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make your day dance

A musical — with dance, of course

July 2nd, 2011 · 1 Comment · Tags: ·······

My students were thrilled to do a musical! Speaking lines! Acting! Being characters — & fairy tale characters at that! Singing! Dancing!

We were using the musical Character Matters, by Ron Fink & John Heath at the Bad Wolf Press. It’s a great resource: script, teacher’s guide, CD with songs & intrumental accompaniment. A fun play, with jokes (many of which I had to explain to my ELL kids, which was a good lesson too!). Lively music, with great lyrics — and we could search for the rhyming words to help us memorize.

Of course students had their worries…

“What if we can’t remember our lines?!”

“Who’s going to play the characters?!”

“I’ll be scared! What if we forget our lines?!”

“We’ll never be able to learn all the words to the songs!”

And I had answers:

“Yes, you will. You can do this! Each character only has a few lines…”

“Everyone’s going to have a special character, and I’ll ask you for your favorites.  Oh, and it’s OK if boys play girl-characters & girls play boys-characters!”

“Eeew!” Eyes rolling…

“You won’t be scared cause there’ll be 2 or 3 people playing every role, so you’ll have company.  And if you forget your lines, someone else will remember them & help you out.”

“We’re going to practice.  You learn all kinds of things, so you can learn these songs!”

Of course, I had my own worries… how to get the lines & songs learned & still have time for the dancing! The third leg of any musical is the dancing, and I’m a dance specialist… but how to get it all done?!

And I have to say I was even more worried when I read the teacher’s guide, cause it reflects a bit of dance-phobia — not surprising in our society, but nonetheless!  The teacher’s guide says, “Don’t have the students “dance” while they are singing. Making music of any kind while moving is extremely difficult for anyone of any age to do. Moreover, the students are likely to turn away from the audience during their dance, and that, you will remember, is a no-no.” And then there’s an explanation of why the teacher’s guide never includes the word dance without “quotes.”

Oh well. I’m a dance specialist, dancing is what we do all year & musicals are meant to dance. So off we went, worries & all.

The play has 10 scenes. My 2nd graders learned scenes 1, 2 & 3. My 3rd graders learned 4, 5 & 6. My 4th graders learn 7 through 10. Following suggestions in the teacher’s guide, I didn’t assign parts til about 10 days before our performance, but I did tell kids they could go ahead & learn their favorite part. Some chose & learned a part within a week or so, while others only learned their parts after they’d been in their character group for awhile. Everyone had a special character part & there were lots of kids singing all the lines in the music. Having large clumps of kids sing all the parts helped make the lyrics audible during the occasional dancing turn!

It took a lot of time to get the lines & lyrics down. It was valuable time as we analyzed & memorized the script — really aiming for comprehension, seeking out rhymes & repeats, learning how to practice not only our own lines but the cue lines — but even mid-way through I was wondering how am I going to fit the dancing in?!

But the dancing happened…

  • There were 2nd graders who came in at recess a lot, just to dance to the music. This little recess group — all girls — became a dancing chorus during the Goldilocks song. One day Carlos showed up, doing his own favorite hiphop moves on the side, so as we staged the piece, his improv took center stage at the end of Goldilocks.
  • During rehearsals, I encouraged them all to move while they were singing — we didn’t do much sitting-down rehearsal & there was no seated singing. As they moved, I encouraged them to watch each other,  copy the best moves & repeat what worked. Pretty soon, some of the songs had a complete set of gestures — lots of mime, acting out the words. But then, an amazing thing happened… as rehearsals progressed, a number of the mime-ish gestures started becoming exaggerated & abstracted. Precisely the process I would use to have them build dance from gesture! We never took the time to talk about what happened, cause we were way too busy, but it was a beautiful process — and so natural!
  • For a few songs, I worked with a small group of volunteers (willing to give up recess for a day) to create interactive dances.
  • And for a few songs, we choreographed movements for the whole group.

Towards the end, teachers jumped in to help by doing some extra line-rehearsals in the classroom & singing the songs each day. For costumes, I did my usual — telling the kids to wear whatever seemed appropriate for their character without buying anything new. One 2nd grader — Anna — arrived at school on the day of the performance with costumes that she & her mother had more for her whole class: ears for the bears, ears & noses for the wolves! Teachers gave the kids supplies for tiaras…

By the end, all the elements were there. They remembered their lines. They spoke clearly & expressively. They were scared, but they supported each other.  Everyone had a character to play. Oh yes, there were boys playing girl-characters & girls playing boy-characters — by choice. And there was dancing!

What will I do differently next time? I’ll start using the songs for accompaniment to our dance warm-ups earlier in the year, so we’re all familiar with the music sooner — and already dancing to it! But there will definitely be a next time

If you think of any other tips for me, do let me know!


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