Tag Archives: Dance with Props

Book Week 2019

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It’ taken a while to get this published because we’ve been collating lots of bits from some of the different TRS Teachers involved. Georgie has very kindly put everything together and here’s what she’s said…

We had some lovely Educating Dance Book Week sessions this year at TRS, they even went over 2 weeks! We went to Balfour Infants School in Rochester and St Michael’s Primary School in Chatham and St Mary’s Primary School in Gillingham. TRS teachers Katie, Steph and I have told us about their time spent at these schools.

St Michael’s Primary

Georgie: I love it when book week comes around each year. It’s always exciting to hear what stories you’ll be telling through dance with the participants. So, when I found out that St Michael’s wanted do Myths and Legends, I was very excited!  I decided to focus on Greek myths and legends, their hero’s, Gods and Goddesses. Especially Hercules! We went around the room and explored 4 different characters, Zeus, Hera, Poseidon and Hercules. Coming up with different movements like showing off our muscles, throwing lightning bolts and going swimming in the sea, for each one. I then taught a short routine where we told a simple story of Hercules through dance which the children picked up really well and really got into character! The last part of the lessons involved the students creating their own myth as a class for us to tell through dance. They chose a main character, a side kick and a villain. We used the likes of Medusa and Cerberus for these, which the children found highly amusing from the pictures I showed. We then put all the movement together to create a whole dance. The children were brilliant, so enthusiastic and it was great to be involved with these classes.

 

Balfour Infants School

Katie: Handa’s Surprise takes you on a delicious and mischievous journey to Kenya, full of colourful fruit and naughty animals! We had fun pretending to be each animal, and the children remembered all of the animals from the book and had some brilliant movements. It was like we were on a real safari! The children enjoyed pretending to be specific animals when they went on a parade wearing different animal masks. With a beanbag on their heads, the children walked to their friends without dropping the beanbag, as they imagined how Handa would carry her basket full of fruit to her friend in Kenya. We learnt some tribal dancing and then made up our own dance to tell the story of all the animals taking the fruit from Handa’s basket. We enjoyed imagining that we had stolen our own favourite fruit at the end! Year R had more energy than all of the animals in the animal kingdom and were an absolute joy to work with!

 

Becca: I took some photos of my classes with Year 1 and 2.

 

St Mary’s Primary

Georgie: I’ve been to St Mary’s Primary a few times now and I couldn’t wait to return this year. It was especially nice as there were 3 TRS teachers going, Steph, Becca and I. Which meant we really got to work together to come up with ideas for the children across years R-6. The theme we were given was space, which is a theme I’ve done before and thoroughly enjoyed so I was looking forward to teaching this subject again.  I taught year 2 first, we used different shapes to for our warm up, big planets, small planets, rockets, shooting starts all while exploring and walking through space. We then created a giant rocket shape using everyone in the class! The children then chose an alien to recreate in their groups, firstly by looking at what they looked like and then copy to create their starting pose. After that they looked at ways their alien could move to create a short phrase with their groups. The children were extremely imaginative with this and really enjoyed it! We then cooled down by travelling back down to earth. The second group I taught was year 5 and we started off with an astronaut narrative, we put on our space suits, went up in the rocket and flew around space before landing. I then gave half the group a paper plate with the planet written on it. They then had to quickly get themselves into the right order from the sun, and start circling around to make the solar system. Once they had started the other half then traveled through space exploring the planets. They then switched over so they could experience both sides. We then looked at constellations and stars. I gave the groups some time to recreate some well known ones, then set them on the task of creating some of their own. They used letters, levels, different body parts, all sorts of ideas to create some really unique looking constellations as a class. Finally we cooled down by using some of the shapes and ideas from both the solar system and the constellations. 5 leaders chose their favourite shape to do in super slow motion. It was a lovely session and the children were so enthusiastic which was great!

 

Steph: I went along to St Mary’s Primary for Book Week 2019. This years theme was Space. In year 1’s classes we took our first steps in space, using the fact that there is no gravity in space so we took very slow large steps around the room. We then discovered Alien’s. Like the very hungry caterpillar the alien’s loved to eat everything in sight too!

In year 4 we stretched into out astronaut suits and checked that they were safe for space and how we would move in the space suits. We looked out of our rocket windows to see what we could find in space, planets, aliens, the moon! We landed on the moon to explore moon dust about how it feels and how we could make the moon dust dance in our hands. We then spotted the different planets and made the shapes of the planets. We orbited around the sun by rolling, turning and spinning! Year 4 then created their own planets in groups deciding whether they were slow or fast planets. From there we also looked at star constellations and recreated a few, and then made our own! The participants used their bodies to connect their stars and they also came up with a name for each one.

For year 5 I made an envelope for each planet and each one contained short facts about the planet. Year 5 then got into groups and using the facts the explored the planets through movement. We discovered that every planet is unique and that meant that each of the dances were just as unique too!

It was a fantastic few days, both myself and the participants thoroughly enjoyed it!

 

 

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TRS Tots

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Last week we launched TRS Tots. We’ve been providing classes in the EYFS (Early Years Foundation Stage) for years, but now these sessions have an official logo and marketing material thanks to Tremendous Design Agency. We’re looking forward to holding more classes in nurseries, pre-schools, children’s centres and other places were babies, toddlers and young children gather. They’ll be sessions for parents / guardians to dance with their children and for the children to move without them from 2. 
 

Anyway, to celebrate,  I thought we would share some of our favourite things to do so here are some ideas from the TRS Teachers.

What’s in the bag prop task, getting them to guess what it is always fun.
Georgia
I second this! A bag full of egg shakers makes wonderful sounds when you wiggle it, creates conversation and excitement as they put a hand in to feel what could be in the bag and then produces big smiles as they pull out a brightly coloured prop that doubles up as an instrument! Magic!
Steph
 
I love to pick out a prop (whatever it maybe, scarf, balls etc) and watch them explore the different movements they can make using it.
Georgie
I like to use bubbles at the end of class. I ask them to dodge them and make funny shapes with there bodies or pop them. They always look forward to it.
Hayley
I love an improv story. It’s great to see the unexpected things that the dancers come up with. Even if I have some ideas, give them something I think is difficult or give them a really specific task, they’re always surprising me! Plus, there are so many things you can do with an improv story! I wrote a whole blog about it here… http://www.therightstepdc.co.uk/2018/11/21/improvisation/
Rebecca
 
Props props props… I love a prop and so do they. I also have a theme for each class… going to the park, winter weather (in winter), dancing in the rain, and then each theme leads to the movements we do such as splashing in puddles, lifting our knees high when walking thru snow, swishing the fallen leaves with our feet etc.
Clare
 
I’d say things that make noise or that are very tactile.
Georgia about classes for babies
 
I love to watch their eyes follow the noisy objects. Parents like to see how they react to different tactile objects too.
Rebecca
 
I used to use light up balls when I taught ball skills – turned the lights in the room off and then they just bounced the balls around
Katie
 

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Hoopsiration

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I’ve been looking at Pinterest a bit more recently and I stumbled upon lots of ideas for using hoops for movement play and dance. You might think that hoops are just for swinging around your hips or limbs, but there are lots of things to be done with them. Not just big, gross motor skills movements, there are a few ideas for more intricate movements and team building too! Hoops are not just for children and some of the ideas below can be adapted for our Active Armchairs classes. Hoops were very popular in the past and this could be a nostalgic prop that leads to lots of great conversation.

You can get hoops online and in many toy shops. They range in price and some of the more expensive ones even count how many times you swing it around. For the following ideas you just need simple circles, but do try and get some variation (different colours and sizes are great for tactile stimulation) and, if you’re using them with lots of children a lot of the time I’d recommend sturdy ones or you will end up replacing them very soon when they bend. If you want to be extra exciting you could get light up hoops, glow in the dark hoops or glitter hoops (Amazon). You can also buy travel hoops. I’ve not tried them myself, but they might be useful for a traveling dance teacher who already has a lot of props in the car!
 

Hoops and Tape

You can make hoops into all sorts of shapes, both on the floor or standing up, and you can keep them there by using tape. A wobbly climbing frame can be good for an adventure dance (see my improvisation blog for more on this) and has an extra element to the ones played with outside as they have to be careful not to squash it or wobble it too much. Tape the hoops together in a few places and use one on the floor to keep it sturdy for something 3d or make patterns on the floor for games like hop scotch, Lilly pads or islands.

Magic Doors

I love a magic door adventure… they can go anywhere and any when, they can go to real or imaginary places, they can take you through as you or someone/thing else and they can take one person or a team. You can use lots of different things to make a magic door because you just need to create a shape to walk through. Hoops are great if you want to send the whole class through because the teacher can hold them on their own and send themselves through afterwards. You could use a hoop as a floor magic door or a standing one. You could have a different colour hoop for a different adventure.

A similar idea for a circus theme that I just found on Pinterest… Fire Hoops! Decorate the hoop with fire shaped paper and dancers climb, jump or squeeze through. https://www.pinterest.co.uk/pin/222224562848847865/ 

Pick Up Hoop

This is good for in a classroom, during Active Armchairs, in small group time or in a hall based dance class because it’s very adaptable. It is also good for all ages and abilities. Each pair or group has a hoop and they sit cross legged around it. The dancers have to work together to lift the hoop, stand and end with the hoop above their heads. This can be made more difficult by using fewer and fewer fingers, starting from laying down or using a time limit to speed them up. It can be made simpler by starting from a crouch or chair and using more fingers.

Hoola Circuits

Create stations around the room as you would in ‘normal’ circuits. Different hoops could mean different things and you can position the hoops on lots of ways to signify what needs to be done at each station. Here are a few ideas to get you started, but circuits is always easily adapted to the class theme.
 
Mini lilly pads, excellent for core strength and gross motor skills (position the hoops on the floor and dancers frog hopfrom one to the other)
Hoop spin, great for hand eye co-ordination and fine motor skis (dancers hold hoops in one hand and stand back, spin the hoops and try to keep them upright)
Climb through, good for co-ordination and heart rate excitment (how many times can the dancer climb through their hoop)

Hungry Hippos or Blackhole Rescue, use this for core strength and co-ordination (put a pile of bean bags or similar objects/toys into the hoop that lies on the floor, put some tape on the floor a little way away. Dancers put their feet on the tape, crawl out to plank to collect a bean bag one at a time and put each bean behind them.)

Circle Dance

Not the circle dance we offer to care homes, this is literally choreograph a dance about circles! This idea can also be used at any age, for any ability. Use various techniques to help the dancers create movements that are circular both with and without the hoops, in them and around them, holding onto them and not. The circular movements are likely to be large and therefore developing gross motor skills. This is great for improving muscles needed for writing.
 

Try sequencing the movements into a motif and then developing them into a full choreography. The hoops make great backdrops and can be positioned on the floor to encourage interesting ways of travelling between motifs. There is a lot of fun to be had with this idea and all the ideas above could be used yo influence he choreography.

I’m going to be writing more blogs about props ideas, but in the meantime, if you want to read more about props you can see our Facebook page (Each month we share some ideas about props on Facebook) or click on the ‘props’ link below and it will show all of our blogs relating to props.

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Valentines Dance Props

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Georgie set my daughter and I a challenge this month…

Make some Valentine’s Day themed dance props! We had a lovely time making them and playing with them since. I’m not going to tell you how to make these things as there are lots of tutorials online about that already, but I would like to share some thoughts and ideas about what we did. 

 

 

Sensory Bottles

  • This is a fantastically versatile prop. You can change the size (imagine a massive one for team work!), the shape (small hand held ones for dancing with), the content and the colour (red gel food colouring was pretty) so they could fit almost any theme. 
  • These are a wonderful thing for Active Armchairs. For all the reasons they are good for sensory stimulation, but also because they are unusual, not patronising (providing the contents is appropriate) and they brighten up the room. 
  • We only had jars for this, but I do think plastic screw top bottles are better. The jars look very pretty, but they are a little heavy and might break if dropped. 
  • When making them hand eye co-ordination and fine motor skills were developing. 
  • You can dance with them, copy them or move after them as they roll away.
  • Play a version of eye spy and use the things in the bottle as inspiration for choreography. 

Hearts for Hopping!

  • I used an A4 bit of card and let Tiny One choose how to decorate them. We used crayons, stickers and paint. We could have made smaller ones and turned them into wands! 
  • They are also very versatile as shape, size, colour, decoration etc. can be changed. 
  • The texture of the puffy stickers is a nice addition to the game. Other textures could be used as well. 
  • They could also be used for aiming or landing pads and this would be fun for Active Armchairs
  • This would be a lovely thing for a cross-curricular approach. Each child in the class could make their own and they can bring them to dance as a magic spot or as part of a larger thing such as a long snake of hopping stones.

I enjoyed this challenge so if you have one to set us please get in contact and we’ll see what we can make! 

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Motor Skills Part Three

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The third and final blog post in my motor skills series… a few things to try!  If you missed them, please check out the previous blogs posts…
 
Section One: Gross Motor Skills 
Section Two: Fine Motor Skills
Section Three: How to Maintain and Improve Motor Skills With Dance (this section)
 
Some things to try! 
 

Use a giant elastic in a circle. The fact that you’re dancing as a team gets everyone excited and they forget themselves. This generally increases the size of movement at any age or ability and therefore is great for gross motor skills. The fact you’re also holding onto the elastic is great for strengthening fingers and, therefore, fine motor skills too. 

 
There are plenty of things to do with a giant elastic, but for this purpose you could put some music on with a simple beat. Gently bounce the elastic to the beat as a group, as you continue change the movement you’re doing. You could try up, down, up, down, bicycle arms, swaying side to side and much more. The picture is of some of the TRS Teachers in Educating Dance training using the giant elastic to create large shapes. 
 

Swap hands! In dance class we always do things both sides. It often feels odd not to because one side will be stronger or more flexible than the other. With the hands this is known as Bilateral Integration and this can be improved by doing a prop exercise with the other hand too! For example, if you’re using scarves, encourage the group to swap hands half way through.
 
Lycra is great for resistance. A fun game for children and able adults… as a group, hold the lycra at the edges and pull it taught, but not completely tight. One person goes underneath and stretches the lycra in interesting shapes. You can also do a similar thing as a group sitting on the floor and making shapes with legs. 
 
The Smallest Movement Counts  in Active Armchairs and this is applicable whenever you’re working on fine motor skills. Small movements and gestures are great for brain breaks in the classroom at school or for a few minutes of hand training in a care home. I mentioned finger counts in my second blog post, but there are plenty of other things that can be done. You can try tapping each of the fingers on the thumb, putting songs on with simple rhythms and moving fingers in different ways or remembering and talking about signifying gestures such as pointing and waving. 

Egg and Spoon races can be achieved whilst standing or sitting. It just takes some imagination. The idea for egg and spoon races in Active Armchairs came from Steph during the Age of Creativity Festival last year. The theme was partnership and the egg and spoon passing sprung from that. 

 

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading these ideas and have learnt at least a little something. The plan is for 2019 to be the year of useful, informative and inspiring blog posts so please keep an eye out and see our News Page for more. 

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Motor Skills Part Two

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The second part in the motor skills blog series, fine motor skills. If you’re behind here are some links…

Section One: Intro and Gross Motor Skills
Section Two: Fine Motor Skills (This section)
Section Three: How to Maintain and Improve Motor Skills With Dance

Fine Motor Skills: these are smaller movements making use of smaller muscles, most commonly in the hands. Movement examples would include clenching a fist, wiggling toes or using tools such as cutlery or a computer mouse and keyboard.

In dance props are our main source of support in fine motor skill development and maintenance, but there are things that can be done without. When working with children in an Educating Dance (cross-curricular) class small gestures are wonderful at conveying meaning. I used them in our Dinosaurs themed classes when doing a warm up about excavation and fossils (see photo below). A dance club as a whole can also be a good opportunity for practice as participants often have to get changed and therefore use buttons, buckles and laces.

In our Active Armchairs classes we do the finger count in our first warm up dance. This is predominantly about the opening the  lungs (we shout our counts as the fingers open), but it is also great for fine motor skills, the circulatory system and generally waking bodies and minds for the class. It is one of the few essential movements that are found in Active Armchairs sessions, though the TRS Teachers still put their own spin on it.

Props make development and maintenance of fine motor skills much easier. Simply holding a relatively small object is beneficial.  Squeezing balls or egg shakers (the TRS Teachers have hundreds of these between them) takes the benefit to the next stage. I have a fun trick with scarfs where by you screw it up into one hand, hiding it away, then slowly open it to make a rose.

Fine motor skills, like gross motor skills, are key to freedom and self worth, but in different ways. Fine motor skills allow someone to press buttons, write and draw, point and make signifying gestures or sign. Without them, as with gross motor skills the ability to perform simple tasks is lost.  Children have a sense of excitement and pride when they receive a pen licence. An adult who can write down or draw their thoughts is able to express themselves artistically.

The next section is How to Maintain and Improve Motor Skills With Dance.

Motor Skills Part One

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Our ‘Pull up a chair’ campaign is in full swing. It’s January so, on social media, we’re exploring the benefits of dance for older adults. As part of that I though I’d share the motor skills blog that’s been in the pipeline for a while now. Not just about adults, but it is about a huge benefit of dance…

Motor skills involve actions using muscles and, as this is an inherent part of dance, it is important that we know about them and how our teaching can affect them. There are two types of motor skill and both are very important for development and maintaining freedom. In this blog I’m going to explore each type, how we use them and how props can be used to great effect. It got a little bit detailed so I’ve split the post into three sections.

Section One: Gross Motor Skills (this section)
Section Two: Fine Motor Skills
Section Three: How to Maintain and Improve Motor Skills With Dance

 

Gross Motor Skills: these require the larger muscles, whole body movements and core stabilising. Movement examples include walking, jumping and rolling as well as hand eye co-ordination such as throwing or catching.

The gross motor skills are easily developed in a dance class with children and young people and when our youngest participants are left to move as they choose (see my improvisation blog), they will naturally choose to move in a way that develops their movements in the way they need. For example, 2 and 3 year olds can often be found with their heads on the floor whilst standing. This is a key part of their development and they do it without encouragement.

In Active Armchairs we need to give a little encouragement and provide opportunities for gross motor skill use. This is because the majority of our participants have reduced mobility, they might be nervous to produce large movements or they don’t believe they can do any large movements. A key part of Active Armchairs is that the smallest movement counts, but we still give everyone the choice to use larger movements if they feel able that day. For the majority of movements choices and alternatives are given. For example, an arm circle can be performed from the elbow or wrists. Some people prefer to just use the shoulders, but not the arm.

We use props to encourage people to do larger movements and develop their gross motor skills. For example, when giving someone a scarf they almost always wave it. This is a movement that involves the larger muscles of the arm and, even when sitting, core muscles are needed for stabilisation as well. The scarf often makes people do larger movements than they would without it and they rarely realise this is the case because they are enjoying themselves. We are always careful to keep an eye out for fatigue though because using props for gross motor skills is tiring. 

Other examples of props that have a similar effect are large pieces of material used for partner work (see photo), giant elastics, balls and bean bags (for throwing and catching rather than hand work), rhythm sticks and parachutes (see photo above of Active Armchairs at Age UK Folkestone).

Why are gross motor skills important?

They are needed for everyday movements such as standing, walking, getting dressed and lifting a kettle. These are known as Activities for Daily Living (ADLs) and are essential to keeping freedom. As someone’s ability to undertake the ADLs decreases, so often does their freedom. This can be devastating as it can affect choice, individuality, self care and self confidence. Gross motor skill maintenance is a key part of our social dance classes. Often, by the time we are in Active Armchairs, much of this ability has been lost. There are fun things that can be done though. The third section of this motor skills series has lots more ideas for you.

Gross motor skills are also key for some things that might be a little more unexpected such as writing (click to read my blog about ‘The Dancing Day’ for more about sky writing), screwing a lid on a jar or using scissors. This is because it is important to maintain the correct posture when completing these tasks. If gross motor skills aren’t developed early on, problems with writing and therefore academia can follow. At the same time, gross motor skill development can have a positive affect on handwriting.

The next section of my blog will be about Fine Motor Skills.

 

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Props Sharing

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Written by Rebecca, Georgia and Jess.

The TRS Teachers gathered for a props sharing to discuss ideas for using props in the dance class with different age groups and in different settings. The sharing was a great success and not only did we all come away with lots of ideas, we also made some props together such as egg shakers and a giant scarf. 

During the the sharing we explored different ways to use the props we had made and thought of ways we could use these as a way to engage participants and to enhance the dance class.

“I love using props in a dance class because they always enhance the session and they can be used as a tool to engage the participants and develop creative moment. I use props in classes for all ages as they provide a visual stimuli and provide the participants with something fun and tactile. Props can be used to create music (such as the shakers) or encourage a participant to move in a certain way. Some examples of this may be to reach a bean bag as high as you can, move a scarf softly through the space or squeeze a ball to see how tightly you can grip it before passing it to your neighbour. I had a wonderful time at the props session and cannot wait to put the ideas in to practice.”
Georgia Smith (Adult Dance Co-ordinator, Level Two TRS Teacher and Active Armchairs Facilitator)

Jess is the newest member of the TRS Team and is absorbing all the ideas she can. She said…

I have recently started teaching in different environments and with different age groups. This has made me think about the way I can incorporate props into my classes. Not only can props extend the movement and can help tell a story, they can also help participants interact with each other and with me, as their teacher, creating new bonds and friendships within the group. The sharing gave lots of ideas for how to make props and use them in classes in different ways. Props never just have one use, with a little imagination a scarf can turn into anything.

The sharing provided lots of ideas of how to make props and use them in classes in different ways.
Plastic eggs to make egg shakers
Material to sew together and make bean bags
Hoops to add ribbons to and wave

We created a prop shopping list that included teacher’s favourite props. Some of them are the basics that every TRS Teacher needs! 
Feathers
Scarves 
Ribbons
Cotton Snowballs
Pom Poms
Ball Pit Balls
Dusters (A great first prop, 50p for a  pack of 100!)
Bubbles

At The Right Step we love to share great practice and this is what the sharings are about, but we found the props sharing was also very therapeutic. Conversation and craft in a relaxed atmosphere. As well as sharing days between the TRS Teachers we also share props and ideas on our Facebook page, usually on a Wednesday, so keep an eye out HERE

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Improvisation

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The TRS Teachers are always excited by new ideas and trying new things. We recently had our sharing days and the TRS Teachers met for the All Hands Meeting on Monday too so this has been even more apparent.
 
Improvisation is the term used for spontaneously moving. The movement isn’t choreographed, it is usually very creative and it almost always leads to an unexpected and exciting outcome.

Why Use Improvisation?

Improvisation can be used just for fun. In our Educating Dance and creative dance classes we often use improvisation to help find movements around a theme that can be used later in choreography. We can also use improvisation or brain health.
 
It has been proven in both recent and quite old studies that dance is great for brain health. I think the first time I realised just how good dance is for the brain was when I read ‘Use it or Lose it: Dance Makes you Smarter’ by Richard Powers. A fascinating article about a major study that found dance questioned whether physical and/or cognitive recreational activities were affective in protecting against dementia. The only physical activity that proved affective was dance.

The article (read it here: http://socialdance.stanford.edu/syllabi/smarter.htm) goes into greater depth and there is a lot to be said on this subject, but for the purpose of this blog post I will focus on one element… I believe that one of the reasons for the protection dance offers against dementia is the fact that improvisation often plays a key role in dance. Thinking on your feet whilst also taking part in physical activity and, therefore, with the respiratory system working harder seems to have great benefits. Quick thinking, random thinking and making decisions that are not carefully planned whilst the body is also physically moving seems to be excellent for the brain and neural pathways.

The Different Types of Improvisation

In our training for school staff we teach how to give ownership of the movement to the participants. By ensuring they know there is no wrong outcome because they are being creative, the dancers can choreograph themselves and can achieve extraordinary outcomes when supported in the right way. Improvisation to explore a theme and experiment with movement is a great way to do this. Teachers can support students in free improvisation that is often very personal and always open ended or in closed improvisation that has a much more specific aim. 

Ideas for Improvisation

Improvisation Journies are great fun and very exploratory. The teacher has a pre-planned and very simple journey Just a few lines with lots of description ideas. The journey could take place in multiple settings such as for an around the world theme (home to hot air balloon with words such as high, free and clouds, to jungle with words like trees, vines, logs to go under and over or animals. Back to the hot air balloon with the same or different adjectives and onto the desert with ideas such as hot sand under foot, quick skittish lizards and sand dunes and so on.) 
 
If the journey takes place in one setting you can go into more detail. This is great for a topic like Habitats. For a jungle theme the teacher can describe the habitat in much more detail. There are tall trees with branches that spread wide. Vines from the branches for monkeys to swing on. The playful monkeys are jumping, climbing, swinging and picking flies from each other. The flies move from giant plant to plant. There are some fallen trees and you have to go over some and under others.
 
The teacher has the option to be as specific or vague as they like and can alter their words each time they do the journey depending on how the group are responding or if they have done it before. 
 
Improvisation stories are a great way to include the class topic in a cross-curricular dance class and we use it a lot in Educating Dance. In our training, Dance: A Cross-curricular Approach, one of the first journies Sophie (our first ever TRS Teacher) and I did was Water’s Journey. The improvisation can be undertaken as a whole class moving as particles (as one, slowly and quickly etc. depending on the water’s current state), as an individual moving as the water moves through a story that can begin at any point (basically ice to sea to river to water system to tap etc. but this can and should be expanded upon) and can even include a staff member or guest as the sunshine (we always had Sunshine Sophie!) or within small groups with each group having previously been given the water state they will move as. It is a hugely diverse topic!
 
Story improvisation can become a great game for exploring a theme (such as Dinosaur Excavation), as a way to close a session (line up as a…) or as a cool down (Astronaut Suits). It could also be used within the school day if the story is appropriate. Please see my ‘Dancing Day’ blog post for more on that.
 
The first ever story improv I wrote was one I use just for fun as a game in dance clubs, but that is also great for gross motor skills development… I invented Pumpkin Soup whilst sitting on a train because there was a cafe at the station that had a similar name. Whilst the teacher says the story (and hopefully moves a little themselves as well) the children improvise. It’s quite a closed improvisation and due to that can be done with a whole class. I will create a full download for the story and instructions soon (in our new section of the website), but for now suffice to say that there’s a bowl of soup, a sudden mess and some sliding, tip toeing and sticky feet followed by a big clean up operation.
 
Carnival Dance is a wonderful way to inject colour and excitment into a class and works especially well within Active Armchairs. It can also be easily adapted for different themes. This is basically when the whole group moves, everyone is moving individually, but is occasionally inspired by someone else in the room. For carnival dance we would all have colourful feathers or scarves to dance with. When the facilitator sees something they particularly like they can commend the person who created it and incorporate it into their own movements. This also means that those who are shy, new to improvisation or struggle to improvise can still join in because ‘copying’ is welcomed and encouraged. An extension to this is when the facilitator begins to pick some of the movements and sequences them to choreograph a motif (small section of dance).
 
Although this is called carnival dance, the theme doesn’t have to be carnival. At Christmas I’ve used tinsle, jingle bells or silly hat voguing for a similar affect. 
 
Strike a Pose is a way to introduce a moment of improvisation into lots of different aspects of the dance class or school day in general. They could strike a pose at the end of a dance or exercise (you could give warning or spring it upon them depending on the group) or and the start before the music begins (this is a great way to get a group of young children to stay still!). 

It is an important part of travel / stop games (where the teacher shouts travel and then, after a while, stop and the participants move within a theme). It can also be done when improvising with props. It is very exciting when done with a giant elastic! 
 
 

Partner Improvisation is great for relationship building. Of course it can be done in schools and is brilliant for PSHE themed dance lessons, but my two favourite examples of partner improv are found in Active Armchairs, the dance together (holding hands as the participant leads the facilitator) and the Floating Material (a person at each end of a long piece of material wafting it in various ways). 

 

The photo on the left is of spontaneous improvisation with a participant who asked me to dance during Active Armchairs. We were supposed to be copying Georgie (leading her warm up in the background), but this particular lady became so excited by the class that she just got up and went for it! She led me and I had to follow. This is the best type of improvisation, when some one lets go and just goes for it. 

 
Improvisation is clearly a subject that excites me and I could go on and on about things we can do, but my biggest tip is to just give it a try. You’ll never guess what the group will come up with and in the highly unlikely event that they don’t know what to do, you can always move to the next bit more quickly or change tact slightly so the theme changes.

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Proprioception and Vestibular Sense

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Proprioception is the body’s unconscious ability to sense the position, location and movement of the body and it’s parts. In dance this is often referred to as spatial awareness. In ‘Every Child a Mover’, Jan White describes it as “An awareness of the body, knowing where our limbs and ‘edges’ are and where our body is in space.”
 
The Vestibular Sense refers to the body’s vestibular sensory system that monitors and adjusts it’s sense of balance and orientation to the world. This sense is what keeps the us upright while standing, sitting or walking and it is primarily located in the inner ear.
 
Together proprioception and the vestibular sense allow us to move purpose, grace and without knocking into things (sometimes!), but as with all our senses and most bodily functions, we have to learn how to use them and they can be developed and improved slightly throughout life. Babies and toddlers, have to develop these skills from scratch and they are still developing through primary school. Young people, teenagers through adolescence, often suffer temporary loss or impairment of proprioception and the vestibular sense.
 
In general, for young children developing these areas of body awareness is achieved by doing as many different movements in as many different ways as possible. This blog post will explore some specific ways in which we can support these areas of development and changing needs within our dance classes. This blog post does not refer to when there is a medical need for improvement. For these times professional medical advice should be sought. This blog post is designed to support those who work with children and young people.

Mariinsky’s Swan Lake The corps de ballet must be keenly aware of where their bodies are in space.

Balancing
Balance is associated with the vestibular system as well as the motor and visual systems more so than with proprioception, but they still work in tandem.
 

Travel stop is a good game to improve balance. The participants move around the room in a way that relates to the class theme or using a travelling movement such as a gallop. When the teacher shouts stop and/or holds up a sign to signify stop, the participants hold a still position in a similar way to musical statues. The next stage of this game is to call out a position for participants to get into. For example, in an opposites theme you might ask them to make a low shape and the next time a high shape. This is where the balance comes in, state that they need to be on one leg or show them the balance position you want them to do.

You can use balance to bring everyone back to focus anytime during the school day or at the end of a cool down as a calming item. Just ask the group to stand with their feet slightly apart (in ‘place’) and the  slowly rise up onto the balls of their feet. They could hold their arms out to the side or on the hips to help them. Closing eyes emphasises the affect on their balance development  as well as their focus.
 
Another fun balance game is sitting on a ball. This works with balls of lots of different sizes, but they can’t be spongey because then they squash flat. Ask the children to pick a ball and take it to their space. The aim is to sit on the ball for the duration of the song. If they find it easy the task can be developed for body parts or types of balance. This is great for a creative dance class where balls are used as a prop or for one of our ball skills classes (all sorts of ball props and creative dance coming together! Imagine soft squishy snowballs, shakey cat bells and giant balloon balls all in one very fun class for under 5s!).
 
Bare feet!
Have you ever wondered why babies prefer to be in bare feet? My daughter spends a great deal of time removing shoes and socks and she was one of the reasons I began learning more about the vestibular sense and proprioception because refereed to a lot when researching physical development in babies.
 

Going barefoot helps to map the body and, although many dance styles require shoes to be worn in class, tap, character and street come to mind, we can help children in their development by encouraging them to move barefoot in creative dance or for sections of a dance class.
 
 
Part of a creative dance class could explore different ways the feet come into contact with the floor… stamping, jumping, sliding, tip toes, feet edges (being extra careful!), light taps and stronger taps etc. Barefoot races with different forms of travelling such as running, hopping, galloping or slime slid
es (when the floor is covered in slime and you have to get through it but sometimes it’s slippery and then suddenly it’s sticky and then it’s back to slippery again).
 
Going barefoot can also apply to our Active Armchairs sessions with older adults, many of whom spend most of their lives in slippers or shoes. Perhaps we could organise a barefoot class with sensory boxes for the feet (sand or tiny fluffy pom poms), a giant elastic to signify the edge of the sea for dipping toes in and a ball to try and keep under the foot.
 
For a little bit more about Barefoot Babies you can read Dr Kacie Flegal’s article: 
http://www.naturalchildmagazine.com/1210/barefoot-babies.htm
 

Body pressure

This involves stimulating the receptors in the skin and is great for developing an inner ‘map’ of the body. Movements like rolling, crawling like a baby or a bear, army crawling, crab walking or being a worm or snake are great. All you need is an empty space like a dance studio or school hall!

Props can also help. Games with lycra such as when the group holds the lycra and an individual makes shapes underneath or all sitting around the lycra pushing the feet and hands up to make shapes.
 

 
Move With Others
As well as moving by themselves, children develop their vestibular sense by being moved by others. This includes everything from being thrown in the air by a fun uncle to giving and / or receiving a great big bear hug! This links in with body pressure (above).
 
Some rhymes and games can be done with a friend or as a group and these make a great brain break during the school day or a quick, related or unrelated section in a dance class. Some to try include Row, Row,Row Your Boat, Ring a Roses, In and Out The Dusky Bluebells and many of the songs that involve horses, but performed with a partner or sitting on an adults lap (perfect for our TRS Tots classes!). Try Mother, Father and Uncle John, This is the Way The Lady Rides or Horsey Horsey. 
 
Be Creative
In our school staff training programme, Dance: A Cross-curricular Approach, we teach staff how to give ownership of the movement to their pupils. Although this does make it a lot easier and more enjoyable for school staff who are teaching dance as a subject, it is also very beneficial for the pupils. It has been established that children learn through play and at their own pace. When developing body awareness, children have to go through a process in their own time.  A creative dance class supports this order of development because it both gives young children the opportunity to move in the way their body needs to move on that day and also includes sections of taught movement that provide examples of other things they could do.
 
 
 

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