I am teaching a Monday afternoon choreography class during Groove With Me’s summer dance program, to ten girls between the ages 11–17. At the end of the six-week program, my girls will perform something we’ve prepared in class in a final recital in Central Park. Each class is 90 minutes long.
My first class was this past Monday, July 12. Only 7 students were in class the first week; 2 signed up today (I’ll meet them next week). After introductions, I learned five of the students are 11 and 12 currently enrolled in other classes, one student is 16 with minimal hip-hop experience, and the last is 17 without any dance training. The huge age gap didn’t seem as daunting since most girls are young. Next, I explained the flow of each class:
• 15 minutes for a short dance history lesson, where I’ll talk briefly about one choreographer, her/his style and influence (corresponding to their weekly assignments)
• 15 minute warm-up
• 30 minutes of showing weekly assignments or in-class explorations, using improvisation or quick phrase making
• 30 minutes crafting our final piece (which will be a compilation and re-organization of the assignments and/or in-class explorations)
For the last 30 minutes of this class, I gave everyone ten minutes to choreograph an eight-count phrase. They presented their short phrases one-by-one, and discussed elements of each piece. I wanted to gauge maturities of my students, test their comfort levels, and see what strength each dancer might bring to our class.
My 11s and 12s were surprisingly not too giggly or nervous when showing peers their work. Though phrases were mainly made of similar moves they’ve seen in past hip-hop classes, each was unique. Some were more daring—changing levels or facings—while others stayed mid level, facing front with some traveling steps. The most interesting phrase however, came from my 17-year-old non-dancer. In ten minutes she created a concept—drew inspiration from robots and technology—and used one gesture: one arm and leg reaching in opposite directions. She repeated the gesture eight times, facing different directions and varied her reach each time. While minimal, it was cohesive and had a task-oriented, postmodern vibe. My youngest students liked how she made sharp angles with her body—just like a robot.
For next week, I’ve asked each student to complete my favorite college assignment (I’m excited to try it out on such young dancers!): Make a short piece—under 60 seconds—using only running, walking, jumping, crawling, leaping or skipping steps. And with that assignment, our rapid-fire history lesson will start from the beginning of American modern dance: Isadora Duncan.
The photo above is a still shot from Bauhaus artist Oskar Schlemmer's 1922 modern dance work, Triadic Ballet. Maybe the first robot dancer?