Dance can be an intimidating art form for teachers if they do not consider themselves to be dancers. But even teachers who consider themselves non-dancers can effectively integrate dance into their classrooms. Many dance integration activities do not require an entire dance piece to be created. However, if you do want to create a piece, how do you go about choreographing one? It’s all about structure. Here are a few pointers that may help you with structuring dance, a piece based on a story or a process. For each step, you need to decide for yourself how much input you will elicit from the students.
- Determine your objectives. As with any arts integration activity, be sure you are clear on both the dance and the core curriculum objectives. As you proceed through the process, be sure you are creating a dance that reaches those objectives.
- Create a general structure. If you are creating a dance to tell a story or demonstrate a process you can use that inherent structure to create the structure for your dance. Create a storyboard with each panel highlighting the key events so everyone knows how many sections the dance will have.
- Determine movements. Using the general structure of the story or process, determine what information needs to be given in each section or panel of the storyboard and what dance movements will convey that information. Depending on your purpose you may want specific movements to be executed in exactly the same way by all dancers or you may wish to leave it open to interpretation by the individual dancers.
- Use counts. Many pieces of music are written with a very clear beat. Once the movements have been determined, give a specific number of beats for each movement to be executed (depending on the music it could be 4, 6, 8, 12, 16, etc.). This can be tightly choreographed with specific movements matched to specific beats(slowly expand your butterfly wings for 8 then close them on 1-2, open them on 3-4, close them on 5-6 and open them on 7-8) or the beats can be given as the parameters within which certain movements should be executed (use 16 counts to slowly expand your wings and begin to open and close them).
- Determine the entrance. Will all the dancers already be in the performance space/stage or will the dancers enter from off-stage? If it’s decided the dancers should begin the piece already on stage, determine how they arrive at their positions and an opening shape that will be held until the performance begins. If they will be entering, determine the movement, order, and position of the dancers.
- Determine the exit. Will the dancers end the dance while still on stage or will they exit the stage to signal the ending? If the dancers will remain on stage, have them create an ending shape in which to freeze so the audience knows the piece has completed. If they will be exiting, determine the movements and the order of exit remembering that the exit is still part of the dance! Even if the dancers exit after the dance has concluded, students will still need instruction on how to exit the stage in an orderly and professional fashion.
Naturally, there are many ways to construct a dance. That is one of the beauties of art and the creative process; there is no one right way. However, if you need a jumping off point, by using the structure inherent in the story or process you want to demonstrate through dance, you can create an effective piece with your students!
Deirdre is a teaching artist and AI coach in the San Diego public schools dedicated to helping classroom teachers make arts an integral part of their teaching. Deirdre has an MEd in Arts Integration and over twenty years of classroom and performing arts teaching experience. Email Deirdre.