Count down to teaching dance

Miranda Fettes attends a training course with teachers and PE specialists working on motor skills for P1-P3 classes

Jogging trousers and trainers are the dress code of the evening at the Greenhall Centre in Gorebridge, Midlothian, where 27 P1 to P3 teachers, physical education specialists and learning assistants are attending a two-hour in-service training in dance teaching.

Delivered by YDance, the training is introducing the Scottish Youth Dance agency's 3 2 1 Go! CD-Rom pack for 4- to 7-year-olds.

Katy McKeown, the education director for YDance, takes the women - not a single man has volunteered for the training - through a series of demonstrations, from simple movements to sequences, dynamics and themes.

They are asked to spread out and Mrs McKeown introduces them to Follow My Leader, picking one teacher to take the lead. "You're moving around the room, tapping people on the head and they follow behind you, copying the way you're moving.

"With some classes, you've got to stress it's just a gentle tap!"

Mrs McKeown asks the leader to change the way she is moving at random. "You might want to add in a bounce or turns."

Then a new leader is picked. "This time, we're going to concentrate on rhythm. We're going to change every eight beats and introduce dynamics: high for eight counts, low for eight counts.

"You're addressing lots of things: rhythmic challenges, musicality ..."

Mrs McKeown asks the teachers to think about how they would build on a simple game like Follow My Leader. For example, she says, week one the children could be following the leader with head taps and clapping. The next week, they could change leader every eight counts. Then they could introduce animal movements.

"You're asking them to build up skills over the weeks."

The teachers split into groups to discuss how they would develop the dance moves with their classes, but some have reservations. "I think for P1, that might be moving too fast," says one.

"You know your classes best," responds Mrs McKeown. "You pick and choose what you think would work best with your class. I'm just giving you some ideas."

She suggests teachers can recap on the previous week's game and add something every week, thus building up slowly, to improve motor skills through a variety of activities, such as jumping, turning, making shapes and balancing.

She says children respond well to a theme, which teachers could adapt slightly each week. For example, if the theme is animals, she suggests the teacher could focus on heavy animals one week, perhaps followed the next week by something much lighter and more nimble. Bringing in pictures of birds or dinosaurs and talking about how they would move could stimulate the children.

"Ideally, you're going to have a set of motor objectives," explains Mrs McKeown. "You're not trying to be a dancer; you're directing a lesson. By not being too prescriptive, you're giving the children the freedom to be creative.

"There's no mystery to choreography. You've got a block and then you build on another block and another. You can repeat sections or repeat and modify.

Then you have a motif. It can be a single movement or a sequence that you work into the dance.

"It's a really good confidence builder for the children."

The 3 2 1 Go! pack is introduced by a dancing frog named Gorf, who demonstrates safe warm-ups, dance moves and games.

Dorothy Stewart, a P1 and P2 teacher at Pathhead Primary, and Susan McKinney, a P1 teacher at Danderhall Primary, say: "There's loads you can do with dance but I would need a resource to help me, I think it would be good."

YDance's Dance In Schools workshops are being extended to primary and secondary pupils across Scotland over the next two years, with funding from the Scottish Executive. The initiative also aims to train teachers.

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