Dance Improvisation

Topic

Description

Objective: Students will demonstrate understanding of space, time, and energy by accurately mirroring movements through improvisation.

Part I Introduction & Improvisation
In this lesson, there were two group activities used to address the framework concepts of space, time and energy.

1) The Grid Game: the teacher invites students to walk through the space "on" or "off" the grid incorporating improvisational choices such as changing levels, directions, pathways or speed.
2) Name Dance: the teacher invites the students to circle up and demonstrates his or her own "name dance" where they improvise movement to express their first name. The full class then mirrors or reflects the teachers "name dance" and movement. The teacher then instructs each student to visualize their own "name dance". Then teacher then gives one - two minutes of time for personal creation. Once the time is up, the students come back into the circle and take turns dancing their "name dance" while the rest of the group mirrors or reflects their movement.

Part II Energies & Partner Work
In this section, the teacher introduces the final concept of the four energies: sharp, smooth, swingy, & shaky which students will use to manipulate their "name dance" improvisation. After discussing energy qualities students split into partners to begin their final composition.

3) Partner "Name Dance": With a partner, student choose two energy qualities (i.e. smooth, shaky) to manipulate their original "name dance". Their final composition is performed facing each other (mirroring). The rest of the group observes and gives feedback pertaining to the qualities that were seen.

Part III Reflection
Students were asked to give a short reflection on the material presented in the form of a journal question.

4) Students were asked to respond to the following: Which concept (space, time or energy) made you feel most comfortable in today's improvisations?

Colorado Academic Standards Included:
Standard 1: Movement, Technique, and Performance
1. Demonstrate dance movement skills with technical proficiency and kinesthetic body awareness.
2. Anatomical awareness heightens movement potential.
3. Perform with expression and artistry.
4. Understand the components of the performance process.
Standard 2: Create, Compose, and Choreograph
1. Utilize choreography principles and practices when creating dance works.
2. Apply the creative process to dance-making.
3. Use meaning, intent, and stimuli to create and develop dance works.
4. Understand form in choreography.
Standard 3: Historical and Cultural Context
1. Cultural and historical dance forms and traditions are influenced by the values of the society they represent.
2. Use knowledge of cultural and historical dance forms to translate into performance.
Standard 4: Reflect, Connect, and Respond
1. Respond to, reflect upon, and analyze new dance works, reconstructions, and masterpieces.
2. Articulate connections in dance.

This Workshop Session was tagged in Dance/Movement/PE

Overview and Context

We represent Colorado Ballet's Education and Community Engament Department. We chose to present this lesson as a free workshop offering to Denver Public High Schools that have exsiting dance classes. These were classes of 9th -12th grade students of twenty or less paticipants. An important note is that while we guest teachers in these classrooms, we had full support from the classroom instrucutor 

Process and Protocols

Starting seated in a circle, the teachers introduced themselves, Colorado Ballet and its mission. Each student then had the chance to introduce themselves, their grade level and their movement preference (i.e. hip-hop, bachata, ballet, etc.) The teachers spent a few minutes discussing the topic improvisation with the class and gathered their background knowledge and interest. From an instructor perspective, it was really exciting to see how many dance styles existed in the group and would be used later during improvisation.
Jumping right into improvisation, teachers asked the students to “walk the space”. The room was full of giggles. The teacher explained ways to make improvisational choices such as changing levels, directions, pathways or speed. In our first two lessons/schools,we did not give a visualization of the grid before playing the game and consequently the students tried to follow the lead teacher “on” the grid. In our second two lessons/schools, we introduced a visual such as grid paper or a checker board prior to playing the game which produced better results and student understanding. We then invited the students to circle up and let the group know that each student would be improvising their own “name dance”. After the teacher demonstrated her own name dance and had the class mirror or reflect the teacher’s movement, the teacher then instructs each student to visualize their own "name dance". Then teacher then gives one – two minutes of time for personal creation. Though this wasn’t in our original lesson plan, once in the classroom setting with new students we found that giving them extra time with background music made them more comfortable. Once the time was up, each student showed their “name dance” with the rest of the class mirroring and received applause upon finishing.
Upon introducing energy qualities (sharp, smooth, swingy, & shaky) the teacher asked the students to move along with her and to identify corresponding pedestrian movements or activities (i.e. sharp/karate, smooth/yogurt, swingy/monkey, shaky/turbulence on a flight.) Then students broke into partners with instructions to mirror each other’s “name dance” as well as incorporate two energy qualities to manipulate their "name dance" improvisation. The teachers then scanned and walked the room, giving feedback and aid to groups as needed. Their final composition was performed facing each other (mirroring). The rest of the group observed with teachers prompting students to share specific qualities seen.
Students were asked to give a short reflection on the material presented in the form of a journal question. Students were asked to respond to the following: Which concept (space, time or energy) made you feel most comfortable in today's improvisations? Students were also asked to give written feedback on the lesson as a whole, pros & cons.

 

Tools and Artifacts

Our only materials used were the reflection journals. This strategy is impactful because teachers can reflect/modify lesson (successes/needs work). Journal entry acts as body of work for reflection of experiences. Here are some of our favorite quotes from our lessons:

Students were asked to give a short reflection on the material presented in the form of a journal question. Students were asked to respond to the following: Which concept (space, time or energy) made you feel most comfortable in today's improvisations? Students were also asked to give written feedback on the lesson as a whole, pros & cons. Student quotes:

“The concept of space is the best for me while improvising a dance. I say this because I think dancing depends on the amount of space you have. During this workshop my favorite part was improvising the name dances because it was totally fun!” – South High School Student

“I was most comfortable with energy and space while improvising. I liked energy because it added a lot more movement and flourish to otherwise average movement. Space was simply fun to experiment with.” – Denver School of Innovative and Sustainable Design Student

“The ones that made me the most comfortable was space and energy because when we were playing the grid game I could go anywhere in the room, any way I liked. Energy helped me to depict how I should execute my moves. I liked the grid game because it warmed everybody up to the dance improv we did.” – Kunsmiller Creative Arts Academy Student

“Space made me feel comfortable most because I was able to go where I wanted. It allowed me to express myself which is what dance is mainly about. What I liked was we were actually able to learn and dance.” – Denver School of Innovative and Sustainable Design Student

“I feel the most comfortable for space, though I didn’t mind time and energy but space was the most comfortable and easiest to do. It was easy just to change directions when I was walking, also having different pathways like walking backwards, forwards, side-ways, etc. Also, it was easy to change levels like standing on my tippy-toes to crawling down on the floor.” – Kunsmiller Creative Arts Academy Student

Workshop Session Files

Workshop Session Images

Reflections and Discoveries

 

What new insights were gained?

During the course of teaching these lessons many insights were gained. We realized especially, that as we followed the original lesson plan for introducing the “name dance”, we were asking students to close their eyes and visualize their name through movement. It quickly became apparent that students needed time on their own to prepare themselves and their movement to be able to share out in the circle. We happily made the change, putting on background music and giving them a chance to utilize intra or interpersonal connections as they worked. Being guest artists, we felt the need for a more flexible presentation of the lesson. However, this allowed them time to create and compose a phrase as opposed to improvising the “name dance” on the spot which was the original concept and objective. We began to spend more time on composition after that, moving into partner work that dealt with manipulation of their already composed phase work. Upon reflection, we realized that about 1/3 of the lesson was comprised of students’ creation and an introduction of a compositional tool. While another 1/3 of the lesson was entirely focused on improvisation (the grid game), the lesson did not support the learning objective. There seemed to be an imbalance between improvisation and composition.
Our notes for change:

  • Upon introduction of the “name dance”, challenge students to actually improvise! Give about 30 seconds for visualization in the circle to allow for expression of movement. Then ask for a volunteer to go first, and continue mirroring every student’s movement around the circle. This may take several tries around the circle before students are comfortable – they may not want to do it! This is the point of trying to break them out of their comfort zone. After every student has had a chance to share, take time to discuss which body parts were used most. Most likely, it will be a lot of arms, hands, legs and feet. Were the students aware of that? Now it’s time to share again – this time students are not allowed to reuse body parts and will be challenged to use their full body to make shapes as well.
  • We believe this lesson would be more effective if there was a third improvisation game in place of the partner manipulation activity. The partner work ended up being more compositional practice than improvisational and it felt conflicted. Energy, as an element, does not need to be introduced because space and time are sufficient material for this lesson and grade level.
  • However, while it was not identified as an element to be discussed in the objective, “body” was present in every part of this lesson. Moving forward, we would suggest adding the element of “body” to the lesson objective.

What sorts of things make you feel uncomfortable when you are working in the community and/or with this population? Why?

While neither of us felt uncomfortable, we did feel that the student populations we presented this lesson to were more advanced than what we had expected/what was planned. This in turn, affected the delivery of the lesson because in many cases we found ourselves in a position where the modifications would have been appropriate but were underprepared.

 

If you could do this activity again, what would you do differently?

When prompted about what they would change or what they disliked about this lesson, students responded with the following:

“I would focus more on the name game.” – Noel Community Arts School Student

“I would have used more pop-y music, or softer music but that’s just me” – Denver School of Innovative and Sustainable Design Student

“I thought the grid game was a bit long” – South High School Student

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