Monday, November 29, 2010

Festival of Dancing Lights

Thanksgiving is gone and the winter holidays are right around the corner - literally.  Chanukah starts this Wednesday night and lasts for 8 days.  Here are a few Chanukah movement activities you might like to try  with your students and children to bring the festival of lights to life!

A fun exploration of Chanukah
The story of Mama mouse and her little children discovering the tastes and sightsof Chanukah in the book Hanukkah Mice by Ronne Randall  is an easy introduction to different ways families celebrate this holiday.  I love reading this book to my classes.  After we read the book we explore some of the themes through movement.

Melting Candles Slowly Burning Bright
The mice are looking for the Chanukah lights and at the end of the book they find all the candles burning bright. Pick one child to be the first Chanukah candle.  Ask the child to stand nice and tall as you "light" her.  Ask your student to dance bright and glow in her spot and then slowly melt down to the floor.  Next, this child should pick a student to be the second Chanukah candle.  "Light" them both and watch as they dance and glow in their spot and slowly melt to the ground.  Repeat this until all eight candles are burning bright.   (This is a great activity to focus on moving slowly because melting candles take their time!)

Information about the candles:
There are 8 candles along with the Shamas, or helper candle.  This candle is usually placed in the middle of the menorah and lights all the other candles ( which would be the teacher in this activity).  The 8 candles represent the 8 nights of Chanukah.  On the first night you light one candle with the Shamas, on the second night 2, etc.  Each night you light the newest candle first.  The candles are put in the menorah from right to left.

Whirling Dreidels Quickly Spin 
What is the opposite of a melting candle?  A dancing dreidel spinning fast as can be!  If you don't have a dreidel you can pick one up in most pharmacies or grocery stores for very little.  It is a spinning top.  And you spin it to win chocolate coins.  I don't teach the game to the students even though it is a lot of fun.  What we focus on is the action of the dreidel.  It spins uncontrollably and then stops.  Completely the opposite of the candles in the menorah.  It is very hard to spin and then stop.  It takes great muscle control and concentration.

Spin the dreidel for the children.  Ask them what they see.  Have a child demonstrate .  Focus the classes attention on the start and stop of the activity.  At first have them start and stop to the sound of a tambourine or your voice.  Ask them how it feels to spin like a dreidel.  How is it different then moving like a melting candle?

Candles and Dreidels Dancing together
Put on some music. (Klezmier music for this is fun!)  Have the children dance around anyway they like.  Then yell out candle or dreidel and see if they can put the slow melty feeling in their bodies or the fast spinning energy of the dreidel.  Remember, they can choose to put the energy into their entire body or maybe just one body part.  Can one body part be a candle while the other is dreidel?  Which do they like to do better ( slowly melting or spinning fast) and why?  You might learn a lot about your students/children by what the choose and why!

Have fun exploring some fun ideas about Chanukah with the children in your life!


Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Great White Way

I love getting together with my family for Thanksgiving.  The turkey, the stuffing, and the dancing!  Yes, I know that dancing might not seem as traditional as cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie but it is!  As a child, I used to wake up early and put on the Thanksgiving day parade and watch the first hour without moving from my seat (usually 3 feet from the little TV in the kitchen so my mom and I could watch it together.)  The first hour would feature all the new Broadway shows and rain or shine the performers would be singing and dancing their hearts out. And don't forget the Rockettes!  It was fantastic!

I now watch the parade with my daughter and my mom. It is a dance experience we can share together.

So, if you are by a TV at 9:00am Thanksgiving Day, turn it on and share with a child the magic of Broadway!  (Of course, children of all ages are welcome!)  And encourage your students' parents to check it out as well!

Have fun planning your own special Thanksgiving dance traditions with the children in your life!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Dancing in Tight Spaces

When I was student teaching in the Bronx, I had almost 30 children in a small classroom.  I remember standing on a chair in front of the class to teach dance and I had the children copy my movements.  I did not know what else to do.  I did not want anyone getting hurt by moving in a such a crowded room and since I am a little over 5 feet, I wanted everyone to see me as well. 

I know that crowded classrooms/studios/spaces can be quite a challenge.  Here are some ideas to help manage space issues.

Dancing in tight spaces:
  1. Go outside.  Make your own boundaries with cones so the dance space is clear.  You can make the space as big or as small as you want!
  2. Dance in groups.  Switch off doing the activity.  One group watches and one group moves.  Make sure the group that is watching has an assignment.  (Watch for 3 traveling steps, look for level changes, etc. so the kids are still active participants.)
  3. Create one big circle.  Have the kids sit in a circle and call various children to come in and out of the circle. 
  4. Line the children in rows of 4 or 5 and have the children practice their gross motor skills traveling through the space a few at a time.  Have the kids "tag" the next group to go.
  5. Practice, practice, practice moving together.  First walk through the space.  Move close to each other without touching.  Move as far away from each other without touching.  Try it in different levels and ways of locomoting.  The more you practice the easier it will get.
  6. Use painter's tape to make lines, curves and angles on the floor.  Have the children dance on the shapes.  Have the groups shift from one shape to the next.
  7. Create a dance where the kids don't leave their spots.  This can be a great exploration of the space directly around them.  Then have some kids dance through the space while others continue to dance in their spots.  Take turns.
  8. Make a chair dance.  How many ways can you move while seated in a chair? Can you use your legs, elbows, heads, knees, feet, backs, arms, etc.? 
  9. Use all of the above to vary the use of space in the room.
As a new teacher, I was so nervous about the kids getting wild and bumping into each other but we never practiced how to move safely together.  You will be amazed how the kids will become very aware of their boundaries.  Exploring your space and movement possibilities will lead to new dance experiences for you and your students/kids.  Moms - I know it is really hard to move around in a tight living room as well.  These ideas are for you too!

Have fun exploring tight spaces with the children in your life!


Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Chicken Soup is a Tasty Dance Lesson!

I love chicken soup.  It just tastes good.  It is soothing, comforting and always makes me feel better when I am under the weather.  It is simple to make.  Start with water. Add a bunch of different vegetables, some chicken, a handful of parsley and a pinch or a sprinkle of salt and pepper.  My sister adds garlic and leeks.  Some people add noodles.  I prefer matzo balls.  My daughter likes the broth and the matzo balls.  I love eating the parsnips and onions.  Everyone eats what they like.  The point is a little bit of this and a little bit of that added together makes for a great soup.  And can make for a great dance lesson too!

Chicken Soup Dance
Tell your class that they are going to make chicken soup but you forgot the recipe.  Have them stand in a circle (which will be the pot.) Go around the circle and one at a time ask each student to name some food to throw into the pot.  (The sillier the better - you might wind up with a chicken, pizza, peanut butter, rhinoceros soup -yum!)  When a student throws, tosses, drops, sprinkles, etc the ingredient in have her be specific about the movement.  Then have the class stir the soup with different body parts.  At some point you might need to turn up the heat and have the soup boil or turn down the heat and have the soup simmer!  Have the class use their imaginations.  When the soup is ready make sure each child gets a bowl full.  Drink it up and let the " dance" soup takes hold!

This activity is great for class participation, body part recognition and isolation and well as creativity and expression.  Also great for adding in lots and lots of action words!! 

For added fun make "recipe" cards for the kids to take home so they can make their own dance soup with their families.

Dance Soup

  1.  pour 3 cups of water with your elbows
  2.  slice 2 bunches of carrots with arms
  3. throw in 4 handfuls of noodles with your knees
  4. Stir with your hips
  5. Toss with your toes
  6. Boil with your body
  7. And simmer with your shoulders
Slurp, sip, gulp.  Get ready to dance!

Have fun cooking up some dance fun with the kids in your life!


PS.  Check out  Stone Soup by Marcia Brown