Wednesday, September 16, 2015

new school year

Well, the new school year is well under way already (school starts so much earlier than it did in my day!). My dance program is growing — I now have two beginning dance classes (Dance 1), one intermediate (Dance 2), and one Dance Production class.

A big difference this year, besides the newly differentiated courses, is that I started my classes on the first day (last year there was a substitute for the first two weeks while the district decided on whether to actually hire a dance specialist). Whether because of that, or because we have now established a bit of a culture of dance in the school and students have a better idea what to expect, my new beginning students seem to be, as a whole, more focused and serious about the class than even last year’s group… Pretty much every day , everyone or nearly everyone in class is dressed and participating, following directions, and taking technique corrections and choreography advice in stride (which in theory is supposed to be routine, but doesn’t always happen in real life). I am already thinking about how to further differentiate my daily dance practice grades, since full credit for being on time, dressed, and participating to personal best has mostly everyone earning an A+ every day. Of course things aren’t perfect – it’s always hard getting beginning students not to think of creative explorations as social occasions – but for the most part, the beginners are doing quite well, three weeks into our dancing year.

The intermediate / Jazz 2 class is small (17) – unfortunately a natural consequence when the bulk of beginning students take the class to fulfill their second of two years of required PE credit, and then move on (this because the 9th graders are not allowed to take Dance for their first year of PE credit)… But those 17 seem to be quite serious about what we are doing. We have begun their first creative work unit, focusing on energy qualities (last year in Beginning was mostly about the element of Space), and it has been a pleasure to watch them tackling the subtleties around sustained, percussive, swinging, suspended, and collapsing movement and how to show them clearly in their bodies.

And Dance Production – I can only say at this point that it is going to be a lot of fun teaching this class. These are the students who earned their spots in the class by doing excellent work in their semester performance finals and by being extremely enthusiastic choreographers and performers all year long – and their enthusiasm shows every day in class. After a couple of weeks of lyrical jazz / ballet technique, I started this class’ creative work on forming with motif development. Last week they created individual phrases which they then developed with various choreographic devices, and it was wonderful to watch the wide range of movement that poured out of them – not to mention their delight at playing the “adverb game” with one of their technique combinations!

About that adverb game – it involves one group picking an adverb from my stack, doing a unison phrase in the style of that adverb (crazily, loudly, obnoxiously, whatever), and having the rest of the class try to guess the adverb. We used the first unison phrase from their class lyrical jazz / ballet dance. Since it’s a small class we just broke the class in half for groups. The first group picked “sexily” (they’re teenagers, so of course), and it took a few tries for the watching half of the class to guess the right adverb (even though a couple of students turned our lyrical phrase into something rather more Bob Fosse-ish). But the second group picked “dramatically,” and it took exactly one movement – as they all turned from facing upstage into effacé with great dramatic flair, chins raised and heads tossed – for one of the watchers to yell “dramatic!” It was a priceless moment, and it made my week!

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