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make your day dance

Lesson Plan: The Toy Shop

December 31st, 2009 · 1 Comment · Tags: ·····

Grades: Kindergarten-2nd grade

Teaching points: Dancers use free & bound flow.  Dancers tell stories through narrative dance.


  • Explore free & bound flow;
  • Participate in a story-telling dance.

Context: This lesson takes two 30-minute sessions, one to introduce/explore the element of flow and the other to develop/enact the story (or one session of more reasonable length!).  Kids love dancing the story, so it’s a great one to do in the days before any holiday — it’s festive & makes everyone smile, regardless of religion or heritage.  I also return to it at the end of the year, when we’re enjoying our last days of community before summer vacation by doing favorite stories & dances.

Lesson 1Dancers use free & bound flow.

  • Introduce the element of flow, by showing & saying the words free flow & bound flow, while moving first arms, then bodies with free & bound flow.  Note for students how their muscles feel looser during free flow, and their movements keep going without stopping.  Bound flow is characterized by a tighter feeling in the muscles, so that during extreme bound flow, their muscles are tight & hard.  In bound flow, the mover is able to stop at any moment without great effort.
  • Lead students in an improvisational exploration of free & bound flow, first by using the image of a water faucet turning on, turning off & dripping. Sound effects are good, with the sssshhhhh of the water juxtaposed to the silence of a closed faucet or a percussive “drip, drip.”
  • Change to imagery of a river, flowing freely, gradually icing over to frozen, with the ice cracking & moving from waves underneath.
  • Designate some locomotor/nonlocomotor moves to repeat as both river & ice, with free & bound flow (e.g., run, turn, swing).
  • Create bound flow statues:  model for students by making a shape & asking one student to try to move your shape, while you hold firm & resist. Then have them make a shape & resist being moved. [Depending on the group, you can take turns one by one, or you can show them how to work with a partner, with each alternating as the mover & resister.]
  • Play “rag doll“: Again model by lying on the floor & allowing one student to move your relaxed, heavy arm.  [Remind them not to drop your arm — and that the “rag doll” can’t relax unless s/he feels safe.]  I usually do this one-on-one because many of them need special encouragement in order to relax & be floppy. Once they’ve experienced it, they’re happy to either relax & rest, or try it on each other, while I’m getting to everyone.
  • Ask students to reflect on the different feelings of resisting & letting go.

Lesson 2: Dancers tell stories through narrative dance.

  • Warm up by doing a series of yoga shapes, experimenting with whether free or bound flow (loose or tight muscles) is more effective for maintaining balance & alignment, or whether some muscles have to work more during some shapes.
  • Have students improvise with free & bound flow by dancing with a scarf, cueing the changes between free & bound imagery with contrasting music. During music that flows, students let the scarf flow freely, holding it with one hand or tossing & catching. During music that sounds more percussive or controlled, students hold the scarf with both hands and move with it in a taut position.
  • Talk with students about how dancers can tell stories; invite them to help tell the story of The Toy Shop. Introduce the 2 kinds of characters: rag dolls & switch-on toys.  Rag dolls sit upright, with floppy arms & legs. Switch-on toys start in a frozen shape, only moving when someone switches them on by touching an elbow; when they run down, they freeze until they’re reactivated.
  • Give them home spots for the story & begin — I put plastic spots in 2 lines (“shelves”), one for rag dolls & one for switch-on toys, assigning students as I spread them out. Rag dolls are sitting down, flopping & droopy.  Students playing switch-on toys can be any kind they like… turtle, airplane, ballerina.  Once everyone has their place & shape, the story starts, with a reminder that they’ll be dancing & playing their characters silently in order to hear the story.  I adjust the vocabulary for the story as needed — with 60% of my students speaking a second language at home, I keep it spare & simple…

Once upon a time, there was a toy shop that specialized in rag dolls & switch-on toys. Every night before the toymaker left for the night, she would check her toys.  First she would check all the rag dolls to be sure they still had all their arms & legs after being looked at by customers all day [I’m the toymaker, and as I talk, I gently shake arms & legs on all the dancers in the rag doll row]. Then she would check all the switch-on toys. When she wound up each toy, it would dance around the shop and come back to its place [a touch on the elbow & a bit of a shove will get each student going].  But one night, there was a broken toy. The toymaker wound it up again & again, but it wouldn’t go. [I choose the broken toy as I go, usually a small child who’ll be easy to pick up.  I whisper to the child not to move.] So she picked up that broken toy [hopefully, the “toy” is stiff & easy to lift slightly off the floor] and carried it to the garbage, so she could toss it out in the morning [by this time, on the first telling, everyone is very alert, especially the “broken toy” who just got carried out into the middle of the floor]. Then the toymaker took one more look around, turned out the lights & locked the door for the night.

The toy shop was dark & quiet.  But then [I turn on some music & sit down to become one of the rag dolls for a few minutes], the rag dolls began to wake up.  First they shook their arms, then their heads, then they pulled their legs underneath themselves, took a few floppy steps, and …fell down! They got themselves up again and flopped and fell over to the switch-on toys and began to wind them up. The switch-on toys came out to dance & play with the rag dolls. [You judge how long to let the dancing go on…]

Then the toys gathered around the broken toy in the garbage and without ever touching that broken toy [model by standing about 3 feet away & wiggling your fingers toward the broken-toy child], they worked on its head, its shoulders, its knees & its feet. Finally, one of them touched its switch & away it went.  It was fixed!  All the toys danced through the night… [Again, you judge the length… the switch-on toys should be starting & stopping, with other toys reactivating them. When it’s time to continue, fade the music.]

until morning came, and all the toys went back to their places.

When the toymaker came in the next morning, she looked around, and everything was just as it should be.  Except… the broken toy was gone from the garbage… and the broken toy was back on the shelf [no matter how many times the kids have heard they story, they enjoy watching me react with amazement & puzzlement over the broken toy…]!  And when the toymaker wound up that broken toy, it was fixed!  It danced around the shop & came back to its place… and that toymaker never did know what happened in the night!

Often at this point, the children supply an ending… “We fixed it!” “It was magic!”

  • Immediately, have the switch-on toys sit down to be rag dolls, the rag dolls stand up & choose a switch-on character, and retell the whole story. Everyone gets to play each character, and the second time they can dance a story they know.
  • If there’s time, do a final open-ended improvisation about a toy shop. Each of them can be any toy they like… they start on the shelf… when the music begins, they wake up, play & interact silently… when the music stops they return to their shelf.  After the final frozen shape in the improvisation, give them a slow count of 5 to make a big circle with room for everyone and have them reflect & talk about what they saw & experienced during the improv.
  • If there’s no time for the final improv, have them reflect & talk with a partner about their favorite part of the story… or their favorite character… and ask a few students to share.

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