Saturday, July 5, 2014

end-of-season at the studio: creative dance!

Last weekend finished the season at the dance studio. Since the spring recital was in the beginning of June, I had the rest of the month (three Saturdays) to do nothing but creative dance lessons (this is a neighborhood dance studio where parents send their kids to learn ballet, jazz, and tap — so all through the year I use as much creative work as I can, but the focus is on technique). I considered devising some work that would build and deepen over three weeks; but then I remembered how spotty attendance can be in June, as families take off on vacations, and thought better of it… So I took it as an opportunity to pick some of my favorite lessons that could work as "one-offs" to see how they would work with the studio kids. It turned out to be a joy to watch these dancers, immersed in technique throughout the year, throw themselves open to creative work.

Because of the low attendance after the show we combine classes, which means a pretty wide range of ages working together — so I kept all the lessons pretty general in terms of level. The first week I brought along my bag of scarves for the "magician and scarf" lesson — beginning with a brief Brain Dance in a circle, then an exploration with partners, one partner manipulating the scarf while the other imitated the scarf's movements in her own body (I guided them with wiggle, float, stretch-squash, fold-unfold, and spiral/circle); we also practiced trading the scarves, and still shapes with both partners attached or touching the scarf, using different levels and sizes. The composition was short and simple: begin with a scarf-attached shape, then each partner choose one movement from the exploration as leader ("magician") for the other partner to follow (be sure to trade the scarf in an interesting way), and finish with another scarf-attached shape.

The next week the youngest classes worked on size/range contrasts, while all the other classes tried the "map dance": draw a beginning and ending point; then a pathway from beginning to ending including some curved lines, some straight lines, and at least one zigzag; then add stopping places for still shapes, axial movements, and jumps (we did three for the younger classes, five for the older kids) — then practice the dance you drew! Since we hadn't done much creative work for a while, we warmed up with a freeze dance incorporating lots of elements to pull them out of their ordinary technique habits… In our short (half-hour) classes, when it came time to show, almost everyone danced with their maps still in hand — but all were engaged and there was some lovely and surprising work (one student chose to make her beginning point in the bathroom so that she could enter from offstage…).

Last week, we worked on shapes and levels with the "erosion game," again in pairs… We began as usual with a general freeze dance to warm up, this time focused on shape copying; then partners took turns molding each other from a high-level shape to a somewhat lower-level shape, copying the shape, and being molded in turn, until they reached the floor. The composition was the five or six shapes it took to go from high to low, performed in unison. Although the class was too short to go deeply into the exploration, still there were some unusual shapes and movements in the compositions… and because of the combined classes, we had some interesting pairings as well (it was very sweet to see one 7-year-old little girl working with her 12-year-old brother).

It was also nice to see the creative work spilling into other parts of the class… At the end of the younger classes, Angela (my former studio partner and now studio owner, since I "retired" from the studio five years ago) was finishing class with an obstacle course on the mats. Ordinarily, she would set up a dot to balance on, a circle or two to jump or hop into, a cone to run around, a tube to crawl through, and/or the "mud puddle" to leap over… but this time, she simply set up a dot, a cone, a couple of circles, and the mud puddle, and said "you know what we usually do — now take these obstacles and do whatever you want!" The first couple of kids did pretty much the usual with some minor variations — maybe balancing on the dot with one leg out to the side instead of in passé or arabesque; but the third dancer up, instead of hopping or jumping in the circle, plopped into sitting criss-cross in the middle of the circle and then crawled out on all fours. After that, the kids let loose with their ideas on manipulating a dot, a cone, a circle, and a mud puddle: running through or stomping on the mud puddle, juggling the cone, picking it up and using it as a pointy hat… So nice to see the kids letting themselves go wild!

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