Saturday, November 17, 2012

Listen when your student says "no" and you might get a "yes"

I can't believe it has been a month since I lasted posted - it has been unfair of me to keep all my new movement ideas to myself!  So let me get right to sharing:

  1. We all have bodies meaning we all have something in common
  2. We all use our bodies to communicate, no matter how subtle or grandiose
  3. Our muscles hold emotions and sometimes we hold our muscles
  4. Moving our bodies is beneficial for our mental, physical and emotional health
  5. Moving can teach you new things about yourself and others
  6. Everyone can move
  7. There is no right or wrong way to move
  8. Some kids can't stop moving
  9. Some kids are shy to move around others
  10. Everyone's bodies and feelings about movement should be honored to make moving safe, fun and comfortable

I was teaching 3rd graders (not a movement class) but of course I added movement because I always throw in kinesthetic learning no matter what I teach. I started leading a movement exercise and one of my students started to get angry crossed his arms and asked if he "had to dance."  I said yes.  Well, he was not happy and I saw him get anxious tensing his shoulders and standing stiff like a statue.  After the class I thought about the experience.  I wanted him to dance and explore his movement potential but forcing him to move when he was not comfortable had an adverse effect.  His body closed down and he became stressed. 

The next class we were sitting in chairs and I had the children stand up and sing and dance.  I bent over and whispered to him that he could join in if he was comfortable but he should do what felt right to him.  He smiled and looked relieved.  His friend sat next to him and I noticed that they were "dancing" in their chairs.  He had permission to explore his body the way he was comfortable and did it beautifully!

Permission to use your body in a way that is accessible to you (physically, emotionally and mentally) is huge.  Safety and comfort is huge.  And listening to your students is huge - picking up signals not only verbally but in all forms of communication.

It is hard as a teacher to sometimes pull back and look at why a child is saying "no" or not wanting to participate. 

The next time your student/child says "no" (even if you are super excited about your lesson or creative idea) take a moment to explore why they don't want to participate.  Giving a child permission to say "no" might lead them to exploring at their own pace and teach them movement is safe because they are choosing to do it - and not being forced before they are ready.  And that "no" might soon become a "yes."

Explore the "no's" with the children in your life!


Saturday, October 6, 2012

What do Apples and Butterflies Have in Common?

A few years ago my sister went to France and came back with a beautiful picture book La Pomme Et Le Papillon. (It means the apple and the butterfly.)  I love books and wanted her to bring me back a children's book, even though I do not speak French. 
To my surprise and delight there are no words in this book - only illustrations.  The first page is an illustration of the inside of an apple hanging from a tree with a tiny little caterpillar emerging from the core.  The caterpillar slowly eats its way out of the apple and as you flip the pages you continue the caterpillar's adventure as it  hangs down off the apple, lands on a nearby branch and builds a cocoon.  The illustration of the tree shows the passing of time as the leaves change color, fall off the branches and then new leaves develop as the butterfly peaks its head outside of its slumbering home.  At the end of the story, the butterfly flies off to a new blossoming apple tree and lays an egg on an apple blossom.  The cycle begins again.
I was thinking of this book today because it is apple picking season here in New England.  And when I teach thematic classes in autumn I utilitze the idea of picking apples.  The children and I usually talk about reaching to pick the apples, pushing the wagon, rolling down the hill, slicing and crunching apples but never what can happen inside an apple.
Dans la pomme, il y a une petite chenille. (...) - next picture
The mysteries of the unknown, a world within a world - now that is the place that imaginations can really soar like a butterfly!  New ways of approaching a subject can be exciting for student and teacher alike. 
This book's story unfolds with pictures.  It clearly demonstrates that a story can be told elequently without a single word.  This is a great way to tie movement and literacy together.  The students can dance the story.  
And of course there are so many action words that can come out of the story as well: peak, crawl, wiggle, hang, nestle, fall, grow, expand, fly, glide, perch, open, descend - to name a few.  And I bet your students can come up with twice as many by exploring the story with their bodies or by coming up with their own apple adventure.  
Think outside the box and open this book for a new look at using the imagery of apples this autumn season.  And don't forget to come back to it at spring time to add to the discovery and adventure!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Stress balls!

Have you ever squeezed a stress ball?  It squishes in your hand but gives enough resistance to keep your hand and arm muscles active.   When you release the ball it bounces back to it's original shape and your hand relaxes.  It feels really good!

Some kids need to keep their muscles active, need to feel resistance or just need to fidget and keep their hands or bodies busy.  They learn better and are more productive when they are moving, feeling, sensing and/or experiencing something.

Even though I teach movement and dance I have told students to "stop moving and pay attention."  It's silly when I think about it.  I am asking a child to stop in order to process what I am saying.  What if he or she needs to move in order to process the information?

I can't sit still to learn.  I can sit still but I won't retain the information.  In other words, if I want to truly learn something I have to see it, feel it, and experience it.

If you give me a map of my own backyard I will need a search party to rescue me!  In order for me to get from one place to another I need to focus on landmarks like the colors and shapes of buildings and the winding path of the road.  (My Garmin helps as well!)  When learning someone's name I visualize the spelling of the name and associate the sound with a visual picture if it is a hard name to remember. And when I need to activate my creative side, my problem solver side or my comical side, it is necessary for me to move my body.  When I want to get in touch with my feelings and emotions I need to stop moving and sense how I am breathing, how I am holding my body and feel how the energy is flowing (or not flowing) from my head to my toes.

When I am angry, anxious and frustrated it feels really good to squeeze a stress ball.  I can actively feel my muscles speak to me.  I can hear my body talking to me. Squeezing the ball enables me to do the opposite - I am able to let go and relax.  My body teaches me.  If I engage then I can release. 

Instead of telling a child to stop a behavior - redirect the behavior.  If a child needs to move ask them to move big!  Engage their muscles, their senses and their brains in new ways.   Look closer at a chatty child.  Are they intentionally not paying attention or do they need some background noise.  Can they sing along to music you are playing?

Think of the whys, the hows and the how- tos.  And when you think about how to engage the children in your life squeeze a stress ball.  It feels so good!


Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Transitioning From August To September Takes Center Stage

Well, it is the time again.  Back to school commercials, letters from the new school teacher and the days of the week getting closer to September and further from August.  Some kids love this time of year and find it exciting.  Others, not so much.

I always fit into the "not so much" category.  Actually there is another category that I really fit into which was the "hide under the bed and maybe they won't find me" category.

Life transitions have always been tricky for me.

I learned while studying choreography that dance is really all about the transitions.   Stringing each movement phrase together takes artistic maturity.  Transitions are important and should be given the same amount of time and attention as the grand leap or sensational spin center stage. 

There are many types of transitions.  Here are just a few:
  1. You can pause between phrases
  2. You can choose a traveling step to link sections of a dance
  3. You can add another dancer
The same transitions that are utilized in dance can be implemented in the life of a school child beginning a new school year, new dance program, new teacher, etc.

Make sure to recognize the importance of your children or students' transitions.  Have them pause and take a few deep breaths.  Maybe have them skip, jump or hop to the bus or encourage them to bring a friend to class (even if the friend is an inanimate object.)  If you acknowledge and create smooth transitions for your little ones you will help ease them gently and safely into new situations. (You will have less anxious, better behaved, more attentive and engaged children.)

When I taught dance regularly at a dance studio I made entering the space a sacred ritual.  It was something to look forward to.  Each child picked their own way of entering the space (skipping, twirling, crawling, etc.) Immediately they got my undivided attention.  They got the attention of their classmates and they had to to attend to their bodies and movements as well.

I don't hide under my bed anymore (I can't fit under my bed) but I don't need to either.  I choose the transition that best fits the experience (like pausing and taking a deep breath, adding a little extra hop to my step or bringing a friend like a soothing phrase, happy thought, or calming image.)  Taking on the new experience becomes accessible and enjoyable.

Explore transitions with the little ones in your life and see if August can roll into September with ease ( it can also hop, skip, slither, etc.)


Saturday, July 28, 2012

Creating a Dance is as Simple as 1, 2, 3, 4

Creating movement can be daunting - especially if you don't know where to start.  So start at the beginning!!

  1. Create a beginning shape:
    • Choose a level (high, middle or low)
    • Choose to make straight lines, angles or curves with your body
  2. Choose a way to move from here to there:
    • walk, run, jump, skip, hop, glide, gallop, roll, turn
  3. Choose a pathway:
    • You can hop in a straight line across the room, in a circle, or make zigzags across the floor
  4. Create an end shape:
    • It can be the same as the opening shape or a different one.

It's that simple.  If you are comfortable with these 4 steps, here are other elements you can think about:
  1. Tempo: slow, medium or fast.  (Play different music and see how your body reponds differently to the melody, tempo and energy of the songs.)
  2. Add a feeling state: sleepy, alert, confused, happy, dreamy, etc
  3. Add a story:  Take words out of a story or poem and let that be your inspiration.
Here is one of my favorites by Shel Silverstein from the book Where the Sidewalk Ends:

Dancing Pants

And  now for the Dancing Pants
Doing their fabulous dance.
From the seat to the pleat
They will bounce to the beat,
With no legs inside them
And no feet beneath.
They'll whirl, and twirl, and jiggle and prance,
So just start the music,
And give them a chance-
Let's have a big hand for the wonderful, marvelous,
Super sensational, utterly fabulous,
Talented Dancing Pants!

Most importantly have fun exploring movement.  There is no right and wrong.  Creating a dance is like taking a paintbrush to canvas except your body is the brush and the space around you is the canvas.  The best part is you can take the canvas anywhere and you change the colors anytime you want!!

Have fun creating movement with the children in your life!


For more information on the elements of movement check on our website:

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Best Yoga DVD I Never Watched

Whenever I practice yoga at home I always encourage my daughter to practice with me.  The answer I get is "no!"  So yesterday when I wanted to watch Yoga Unveiled I was surprised that my daughter wanted to watch it with me.  (Ok, if I am going to be honest, she wanted to stay up past her bedtime.) 

Five minutes into the DVD she started asking me tons of questions.  I was afraid it was over her head.  Soon she ran out of the room.  I thought she lost interest.  Then she ran back into the room with a yoga mat.  She set it up by the TV and imitated poses she was observing on the screen.  "Look at me!" she kept yelling.  "How does this look?"  "Look at my flow."

Well, I did not get to see much of the DVD because my attention shifted to what was happening right in front of me. 

My daughter is resistant to me teaching her specific dance or yoga movements.  She doesn't want to be taught how to move; she wants to create the movements herself.  I smiled and nodded as she showed me each pose.  She asked me the Sanskrit names of the postures and was a serious yogi practicing her tree pose (Vriksasana.)

It dawned on me that I am teaching her by giving her exposure to dance and yoga.  I am teaching her by example and by showing enthusiasm for something I love.  This gives her permission to explore on her own terms, in her own time and in her own way.

And yesterday she taught me!

Share your enthusiasm for movement with the children in your life and watch how their curiosity will ulitmately lead them to movement explorations.


Monday, July 2, 2012

The Thuderstorm Jitterbug!

Summer is here and with summer heat comes summer thunderstorms.  Some children can find thunder and lightning very scary.  A lot of the fear has to do with the unpredicatable nature of the sound and light.  Some people can even jump sky high when startled by thunder sending their nerves all a jitter!  So how do you combat jitters in your bones and belly - dance of course!!

The Thunderstorm Jitterbug!

What you will need:
  • Grab some tambourines, egg shakers, or pots and pans 
  • Find a big sheet, tablecloth or blanket
  • Pull out a flashlight
  • Grab some scarves, streamers or a water spritz bottles
Here we go:
  1. Drape the sheet over you and your little ones .*
  2. Have each child hold a percussion instrument and slowly move up and down as if you were a raincloud filling up with moisture ready to pour down on your neighborhood.
  3. When the excitiment builds say "I see lightning" and flash the flashlight up to the ceiling. 
  4. Then ask the kids "what happens after lightning?"  Thunder of course!  Have them bang away at their instruments.
  5. Count and see how long before the lightning strikes again!
  6. Repeat this as many times as you like.  You can start with 10 seconds between each "lighting strike" and have the thunder and lightning get closer and closer until....
  7. After the thunder and lightning comes the rain. Throw off the sheet and dance around with scarves, streamers or even water spritz bottles.  You are the raindrops dancing down from the clouds.
*If you have extra adults handy, you can also hold the blanket up and have the little ones stand on one side of the blanket.  They can push on the sheet to expand the cloud as well as move up and down.  The children can come out from under the sheet when it is time for the rain to dance.

We learn through our experiences.  If you do a Thunderstorm Jitterbug with your kids then maybe the next time there is a big storm instead of hiding under the bed they will run for their tambourines instead!

Have fun making storm clouds with the kids in your life,

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Don't Tip Toe When it Comes to Behavioral Issues

It's been awhile since I have written last.  My daughter has had some tummy issues that have taken my full attention.  Which leads me to the idea for this post.  We will not always have happy children in class.  Sometimes an uncooperative behavior is due to an underlining issue.  What are teachers supposed to do?

  1. Check in with the parents.  Is there anything you need to know?  Sometimes parents can be hesitant to let you know any personal struggles their children are having because they don't want their children labeled.  First discuss the positives and then ask them how the child feels about coming to class.  You can say " I have noticed Sara is having a challenging time with sharing the green scarves."  You might not need to say anything else.  The parents might fill in the blanks.  If they don't then you have left the door open for future conversations.
  2.   Keep food celebrations to a minimum.  This is where it gets tricky with my daughter.  She has many food allergies which makes her feel left out at times and having the offending food can make her behavior erratic.  What I have noticed through this experience is that so many celebrations revolve around food.  There are many children with allergies and food restrictions  (which effect behavior.)  Find. a different way to celebrate. It be helpful to the children in your class and it teaches kids that sweets are not the only treats for a job well done.
  3. Don't force participation.  It will only lead to anxiety and a power struggle.  Let the child watch and enter at their own time.
  4. If the child is watching have them engage in other ways.  And make sure to give choices.  "Sara, would you like to stop and start the music or hold the scarves?"
  5. Praise for effort.  Praise the child for when she does participate and praise the class when they show kindness to each other.
  6. Dance class is a place of exploration, art and a place of community. Practicing these skills in the studio makes them dance to life outside the studio!!
Enjoy creating a classroom environment for all your dance students!


Sunday, March 4, 2012

Negative Space is Postively Fun!

I was practicing some yoga in my living room and my daughter started to dance around me and tried to fit her body into the empty spaces in the yoga poses. (With much success and imagination!)  Empty spaces are so much fun.  We usually explore big spaces we can see but what about the little spaces that are not as obvious?

Activity to Explore:
  1. Have a few of your students make shapes with their bodies.  (Remind them they can make angles, curves and straight lines with their arms, legs, knees, hips, back, etc.)
  2. Next, have a few more students try to "fit" into the empty spaces (in dance we call this negative space.)  Encourage them to complement the shape.  It is not about sticking an arm through a space but finding a way to highlight and draw attention to the space.  For example, when I was practicing Downward Facing Dog ( a yoga movement that creates a large upside down "V" with the body) my daughter rolled underneath me in a tucked in ball shape.  She created a curve under my angle.
  3. If you have permission from parents, take pictures of your exploration.
This exercise reinforces the concept of space and let's the children experiment with  how shapes can fit together.

Have fun exploring with the the children in your life!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

How High Can You Jump and How Softly Can You Land?

Dance teachers know to teach their students to bend their knees when coming out of a jump.  It is how a dancer lands without a big "thud."  It is how to cushion a landing.  It is a necessity in taking care of a dancer's ankle, knee and hip joints. In essence the bend gives the dancer the ability to stay grounded.

When a dancer bends her knees, she feels more connected to the ground and can easily push off the floor and land comfortably back down.  She can do this over and over again with no ill affect on her body. 

This concept can apply to more than just jumps.  (I often tell my sister to bend her knees when she is anxious because her voice becomes three octaves higher.)   When emotions start to overtake a person, the body can get locked, energy gets stuck and we loose our ability to be resilient.  When we bend we are not rigid and therefore we don't break.

This is a great skill to teach young children.  It is never to early to teach resilience.  Try this dance activity with your children/students:

How High Can You Jump? 
  1. Bend your knees. Push off the floor and land with a bend in the knee.  Now push off again.  Do ten in a row.
  2. Do the same activity without bending your knees.
  3. Ask the students which way was easier?  Which exercise allowed the body to jump higher?
  4. Bending our knees enables us to cushion our landing.  The softer the landing the quicker we are able to jump right back up!
  5. How else do we take care of ourselves in dance?  (Following directions, stretching, etc.)
  6. How do you take care of yourself when you are frustrated with a dance move?  Do you have a bend in your attitude?  Are you kind to yourself so you can try again with ease?  Do you lock your emotions or bend and let them flow?
We all have to land.  Gravity will not let us do otherwise.  It is the way in which we fall back to the earth that will enable us to get back up either in a jump, leap or an actual fall.  Teaching both technically and mentally how to land is essential to all dancers ( and children.)

Have fun landing with bent knees with the children in your life!