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Dance a Story
Mary Alice Kurr Murphy
City Arts‚ 200 North Davie Street‚ P.O. Box 2
Greensboro, NC 27401
It is my profound belief‚ that every person has a story to tell and a dance to dance. Given the chance to explore their own story and to create their own dance‚ children will learn profound new things about themselves and their peers. They will learn how they fit into the world and how they can change their fit if they want to. Children who participate in the creation and performance of a story dance will learn how their story affects others‚ and how to accept that others' stories affect them. By working together to create work that tells everybody's story‚ they will learn the fine arts of compromise‚ cooperation and collaboration. Each Dance a Story session can meet two days a week either for one hour and 15 minutes each day for 9 weeks‚ or one day a week for 2 1/2 hours. Ten children per session I recommend twice a week for younger children. Each session will contain a 30-minute warm-up/technique class and 45-minute creative workshop (one hour warm up‚ 1 1/2 hour creative time). The warm-up/technique class will focus on body management in locomotor skills‚ balance‚ turning‚ stretching‚ and contact with other bodies. It will include instruction in specific movement types and styles. The creative sessions will focus on making a piece of work about the children's story. At times we will use work written by the children as the basis for creating movement; at times we will use the "natural" movement the children display as they discuss each others' stories and interact with each other. We will use "game" techniques developed by the David Dorfman Dance Company and the Liz Lerman Dance Exchange to stimulate both the written and spoken exchange of ideas between the children. Ideally we would also like to encourage the participation of parents and school staff in the creation of this work. At the end of the nine-week period a finished work could be presented to the entire school‚ PTA‚ etc. We can also use a preselected piece of children's literature for the creation of the work. This uses a slightly different set of techniques that directs the child's imagination in a slightly more structured manner. This approach can be very good for nonreaders‚ giving them a new way to relate to words and encouraging them to read more.
Number of Students Involved in This Activity: 15 to 20
Range of Student Ages: First to fifth grade
Duration of Activity: Averages one-and-a-half hours per week‚ two times a week
Relevant Contextual or Demographic Information: This activity is often done in schools where test scores were lower.
What is the academic content of this activity?
There are several academic applications within DANCE A STORY. First it is designed to help children understand the basic structure of a completed thought‚ a sentence‚ a paragraph‚ and a story or any kind of expository writing. We begin with the concept of‚ BEGINNING‚ MIDDLE‚ END‚ and how a single movement‚ just like a single word‚ has a beginning‚ a middle‚ and an endhow a single movement‚ just like a single word can convey an idea. We teach the children how to connect their individual movements to a word idea‚ and then how to connect their own series of movements with a series of words they have written to make a complete movement phrase that is also a complete sentence. Each part of the movement phrase becomes a part of the structure of a sentence‚ the subject‚ the verb‚ or the predicate. As the students progress‚ they move into collections of movement phrases‚ that become paragraphs and eventually whole stories. When we use a piece of literature for the movement inspiration‚ the children learn to relate the ideas of the story to their own lives; it makes them understand the work more clearly; and they wind up wanting to read more work by the same author‚ or on the same subject.
How does this activity create strong relationships?
Particularly when the children are creating their own story‚ they interview their parents‚ grandparents‚ caregivers‚ and teachers to get some of the material for their movement and word ideas. They are encouraged to discuss the themes of family‚ home place‚ dreams‚ and local issues. When working with an established piece of literature‚ the children are asked to check it out of the school library and read it at home aloud with their families. In both cases‚ when the school requests end of project performances‚ the families are able to see the completed work.
What opportunities are there for authentic decision making?
Virtually all of the material is the children's own. They decide which movements to use to express their ideas; they choose what their subject matter will be; and they choose the best way to connect the movements as subject‚ verb‚ predicate‚ beginning‚ middle‚ and end. When using an established piece of literature‚ the children decide which theme from the work is the one they want to explore‚ and they decide how they will accomplish it. In many cases‚ the children decide whether or not they want to make a public performance‚ whether or not they are ready‚ and what they need to do to become ready.
What student leadership opportunities are there?
Dance a Story is not specifically designed to create leadership opportunities. However‚ in the decision-making process‚ the children go through to make their own creationsthe children individually must learn how to make critical decisions. In the process of completing a group directed performance piece‚ each child must at one point or another lead the group in bringing their individual work into the whole.