Dancing's not for fairies
A five-year-old who attended my dance class the other day told me in no uncertain terms that not only were his shoes "cool" but that "dancing's for girls". Despite his dictum, dance should be fun for both boys and girls. Throw out conventionally traditional and gender-specific ideas from the start: no twinkly fairies. Country dancing is another no-no, though it does satisfy "movement patterns from different times" (national curriculum, key stage 2). It is much better to use jive, rock and roll, Charleston or line-dancing, and modern dance styles and music too.
Use pieces that the pupils recognise and like and ask them to bring in music. For variety, find an enthusiastic drummer to accompany you and the class. Percussion from drums, shakers, tambourines and clapping and clicking fingers encourages rhythm. If you cannot find a live drummer, recordings of Gabrielle Roth provide every good drum music; Ravi Shankar is a good contemporary Indian composer.
If you want pupils to understand quality of movement - noisy, quiet and so on - use imagery that they will understand, such as characters from the Mister Men series. "Let's tread quietly around the room like Mr Quiet," or "Let's stamp and punch our fists like Mr Angry!" For emotions, use imagery: in reception, maybe "Be sad, like Eeyore," or "Happy and bouncy like Tigger!" Young pupils need imagery to help them understand verbs of motion: instead of saying "spin," "curl", "sway," ask them to spin like a spinning top with and without a partner, to curl into a tight ball like a frightened hedgehog, to sway with a flag. Props are very useful, too. Pupils are immediately attracted to them and respond in movements.
Sometimes children do not have a concept of dance as a non-verbal activity. Chat with them for five minutes at the beginning of the class; then say:
"We are ready to dance with our bodies, and not with our voices."
Key stage 1 dance class
Keep the class to 30 minutes: do no not overstrain the pupils.
Space awareness: each child takes a hoop or mat, finds a space and sits on the mat or in the hoop. Ask them to look at you. Stretch their arms to the side and ask them if they are touching anybody else; they should allbe well spaced out, in a place of their own and facing front.
Moving around the room: get them to make a train. Stimulate their interest with a whistle or flag, red to stop and green to go. Put four chairs at each side of the room leaving space in the middle. Ask the train of pupils to move around the chairs behind their leader. Unwittingly, they have learned how to go around the room, keep in line with a leader, and stop and go.
Bridges and stepping stones: place a line of hoops as stepping stones. At the end of the stones make yourself into a bridge by going on all fours, tummy facing the floor. The children step into the hoops one at a time; when they get to you, they crawl under your bridge-shape without touching your body. If they touch you, make a loud beeping or buzzing sound. Wiggling through the bridge teaches them to go one at a time, with control.
Stimulating imagination (with tub of bubbles as prop): pupils sit on their mats and pretend they are on flying carpets. Shutting their eyes, they hold their arms out straight to the side as if flying through space. At the end of the journey they arrive in Bubble Land. While the teacher blows bubbles, pupils jump high, catch and pop them. How many can they pop? Explain that when they bend their knees, they can jump higher.
Make a dance: ask the pupils what work they could imagine doing if they lived in a village, for example, digging, grinding, pounding, carrying water. Then examine these activities as actions. Divide the class into small groups. Each group tries a different activity. Explore changes in rhythm and changes in height. Ask them how they would feel if the weather was hot, or if there was a drought and there was no water.
There is a UK Directory of Registered Dance Teachers on the Council for Dance Education and Training's website: www.cdet.org.uk Samantha Jennings is a community dance teacherE-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Use movement imaginatively, responding to stimuli including music (travelling, being still, making a shape, dumping, turning, gesturing) * Change rhythm, speed, level and direction * Express and communicate ideas and feelings * Create and perform dances using simple movement patterns, including those from different times and cultures.