curricula, and/or administrators’ ideas for how to fill their days) and figuring out how to make their summer dream come true for their students.

Take my PE-teacher friend Matt, for example. “I’d like to do some dance in PE this fall,” he confided over our second beer one September evening. I nodded my agreement -- in my view, elementary children can never have too much dance -- and asked him how he planned to do it. He grinned. “Wanna help me?” he asked.

Someday, I will say No to that question, but this was not the day.
We decided to do folk dances (which I have done before with younger children) with his third-graders (which would be new for me).  During two more meetings, we chose and practiced the dances, inserted some work on mapping to ground the dances in the world, and picked a way-too-optimistic starting date in October.

Anne Green Gilbert, with whom I dance myself, has made several collections of folk dances, on video, in lists, and, in her book Brain Compatible Dance Education (2005).  In the Dance Institutes she gives in Seattle every summer and in our Wednesday adult class, she often uses folk dances as a way to illustrate the elements of her brilliantly simple BrainDance warmup exercises (  “Every folk dance from every country contains the same developmental patterns that comprise BrainDance,”  Anne says.

I use this idea with the third graders, so they are not only doing  Dance, and Geography, and PE, of course, they are also connecting their dance moves to their own movement patterns.

When  they come into the gym, they have to take off their shoes so that they will be as grounded as possible -- that is, connected to the ground (the gym floor) through their feet. Dancing without socks either is much better because the feet really are connected with the floor itself, and because sliding is not an option on bare feet.  Because each of Matt’s classes of 26 students has exactly 30 minutes for PE, and de-shoeing and re-shoeing can take as much as five minutes, sometimes dealing with socks too just doesn’t fit into the time.

Right away each child has to find his or her own personal space (which we reviewed in the first class but not since) and we do the BrainDance together:  Breath. Tactile work. Core-distal pattern. Head-Tail connection. Upper/Lower body. Body/Side pattern. Cross-Lateral.  Vestibular.  Usually I connect a concept to it, such as Speed (so we do some the BrainDance patterns slow and some fast) or Energy (so we do some of the patterns smooth and some shaky).  

Then Matt and I walk everyone through the steps of the dance, whatever it is.  We spend a TINY amount of time explaining how to do, for example, a pivot turn or the grapevine walk.  Then we turn on the music and do the whole dance.  

“Come sit on the stairs now,” I tell the children.  “Who thinks we did a movement in this dance that is part of BrainDance?”  Half the hands go up; we call on a few.  If we have time we also ask where today’s concept figured in today’s dance.  Eyes are alight as children make these a-ha connections.

Now it is time to perform for each other, so Matt splits the group in half and I talk to the audience half about how to be an audience, attending and appreciating the performers.  The performing half does the dance with one of the adults as part of the group; the audience can make two or three “I saw people doing ....” comments, the groups switch places and the same routine happens.

Time to put the shoes on fast -- class is over.