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make your day dance

Creating a time & place for flow

October 25th, 2009 · 4 Comments · Tags: ···

Last Tuesday, my fifth graders clicked into flow, despite the frantic limitations of this year’s 30-minute classes, and it crossed my mind that I might survive. Cause flow is why I teach & what keeps me going. Flow is the mental state of operation in which the person is fully immersed in what he or she is doing by a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and success in the process of the activity — that’s flow a la Mihály Csíkszentmihályi.  In my class, it’s a state in which the kids are fully engaged in creating dance or working on dancing — without my involvement. It takes some finagling to get them there though, because the task they’re working on has to be understandable, challenging, doable, and on the edge of their skill level.

When you arrive there, there’s a kind of happy hum in the room. It’s noisy & busy, with groups of kids planning, trying, talking, crisscrossing through each other — or if they’re working solo, they’re concentrating, changing, showing & comparing. And after some minutes of the hum — 5? 10? — they’re back in touch with me: “Can I show you?” “You want to see?” “Come & look!”

But it’s fragile too — the edges of it can crack quickly if two students bump… if one member of a group isn’t heard… if a new student doesn’t get it… if another can’t handle freedom…

It takes more than 30 minutes to set up. Last Tuesday was the culmination of 4 days of work, building the focus. They’d been researching Land & Water in science, so in dance class we…

  • thought about water (what kinds are there?),
  • talked about water (what’s important about water?),
  • improvised water (a Pause dance, working from a word bank they’d developed),
  • watched & discussed Isadora Duncan‘s Water Study (what aspects of water was she showing?),
  • written about water (what aspect of water do you want to show?),
  • & moved all kinds of water (find 10 ways to show the kind of water you want to show).
Word cloud of ideas

Word cloud of ideas

When we got to the draft-a-dance stage, they began to hum. Lots of movement, no arguments, talking in their small groups, trying out formations, swirling together, changing levels…

drafting the dance

drafting the dance

On Wednesday, several groups continued in flow, while several broke up: Melinda who’s new this year wanted to do cartwheels, but her group didn’t think they fit the mood; Jeremy who’d been his group’s leader on Tuesday was absent on in-school suspension; and Oscar, returning from an absence, didn’t get it.

Thursday was better, as they refined their work & performed for each other — better enough that they rehearsed as whole group and will perform tomorrow.  A great performance?  Probably not, since it’s only their first for the year.  But the performance wasn’t the goal — the flow (engaged, energized creativity) was.

And hopefully, flow will reappear as we redo this process throughout the year…

the choreographic process

the choreographic process

4 Comments so far ↓

  • K W

    Thanks Meg. This gives me MUCH to think about. I love how you structure the choreography process so that it ties directly into the writing process. I wish I could channel you into my lesson planning. But I also know it takes a LOT of trial and error to truly develop your craft in a way that works for YOU. As a third year teacher, I am eager to be at my best RIGHT NOW, but am still stumbling on some road blocks along this still steep learning curve. My 2nd graders, who I’ve had since K, are on point. I suppose by the time THEY are 5th graders, and I have 5 years under my belt, I will be getting the results I want. Until then, I agree that I need to examine my overall goal and realize what is truly important about the work I do and my time with the students I have now, working with them where they are at. Thanks for the reassurance. I think it’s great to have someone out there to act as a barometer from time to time. Thanks for listening.

  • megrm

    You’re working fabulously, Katie! You’re asking all the right questions. I remember how critical it was for me when the kids I’d had in kindergarten were finally in 5th grade, and yes, it did make a difference — cause they’d grown up in a culture of dance! Meanwhile, I hate to disillusion you, but I’m still trying to get all the results I envision…! :)

  • Donna Amira

    I enjoyed our chat on Saturday regarding the creative flow. I researched Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and find his work insighful and helpful. Thanks much.


  • megrm

    It was great to see you & talk. It’s at least comforting to know others find this schedule as impossible as I do, and I can only imagine the struggle you have with arts materials! Good luck with your proposals!