Activities: N is for Newt, Y is for Yak

When a principal, teacher or parent walks into a room and sees 20 children rolling around on the floor and then leaping for the sky (learning about level changes), or jumping about like frogs (in a role-playing improvisation activity), they might not always understand what’s going on. According to Deborah Damast, dance education program coordinator for the New York University Steinhardt School of Education, Culture, and Human Development, this type of movement—often a precursor to formal ballet/tap/jazz classes—assists with cognitive and motor-skill development and helps children learn classroom etiquette and build problem-solving skills.


  As with any dance class, creative movement begins with warm-up exercises to help focus the mind and prepare muscles and joints for
activity. The following warm-up suggestions from Damast’s Art of Teaching Creative Movement class can also be developed into choreography for showings, performances, and lecture/demonstrations.



The Name Game: The class stands in a large circle. One person does a movement while saying their name. The class mimics it, and then each subsequent student adds his or her own name on as a tag. By the time you’ve made it around the circle, the class has performed and said everyone’s name. Once you are able to do the whole circle from memory, try repeating the exercise without talking. Not only do you get warmed up, but the students learn all of their classmates names in the process.


Animal Alphabet: Think of an animal and create a corresponding movement for every letter of the alphabet. Be sure to include changes in level and movement quality. This is a chance to introduce some unusual animals to make sure all the letters are covered. (Damast uses a newt for N, vulture for V, X-ray fish for X, and a yak for Y.)


Skipping Dance: Again in a circle, one child is the ‘leader.’ Keep track with the attendance list so everyone gets a chance. The leader skips—think, “Duck, Duck, Goose”—tapping the heads of classmates who then join the leader, skipping and tapping other dancers who are
quietly sitting and waiting. One can only skip if he or she gets tapped; if dancers get tired, they can sit back down, but have to wait to get tapped again to start moving.


Color Dance: Use construction paper and associate the colors with different movement ideas. For example, red might mean the floor is burning hot; yellow could mean reaching for the sun; black might mean freeze. As the students begin to associate the corresponding movements easily, you can start switching in symbols from Language of Dance (a system of dance notation developed by Ann Hutchinson Guest,, that is part of the official NY Department of Education dance curriculum) to help them build their dance vocabulary. For example, explain that the color black means freeze, and show them the symbol for stillness. Use the color black with the symbol card interchangeably, until you are only using the stillness symbol.


Hannah Maria Hayes is a member of the first graduating class (2010) of the NYU masters in dance education with an emphasis in ABT pedagogy.


Photo copyright Michaud

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