Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Directions & facings project

The composition project I gave just before winter break was pretty simple: create a dance using any steps, movements, and dance styles you like (school-appropriate, of course!), a long as you include movement that travels in at least three different directions and that faces at least three different walls or corners. We started out with a couple of days of explorations — first just reviewing axial and locomotor movement, then working with various traveling directions and axial facings. I included a lot of actions they could play with in various ways, and by the end of the second day many students were getting into the spirit pretty well.

Then they began working in groups on the composition, and I ran into a new problem: most of the 7th graders (those that were participating and working on the project, at any rate) wanted to dance to a song called "Payaso de Rodeo," which I soon discovered is the music for a simple line dance well-known in the local Mexican-American community, much the way the electric slide was well-known to mostly everyone a couple of decades ago. The dance itself does nominally fulfill the basic requirements of the project, as it travels (minimally) in four directions and faces four walls — the complete dance is: slide/chassé to the right, then left, then back, then front, then one-quarter turn to the next wall and repeat... over and over and over...

I had a very hard time getting across to them just why this wasn't okay for their project, especially since some students who hadn't been participating before actually started to join in ("but we're dancing, what do you want?"). I had to sit them down and explain that this was a creative work / composition project, that I was expecting them to create something, and that just getting up and running through a dance that I could see random people doing in innumerable YouTube videos was not creating! I used the analogy that if their English teacher asked them to create a short story based on their own experiences, using certain elements, it would not fulfill the assignment to just write down a story that everyone already knows, like Snow White or the Three Little Pigs. A few of them tried to tell me that their English teacher would be okay with that (I told them I was pretty skeptical, and that I would certainly check with their English teacher!)… They did finally get the point, chose new music, and created a dance of their own (pretty basic, but their using their own ideas at least).

This did, of course, give me an idea that what these kids really want to do in my class is something they already know how to do — which is a little weird to think about in a learning situation, but could be related to making them feel successful, or at least in their comfort zone… something to ponder for the future, at any rate.

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