Looking for a productive way to switch up the pace of class? Perhaps your students are interested in choreography and you want a simple way to introduce them to basic composition concepts? Maybe your students need some assistance being a team?
I have a little choreography project I pull out of my tool box on rare occasions. I call this project . . .
“Dance From A Box”
- 3 small boxes (or any container that can hold slips of paper).
- Ballet terms written on slips of paper, folded and placed in a box.
- Formations/Directions written on slips of paper, folded and placed in a box. (Some examples: Circle, Exit SR, Vertical Lines, Staggered Lines, Solo, etc)
- “Beginning”; “Middle”; “End” written on slips of paper, folded and placed in a box.
*NOTE: Be sure you have enough slips of paper in all three boxes for each of the students in your class to draw one from EACH box. So, each student should have three slips of paper.
HOW TO PLAY:
- Each dancer draws from each box.
- You can either choose for them the music they will choreograph to, or you can allow them to choose together. Either way, STEP TWO is when the music is chosen/introduced/listened to/etc.
- The dancers should group themselves together based on who has “Beginning”, “Middle”, “End”. So all Beginnings should be together, all Middles together, and all Ends together.
- Once grouped, they brainstorm together how they will create their portion of the dance give the other two slips of paper each dancer has.
- EXAMPLE: If a student has “Beginning”, “Pas de Bourrée”, and “Exit” this means the Beginning of the dance will need to somehow incorporate Pas de Bourrée and Exiting. This process needs to be applied to every dancer within the Beginning group. This can become complicated, but if you would like it to stay simplistic, keep the Formations/Directions less complex.
- After the groups have devised the plan for their portion of the dance, the groups come together and teach one another the sections.
- Once the sections have been taught, the group rehearses and then presents the dance to you.
*NOTE: How long the Beginning, Middle, and End are can be chosen by you, the students, or based on how long the piece of music is.
What They Will Learn
I like this project because it gives the students guidelines without telling them exactly what/how/when to do something. For instance, the dancers who are responsible for how the dance “Ends” know which steps/formations/etc to include, but they are free to manipulate those items in whatever way they choose.
Encouraging them to think outside the box and look at these words on the paper in a different way can bring about some very interesting ideas. I once had a group who chose to use scarves in this activity. For every single formation they had been given, they had the scarves do that job. From waving the scarves about in a circle, to placing them in staggered lines, and even to tossing them off stage—the scarves did it all.
I also find that breaking a larger class down into smaller groups and then those smaller groups coming together to make the completed dance produces some strong team work. They have a sense of ownership over their portion of the dance but a larger sense of responsibility over how their portion of the dance communicates and complements the dance as a whole.
Adjust As Needed
I have taken this project and simplified it for beginners or younger students. I have also made it more complicated for dancers with more experience. After the dance is done, it is fun to lay all the slips of paper out on the floor and see the “ingredients” that made up the dance.
Of course, there will be so much more in the piece than only those items they drew from the boxes because one element of creating is about expanding on what you already have. I like to have them look at all those tiny papers and discover how their individuality took those pieces and made something beautiful and absolutely authentic.
Allowing our students to build this part of their artistry does wonderful things for their versatility and critical thinking skills. Ideally, in my opinion, ballet students would get ample opportunity to explore composition. Of course, most often, we don’t have that luxury due to time and scheduling restraints. However, giving some class time over to creating can be done—even if it is only one class out of the year.
Perhaps you have your own choreography projects you present when appropriate? If so, I would love to hear them!