Dance can be a powerful way for children to express spoken word. While some children are masters of expressive language, others can struggle to communicate ideas, feelings or understanding with words. Dance provides educators a "hands on" way to integrate movement into lanuage arts curriculum. Physicalization provides a powerful way to develop meaningful understanding of new concepts. It can also be used as an alternative assessment tool that recognizes children learn and express their learnings in different ways.
One activity I enjoy doing at my studio with dancers ages 6-12 are Cinquain Dances. A Cinquain is a 5 line poem. There are a few different ways a cinquain can be created but I like to use the following structure:
Line 1: Subject (Noun)
Line 2: Two adjectives describing the subject
Line 3: Three verbs related to the subject
Line 4: A four word sentence related to the subject
Line 5: One synonym related to subject
When beginning this activity, I teach or review with my dancers what are nouns, adjectives, verbs, and synonyms. We come up with examples of each until the dancers have a clear understanding of these parts of speech. Then I will show them a cinquain I have writen related to a concept or theme we have been exploring in class.
Rising, floating, falling
Tumbling through the air
Next I give the students simple movement conepts or devices to accompany each line of the poem.
Leaves- One shape
High, light- Two shapes
Rising, floating, falling- Two non-locomotor movements (moving in place: rising, falling), one locomotor movement (moving through the space: floating)
Tumbling through the air- a locomotor movement ending in a shape
Fall- One shape
I give the dancers some time to explore the different ways they may want to express each line of the poem. After practicing all together in a large group, I then separate the dancers into smaller groups so they can preform for each other. The dancers in the audience are given the task of coming up with one thing they observed during the other dancers' performance they liked which they share at the end. This provides an opportunity for young dancers to perform, evaluate, and reflect.
I end the lesson by giving the dancers their own cinquain work sheet to complete at home on a specific theme or concept. This allows me to not only assess their ability to create a cinquain but also their level of understanding about the cinquain subject. For language arts teachers it would also be a way to assess their students understanding of parts of speech.
Line 1 (Subject): Snow
Line 2 (2 adjectives describing snow):
Line 3: (3 verbs related to snow):
Line 4: (4 word sentence related to snow):
Line 5: (1 synonym related to snow):
At our next class I have the dancers share their cinquains with the class. When a dancer is reading their poem I will ask the other dancers to close their eyes and try to visualize (imagine) what the reader is saying. I find this step helps the dancers once we start moving as they have already created mental images of the words.
Next, we create a cinquain together as a group based on the ideas the dancers came up with in their own poems. To integrate math curriculum, you could create bar graphs representing the words the dancers used in their own cinquains and use the most common words.
Once we have created a new cinquain we also decide as a group what movement concepts or devices we will use for each line. This provides an opportunity to review concepts and devices we have previously learned.
Snow- Various angular shapes
Crisp, soft - Half the group will create angular shapes with sharp energy, while the other half creates curves shapes with smooth energy
Twirling, freezing, gliding- The group will move in canon through a these movements (twirling in through the space, freezing in place, gliding through the space)
Melting at your touch- One dancer will touch other dancers one at a time and they will melt to a low shape
Winter- Dancers will create a final group "puzzle" piece shape using low, middle, and high levels
Depending on the age and focus of my group I will either break them into smaller groupings and give them time to create their cinquain dance in groups independently, or we will work together as a full class putting together the movement sequences for each line. If doing smaller groups, after practice time we will again perform and evaluate each other's dances.
You do not need to be a dance educator to do this activity with your class. Classroom teachers could use this activity as a capping project for topics students have been studying in science, social studies, art, music, and math while integrating lanuage arts and physical education. Students use multiple intelligences and learning styles when they move through this holistic process creating a dynamic experience for all learners!
If you use this activity in your dance studio or classroom I'd love to hear how you and your students enjoyed the process! Happy Dancing!