Having a Tudor ball

21st February 2003 at 00:00
A dance workshop proved a great hit with primary pupils and added some bounce to their curriculum work, says Chris Fautley

You put your left leg in, your right leg out. Or is it the other way round? And does it matter? Still, the hokey-cokey lives on - in, out, in, out, shake it all about - and is, for many, the extent of their dancing. Unless, that is, you try something a little different.

Let's hear it, then, for the Nonsuch History and Dance Company, a charity promoting dances from history. And take a bow, Year 6 at Brockham Primary School, near Dorking. Last term they learned how it felt to be toe-tapping Tudors when Nonsuch supported their Tudor studies with a dance workshop.

Dressed in period costume the education team, led by Darren Royston, spent an hour with each class teaching dance steps and the social history behind Tudor dancing. The idea, he explains, was to demonstrate one's importance; the more exhibitionistic the demeanour, the greater the status, even with basics such as walking, bowing and curtseying.

"Show us how important you are," urges Darren as 26 pairs of small feet skip around the school hall. "Tell us who you are by walking."

Status was also reflected in dress, he continues, fingering his ruff. (The queen wore a gigantic one.) If it sounds as though the Tudors were poseurs, then that's about right. Not for nothing is one dance called a pavane, derived from the Latin for peacock.

Nonsuch runs workshops for seven-year-olds and upwards, but Year 6 seems to be the perfect age. "This age group just throw themselves into it," Darren says, adding that older children sometimes have more inhibitions. The older they are, the more it is likely to be seen as "history", that is, very distant. "At this age, history is people who just lived differently because of the time."

Knowledge of the Tudors helps: the workshop complemented class work, which would be followed by a Tudor banquet.

"We are always looking for ways to add a little bit extra to what would normally go on in the classroom - to make it a bit more special and alive," says deputy head Liz Griffiths. She says the workshop fitted in well with the pupils' history curriculum work and was an added bonus for their work in dance.

In the hall, dancing begins in earnest. First, a simple "two steps: all you need to know," says Darren's colleague, Caryl Griffith. Next, a farandole - something like follow my leader. "You have to be quite relaxed in all this," insists Darren above a sea of laughter. Later we try the tordion, pavane and galliarde. "Kick. Back. Cut. Spring. Jump. Land." Or something similar.

The day's finale draws all 78 children and teachers together for another galliarde. "Ten seconds to teach, an age to perfect," remarks Caryl with approval.

"I think the children loved it," says Liz Griffiths. "You could see from their faces. They were fully involved for the whole time."

By going over points already covered in the classroom, they had been able to answer many of the questions they had been asked and learned about new areas too, such as court life. Headteacher Alison Knott says that Tudor groups have visited the school before, but none had the impact of Nonsuch.

"They were very patient, didn't mind if the children were a bit noisy, listened when they needed to listen," she says, observing that nobody was being judged. It was just fun.

"Darren told them 'don't worry if you didn't get it,'" she comments on his instructions for a more complex dance. "'Throw your legs around. Enjoy.

Jump.' If they'd felt they had to follow the steps perfectly, they probably would have given up." As the old song goes, it's not what you do, but the way that you do it. And didn't the Nonsuch Tudors know it.

Nonsuch is based in the south east but will visit schools throughout the UK. Fees vary according to numbers and expenses, so where long distances are involved, they suggest it is more economic for schools to club together so they can spend several days in one region. Brockham Primary School paid pound;300 for a three-tutor, one-day session for 78 children.

Tel: 0207 735 8353 www.nonsuch-history-and-dance.org.uk

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