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Make a Dance at Home with Angelica

Portrait of Angelica Bell. She has long brown hair and it wearing a black tank top. She is posed against a purple background.
Angelica Bell, Teaching Artist

Hello! My name is Angelica Bell and I am a dance educator/teaching artist. I am the Artistic Director of a non-profit dance studio in Southeast Ohio called Factory Street Studio, and an Art Possible Ohio teacher at the Carleton School! I want to “pull back the curtain” and share the ways I have adapted my teaching since the COVID-19 crisis began and give you some short dance videos.

We are going to make short dances using the Language of Dance Approach (LOD) created by Ann Hutchinson Guest and Tina Curran! Click here to check out their book, Your Move.

Materials Needed: Get your markers, colored pencils, or plain old pencils out and some scrap paper! Use the info in this blog post to make your dance ☺ 

The LOD approach to making dances utilizes a symbol system. Each of these symbols indicates options for movement. Here are the options we can choose from for this activity:

hand drawn symbols with hand written labels including the following: circle with half circle on top labeled stillness, x with tilde through center labeled contraction, backwards N with tilde through center labeled extension, one M on top of another upside down M labeled rotation
hand drawn symbols with hand written labels including the following: I with wavy top and bottom lines labeled traveling, L rotated 180 degrees labeled support, circle with a line pointing out of the top and bottom labeled spring (jump)
hand drawn symbols with hand written labels including the following: Rectangle with dot beneath it labeled balance, rectangle with diagonal line through it and dot beneath it, diamond with line through center labeled still shape

Definitions in a Dance Context:

Stillness- suspension of motion/frozen. Basic stillness might look like simply standing or sitting still. 

Contraction- getting smaller, closing in, narrowing in the body (imagine crouching into a tiny ball)

Extension- lengthening, reaching out, enlarging, opening up

Rotation- spinning, turning 

Traveling- moving from one place to another 

Support- transferring weight from one foot to another, imagine a leap.

Spring- jumping, hopping, leaving the ground and returning to it

Balance- achieving equilibrium, balancing on one leg or balancing in a challenging position on two legs.

Falling- allowing one’s body to lose its center momentarily to fall forward into movement; this does not necessarily mean falling to the ground. One can catch themselves and recover during a fall. 

Still shape– Movement leads to a shape made with the body. In a still shape, one holds the movement, freezes the shape as if frozen in time. Example of a shape: I might pretend to hug a giant ball with my whole body, this movement creates a circular shape with my arms and torso, or a contraction forward. 

Now, finally! We make our dances:

Step 1: Pick 5 of your favorite symbols/actions from the options listed above

Example: I will pick: spring, rotation, contraction, extension, and still shape. 

Step 2: Let’s make our Movement Maps. Draw your 5 symbols on a piece of paper, using the format below. The dances read vertically from bottom to top. So, your first movement would be drawn at the bottom, and your final move will be at the top. 

hand drawn diagram with double lines at the top and bottom with the word start at the bottom and end at the top and a dashed line with arrow pointing from start to end

Here is my Movement Map (I added color to mine, and I suggest you do the same!):

hand drawn map with double line at top and bottom and five movement symbols in-between

This is my dance in symbols! Spring, Rotation, Contraction, Extension, and Still Shape

Step 3: Choreograph your dance! Practice movements for each of your 5 symbols. Notice that there are many ways to spring (jump), rotate (turn), contract (get smaller), and extend (stretch out). You can also modify these actions to fit your needs and your capacities for movement. A jump could also be a quick motion, up and down, with the arms. Or a jump could also be safely rocking back in a chair and letting the legs of the chair fall back down to the ground. Experiment and make a movement that works for each symbol and feels good on your body. Put your movements in order (according to your Movement Map), and voila! You have a dance ☺ CHALLENGE: Memorize your dance without having to look at the map!

Step 4: Give your map to a friend or family member and ask them to make movements for each symbol. You’ll be surprised to see how different everyone’s interpretations of the symbols are! Two people could follow the same Movement Map but have two very different dances! That’s the fun of this approach to dance making ☺ 

I hope you enjoyed this dance making exercise! You can make and endless number of new dances using this approach. 

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