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, 5th Class Scoil Cholmcille, Ballybrack 5th Dance Session, 9 March – Watch Me! and Call & Response!

Artist: Robert Connor, Dance Theatre of Ireland

It comes as no surprise that music is a great influence when it comes to dance.  I had asked the students to offer their suggestions for music that they would like to dance to, as they had asked a few times whether I had certain songs.   While I might love some old favourites in the Pop and world music genres, as they work well for tempo rhythm and clean lyrics, it’s great to get an injection of newer sounds.  So Ms. Keenan collected the suggested tracks, and together with the class, edited the list to a few.  “How Deeps is Your Love”, Calvin Harris, “Watch Me Nae Nae”, Silento, and “Sorry” Justin Beiber made the shortlist.

So this week the warm-up sound track changed to “How Deep is Your Love” and with a familiar tune, there was bigger energy input to the movement.  We had a go at “Watch Me”, which comes fully kitted with a dance routine that everyone (but me) knows and we unapologetically improvised to Beiber.

Interestingly, when we danced “Watch Me”, even though there are moves that come with the song, there were differing ideas amongst the students as to what those moves are and how they are performed…this opened a discussion about interpretation, individual styling of moves and interpreting movement from video.

And it sent me looking afterwards to youtube!  It’s a catchy track if you haven’t heard it, but you probably have, since it’s nearly as popular as “Gangnam Style”.

It’s one thing to do popular moves to popular music…they are already affirmed in mass culture.   It’s a great way to get everyone engaged and dancing.  I’m also trying different structures for each student to explore and value their own movement, and to pick up and value each others’ movement.

Call and response is a group technique we use in body percussion, whereby one person proposes a rhythm and the others copy/repeat the rhythm.  Standing in a circle, each student took a turn at making a stomping, clapping rhythm, and everyone else tried to copy.  It trains the ear as well as the eye for picking up quickly, as well as staying in sync with each other.

This also prepared for a similar game, Signature Moves, which works in the same structure, with each person making an individual movement, and then everyone copying them after.  We kept “Sorry” in the background to give a 4 beat tune.  Everyone had a couple turns as we went around the circle.  Some proposed quite energetic moves, while others were shy and declined to have a turn.  In this game there’s room for both choices; there’s always an invitation to try…and try again.

Which we’ll do in other way in weeks to come.

Harold Boys National School 5th Class, Dalkey 12th Dance Session, 21 May – Dance in the Schoolyard

Harold Boys National School 5th Class, Dalkey
12th Dance Session, 21 May – Dance in the Schoolyard
Artist: Robert Connor, Dance Theatre of Ireland

Dance is a practice, a process, communal rite, a shared experience, passed on generally from body to body, person to person.  We learn from and share with one another in real time, real space.  Dance is also a performing art, a communicative act of sharing something to be seen, to be appreciated by others.  Sometimes the dance we have practiced only becomes more fully itself once it is shared, seen and appreciated.

That’s for today.  Thankfully it is a dry, bright morning; the schoolyard will be the stage for the 5th Class boys’ performance.  We have awhile to review the two dances we worked on weeks before.  They especially want to review their group free-styling to “It’s Like That”. Interesting how that part of the choreography has marinated into something tangibly repeatable.  (I caution them as well that the pavement outdoors will be different than the carpeted floor we have been working on…as they have many floor movements in their material.)

Outdoors we demarcate the performing area, set where the audience will sit, and run through “Beat It”, the piece with the most spacing changes. And then it’s time!  Welcoming the rest of the school, Ms.  O’Carroll and I give a brief introduction.

“Fiesta” is first, being the first dance they worked on.  As the opener and ice-breaker, it has a slightly tentative edge…this is a first time experience for most of the guys.  But they are received with great enthusiasm and the next piece, “It’s Like That”, is danced full-on, full-out, with feeling.  It includes their own group improvs – which by now are well structured – and it’s clear their audience is appreciative.  “Beat It” is the final piece, the most recent and in some ways the most complex.  Still they dance it without hesitation, the drama is felt, the dance is clear.  Big applause.  The audience want an encore!  In a brief Q&A following, the boys are able to share some of their thoughts – what they liked, what was hard, how long did they worked on it.

As a wrap up back in the classroom, we discuss their favourite moments, recall what stands out in their memories.  It has been a rewarding journey for them, for Ms. O’Carroll and for me.  Thank you for the opportunity.


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Harold Boys National School 5th Class, Dalkey Eleventh Dance Session, 18 May – DTI Studio Session

Harold Boys National School 5th Class, Dalkey
Eleventh Dance Session, 18 May – DTI Studio Session
Artist: Robert Connor, Dance Theatre of Ireland

Dance requires space.  To get a bigger sense of moving in space we met for our penultimate session at the DTI Centre for Dance, a purpose-built dance studio.

We continued to build on the “Beat It” choreography, with an additional sequence devised by each individual.  Using a process of “accumulation” each person created a phrase based on the strong energy of “punch” – fast, sharp, direct – using different parts of the body, and including 1) a level change, 2) a jump and 3) a turn.  We did this together by all starting with a first move, repeating it several times to memorize it, then going on to the second.  Then first, second ,third.  Once those three were set we added another, and another; setting the sequence before adding the next, until each person had 8 big staccato movement gestures.

These were added into the choreography, so the whole sequence went something like this: two gangs face off, taunting and circling menacingly, then they engage in the rumble with the counterbalance pairs, they then formed one group and spread out in the space, performed their own big “punch gestures”, followed by a couple repetitions of the MJ choreography.  The finalé was their own improvising back to centre for a final group freeze/shape.

They practiced the whole short dance several times; each time perfecting the various elements of rhythm, drama, and spatial tension of the start, the counterbalanced strength of the pairs work, spacing changes from small groups moving in close pairs, to a large group then spreading out to individual space, and finally to coalesce as a single group.  They were especially enthusiastic as they engaged with the sense of being able to put their “aggressive” energy into a form that was ultimately a play with movement.

Before finishing we had a discussion about the final session…They had been asking about making a performance.  Did they want to and for whom…and what would they show?  It wasn’t required of them, but they seemed keen to share their dancing with the rest of the school.  These guys like to dance and want to show it.  So a plan was made to use the school yard and invite the other classes.  And to dance the three pieces they had worked on…Fiesta, It’s Like That, and Beat It.

Finally we took a group shot before going,  thanks to Ms. O’Carroll, who has been involved in every session, helping with photo captures, organization and enthusiastic support.

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Harold Boys National School 5th Class, Dalkey Tenth Dance Session, 15 May – Counterbalance

Harold Boys National School 5th Class, Dalkey
Tenth Dance Session, 15 May – Counterbalance
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.

The ‘fight scene’, borrowing from the “Beat It” video, provides a context for working in pairs with “counterbalance”, a fundamental principal in contact partnering.  Each pair finds ways to “lean in” with solid grips so that both are fully committing their weight into one another, and then to “lean out”, again so that if either of them were to let go, they both would collapse.  Trust, timing and cooperation are essential to making it work.  Once each pair had found their “in” and “out” we practiced these in an alternating rhythm.  When done all together , it creates the image of a rumble, ironically only through working with, not against each other.

As well as the pairs work, I taught some of the “Beat It” moves; strong punches into the air, push-pull of the arms with side-shifting weight, quick turns and a body wave with circling arms.  First in half time, to map the neuro-muscular pathways, then at exhilarating full tempo.  As an intro, two groups face-off and circle menacingly, the “rumble” erupts, and then they melt into one group and spread out for the chorus dance.

The great thing about these guys is they will have a go with anything…improvising, learning movement, working in pairs or in groups.  They just put themselves into it all the way.  Engaged and grateful.

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video here >>

Harold Boys National School 5th Class, Dalkey Ninth Dance Session, 11 May – Nature Moves Re-Cap

Harold Boys National School 5th Class, Dalkey
Ninth Dance Session, 11 May – Nature Moves Re-Cap
Artist: Robert Connor, Dance Theatre of Ireland

We started this session with a discussion of the outdoors experience with Turtle, from O.W.L.S, at Killiney Hill Park. With the boys re-telling of the activities we created a catalogue of of action words that they could identify as coming from their outdoor experience.

Swaying –trees and grasses
Diving – birds, especially sea birds
Running – small animals and birds (and boys!)
Gliding – seagulls on the air
Shaking – leaves in the wind (also testing their nest making skills)
Stillness – grey heron by the seashore
Waving – grasses, tall plants, tall trees
Crashing – waves at the sea
Stamping – (the worm dance)
Flying – birds, insects, leaves on the wind

We then made a simple improvisation with each word, exploring how these action words, which came from something observed in nature, could be interpreted in movement in their own way. We explored each one briefly, and then explored changing from one to the other, shifting in tempo, texture and energy.

Thanks again, Ms. O’Carroll for capturing the moments.

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Harold Boys National School 5th Class, Dalkey Eighth Dance Session, 8 May – Of worms and mice

Harold Boys National School 5th Class, Dalkey
Eighth Dance Session, 8 May – Of worms and mice

“On the 8th of May my class and I went to Killiney Hill with an environmentalist called Turtle. At first we did something called a worm dance, this involves stamping your feet on a patch of grass like blackbirds do to get worms. The reason why the worms come up is because they think it’s raining. They would drown if they did not come up. We then went into an area off the path. We played a game like baby mice, because they can’t see very well when they are babies, they have to use all their other senses. We did this with blindfolds and we were brought to a tree and then brought back to where we started and we had to find the tree.

We were then put in groups of three and pretended to be red squirrels moving from tree to tree. We did this using mirrors to look up at the branch, go as far out as you can and pas the mirror to the next person on a branch close to you. Then we went in the same groups and had to build a nest using the resources around us. Our nests were tested as Turtle brought a chicken egg, put it in the nest and shook the tree for 10 seconds.

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We then went back to the patch of grass to look for worms, unfortunately we could not find any worms. Finally we played a game similar to British Bulldog. Two people started off as foxes and the rest of us were rabbits. The first rabbit to be caught by a fox would become a fox. Then if you were caught by a fox you became a buzzard who started at the side and could only run in a straight line. If you were caught by a buzzard you became a stoat who started behind the rabbits. That concluded our day at Killiney Hill with Turtle.”

By Oisín Jones (Harold Boys National School 5th Class)