In the elective subject of dance students learn movement principles, stylised techniques, an ability to express ideas creatively and how to analyse dance as a work of art. They appreciate the dynamic cultural and historical role of dance through performance and composition.
Dance performance is the syllabus component concerned with the development of physical competence in dance (i.e. dance techniques). The dance technique taught in schools is consistent with the philosophy of modern dance. However, within the 7-12 syllabuses, there is no stipulation for a particular, codified method of instruction. The syllabus allows for variations in approaches and method of instruction.
Modern dance is the most appropriate training technique in schools. Unlike classical ballet, modern dance technique does not require a set regime of steps and exercises or a preferred body aesthetic. A core of common training is developed (using such elements as contraction and release, fall and recovery, parallel positions, spirals, etc.) but individual teachers can use their own creativity and expertise in developing courses which cater for students’ needs. The performance component of the course should develop the students’ technical proficiency in modern dance technique and modern (contemporary) dance style.
The outcomes of core performance technique are based on modern dance and performed in contemporary style. However, the 7-10 syllabus also includes additional content, where students build upon and deepen their knowledge into a range of other dance styles.
Structure and function of a technique class
When structuring the dance class a general format to follow should include:
- Warm up
- Floor work
- Centre work
- Cool down
Each class should begin with a warm up that establishes good body alignment. The body must be prepared before demands are placed upon it, otherwise there is the risk of strain, fatigue or other injury. Not only does the body require a warm up at the start of the lesson but the mind also needs a focusing period to eliminate outside tensions that may otherwise be brought into the classroom.
Warm ups need to include activities that:
- loosen the major muscle groups e.g. arms and legs
- increase circulation and raise body temperature to prepare muscles and ligaments to function without strain
- gently stretch the major muscle groups including the neck, shoulders, back, feet, ankles, hamstrings and quadriceps. This should include static stretches (in a help position) and dynamic stretches (graduating through a range of movement).
Often referred to as floor barre, it is used to correct placement in sitting, lying or kneeing positions. Exercises need to recognise the alignment principles applicable to floor work. It begins with simple exercises that concentrate attention on the body (torso) and lead to leg and arm exercises to develop coordination between the right and left sides. For example:
- alignment and correct position of the torso
- contraction and release
- spine stretches in frog sit, extended parallel and 2nd position
- spine spiral exercises
- side and hip stretches in frog sit, extended parallel and 2nd position
- leg exercises, using parallel and turn-out involving flexion and pointing of the feet
- arm exercises, looking at alignment of torso and arms
- breathing exercises.
These exercises isolate the muscle groups of the pelvis, thighs, back, calves, abdomen and arms and work all sections of the skeleton i.e. feet, ankles, knees, hips and spine.
Exercises performed standing in one place that improve the posture and body alignment of the dancer develop an awareness of the centre. They also strengthen and improve the flexibility of the legs, coordinating their movement with the arms. For example:
- standing alignment involving plies and rises
- use of standing contractions
- balance work and off centre work
- fall and recovery skills
- slow controlled movements e.g. adagio work/leg swings etc.
- torso bending and extension
- arm, spine and torso coordination exercises
- spatial awareness
- leg beats and circles
- transference of weight
- small and large leg hinges
- controlled stretches for the legs, hips and spine.
Progressions are exercises training the body to move in an organised and coordinated way throughout the space. For example:
- skips and leaps
- turning skills
- balances and falls
- off centre work
- fall and recovery
- jumps and aerial work.
N.B Combinations of the above skills should be organised into simple and complex exercise patterns emphasising leg, feet, arm, torso and spine coordination.
Sequences should include a linkage of the exercises that have been treated in the earlier part of the lesson into combinations or short dance phrases. The sequences may also include physical dance skills that are related to a particular performance that is being worked on at the present time. Slow extended sequences that involved balance, leg extensions and phrasing should be included alone with coordination exercises involving quick, precise changes of weight and direction.
A cool down is very important at the end of the class. During the class an increased amount of blood has been pumped through the body, so a gradual slow down is required to allow the blood flow and pulse rate to return to normal.
The cool down should include exercises or movement to reduce the cardio-respiratory rate, relaxation techniques and some passive stretching exercises.
Discussion and evaluation are important parts of the learning process and should be treated accordingly.
This session needs to be constructive so that it leads to an object appraisal of self-accomplishment.
Safe dance practice
Dance is an art form that uses the human body in demanding coordination patterns to create shapes and rhythmic movements. The skills required by dancers to perform these complex patterns makes dance technique a critical factor in preventing injury. In every dance class there is likely to be a range of technical skill.
Every body is different. Decisions made by teachers about how an individual body is to be used must be based on an awareness of that body’s capabilities and limitations. Students must be encouraged to develop an awareness of their own strengths and limitations so that they can play an active role in developing their technique. Injuries can be minimised by heightening both teachers’ and students’ awareness of the demands being made on the dancer’s body and tailoring training to individuals.
Safe dance is defined as the practice of executing safe movement to avoid injury in all aspects of performance. Safe dance practice is relative to the fitness, experience and body type of each dancer.
Students must have realistic expectations of themselves. Emphasis should be placed upon the individuality of each student in reference to body type so they understand their own body’s potential.
Teachers need to observe student’s alignment closely to watch for areas predisposed to stress, especially ankles, knees, hips and backs.
Dance classes should include treatment of the dancer’s
- alignment (both static and dynamic positions)
- strength (dance-specific)
- cardio-respiratory endurance
- muscular endurance
- knowledge of anatomy and physiology
and not be solely the rehearsing of dance routines.
Progression of exercises or skills should be gradual to allow for the adaptation of muscles, bones and tendon to the strength needed for the specific dance style. Dancers should warm up before any dance activity, whether it be a technique class, composition workshop or performance. Classes, workshops and performances should also end with a cool down.
Cool downs should include:
- movement to gradually reduce cardio-respiratory rate
- relaxation techniques
- stretching (graduating through a range of movements).
Some potentially harmful movements include:
- excessive repetition of any movement which results in muscle fatigue and therefore increases vulnerability to injury
- full rotations of the neck straining the cervical vertebrae
- full plie or knee bend, which strains the knee ligament and back of the cartilages
- arching of the back without correct alignment and distribution of weight
- sustained flat back
- forced turnout at knees and ankles
- sustained balances on one or two legs without proper alignment and muscle strength to hold position
- incorrect alignment, preparation and landing in jumps, preparation and landing in aerial work such as leaps, jumping turns, etc.
- partner or group lifts and supports without correct alignment to bear weight.
Dance appreciation is a core component of the stage 4, 5 and 6 syllabuses.
Dance provides opportunities for students to gain understanding of people, culture and society. In Appreciation, students study and analyse dance. They observe and describe performances, compositions and dance works of art (professional choreography intended to be performed for an audience) through the elements of dance, reinforcing the students' understanding of their own dance performance composition.
It is fundamental to the study of the dance syllabuses that dance appreciation is not seen as discrete and separate from performance and composition. Studying the historical and cultural context of a selected style and its physical characteristics should assist students in the performance of that style, while performing the selected style should help students understand its historical and cultural context.
Structure and function of an appreciation class
The spirit of the dance syllabuses requires that students learn to appreciate dance as an art form. It promotes the total development of the student throughout the appreciation of a dance.
In appreciating dance as an art form, students should study:
- the historical perspective of dance
- specific dance styles
- seminal artists
- dance analysis selected companies, choreographers and works
- writing and criticism.
The historical perspective of dance
Through the study of dance history, students gain a regard for dance as a cultural legacy to be valued. The study of its chronological core and linearity provides a theoretical framework within which students come to understand traditions, conventions and changes in the practices of choreography and performance. Several approaches may prove useful, such as:
- the study of dance as a continuum from pre-history to the present
- a chronological study, focusing on specific eras
- concentrating on one isolated period, which would be appropriate if there is a need for greater in-depth study of detail in relation to the time span of the selected era.
N.B It may be appropriate to employ the first 2 approaches for appreciation study in Year 7-10, and employ approach c for study in years 11-12.
Specific dance styles
The study of any dance style should provide students with knowledge and understanding through an historical perspective and include:
- cultural context
- social influence
- the contribution of individuals and groups
- physical characteristics
N.B It is essential that, throughout the study of any dance style, the students are exposed to as much live performance as possible. Video clips should be used as a substitute where it is not always possible to view live dance. It is through the analysis of dance that students will be able to make informed judgements.
It is essential that students have grasped the necessary terminology so that they feel confident when discussing or writing about dance.
Teachers should acquaint students with appropriate terminology as new concepts are introduced. The analysis of dance requires an increasing vocabulary to match the level of sophistication of the course.
When analysing dance works the following components should be considered.
The contexts through which interpretations are made include:
- cultural context
- historic context
- social context
- perceived influences on the choreographer
- genre and style
- subject matter or theme.
- gender (ratio male:female)
- size and body shape
- roles and relationships.
- Non-locomotor movement executed e.g. bed, dip, rise, contract, gesture, rock, swing, rotate, fall
- Locomotor movement executed e.g. jump, turn, leap, slide, walk, roll
- Combinations of movements.
- Position – the position of the dancers in the space e.g. downstage, upstage.
- Floor patters – the patterns created on the ground as the dancers travel from one point in space to another.
- Personal and general space:
- determining whether the dancers are working within their own kinesphere (personal) or in the space which is shared with others (general)
- the special relationship between dancers and between groups.
- curved or angular
- symmetrical or asymmetrical
- positive or negative.
- Spatial pathways (air) – the lines being drawn in three-dimensional space.
- Use of time:
- Use of stillness and pause
- Breath rhythms
- Time in relation to reforming e.g. phrasing, duration of sections.
- Effort or energy
- Quality of movement e.g.
- Compositional structures
- overall form (AB, ABA, etc.)
- binary form
- ternary form
- theme and variation
- Choreographic devices
- minimal movement
- motif and development
- music (live or recorded)
- sound (including voice)
- time elements of accompaniment, including the time signature, rhythm, tempo.
- between the musicians and dancers
- between the accompaniment and the choreography
- evidence of collaboration in the creative process.
Setting and environment
Visual components including:
- effects employed
- moods created.
- set description, including the backdrop
- props being used (including hand-held)
- integration of the set and props into the choreography.
- Impact of the components on the work as a whole.
- Collaboration between the choreographer, set, lighting and costume designers.
Relationship between the choreographer and the company
Writing and criticism
Dance appreciation is focused on the students being able to make informed judgements about historical or cultural perspectives, seminal artists, choreographers, dance works and styles. It is essential, then, that students be given opportunities to read learned articles and reviews, and that they are able to articulate their thoughts when writing about dance.
Suggested strategies include:
- undertaking task-based research on the origins of a particular dance style
- analysing a variety of reviews on dance in newspapers, magazines or journals
- carrying out a comprehension task based on a review
- making a written comparison of two dance styles or dance artists
- taking on the role of a dance critic and reviewing a live performance or performance on video.
If students are to experience dance as an art form, it is imperative that the elements of dance composition be fully considered. In addition to the experimental benefits of dancing, students may then be guided into the realm of the art and develop artistic talents and aesthetic awareness.
Success in composition depends upon the following basis:
- the artistry and intuitive inspiration of the individual
- a wide vocabulary of movement as a means of expression
- a knowledge of how to create the shape and structure of a dance.
If teachers of dance composition are to achieve their educational objectives, they must:
- have a broad vision of the many approaches to the study of composition, in order that they may give the students the greatest possible variety of learning experiences
- understand the art principles that are basic to good composition and must be able to explain them clearly to others
- be able, in the role of dance critic, to analyse and interpret to the students their successes and their shortcomings and to show them how to evaluate wisely their own creative products
- be honestly and sympathetically interested in helping the students.
Further, teachers of dance composition will need to:
- break down the mind-set of dance students who come from a background of reproducing steps taught in a dance class. Students need to be encouraged to respond in a personal way
- help students to move away from preconceived stereotypes, such as copying dance videos, and to be creative and imaginative in their movement
- help students overcome inhibitions and possible social taboos when involved in physical contact with other students. Social and cultural differences, however, must always be taken into consideration.
A major consideration in composition is the role of improvisation. Improvisation is the process by which students experiment, using the elements of dance to explore movement potential and to solve problems focusing on one or more aspects of composition.
Structure and function of a composition class
When structuring a composition class a general format to follow should include:
- Warm up activities
- Body of the lesson
- individual or group activity
- improvisation, selection, refinement
- Presentation and reflection.
N.B Depending on the focus of the lesson and the number of tasks planned, parts of the process described above may be repeated.
These activities need to meet a number of requirements. Students still need to have a cardiovascular warm up and to warm and stretch their muscles. Exercises such as body curls in frog sit, with extended legs, and then in second position would warm up the back. Gentle exercise of the feet could follow. This format could then be executed in the centre. Additional warm up activities should be devised in keeping with the aim of the lesson:
e.g. if space is being explored, a game involving different sized spaces would be appropriate;
if dynamics are being considered, then games dealing with different ways of moving through space would be useful.
Practicalities such as the length of the lesson need to be considered when designing the style of warm up. The following are some other practical ideas to use as warm up activities:
- Name game – movements are devised that match the rhythm of each person’s name.
- Circles – each person initiates a movement using a different body part, dynamic, sound or rhythm.
- Statues – students move and freeze in shape according to instruction.
- Mirroring – In pairs, students copy movements (standing opposite, behind, side by side).
- Sculpting – Partners mould each other into shapes, and move, turn or change the level of the sculpture.
- Concentric circles – the outside circle sculpts and moves on to the next person. They may later develop into taking the weight of the partner as well.
- Gallery – Students sculpt their partner, then place them in the scene. Pairs are then taken out of the sculpture. Repeat the process reversing the partners.
- Shape making – based on emotions e.g. excited, tired, frustrated. Extend to movement sequences.
- Isolate body parts – excited elbows, happy knees, bored feet.
Warm up exercises could include an introduction to such elements as:
Body of the lesson (content)
The body of the dance composition lesson involves the teacher in posing problems or tasks associated with the aim or focus of the lesson, which the students solve using the process of improvisation. The students may present their solution and receive feedback from the teacher and the class following each task or after several tasks, depending on the desired outcome of the lesson.
- Find 2 architectural shapes from the immediate environment and abstract them. Devise a seamless transition between the 2 shapes. (This may be done individually or in pairs).
- Devise a working phrase (e.g. shape, turn, locomotor) in which the first shape has:
- 5 body parts in contact with the floor
- the turn has 1 body part in contact with the floor
- the locomotor is based on the first shape on a different plane
- the final shape is on a different level from the opening shape.
- Devise a representation shape based on anxiety.
- Abstract the shape.
- Explore the movement possibilities of the shape.
- Devise a motif based on the stimulus anxiety which may be developed at a later stage.
Presentation and reflection
It is important to encourage students to approach each composition study with interest and respect and to speak to the positive aspects of what they saw and felt when presenting and observing responses to composition tasks.
Achieving a balance between the objectivity of observation and the subjectivity of composing is not easy. The students need to be able to receive and supply critical, supportive feedback and to have the ability to perceive, distinguish and specifically identify the concepts, techniques and processes presented in the works of others.