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!

dlr Primary Arts, 5th Class Scoil Cholmcille, Ballybrack 14th Dance Session, 8th June – Blocks at DTI Centre for Dance!

Artist: Robert Connor, Dance Theatre of Ireland

Today the students came to Dance Theatre of Ireland for a visit to the Centre for Dance – and had their session in a fully professional studio.  The idea being that they get to experience dance in a space designed specifically for the activity, and to dance in where there just was so much space.

The special attribute we could also offer is the opportunity to play with a set of props that were used in a DTI production, “Block Party”.  These are 30 large brightly coloured foam covered polystyrene blocks, shaped like pieces from Jenga, each being approx 6ft x 2 ft x 1 ft.

We began by each student having their own block, and I demonstrated a number of ways that they could be used, laying them flat, on the long edge or standing, along with a few sample movement possibilities.  With each configuration we took time for the students to explore their own movements on the blocks; rolling, jumping, hand stands, cartwheels and more.

Once they’d had ample time to see what they could do individually, we put people together in small groups, so they could build a structure with their blocks.  This created different levels, possibly a ramp, and a space to go under.  With the idea of “changing places” they were again set free to explore what they could make in movement, this time working together.

There was a great sense of focus and working together in the room and to finish we had a small showing of the movement motifs that each group had devised on and with the blocks.  There was a good sense of appreciation for each others creations and the students were congratulated for their teamwork and creativity.

dlr Primary Arts, 5th Class Scoil Cholmcille, Ballybrack 13th Dance Session, 1st June – Run DMC – It’s Like That!

Artist: Robert Connor, Dance Theatre of Ireland

It seems today the students have been sitting standardised exams…timed test requiring extra concentration, sitting still, and filling in small boxes of multiple answer questions…in short they are ready to move!  So without delay we launch into “How Deep is Your Love” warm-up, the repetition of familiar movements give them an easy avenue to slip into the more physical focus of dancing.  This we follow with their favourite, “Whip Whip Nae Nae”.

The song has a lyric “watch me”, and in the dance, this is an improvised moment, each person breaks from unison to do their individual dance.  To reinforce and give another structure to exploring improvisation, we change into a circle formation, and switch music to “It’s Like That”.  In this set-up, students can improvise in the centre, taking turns, with up to 4 in the centre at once.  Whereas in the Run DMC vs Jason Nevins video there are two groups battling against each other in dance, this exercise is not set up as a battle, but an open invitation to “watch me” and try on an element of performing for others.

From here we go to smaller groups, and keep the idea of improvisation.  Each group can decide the formation of the group, the order of free-styling, what the others do

Within each group each student had a turn to do their own dance, while the other three found their own way of supporting and staying involved in the dance.  In other words, each got a “go”, in an order decided by the group, and they sequenced how the three responded/supported/interacted with the soloist…and then changed places so that each got a turn to be a soloist. The room exploded with ideas and movement as each in turn had a chance to put their best moves forward, while the supporting trios also responded in a myriad of ways.

Once they had been working in their groups for a time, and devised their improv structure, we took time for each group to show their dance.  We added this on as part of the Run DMC dance, structured so that half the groups did their group work at one time, while the others struck a pose to watch, and then switch.

This dance combined the “robot” multi-textured, multi-directional movement, floor shapes and free-styling in groups.

dlr Primary Arts, 5th Class Scoil Cholmcille, Ballybrack 12th Dance Session, 25th May – Run DMC – It’s Like That!

Artist: Robert Connor, Dance Theatre of Ireland

Rhythm, texture changes and space comprise essential elements to making, learning and performing dance.  A 90’s R&B classic by Run DMC and Jason Nevins, gives the basis for a sequence that exemplifies all three, and includes elements for improvised floor movements and group improvisation or “free-styling”.

I introduced the new choreography phrase to further the ideas of changing texture, in movement.   At the start, each student assumes an “attitude” pose facing backwards.  A big jump to face front and pulse “free-style” for 12 beats – their own movement showing the beat  – then three sharp “punches” straight up into the air.  This is followed by four robotic steps in a square, very heavy body texture, angular arms, locking on each step and a sharp pivot quarter turn.  Then changing to a loose bounce with some cool loose hand gestures, a sharp point and slice and a side-side hip swing…“It’s Like That, and That’s the Way it Is”.

For the next part I introduced floor-level movement and directed the students to explore ways of supporting their weight using combinations of hands and feet; using 4, 3 and even 2 points of support in different poses/shapes.  This included the “Elephant Pose” where the hands become the main point of support.  Each student could find their own way to strike a pose using only 2 hands and 1 foot, or one hand and two feet, or one hand, one foot.   This floor work is physically tiring, as the people generally aren’t accustomed to bearing weight on their arms.  so to finish this part we put the “robot” phrase together with the floor movement.  so their improv choice for the floor movement become part of the choreography to the song.

To finish we revisit the dance of Whip Whip Nae Nae.

dlr Primary Arts, 5th Class Scoil Cholmcille, Ballybrack 11th Dance Session, 18th May – Improvisation across the floor, originals and copying

Artist: Robert Connor, Dance Theatre of Ireland

Following in the structure of previous sessions, we start with a dance warm-up, to “How Deep is Your Love”, including big, deep breaths and full body stretches, two-steps and grapevines, and more.

Since there’s been a week’s break, I decide to revisit some things we did on the very first session, 10 weeks ago.  At that time we had done some improvisations across the floor, each moving in their own way, starting with any sort of walk on the beat, adding skips with their own variations for the arms.

It was remarkable to note the increased engagement with the exercise, more exuberance and experimentation from more of the students.  More confidence amongst each other to “try something” where the premise is not to pre-plan what you will do, but to allow an impulse to move you.

We added copying to the score, so in pairs, one person was the “original” and the other copied them in real time, the idea is for the original to be as free in their choices as they like and for the copyist to follow with as much detail as possible.  This exercise gives affirmation to the original’s movement, introduces the validity of peer-generated movement, and the “copyist” picks up movement that they might not otherwise do themselves.  it also exercises the capacity to see, translate, process and produce a movement.  It’s generally a fun game, and a kind of sharing, so the engagement in it is quite full.  In fact, they asked could we do it next week.

On closing Ms. Keenan and I both took the opportunity to give feedback to the students, to affirm their full response to the improvisation, and how much they had learned, changed, grown in their dance since starting 10 weeks ago.

dlr Primary Arts, 5th Class Scoil Cholmcille, Ballybrack 10th Dance Session, 11th May – “Beat It”

Artist: Robert Connor, Dance Theatre of Ireland

An iconic song by Michael Jackson encourages us to find ways to be strong, be vibrant and virile, even tough, without resorting to violence.  “Beat It” is an anthem speaking against gang violence and a great platform to explore strength and interdependence in movement.

As an intro, the group faces backs to the audience, turning sharply on different counts, striking a menacing shape. The next bars set up the rhythmic nature of the scene, a stance of guarded readiness, arms striking the beat, fingers snapping on the off beats, followed by smooth steps forward, the group spreads out.

The iconic “Beat It” moves are next; strong punches into the air, push-pull of the arms with side-shifting weight, quick turns and a strong punch,  body wave with circling arms.  First in half time, to map the neuro-muscular pathways, then at exhilarating full tempo.

The phrase is demanding, the concentration to detail is tiring, so we leave this to marinate for another time.  We revisit their favourite, “Whip Whip Nae Nae” and they do not tire of this.

dlr Primary Arts, 5th Class Scoil Cholmcille, Ballybrack 9th Dance Session, 27th April – “Sorry” Putting it together

Artist: Robert Connor, Dance Theatre of Ireland

Coming back after a weeks break, we kick off with “How Deep is Your Love”, the consistent start up, getting everyone breathing together, moving together as a group, getting the energy up, and the feet moving in rhythm, turning, stretching, dipping.

Following the warm-up, we set out to complete the work on “Sorry”; reviewing the set choreography of twisting side steps, quick step changes, ripples, twist swings and inversions.  We hadn’t spent so much time on this part last session, so we practice it in a bit more detail.  The inversions are improving!

Each group has time to revisit, review and revise their composition.  There is a lot of variety in the choices each group has made.  But each group succeeds in reconstructing their phrase, and we are able to put the entire sequence together, combining the set choreography with their compositions, and perform it several times.

The dessert?  “Whip Whip Nae Nae” of course!

dlr Primary Arts, 5th Class Scoil Cholmcille, Ballybrack 8th Dance Session, 20th April – “Sorry” Making a start at group composition

Artist: Robert Connor, Dance Theatre of Ireland

This week, following the warm-up, the aim is to set about setting the students a composition task.  This follows several weeks of learning movement, to impart some basic vocabulary and ideas of rhythm, texture and space changes.  These came through learning movement and some free-styling their own movement.

Dividing into smaller groups with the help of Ms. Keenan, the students were asked to create their own group composition, within a set of parameters.  They had 4 sets of 8 beats, and to include 4 elements: a turn, a jump, a level change and some contact.

Most of the session was devoted to allowing each group to begin to find their own solution to this.

As the first group task, beyond the 4 set parameters, there were quite a number of possible choices and challenges in this task; whether to move in unison or complementary, sharing movement among one another, spacing to name a few.  Working together is key, involving listening, respecting  one another, being willing to initiate, being willing to follow.  Part of the task is to include each member’s contribution. While the task is ostensibly one of making a small dance, the social tools required are as crucial as the creative ones.

Before finishing, each group was encouraged to consolidate their composition, and each group performed theirs for the others, in a kind of “showcase” of their compositions.  While each group may have felt theirs could do with more polish, given that they were very new, each group gave their best shot.

One observation I made, was that the appreciation of one group for the next is really a key aspect to a live performing art.  It’s not the same as watching a screen.  There is a particular chemistry to performance that comes from the audience attending to and respecting what the performers are doing, and this has an effect on the performance.   This appreciation matters to the quality of the performance.  So this quality of attending to and appreciating one another’s performance is another aspect of dance that we can work to enhance.

dlr Primary Arts, 5th Class Scoil Cholmcille, Ballybrack 7th Dance Session, 13th April – “Sorry” picks up a groove

Artist: Robert Connor, Dance Theatre of Ireland

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.

“Whip Whip, Ney Ney” 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 “watch me” part of the song.

Today we start on a new phrase to a second of the songs the students selected, “Sorry” by Justine Beiber.  Admittedly I would not have chosen (or have heard) this piece of music, except for the students, and I welcome the opportunity to work with it.  The gentle beat of the track invites a smoother, more fluid movement response, and we work on ripples, swings and twists.

Having explored hand supported balances, floor movements and low level movement in previous session, this week we begin working on inversion…taking weight fully on the hands, upending with one leg high and the other near the floor.  Something like a handstand, but not a full balance, more of a suspension, the students are challenged to have a go.  Some find the inversion hard; it requires a certain amount of arm strength, which, they lack.

But the movement is not entirely dependent on strength as much as “architecture” and with some practice keeping the arms straight as they are supporting, they begin to get a feel for supporting their own weight on their hands. Also…having a clear thought for standing up to recover is important for getting on two feet again.

Putting it together with side steps, ripples, step ball change, twist swings, turning grapevine, we have the start of a sequence to “Sorry”!

dlr Primary Arts, 5th Class Scoil Cholmcille, Ballybrack 6th Dance Sessions, 6th April – More Watch Me, Moving Low, & Pachelbel

Artist: Robert Connor, Dance Theatre of Ireland

Third day back at school after the (long) Easter break, it seems ages since we were together.  Getting going was not so easy…returning with a familiar warm-up exercise called for adding in some new steps in the mix.  The slower stretch sequence raised questions about being able to do the splits, which in turn brought us down to floor level.  Students recalled the Elephant pose, balancing on two hands with knees on elbows, which I had introduced in an earlier lesson, so we spent a moment revisiting this.

From there we went on to exploring other types of poses at a low level, using various combinations of hands feet, head, elbows, knees…e.g. two hands and one foot only, or two feet and one hand only, one hand one foot, a bit more challenging…

This becomes part of a short dance, all at low level, that involves a short unison phrase, and parts for the students to move in their own way, “animal – like”, at a low level, and then strike their own pose, to hold for 4 beats…and repeat the travel and pose.  This is to a piece of film sound-track by Thomas Newman, from “Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”.  After all that energetic moving and posing, the “starfish” pose is welcomed!

So…”Watch Me Nae Nae” poses another opportunity to get everyone up and dancing.  It is so popular with all the students.  We examined each movement with a bit more eye for detail, and identified a part – the “watch me, watch me” lyric – where everyone would do their own movement.  We’ll continue to try and nail the unison bits (with personal styling variations) and get some great moves from each individual.

Since music has been topical, I introduced a piece of classical music, Pachelbel’s Canon in D, one of the most popular (still).  When I played it and asked did anyone know this song, many students responded – Ballet.  They know this connection between music and dance.  The cool-down we did to this piece starts and ends with some simple arm movements – ports des bras – and it was interesting to note their concentration through this.  When asked how they felt about dancing to the classical piece, one student replied, “it felt lighter”.

Speaking of lighter…part way through the class the sky opened with a furious hail shower…and the ground was momentarily bouncing with crystal white balls of ice.