dlr Primary Arts, 3rd Class Carysfort National School  8th Dance Session, 23rd March – Smooth & Rough !

dlr Primary Arts, 3rd Class Carysfort National School 8th Dance Session, 23rd March – Smooth & Rough !

Artist: Robert Connor, Dance Theatre of Ireland

Today we started with the two dances that comprise our warm-up, and the students really DANCED them.  They are now well-versed in the vocabulary of these dances, which have been part of nearly every lesson.

Following this we revisited the Fiesta dance, which was the focus of our first several lessons, but we haven’t done since the February mid-term break.  We took some time to review the movement and revise the partnering parts, so that each pair had a 32 count phrase of their own making that included a jump, a turn, change of level and contact with each other.  Once we had a look at their phrases, one half of the class at a time, we did the whole dance from start to finish.  It was amazing to see how the students have grown into theses three dances.

After the break, we focused on improvisation with attention to texture and time…moving “smoothly” for 8 beats, and holding for 8 beats in whatever shape/pose the movement dictated.  Encouraging changing levels, and facing, the element of space could also be explored.  Smooth didn’t have to be slow, some students moved at different speeds over the 8 beats.  We then tried moving in an opposite quality…”rough”…again moving for 8 beats and holding for 8.  Rough had a more rhythmic, angular, quicker, sharper quality about it.

This led to a paired improv.  In each pair one person moved for 8 beats and held a pose for 8 beats.  While they moved the other person observed their movement, so when the first person stopped, the other person moved, taking something from the first person’s movement and interpreting / adding to it in their own movement.  After 4 or 5 of theses exchanges, they swapped, so the other person became the initiator.  We did several rounds with the “smooth” texture and then several rounds of “rough”.

We did this with one half of the pairs at a time, so they had more space and also the other half could observe.  After each round we took time to hear observations, both from the “audience” and from those doing the improv.  They observed and remarked on choices that were made, e.g. to repeat movements, when someone was or wasn’t really moving as a response to their partner, things they found humorous, and impressions they had, such as someone’s “rough” movement looking robotic.

We finished with each group copying in pairs, one person in the pair moving from choices of smooth or rough or stillness, and the other to copy in the same moment, to be as precisely the same as they could possibly be.  Again we did this in half the group at a time, followed by time for observations.  The copying overall seemed easier, as one student observed, they didn’t have to remember what their partner had done.  It required a more immediate response.

No one seemed to find it hard to improvise movement, their confidence in moving from their own resources has grown, and they seem more at ease exploring dance on dance’s own terms.

Ms. Barry has made a cool collage of photos and dance words.

Dance Collage Carysfort NS 3rd Class

dlr Primary Arts, 3rd Class Carysfort National School  7th Dance Session, 16th March – Abstraction as a Take-Away!

dlr Primary Arts, 3rd Class Carysfort National School 7th Dance Session, 16th March – Abstraction as a Take-Away!

Artist: Robert Connor, Dance Theatre of Ireland
Assistant Artist:  Joan Somers Donnelly

Leaving our choreographies to the side for today, the first part of our session today was classroom-based. Robert asked some questions to start.

What is a collection?
What is a curator?
What does the word abstract mean?

We said that a collection is a group of things that someone has chosen, and that a curator is the person who chooses what goes into a collection. Ms Barry pointed out that a lot of people in this class are curators of pokemon card collections. We talked about what the word abstract can mean – taking something away, or showing part of something (in art) but not as we see it in the world. We can do that in dance as well, abstracting an idea, so that we’re not necessarily telling a story but showing images or movements that represent different ideas.

We had a sneak peek at some of the paintings that we will see in the exhibition in the Lexicon library gallery in Dun Laoghaire in May, and talked about what things from the natural world were represented in them, in what way those features were abstracted, and what the artist might have been trying to say through that representation. One was this painting, by Elizabeth Magill, “Roches and Rooks” which features a flock of birds. We talked about why birds fly in a group (for protection), and said that when geese fly in a V they take turns to lead the flock so that no one bird gets too tired.

We tried to come up with words that related to movement, specifically the flying movements of birds:


For the next part of the session we got on our feet, and after a short warm-up we divided into two groups and practised ‘flocking.’ To flock, everyone in the group had to be close to one another, without touching, and the person at the front led the group in the direction they were all facing. Once the group found itself turning, for example when it was approaching a wall, the person who happened to be at the front, now that everyone was facing a different direction, became the new leader. It took some getting used to, but being attentive enough to be able to change direction and leader as a group, communicating with the body rather than through discussion, made for a more fluid and efficient movement through the room, which was also beautiful to watch.

We finished the session by playing a game called Signatures. Standing in a circle, with music playing, one person did a short dance move. The person beside them then took something from that move, for example the shape or the body part used or the quality of the movement, and created their own move. Then the next person took something from that second move and created their own, third move, and so on all the way around the circle. We did this a few times, so that the group could practise allowing themselves to be influenced by the move that came before as well as adding something original or new. It was lovely to see a ripple of evolving movement go around the circle, a common thread influenced by different movement ‘signatures’ of individuals in the group.

Joan Somers Donnelly

dlr Primary Arts, 3rd Class Carysfort National School 4rd Dance Session, 16th Feb – New Moves, Hand Moves, and Own Moves!

Artist: Robert Connor, Dance Theatre of Ireland
Artist Assistant:  Joan Donnelly

Following in the discipline of a regular warm-up, we start the session with breathing, and moving in a unison pattern of two-steps, elevating rhythms and simple stretching.
This warm-up is becoming a fixture in the class, and each time we do it, there is the opportunity to perfect the set movements and enhance the individual styling on the free-styling part of the song.

Today we added some new moves to the phrase that goes with a popular song, “Sorry” by Justine Beiber. The students expressed their satisfaction with learning new steps, and today we learned a “kick, step change” and a way to create ripples or waves (undulations) through the arms and full body. The gentle beat of the track invites a smoother, more fluid movement response, and lends itself to ripples, swings and twists, adding on to the “skate” that moves with a figure of 8.

The day’s target is to get the students making some of their own material and to culminate the “Fiesta” dance. The “making” session is preceded by a review and revising the hand jive movements from trios to duets. In this section the students must leave their individual places, skip an improvised path anywhere else in the room, and connect with one other who becomes their partner. They must memorise where in space and with whom they meet, in order to dance the simple phrase of handshake, bump and twirl. This sequence is repeated with a rhythmic hand sequence variation, with a second partner, with whom they will create their own material.

For the making, everyone is given the same task, to create a short sequence that is 4 x 8 beats long, and includes a turn, a jump, a change of level and some contact. What the specific moves are is up to them. They have many choices, to move in unison or not, to change places or spacing, to compliment or mirror. While all are working to create, Joan, Ms. Barry and I circulate, to help people who need a pointer, or just confirmation that what they are making is in the timeframe. There is no shortage of ideas, even some partnered lifts! We put these newly created sequences as the culmination of the Fiesta dance and they dance the entire piece quite independently!

Seeing their facility gives me a greater confidence to explore more ideas that can stretch their understanding of dance…that it works from other premises besides (or as well as) responding to music. And that the vocabulary-building of these first few sessions is also giving the students confidence in their own movement.

dlr Primary Arts, 3rd Class Carysfort National School 3rd Dance Session – Meeting in space and moving in rhythm!

Artist: Robert Connor, Dance Theatre of Ireland

For the third session, I was joined by Joan Donnelly, a theatre practitioner on the artist panel who is one of 3 assistants on the project.  As such she is able to “roam” amongst the projects, observing and assisting.

Before we start moving, we make sure everyone has as much space as possible, that each one has space around their “kinesphere” (big new word!), and their kinesphere is not overlapping anyone else’s.  This word describes the 360o three dimensional space that each moving body occupies.  The notion of kinesphere was created by Rudolf Laban to define: “the sphere around the body whose periphery can be reached by easily extended limbs without stepping away from that place which is the point of support when standing on one foot” (1966, p.10).  A broader discussion of Kinesphere is here>> https://thespaceintherelationship.wordpress.com/kinesphere/kinespehere-1

We then start with breathing, two-stepping, getting the arms legs moving in sync with music, and raising the body temperature in the process.  Our “scales”, the routine preparatory exercises, include several dance elements, and then we gently stretch to a quieter, slower piece.  This includes a swing, moments of balancing on one leg and yoga-esque stretches, lunge and downward dog.  These repeated elements build a simple movement vocabulary, and when remembering “what is next” is more a muscle memory, there’s a potential for deeper experience of the movement itself.

The students’ liked the music track that followed, and it presented an opening to introduce a couple new steps…the “skate” in two rhythms, and simple forward kick.  The symbol for infinity, a horizontal figure 8 became a useful image for describing the twisting movement of the hips, with the hands moving opposite to each other as though connected by elastic…words on a page don’t do it justice.

Following this we engaged with the “space game” a second time…today based on the colours of the students’ runners.  Thus – when a colour is called, those whose shoes have that colour (and most had more than one colour) move as quickly as possible in, around, through the spaces between other students who were spread out and standing still.  Focus on the open spaces; avoid bumping other movers; be ready for quick changes of direction; precision in your own pathway, with many different kinds of steps.  Those who were being still were challenged to make poses at a low level, with “active shapes”…for expample supporting themselves on two hands and 1 foot, rather than a “resting” shape such as sitting or lying.  And to try to absolutely focus every part of the body on being still, in that active shape.

We quickly reviewed “La Fiesta”, including the Skipping for 8 beats, finding a partner and performing the shake hands, bump hips, join elbow and skip round – then skip again for 8, finding their way back to their original place.  Today, we added a “hand jive” series of movement, normally done in pairs.  Since the number of students is a multiple of 3, we decided to go with trios, but this required some adaptations.  Thankfully with Ms. Barry and Joan, we were able to demonstrate the movements as a trio and then each of us were able to circulate to help each group master the movements, which required hand/eye coordination, timing, synchronicity and a good deal of focus.

By the time we put all of that together with what they already knew, it was nearly time to finish.  So I asked the students what stood out to them so far in the three sessions.  A few students shared their thoughts:

They liked learning new steps, they like working in pairs, and dancing with the music.

They liked repeating some things but then doing something new.

They enjoyed the “space” game and learning the hand movements.

dlr Primary Arts, 3rd Class Carysfort National School 2nd Dance Session – Moving in space and meeting in rhythm!

Artist: Robert Connor, Dance Theatre of Ireland

Meeting for the second session, we re-visited the elements of the warm-up we did in December; starting with breathing, two-stepping, getting the arms legs moving in sync with music, and raising the body temperature in the process.  Our “scales”, the routine preparatory exercises, include several dance elements, and then we gently stretch to a quieter, slower piece.  This includes a swing, moments of balancing on one leg and yoga-esque stretches, lunge and downward dog.

Following this we engaged with a “space game” based on the alphabet of the students’ names.  Thus – when a letter is called, those whose names start with that letter move as quickly as possible in, around, through the spaces between other students who were spread out and standing still.  Focus on the open spaces; avoid bumping other movers; be ready for quick changes of direction; precision in your own pathway, with a skipping step.  As the number of those moving increased, the more diligence to open spaces and reflexive changes of direction were required.

We did a quick recall of what the students remembered from session one, what stood out for them.  This led us to review of “La Fiesta”.  Amazingly, much of the dance was remembered…even though nearly two months had passed.  We went on to add the next part of the “La Fiesta” dance.  Skipping for 8 beats, (everyone at once going anywhere in the room, hence the “space game” earlier) finding a partner and performing a series of hand contact and body movements in rhythm together – shake hands, bump hips, join elbow and skip round – then skip again for 8, finding their way back to their original place.   Can you get through the room where everyone is also moving without colliding; find the same partner in the same place at the right time? and all pairs do the shake shake, bump bump, rhythm in time together?  Yes! (with practice)

Then at the start of the song there is listening and silence…sensing rhythm though there isn’t a beat to hear.  Can you time a stunning jump in the silence to land in a dynamic shape exactly when the beat first hits?  Yes! (with practice).  Then dance in your own way for 3 measures of 8 and then start the set choreography in unison.  With this we combined the set phrase, with the skipping and hand contact phrase, and sections of free improv, putting “La Fiesta” all together.  “La Fiesta” is a dance journey in space, rhythm and texture.

We also spent more time on moving / traveling across the floor, improvising their own way to various prompts; walking on the beat in their own way, skipping and trying many different arm movements (challenging different parts of the body to move in independent rhythms), also then taking turns copying a partner.  All different invitations to be creatively steeped in seeing, interpreting, responding in movement to a variety of stimuli.

dlr Primary Arts, 3rd Class Carysfort National School, 1st Dance Session – 13th December 2016 Rhythm, Texture and Space!

Artist: Robert Connor, Dance Theatre of Ireland

We started the first of 12 dance sessions at Carysfort National School, a new experience for most of Ms. Barry’s expectant 3rd class boys and girls.  On introduction, we discussed rhythm (time) texture (the feeling of movement) and space (where dance takes place), and how every movement can be described according to these three basic aspects of the language of dance.  We also introduced “non-verbal” – referring to the aspects of communication that are other than the words we use; e.g. facial expression, gestures, body language and voice intonation.  Dance, being largely a non-verbal activity draws on the human capacity to create and communicate non-verbally.

We started with a warm-up, emphasizing breathing, rhythm and movement patterns, building from the simple “2-step”, adding legs and arms gestures and a bit of improv before ending with a big “ta-da” shape….and then we did it with music!

A few stretches followed the warm-up, including simple swings, a moment of balancing on one leg, and yoga-esque stretches.  Then, to introduce learning/building a dance, we started a short dance routine to Will Smith’s “La Fiesta”.  This has elements that the group does in unison, moments that utilise voice, and changes of rhythm and texture.  The intro and bridge have improvised or “free-style” moments, both their own dance moves and making quick, sharp shapes, and some simple steps that begin building the movement vocabulary.

We also did “traveling steps” across the room, in groups of four which also included improvisational elements.  Starting with walking “on the beat”, in their own style, each student had the chance to do their own walk, resulting in great diversity and fun.  We then skipped, and each student improvised their own upper body gestures while keeping the beat and traveling across the room skipping.  Spatial directions “high and low” and “changing facing” added to the menu of task ingredients that they could include in their skipping improv.

We resume the ongoing workshops in February, and look forward to seeing each other on a regular basis then.

dlr Primary Arts, 5th Class Scoil Cholmcille, Ballybrack 15th & 16th Dance Sessions, 13th and 14th June – Dance-off and feedback!

Artist: Robert Connor, Dance Theatre of Ireland

We began with our “scales”, a warm-up to How Deep is Your Love” and a brief stretch.  Taking a cue from the students, their favourite dance being “Whip Whip”, we danced this again.  I commented how they had all improved in the movement and in their own improvisation in the dance, and even their enjoyment of dancing.  This seemed to prompt their competitive curiosity “who’s the best?” and they asked could they have a dance off – boys against girls.

As a rule I don’t go in for competing in the educational arts environment, as I believe everyone is working to find their own best selves, but in this case we simply had the boys on one side of the room, facing the girls on the other side, and they performed the dance together facing each other.  Everyone was highly engaged, putting their energy into the moves.  Expecting me to pronounce a winner, instead I gave feedback on how each had performed, how they had improved moving together as a group, and how they each had improved their own performance since we started.

On the final day we spent time working in smaller groups, creating free-styling structures and at the end each group performed them for the others.  While this would have been more akin to a competitive platform, there was no mention of asking who was best, rather it was integrated as many parts of one dance.

Afterward we took some reflective time to discuss what they had learned, what stood out for them of the entire dance project, how they may have thought of dance at the start, and now, or what they might have learned in dance that is applicable to life.

Below is a selection of their comments.

– I think the blocks in Dun Laoghaire were lots of fun because we made a lot of weird creations.

– The blocks were fun because they allowed us to be creative.

– The blocks day was my favourite day. I got to play with my three friends and build a lot of cool things.

– I liked learning about the different types of dance and making up routines with my new dance moves.

– I liked Run DMC, even though it was an older song it was cool dancing to it!

– Overall I had fun. It gets you fit for life and makes you feel good and full of energy.

– My favourite thing was when we worked in groups or when we did ‘Whip Nay Nay’.

– I could put aside being competitive and just dance for enjoyment

– I loved everything- much better than real school!