Creative Dance Class: exploring sound as a motivator for movement

I’ve been teaching a creative dance class for pre-teens for a little over a year now–this particular group since the end of August, though some of them took the class last year and some took a 1-week intensive with a daily class with me in the summer. Because of the mixed levels of experience, and the very broad range of maturity with which the students approach the material, I’ve been having some challenges lately. The students in this program take this class as a precursor to modern dance, so that’s the investment the program has in their being there. As far as they are concerned, motivations vary. Some just want maximum socialization; some just need to move; some want to mix play, exploration, and movement.

As I usually do, I spent the first few months just trying to develop some community among the students and myself and get to know them. One unfortunate side effect this time is that the experienced students are hungry for more, while I’m spending time trying to get to know the new students. The structures I use to develop rapport are fun, so the older students don’t mind too much, but the young ones have started to think the class is all social all the time. When I try to insert earnest exploration of one movement idea or another, the students are missing the subtleties.

Tonight, I’m going to shift course a little bit. I’m going to be less fun. First of all, we’ve been starting every class with a sharing circle. I like this for many reasons, but it has gotten SO out of hand. They are bringing in every toy they can find to share, and each one (there are about 20!) seems to want to perform an elaborate share as we go around the circle. I only have them for an hour each week, and it seems a shame to use their precious dancing time for only talking, even if it is fun. I realized this last week and warned them on their way out, “No talking pieces”. So tonight, we’ll start right in with a quiet and focused game*. Then, I’m planning to explore sound as a motivator for movement as the theme of the class. From there, the class will follow the usual structure: Full-bodied warm-up, exploration of a movement concept, deeper exploration and showing, and then a big, goodbye dance across the floor.

*Catch-don’t catch: This is how we’ll start the classIn this game, I’ll stand in the center of a circle. I’ll throw a beanbag to someone and say either “catch” or “don’t catch” while it’s in the air. They have to try to do whatever I say. This will wake up their concentration, and as it is new to them, hold their interest. I like to keep them guessing and stay one step ahead when I can!

The fundamental problem of communication…

. . . is that of reproducing at one point either exactly or approximately, a message selected at another point. Frequently, the messages have meaning”  – Claude Shannon, 1948 (Quoted in The Information by James Gleick)

what happens when people move in circles. . .

Something infectious happens at 1:27. . . the energy!

And then, at 1:58 – the hug in the left-center of the group. Very cool, idle no more.

Maispiel for May Day

Today is May Day, also known as International Workers Day, so I thought I’d post about a session of Maispiel, (May Play) (1933), a movement choir by Martin Gleisner. I’m working from the score that is posted online as part of the Knust Collection at the Centre National de la Danse in Pantin, France.

This movement is from the very introduction of Maispiel. It is steppy, with cyclical arm movements over back-and-forth steps, accompanied by level changes and body tilts. Feels a bit like pretending you’re a train.

A few things about Martin Gleisner:

  • He worked with Rudolf Laban in Weimar Germany on Movement Choirs
  • In the 1920’s he also worked on voice choirs for workers’ groups
  • He was Jewish and fled Germany in the 1930s
  • After that he continued to choreograph socialist mass dances and distanced himself from the Laban school
  • He wrote Tanz Fur Alle, in 1928; it has a really neat cover as you can see here:

Book image

This won’t be the last update on Maispiel. I’ve started a company to house mass-performance projects called Group Action Flash Mobs, and I’m collecting names of folks interested in joining a Maispiel sometime this summer. Sign up at

“quick cals”: thousands will engage in unison movement before OSU games

Ok, I am generally not a football fan in any way, but I can’t help but be interested in this. The new OSU Football Coach, Urban Meyer, just sent an email to the entire OSU student body with a link to a youtube video. In it, he announces a new tradition: “quick cals”. These are a serious of claps, vocalizations, and hand gestures, practiced in a low, bent-torso, wide-legged stance to be performed by the Buckeyes team and ALL fans exactly 23 minutes before each game start time.

Other than that the ‘wave’ has always been one of the only redeeming factors of sporting events for me, I’ve avoided thinking too much about how the world of sports and my own interests in mass movement culture are connected. But this really catches my interest. It is going to be remarkable; the Horseshoe (OSU Stadium) holds more than 100,000 people, and I can imagine others watching around the city joining in through their various screens. (By the way, I once lived there, in the shoe, in a windowless dorm underneath the stands, fighting through the already drunk football crowds each saturday morning to head to my dance rehearsals!) I can imagine the sense of belonging, and of excitement, that participating in these vigorous and forceful movements will produce in the participants. I find it exciting to think about the way a group performing this way together could gel, and perhaps a bit nervous about what the performance might make possible for this group.

The Buckeyes are such an incredibly important social, economic and cultural force  here in this area. It is important to almost everyone that they do well. Surely this new tradition is seen as a way to bolster fan loyalty and enrich fan identity. Here is the arena in popular culture where bodies are brought out of hiding, acknowledged a little more actively for their role in producing culture. There is so much more that could be written about this “quick cal” routine and its potential for social formation, a comparison of this to other mass gestural routines and their accompanying cultural traits, or an analysis of the movements in the “quick cal” in terms of Laban Movement Analysis, or about the growing use of video as a system for communicating movement to masses of people, as a “score”, in my book. . . but I haven’t got time. So I will pose a question. The first Buckeyes Game is this Saturday, September 1, 2012. Will you ‘Quick Cal’?

As for me, I’m on the fence.

fossilized traces of worm movement

Labyrinth Walk

I did a winter solstice Labyrinth Walk at the Chadwick Arboretum at OSU.

It was dark, and the labyrinth was lit with candles in paper bags. My son wore light-up shoes which were remarkable in the darkness.

I was particularly interested in the corporate, performative aspect of this exercise – there was a whole group of strangers, and with no training, we all walked the labyrinth together. The labyrinth itself served as the simple score for our ‘performance’. There is talk that the turning motions balance the left and right brain function. So what was this shared experience of walking and turning producing for us corporately? At times, we would encounter each other headfirst going different directions on the same narrow path; there were no instructions, and we had to improvise. The system broke down; what did this breakdown offer to us as a group? Laughter, and responsiveness, and disorder, are my immediate thoughts.

Also, I kept being unsure that I was still on the path. In the dark, with the narrow twists and turns of the labyrinth, it was hard to trust that I was really “going anywhere” at times.

Interestingly, I came across another one the very next week. On Christmas eve I did this chamomile labyrinth with my son.

I’d like to learn more about these labyrinths, and maybe create one of my own.



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