Creating dance is a way to teach children about creative and divergent thinking, design principles, and developing an artistic product. It is a way to celebrate each child’s unique way of experiencing art.
Choreography in primary school dance presents teachers with opportunities to inspire children’s ideas about making art. It also presents strong links to other learning areas including Literacy and Science.
What is Choreography?
Choreography is designing dance. When choreographing we apply compositional tools and choreographic principles to communicate ideas, thoughts, stories, and feelings.
It involves experimentation, exploration, and improvisation through the body. In addition, the shaping of dance requires editing, rehearsing, and reflecting before the final piece of choreography is complete. Its purpose is to communicate, and its ultimate outcome may be performance.
What I have just described will be familiar to teachers as they mirror the processes of science and of other art forms. When we write many of these design principles and the processes are the same.
Science features stages of gathering data, formulating hypothesis, observing, and experimenting, gathering new data, drawing conclusions, and presenting findings.
These are seen in choreography through:
• the preparation phase of gathering data through research,
• the incubation phase of finding the relationship between parts of the problem and brainstorming ideas,
• the illumination phase of experimentation and improvisation,
• the verification phase where be bring order out of chaos,
• the refinement and reflection phase where material is edited, evaluated, and polished
• and finally, the performance.
The Upper Primary choreographic activity
Dance choreographic activities have many starting points. They need to evolve out of thematic material that the students are investigating either in dance or in another learning area, or focus on a design principle that you would like them to explore.
Choreography is concerned with shaping raw movement material using the principles of aesthetic design.
Whatever you decide, it is important in this age group that the dance choreographic task has parameters. Choreographic projects may focus on choreographic devices, structures, or tools.
Some of these may include:
Form and structure
The choreographic project could focus on the structure or form of the dance piece. Structures for this age group could be very simple like using a beginning, middle, and end, or a dance in two parts (AB).
You could make this more complex by asking students to use the choreographic device of contrast. Or perhaps structure the dance in the form of a call and response.
Another alternative could be using the Narrative form, including a climax. This is useful for checking on student understanding about writing in this form. However, I would usually do this in year 3 & 4 in line with literacy learning objectives.
Composing a dance by building it around a theme doesn’t have to be restricting. Students may develop motifs or characteristic movements that represent their ideas about the theme. These movements may return throughout the choreography to provide continuity to the choreography.
In their book, Choreography: the basics, Roche and Burridge discuss using dance choreography for social change. This is highly relevant for this age group as they are starting to explore their own ways of pushing boundaries fueled by developing ideas.
Showing children new ways to express ideas, challenges how they can communicate through art to activate social change.
Finding a stimulus
Even if your choreographic focus is on a point of view or narrative representation you will need to provide stimulus for the children to begin exploring their movements. These may be found by the children during their research phase.
Stimulus can include music, props, items from nature, images, poems, picture books, graphic novels, articles from the newspaper or magazines. Choreography in Primary school is only limited by your imagination and how much time you have to complete the choreographic tasks.
Focusing on a particular Dance Element could also provide stimulus for movement. This could include exploring different groupings and relationships between dancers. These elements will be linked to the intent of choreography but provide a framework for movement exploration.
Questions dance teachers need to ask
Have I provided so much structure that every child’s choreography looks the same?
It is important to allow for children’s individuality to be supported through the process. Even though there is a need for a framework and a focus, students need to play! This is part of the creative process.
Do the children have enough tools in their toolbox to do this choreography activity?
Understanding the use of choreographic devices and the Dance Elements is central to students feeling confident about experimenting with choreography. Choreographic devices are tools we use to manipulate movement. We can not assume that all children have been through similar dance learning experiences, either at school or externally. Therefore recapping, showing examples and checking for understanding are crucial.
What is the choreographic focus of the activity that the children will learn about?
You need clear learning intentions so that children understand what they are exploring and then demonstrating. This should be articulated many times and in many ways throughout the creative learning process.
Have I made it clear how I and they will measure the success of their choreography?
If your learning intentions are clear, then what makes it successful will be transparent. However sometimes the success will be the experience of each phase of the project, rather than a beautifully crafted piece of choreography at the end. Negotiating this measure of success in the beginning of the project with your students is a great way to establish the collaborative nature of dance making in a Primary school context.
Have I allowed enough time for the children to research, explore and create, reflect on, and refine their dance?
As usual, how much time you have will determine the scope of your dance choreographic project. This is not just in schools, but in profession dance contexts. Make some part of the project happen as a whole class led by the teacher, and others in small groups, pairs or individually can speed up parts of the choreographic project.
Your research phase could be part of another learning area activity that then can feed into the choreography. Alternatively, it could be a home focused part of the project that gathers information and is then shared at school.
Ensure that you leave time for reflection and refinement of their choreographic product. Just being satisfied with the first draft of a dance is a habit that can spill over into other learning areas.
What is central to the act of choreography for this age group is that children have a broad range of experiences around playing with making dance. They need variety in how they research, shape, and arrange their movements.
Understanding how they can play with the Dance Elements and different choreographic devices supports them exploring and growing their unique movement vocabulary. Of equal significance is exposure to choreographers work from around in the world in a broad range of contexts.
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