“You dance good, miss”

Friday afternoon lessons with the secondary students can sometimes feel a bit uphill. It is the end of the week – they are tired, I am tired, and even though they are a wonderfully good-natured and cooperative class, sometimes we are just not at our best on a Friday afternoon.

Not so last Friday. We have spent the last few weeks building up a piece for performance that uses material developed through a few different tasks – energetic, syncopated rhythms made from students’ names; improvised riffs on the pentatonic scale; and drum ‘alphabet’ rhythms – as section content for a piece that I really like. It is a bit West African in feel, and we have developed words that we sing in unison with the main xylophone riff.

Last week we agreed that this piece could do with either a rap, or a dance section. On Friday we created the dance. A number of the students are enthusiastic dancers, so we started by sharing ideas for moves.

I should add here, I LOVE dancing. It is years since I took any classes (which I do periodically, for fun), and I have certainly never studied it seriously. But when I develop dance content with my students I always join in, and I always hope they will teach me some new moves.

Once we had a bank of possible moves built up I performed them one by one for the students and they voted ‘yes- keep it’ or ‘no – lose it’. Then we looked at all the moves that had got a ‘yes’ vote and decided together which order they should go in in the dance, and the number of repetitions each should have.

Some of the students will be playing instruments in the piece, so we got them on the xylophone and drums, and the ‘dancers’ of the class gathered in rows in the centre of the room. We tried the dance, taking time to go over some of the more difficult moves slowly, and gradually building up tempo. Then we put the structure of the whole piece together with the singing, the instrumental sections, the dancing, and left space for the rap (still to come as the student who had volunteered was away from school that day).

It was hot, hard work. We had all the windows open. My muscles were aching, and we were all getting tired, but I loved it! We’d made what seemed to me like a pretty cool dance (kind of hip-hop in style, with a some Ethiopian chest ‘flicks’ in there – definitely some good new moves for me) and there were students joining in who had started the lesson with a certain amount of reluctance. At the end of the lesson, after our final run-through, one of the students called out to me, “You dance good, Miss!”

Which pleased me no end. 🙂

As I cycled home, the song we have written was buzzing around in my head, and I found myself developing an idea for a new section for the piece – a kind of ‘meltdown’ moment (for want of a better word), where the music becomes almost still or stilted in its repetitiveness and sparcity. (It can be an effective way to create a build-up to the final chorus). When the music keeps growing in my head after the lesson is long over I know I am onto a good thing.

Favourite warm-up idea: We were taking it in turns to offer different stretches and physical warm-ups, and one person suggested making circles with our hips. We did that for a few minutes, then someone suggested we could try to draw a figure-8 with our hips. So, with a few giggles, we did that. We went on to draw out phone numbers, and to spell our names – some very sharp hip moves happening by now. Links to literacy yet again!

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