Exploring the New Year through dance in the classroom.

Dance in the Primary classroom

The start of a new school year is a time for renewal, building new relationships in the classroom and instilling positive ideas about learning. For young students and teachers alike, a fresh year promises new and rewarding experiences.

In the dance classroom, welcoming in the New Year is also an opportunity to explore cultural dance, foster global awareness and embrace cultural differences.  Dance, food, and art are inherent parts of many cultures New Years celebrations around the world.

The links between these cultural aspects provide a wonderful chance for children to explore a range of perspectives from different countries around the world.  These celebrations also provide opportunities for teachers to connect dance, history, culture, and science.

The earliest recorded New Years festivities date back to Babylon where the festival of Akuti was celebrated on the first new moon following the vernal equinox. As a result, the New Year was celebrated on a different day each year.

Julius Caesar instigated the Julius calendar in 45 B.C., making January 1st the first day of the year.  However today, not all festivities happen on the eve of January 1st.

New Years Cultural Dances

Around the world the New Years dances reflect the customs and history of the individual regions and countries.  From the Romania Bear dances of Bucovina and Moldova regions, where dancers dressed as bears dance and sing through the street to ward off evil, to the Tamang dancers of Nepal, New Year is a time to dance.

In Primary/Elementary dance classrooms exploring the links between dance and the New Year celebrations can begin with children being able to talk about their own cultural experiences of New Year.  How does their family celebrate New Year?  Is dance a part of those celebrations?

For some students, social dance will be a part of these festivities, but cultural dance may also be practiced as a part of family or community New Years celebrations.

By watching and talking about a range of cultural practices and dances, children can be encouraged to share their own personal experiences and perspectives. Here are a few examples that you could investigate further in your classroom.  Alternatively, you may wish to invite a cultural community member to share their dance with the students.

Dance in the Elementary School classroom

Shishimai: Japanese New Year

The Shishimai dance, or Japanese Lion Dance is usually accompanied by Taiko or Japanese drums.  It is practiced in traditional areas and Shinto shrines.

The dance is said to ensure that the audience avoids hunger and calamity.  At these performances, people approach the lion to be ‘bitten’ on the head as a way of bringing happiness for the year ahead.

This video of the Shishimai dance being performed included a traditional performance with information about the story behind the dance and people in the street inviting the lion to bite them!

Dance in the Primary classroom

Lion Dance: Lunar New Year

The Chinese Spring Festival follows the Luna Calendar and takes place over a different 15 days each year. This celebration is famous for the Lion Dance which is performed around the world to celebrate the New Year.

The Lion dance requires great skill to be performed and the high-pole lion dancers train to be able to jump smoothly between small platforms while enacting the characteristics of playful lions.

“As lion dancers, we always go by this motto that 10 years of practice is equal to one minute on stage,” says Calvin Zhen, who currently plays the lion head for Leung’s White Crane Dragon and Lion Dance Association, a competitive team from San Francisco.  (Marina Wang, www.atlasobscura.com)

This video of the high-pole lion dancers in Singapore shows the skill and danger involved with this dance.

Ideas for New Years Choreographic Activities

In your dance class you can create your own choreography based on a country’s traditions at New Year.  Invite the children to research the background and customs of a particular country create a narrative about those traditions.

There doesn’t need to be a set dance, just use the stimulus of the cultural practices, the Elements of Dance, and various choreographic devices.  The focus of the choreography will depend on the age and stage of your students.

Telling cultural stories in the Primary classroom

Suitcase dance – Columbia

In Columbia, like many other countries the focus of New Year in on bringing fortune and prosperity to your family.  Many people bring empty suitcases to their New Years parties to attract travel and prosperity in the coming year.

This presents an opportunity for older students to work with props and explore using a suitcase as stimulus and as a part of their dance.  Encourage the use of moving under, over and around the suitcase as they improvise their movements.

Leaping into the New Year – Denmark

Danish revellers smash plates and old dishes against their family and friends’ doors to ward off bad spirits.  While I would not encourage smashing plates in your classroom, the Dynamic of throwing can be improvised and developed into dance.

The Danish also jump off chairs and leap into the New Year.  Jumping and throwing movements will encourage children to explore high energy Dynamics in their dances.

New Year dances in your classroom

You may like to choreograph set dances as a class that can be revisited throughout the year.  The Welcome Dance is one I have used many times to help my students to feel accepted and seen in a new classroom.

storytelling through dance

‘Getting to know you’ choreographic activities will help you and your students to learn more about each other in the new school year. These are a few choreographic activities that can support this inclusive approach in a new classroom.

Exploring stories through dance

For younger students the following books are a fantastic entry to exploring movement about Lunar New Years celebrations.

Cultural Dance in the Primary Classroom

Our Family Dragon

The book Our Family Dragon: a Lunar New Year Story, by Rebecca Lim (text) and Cai Tse (illustrator), is suitable for 3 – 7 year olds.  The child narrator introduces both ancient traditions and contemporary Australian approaches to Lunar New Year.

It’s about delicious food, and traditions that may be familiar some children and others that may be new. This highly descriptive book is perfect as a stimulus for movement and cultural connection.

Lion Dancer: Ernie Wan’s Chinese New Year by Kate Waters

I have suggested this book in the past, but it really is perfect for young dancers.  It covers how dance is passed down through generations and the intricacies of performing the Lion dance.

Welcome to the New Year

Approaching the new school year with joy, dance, and movement seems to be the perfect way of overcoming some of the anticipation and anxiety for students and teachers.  Using dance to get to know your students while exploring cultural connections can be a powerful way to guide children through uncharted waters.

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All the best for your exciting new year of creating dance and movement.