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Planning Creative Dance Lessons

This is an excerpt from Creative Dance for All Ages 2nd Edition With Web Resource by Anne Green Gilbert.

The focus of each lesson is one or two dance concepts from figure 1.1, which you can also find on the web resource for easy printing. The dance concept is the thread that ties the entire lesson together. The conceptual approach is more effective in engaging and educating dancers of all ages than a steps-only approach or a theme-based approach. A steps-only approach deprives students of the tools they need to explore and create their own movements and artistic voices. A theme-based approach (lessons on seasons, animals, stories) deprives students of the tools they need to develop dance technique and grow as skilled dancers. With each lesson, students are eager to explore and master a new dance concept to layer into their technique, improvisation, and choreography. They enjoy cycling through the dance concepts semester after semester and year after year, because the teacher introduces the concepts through different improvisations and skills each time the concepts are reintroduced. This way, students continue to develop their artistic voices and dance technique.


The five-part lesson plan creates holistic dancers who are skilled technicians, critical thinkers, creative movers, and collaborative workers. The Warming Up and Developing Skills sections will develop strong technique. Critical-thinking skills are strengthened in each part of the class through problem solving, observation, and reflection. In the Exploring the Concept section, creativity is nurtured through an exploration of the dance concepts. In the Creating section, students expand their creative development through improvisation and choreography. Positive social skills are strengthened through collaborative partnering and small group work.


The five-part lesson plan alternates teacher-directed work with student-centered work for deep learning and ensures that learning processes from the revised Bloom’s taxonomy are present throughout the lesson. Note that although the learning processes are presented here in a linear fashion, several of the processes may occur in any part of the lesson.

1. Warming Up (Teacher-directed work) Remembering
2. Exploring the Concept (Student-centered work) Understanding
3. Developing Skills (Teacher-directed work) Applying
4. Creating (Student-centered work) Analyzing/Creating
5. Cooling Down (Teacher-directed and student-centered work) Evaluating


Each lesson has five parts, but each part includes subcategories that allow for choice making and flexibility should you want to lengthen or shorten the lesson. Also, you may want to spend several classes focusing more on Developing Skills and less on Exploring the Concept or vice versa.


The lesson plan format provides a balance between creative exploration and skill development. The five-part plan provides the structure and repetition that allow the students to feel safe and secure while also engaging their attention through the novelty of the various dance concepts. Try to follow it as closely as possible. As you become more familiar with the structure, feel free to experiment.


Planning a lesson is like choreographing a dance. You need a beginning (Warming Up and Introducing the Concept), a middle (Exploring the Concept and Developing Skills), and an ending (Creating and Cooling Down).


When planning your lessons, keep in mind the following elements:

  • Think about space. Use a variety of spatial formations to provide novelty and maintain control. For example, start in a circle, move to a scattered formation, move in lines, and end in a circle.
  • Think about time. Alternate activities involving faster movements with activities that require a slower pace or stillness. After moving quickly your students will not mind watching, reflecting, or taking turns. After taking turns or discussion, the dancers are ready for more energetic activities again.
  • Think about force. Alternate high-energy movements with low-energy movements. For the Exploring the Concept section, you might choose an activity that allows the whole class to move with full-body movements through general space. You might follow with a shaping activity that is done in self-space and requires less energy. You could follow with practicing a locomotor skill such as leaping or moving in lines across the floor. Then the dancers could rest a minute as you explain the final improvisation or choreography problem.
  • Think about relationships. Creative dance provides excellent opportunities for collaborating, touching appropriately, and peer coaching. Have students explore the dance concept in partners, trios, quartets, or small groups at least once during each class.
  • Think about flow. Keep the class flowing from one section to another. Don’t get bogged down in your directions, putting on your music, or attending to disruptive behavior. Keep the flow going!


The objective of each main part of the lesson, along with descriptions of subcategories, is outlined next.


Warming Up

A warm-up prepares the body and brain for movement and learning. Isolated body part movement and full-body movement warm up all the muscles, increasing elasticity and helping to prevent injury. Aerobic movement oxygenates the brain to aid focus and attention.

Quick Warm-Up

A quick warm-up can be any 2- to 3-minute activity that is aerobic. Use this primarily in classes for ages 0 to 5, before doing the sitting BrainDance with rhymes, to give young children a chance to move around after sitting in preschools or car seats. However, a familiar folk dance or alternating locomotor and nonlocomotor movements might be an appropriate start to classes with older students, even adults. If you are working in a studio, this allows latecomers to arrive before the beneficial BrainDance.

BrainDance Patterns

The BrainDance is a series of exercises that warm up students’ brains and bodies. It is composed of eight developmental movement patterns that healthy human beings naturally move through in the first year of life. As babies, humans do these movements on the floor. However, cycling through these patterns at any age, daily or weekly, while sitting or standing, has been found to be beneficial in reorganizing the central nervous system. It is a satisfying and supportive way to warm up, introduce technique, and focus yourself and your students at the beginning of class. Specific BrainDance warm-up activities appear in chapter 4.

Introducing the Concept

Dancers move to a word wall or charts to see, say, and do the dance concept you have chosen for the lesson. For young students the introduction is brief. Older or more experienced students enjoy discussing and exploring the nuances of the concepts.



Individually exploring a dance concept through guided improvisation.


Exploring the Concept

The dance concepts are internalized through guided improvisation. After the exploration, dancers over age 4 briefly reflect verbally or kinesthetically on what they learned through the activity.

Exploring the Concept

Dancers explore and embody the lesson’s dance concept through structured improvisation individually or in pairs, trios, or quartets. Props may be integrated occasionally into the exploration.

Shaping

Dancers explore the dance concept while creating stable and mobile shapes, often in relationship to others while moving in self- and general space. Props may be added.

Instruments

Dancers explore the dance concept while playing rhythm instruments in self-space and general space. Rhythm concepts such as pulse and pattern are also explored, as well as locomotor and nonlocomotor skills (see chapter 5). Instrument explorations are most often included in lessons for ages 0 to 6 but may be enjoyed at any age.


Developing Skills

Dancers develop skills by learning dance steps and then practicing them in movement combinations for phrasing and flow.

Developing Skills

Dancers are introduced to and practice locomotor and nonlocomotor movements and specific dance steps in relation to the dance concept.

Turning

Various turns are introduced to strengthen balance and the vestibular system. Turns focusing on the lesson concept may also be integrated into all parts of the lesson plan.

Combining Movements

Either the teacher teaches or students create combinations of steps focusing on phrasing, sequencing, memory, and transitions. Leaps and turns are included in combinations when time does not allow for separate exploration of these skills.

Leaping

To develop the vestibular system, dancers learn and practice various forms of leaps and springs. Young dancers move through obstacle courses that provide opportunities for moving over, under, around, through, on, and off objects such as cones, spots, hoops, and benches.


Creating

Students explore the lesson concept further through structured improvisation. Students who are ready to work in pairs or small groups explore choreographic devices and forms through choreographic studies or projects.

Structured Improvisation

Improvisation is spontaneous, unplanned movement. These structured improvisations are similar to activities described in the Exploring the Concept section. The difference is that the teacher provides fewer cues and suggestions for movement. Instead of saying "Try moving . . ." the teacher makes "I see" statements that validate the students’ movement choices. Structured improvisation provides an opportunity for the teacher to assess the students’ understanding of the lesson’s dance concept.

Choreographing

Choreography is planned movement. Dancers create dance phrases or studies based on a structure or prompt. The teacher or dancers decide on the structure. These studies provide the perfect opportunity to introduce and explore choreographic forms and devices. Visual art works, poetry, literature, photos, music, natural and manmade objects, and other subject areas provide a wealth of ideas for choreography.


Cooling Down

Class concludes with a closing activity that cools down the body through physical movements such as relaxation and stretching or less strenuous movements than performed previously in class. Dancers can also "cool down" by reviewing the lesson concept, sharing improvisations or choreography, and then reflecting through various modes.

Good-Bye Dance

Young dancers move across the floor individually or in pairs, trios, or groups illustrating the lesson’s dance concept. This activity is a time to evaluate each dancer’s understanding and ability to use the dance concept that was explored throughout class.

Relaxation and Alignment

Relaxation, visualization, and alignment exercises are used to reduce stress and become attuned to the body.

Stretching and Reviewing Concepts

Dancers stretch muscles to cool down, gain length, and prevent cramping. While stretching, the dancers may review the lesson’s concepts through a variety of modes.

Sharing and Evaluating Choreography

Students perform their dances. Dancers and choreographers constructively evaluate their own and each other’s dance compositions. In other words, students comment on what they created or saw in the dance, not what they simply liked or disliked. Students use a variety of reflection modes, such as speaking, writing, drawing, or mirroring movements and shapes viewed in the choreography. They might make statements about the use of the dance concept, other concepts illustrated, transitions, performance skills, or movements and relationships that made the piece exciting or unique. Examples of assessment forms are included on the web resource.

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