Name Dances: Creating with a Movement Alphabet

Providing children with a well-rounded dance education is more than just teaching steps. An important part of any dance education is learning how to create. Student choreography provides children ownership and self-expression over their work. When working with younger students providing a structure and simple choreographic devices can give them the support they need to successfully create their own piece while allowing them the freedom to make their work unique and reflective of their own movement personality. 

One activity my 6-7 year old Creative Jazz Ballet students at J'Adore Dance have been enjoying immensely is creating Name Dances using a movement alphabet. 

A movement alphabet assigns a movement for each letter of the alphabet. Here is mine:

A-   Jump

B-   Run

C-   Twirl

D-   Rush

E-   Creep

F-   Float

G-  Slither

H-  Hold

I-   Melt

J-  Shrink

K-  Rise

L-   Gallop

M-  March

N-   Skip

O-   Reach

P-   Spring

Q-   Glide

R-   Explode

S-   Spin

T-   Roll

U-  Balance

V-  Freeze

W-  Walk

X-   Crawl

Y-   Slide

Z-   Punch

You could modify this alphabet to include any movement words you like. 

To create a name dance you simply spell your name with the movement words associated with each letter in your name. For example my name would be:

J-  Shrink

E-   Creep

S-   Spin

S-   Spin

I-   Melt

C-   Twirl

A-   Jump

When working with my students I had them each write their name vertically down a piece of paper and then write the corresponding movement words beside their letters as shown above. It was quite a joyful experience listening to the dancers discover what movements "spelled" their name. 

Once they had spelled their names I put on a piece of music for them to explore combining their movement words (I used the song "Popcorn" by Ebay Queen). I also asked the dancers to start their dance in a clear shape and end their dance in a clear shape. After some practice time, they got into partners to perform their pieces for one another and provide feedback (I usually encourage them to share 2 things they really liked and one thing to improve). After a bit more practice time I split the group in half and they took turns performing their Name Dances for each other. This would be a great creating activity on its own, however I decided to take it a bit further with my students. 

To expand on this piece of choreography I decided to use an ABA form. Section A would be their own name dances, danced as simultaneous solos, and section B would be a group unison section using the word DANCE:

D-   Rush

A-   Jump

N-   Skip

C-   Twirl

E-   Creep

I gave the students lots of choices (sometimes we even voted when we did not have a unanimous decision) while developing section B so that they continued to feel ownership over the process.  We then returned to section A to finish the dance. 

I love the excitement and engagement my students have been displaying while we work on this piece. I have even had parents comment on how much their children spoke about these dances and that they were so committed to the process they continued to work on them at home in their own time. As a teacher hearing this fills me with joy, as it is always my goal to create self motivated learners and dancers. 

This is an activity you could easily modify or expand on depending on your goals and the age of the dancers you are working with. It would also be a wonderful addition to a drama, physical education, or language arts class.

I hope you find this a useful resource! Please let me know if you end up using it with your students and what their experience was like.