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Sitars and sticky fingers

Indian music and stories are a source of ideas for Samantha Jennings's dance lessons.

A visual and aural feast, Indian dance and music drums up exciting images to explore in the primary classroom. Henna browns, spicy saffrons, fuschia pinks and jasmine yellows add colour and impact to this inspiring dance style. Indian music, with its haunting sounds of the sitar and dramatic beats, makes a stimulating resource.

Kathak is one branch of classical Indian dance. It emphasises storytelling, using mime and movement, and is danced by both sexes. The dancer in traditional Kathak represents all the characters of a story, with a repertoire of facial expressions, hand gestures and symbolic postures of the body.

There are endless Indian traditional folk stories to use, and, of course, Hindu religious story themes, with a wealth of male and female characters. Props such as silk squares dyed in bright colours and, as a reasonably safe weapon for a tribal or fight scene, a garden cane rounded off at both ends can be used. The cane can be decorated with silver foil with coloured feathers at the tip.

With a little preparation, Indian dance can be used for an exciting lesson for ages seven and up. You will need about an hour: 10 minutes to warm up "Indian-style"; ideally, 10 minutes for a dance demonstration of "The Exotic Bird" story (see opposite) by two dance students (or you could do this yourself); and 20 minutes for pupils to learn and perform the first part of "The Exotic Bird" dance.


* Walking: place hands in the greeting position: palms together, fingers pointing upwards, elbows out. Bow low from the waist saying "Namaste" ("hello") and walk around the room randomly weaving round each other, holding the greeting position with the hands. Encourage pupils to walk with good posture to the music. At the shake of a tambourine (or any percussion instrument) pupils stop and turn to the nearest person. Bowing low, they greet their opposite partner with the word Namaste. Continue in random patterns, finding a partner, greeting and bowing.

* Knee bends: place heels together, legs and feet turned out (first position classical ballet), and do a series of knee bends. Then, keeping legs and feet turned out, a series of knee bends in second position - that is, with heels facing each other but about hip-width apart (plies in second). Ask the pupils to feel tall, with spines straight and heels on floor. To help maintain balance, ask them to find and focus on a spot on the wall ahead.

* Use of hands: Allow the class to sit and take some time to explore the movements that their hands and fingers can make. For example, ask them to press their middle finger and thumb together as if the fingers are stuck together with "sticky sugar". Keeping this hand position, twist and curl hands and wrists to the music. Try other finger positions. Then use eyes expressively, following hands.

* Try some Indian hand and finger positions. Moon: make a fist. Put your thumb up like a hitch-hiker. Open out the forefinger so it points away from wrist.

Budding flower: make hands as in the "Namaste greeting position", but then drop elbows, keeping wrists together, push fingers away from each other and spread them open to make a flower shape.

Bird of paradise: press middle finger and thumb together, lift elbows and place a hand over each eye and peer through eye holes made by the hands. The other fingers should stretch away out from the eyes to represent feathers.

* Travelling: keeping the feet and knees turned out, make eight gallops to the right and eight gallops back, using a strong head turned in the appropriate direction. Use arms in the "greeting" position, placed behind the back with elbows well out to either side. This gallop should be done with a feeling of stamping into the ground and getting the weight down into the floor. Practise the gallops to the side, then curving around. Keep a strong eye-line towards each new direction.

The Exotic Bird (an original story written by the author) The mime section Rhandir and Shivani were brother and sister in a remote village in north India. One afternoon, they were mending some coloured silk garments (sit cross-legged and mime sowing action using silk square), when they were attracted by a vision at the window, an amazing bird of paradise (mime bird of paradise, see above).

At first, they were afraid (mime interlaced hands, or cross arms over head and cover eyes, looking afraid and leaning back slightly), but then when they saw how beautiful the bird was (mime drawing a circle with finger around own face) they decided to follow it despite the possible dangers (the pupils stand up - can they stand up from sitting without using their hands on the floor?).

The dance section For the first set of travels to find the bird, take eight gallops "to the East" and eight gallops "to the West", with the arms in the greetings position behind the back and head sharply turned in the appropriate direction. Then travel over hills and mountains with a partner. Ask the children to watch each other and allow them to evaluate and appreciate each other's work.

Forming two lines like two trains and holding on to each other, they run on the balls of their feet, like a rollercoaster imitating the tilt of the hills, their bodies moving up and down. When the two lines meet up at a central point at the back of the room, they should make a rough semi-circle.

Here a group steps out for a mock fight scene to save the bird's life from evil creatures. One suggestion is to do this in slow motion. Fight scenes need to be well controlled. The garden-cane prop could be used here. The most interesting choreography or group could be chosen to dance that section alone. The remaining pupils could take on the role of the crowd, jostling, watching or cheering the fight scene to save the bird's life. They may also freeze in a tableau, while the slowed-down fight scene continues in front of them.

Final mime section Against all the odds, Rhandir and Shivani save the bird from the evil creatures. A festival takes place to celebrate the siblings' victory and a golden feather is awarded. Rhandir and Shivani walk through an archway of well-wishers who bow down to them. Meeting the exotic bird, they fly away with it as their companion and bodyguard.

Samantha Jennings runs a dance school in Cheltenham and teaches peripatetically in primary schools E-mail:


'Vision of Peace: The Art of Ravi Shankar' (Deutsche Grammophon UK) 'Bhangra Rough Guide' Enhanced CD 'One-Way Ticket to British Asia' from World Music Network 2000. Tel: 020 7498 5252

International Dance Societies Akademi (The Academy of Indian Dance), Hampstead Town Hall, 213 Haverstock Hill, London NW3 4QP. Tel: 020 7691 3210.

Kadam, The Pilgrim Centre, 20 Brickhill Drive, Bedford MK41 7PZ. Tel: 01234 316 028.

Sampad, co mac, Cannon Hill Park, Birmingham, B12 9QH. Tel: 0121 446 4312. E-mail:

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