Wow — things have gotten very busy and I haven't posted in over a month! I guess I have a bit of catching up to do...
Since completing our brief Polynesian unit with a bit of Tahitian, I gave the classes a short choreography project to create a phrase for a class dance. This is an assignment I had only given a couple of times before, and which I was a little hesitant about, as it doesn't reinforce any specific dance elements — but it does give the students a chance to create the phrases they've wanted to create since the beginning of the year (and, as I have to admit, perhaps help to get them hooked on the idea of taking Dance again next year). The idea is very simple: create a short dance phrase (24 - 32 musical beats) that you would like to teach to your classmates, which we will then combine into a class dance. The only real requirement was that the movements be the students' own creation (no direct-from-video choreography please!).
A few interesting things came up in this one for me... One was that, as I watched groups working on their steps, I noticed an awful lot of dependence on song lyrics for movement ideas — things like the ubiquitous gesture for “call me” (thumb and pinkie stretched from ear to jaw), what I think of as “Mickey Mouse-ing” the song (of course, could have headed this off by requiring instrumental music again, but part of the impetus for this project was to let the kids work with the music and movements they’ve wanted to work on all along). One of my thoughts on this was that we had just recently learned Hawai’ian dance, in which the gestures explicitly illustrate the words of the song, and I wondered how their movements might have differed had we done this at another time; but I think in some respects this way of thinking about songs and gestures is so natural for them it may not have made a difference.
Ironically (given how hesitant I was about the assignment to begin with), this turned out to be one of our more successful choreography projects. Everyone participated, and all groups successfully taught their phrases to the class — some with their own spokesperson, some using me to transmit their steps using “loud teacher talk”... Students were eager to learn from each other, and although they did tend to be more talkative and less focused when their peers were teaching than they usually are with me, they were invariably supportive and enthusiastic about their classmates’ work — and picked it up very quickly, to boot. With a good mix of styles, tempos and energies, each class now has one more dance to add to their repertoire for the end of the year.
Before leaving for spring break, I assigned a journal reflection on the project — How did you feel about teaching your movement to the class? Did the knowledge that you would be teaching your steps change your creative process? What was hardest for you in this? How did you feel about learning movement from your classmates? Which group surprised you, and why or how? The responses were overwhelmingly positive — many students said they thought they would be too scared to teach, but they gained confidence and pride as they saw their peers learning their movement... I had originally thought of this as a project just for the first year of the program (essentially to give each class that one more repertoire piece for the end-of-the-year concert); but after seeing what a confidence-builder it became, I think I may need to bring it back in future years — perhaps with just a few tweaks to get them over that song-lyric rut!