Let’s dance!

I have always enjoyed working in early childhood classrooms. Being able to share and assist children’s pathways into literacy is as much a privilege as it is exciting. To keep alive their innate curiosity, wonder and joy of learning is an aspiration that rewards me as much as it does them.

However the role can be rather daunting at times. It requires that one be a generalist, able to move comfortably through and teach effectively in the full range of subjects: English, mathematics, sciences, the humanities and social sciences, technology, health and physical education, and the arts. But the diversity can also provide opportunities for fun.

Take dance, for example.  Dance can fit into both the arts and physical education programs. While the formal subject areas require some progression of learning in skills and understanding, some form of movement or dance can be incorporated into daily routines such as transition times. I touched on this briefly in a recent post about using the game Freeze, which involves moving to music.

These are some other ways I incorporated movement and dance into daily routines:

  • At the beginning of each day, after giving the children a few minutes to organise their belongings, I would play a video of music and dance moves. This would signify to the children that it was time to join in and be ready for our day’s work together. By the end of the dance everyone was ready.
  • During our morning sessions children shared items related to their interests or our units of work. Sometimes I asked them to bring in a favourite piece of music to share, with the proviso that they teach us some dance moves to it. The children enjoyed showing their moves as much as they enjoyed following the moves of others.

In addition to using the game Freeze, I had other CDs of music with patterns of moves that could be used to transition from a noisy to quiet activity, to regain children’s attention after independent or group work, or to complete the tidying of the room at the end of the day.

  • Sometimes I used music that had set dance routines.
  • Other times we moved to the music freely, or responded to the tempo, pitch or volume with large, small, high, low, fast, slow, loud or quiet movements.
  • Sometimes dance routines were performed independently but in unison such as The Hokey Pokey. The Chicken Dance and The Macarena.
  • Sometimes they required participation as a group, for example learning simple square dances.

Whichever way we did it was always fun and the children loved to participate. They had no need of being told to “Dance like there is nobody watching.”

Dance like there's nobody watching

I wonder at what age that becomes a necessity. Perhaps the phrase,and if they are watching, dance anyway” needs to be added.

My thoughts turned to dance this week in response to the flash fiction prompt set by Charli Mills of The Carrot Ranch to In 99 words (no more, no less) write dance into your story. Charli is talking about writing as her dancing partner.

Of course my thoughts turn to the classroom (as explained above) and to books about dance.

2015-09-19 11.15.56

In a previous post about Australian picture books by Jackie French I wrote about Josephine Wants to Dance. This book, illustrated by Bruce Whatley, is a delightful story of a kangaroo who loved to dance but dreamed of dancing another way. One day the ballet came to town and Josephine decided that was how she wanted to dance. Though others discouraged her, Josephine was determined to give it a try. It is a lovely story of believing in yourself and following your dreams.

giraffes can't dance

Another delightful picture book about dance is Giraffe’s Can’t Dance by Giles Andreae, illustrated by Guy Parker-Rees. While I have read this book many times, it took the recent reading of a post To Thine Own Self Be True by Sarah Brentyn on her blog Lemon Shark to remind me of it. The title of Sarah’s post beautifully sums up the theme which is expressed in the book this way: “We all can dance when we find music that we love.”

We can all dance

For adults there is the story of Mao’s Last Dancer, the inspirational story of Li Cunxin, who is now the artistic director of the Queensland Ballet, based in my home city. He was Queensland’s Australian of the year in 2014.

Mao's_Last_Dancer_book_cover

This leads me to my flash fiction response:

A Night at the Ballet

The audience hushed as the lights dimmed. Marnie shuffled. Darkness was not to her liking. Josephine patted her hand reassuringly. The girls on her other side twittered with anticipation. They’d been to theatre before. Observing their confidence earlier had Marnie feeling even more conspicuous as she balanced on unfamiliar heels and clutched a borrowed evening bag so tightly it left imprints on her hand. At least now the darkness hid her from view.

Soon the darkness was banished by a brightly lit stage and enormous Christmas tree surrounded by happy children dancing. Marnie was mesmerised. So this was ballet!

Thank you

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts about any aspect of this post or flash fiction.

45 thoughts on “Let’s dance!

  1. katespencer17

    I liked the line, “We all can dance when we find music that we love.” Ever notice that even the guys who ‘do not dance’ will tap their feet and drum their fingers to the right music. I remember the Chicken Dance! It appeared at all the weddings I went to when I was younger. I’d hear the audible groans when the music started, but then the next thing you knew, the dance floor was crowded will people laughing and dancing – the chicken dance. 🙂

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    1. Norah Post author

      That is a great line from “Giraffe’s Can’t Dance” isn’t it?
      The chicken dance is a great one to get everyone up and having fun.
      Thanks for joining in on this post. 🙂

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  2. Pingback: Save This Dance « Carrot Ranch Communications

  3. Charli Mills

    Another rich post, Norah! You really have peple talking about dance, too. It’s so expressive, but it does make us feel watched. I’d rather focus on the music and ignore the audience. I had two children in ballet, in fact Allison still teaches ballet and now performs belly dance. Kyle still dances, too. Todd and I dance and hope no one’s watching! We don’t really know any steps but we like to twirl about the living room to Frank Sinatra. Love the Marnie story!

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you, Charli. I love the thought of you and Todd twirling around your living room. As a young thing I used to go out dancing a lot, and loved it. Loved moving to music. Hub has never danced – not even in the living room. I used to dance with my children when they were young – not so much any more. I got a Zumba “game” to go with my WiiFit. It’s a bit like dance. I thought I was going to die after 2 seconds! No more Zumba. 🙂

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  4. Bec

    A great post as always, packed full with lots of different perspectives on dance! I enjoyed Marnie’s new experience with her supportive friends. And the books sound lovely. When driving home from the park yesterday, Glenn and I passed an early-teens girl dancing as she walked along the footpath listening to music. It was so nice to see someone who didn’t care if others saw her dancing!

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  5. Irene Waters 19 Writer Memoirist

    Loved the picture of the giraffe attempting to dance. Children seem to move naturally to the rhythm of the music. It is an interesting question that you ask – at what age does it become an issue to dance. Women seem to have less of a problem with this than men. Of course it is also a cultural thing. If we were in Mexico or South America we would all grow up without fear of dancing and would dance through childhood into our old age. I can remember at primary school learning dances like the Pride of Erin and the barn dance. The boys way back then shied away from dancing because they had to touch a girl and the other boys ridiculed those that did. Perhaps this is what did it. Maybe if we leave the dancing to individual expression until the boys are at an age that they actually want to touch a girl there would be more men dancing.
    I can relate to your flash and how Marnie felt. I can vividly remember the awe which overcame me at both my first ballet and later first opera. It transports you to another world.

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thanks for your comment, Irene. I am interested in the reasons you suggest for boys not liking to dance. Perhaps individual, or group rather than partnered, dancing is the way to go. Young children seem to enjoy moving to the music. Perhaps boys need to see more about male dancers in the media. Ballet for girls is popular, but I don’t think there are as many classes or opportunities for boys.
      I’m pleased Marnie’s visit to the ballet was believable. I was thinking about my first, and only, visit as I was writing it.

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        1. Charli Mills

          My son is the youngest and he really looks up to his sisters, especially the eldest. She got into classical ballet and when she danced the Nutcracker for the first time (a mouse, I think), he saw a few other boys in the ballet and his eyes lit up. He danced classical ballet until he was a teen, doing two tours in a dance troupe for the Nutcracker. He switched his focus to cross country running, but took up swing dance and performed for several more years in that style. No one ever told him he couldn’t dance so it never occurred to him that “boys don’t do that.” Interesting discussion, and I know it was a great disliking for boys in my grade school to dance with the girls. Too much peer teasing, but where does that come from if not the adults?

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          1. Norah Post author

            How lovely for your children to have opportunities to dance like that. I would love to see the Nutcracker on stage. One day I must go. I didn’t have opportunities to see ballet or opera when I was growing up, though I did do drama and went to stage plays and Gilbert and Sullivan “light” performances, not serious opera. I haven’t been particularly interested as an adult either, but I think I’d enjoy the Nutcracker.

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          2. Irene Waters 19 Writer Memoirist

            I’m so glad your son is a dancer. Yes I think they pick up on vibes and I bet there are plenty of girls who are glad that he didn’t suffer that or was strong enough not to worry about it. Yes I guess it has to come from the adults around them like many other behaviours both good and bad.

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    2. Sarah Brentyn

      This is a cultural thing. Where I am in the U.S., for the most part, boys don’t dance. It’s sad. (I know this is a metaphor — especially the Giraffes Can’t Dance book but there are some great comments on that here already.) When my younger son danced he was the only boy in his class. He hasn’t continued. It was a disaster. We can’t find a studio that welcomes boys and the social pressure is for him to play sports (which he doesn’t like). Sorry. Rant over.

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      1. Norah Post author

        It is sad, Sarah. There’s too much “boys don’t” and “girls don’t”. We need people too. Less division and more unity! Rant away, it’s all that will bring on the change that is necessary.

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        1. Sarah Brentyn

          In general, things are more difficult for women but… I’ve noticed that when it comes to activities, clothing, et al, boy’s have a hell of a time. Girls can wear black, brown, whatever but boys can’t wear pink or anything with “girl” stuff on it (unicorns…). Girls play sports but boys get made fun of for dance. There’s a lot that needs fixing in this area.

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          1. Norah Post author

            Definitely. We all have to do what we can to make those changes. I had an interesting conversation with my 4 year old granddaughter today telling me that she likes girlie things but that her 6 year old brother likes boy things. Interesting particularly when her parents have done all they can to avoid the stereotypes of sexism. They are so much a part of our society we don’t always notice them until they are pointed out. She even told me that she likes some boy things but there is no way her brother would like girlie things. She was wearing one of his old shirts with a treasure map on it! How early they pick up on the nuances.

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            1. Sarah Brentyn

              I’ve seen many girls with “boy” shirts, boots, pants with skulls, trucks, zombies, etc. but never a boy wearing a pink sparkly shirt or rainbow pants or butterflies. We have tried, also, but until society changes, it will be out there and not matter what we do here it will make no difference.

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              1. Norah Post author

                I agree. But we are part of society and every little bit helps. Just like it does with your wonderful ways of generosity and compassion. Every step we take as individuals brings us that little bit closer as a society.

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  6. stuckinscared

    I used to dance like no one was watching…if no one was watching…I have about as much rhythm as I do singing ability 😉

    These days any dancing I do is either on wobbly pins (taking care not to break me). Matches littlie’s wobbly pins (though she, despite her disability does have rhythm).

    We both enjoy a jiggled from our armchairs on the too-wobbly-to-dance-upright days. 🙂

    I enjoyed your flash x

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thanks for your comment, Kimmie. My singing is definitely only when no one is listening, unless I can’t help myself, which may be more often than I care to think. 🙂
      I think dancing from armchairs sounds wonderful. No one says you must be on your feet to either dance or express joy. We can even sing and dance in our head when all else fails. 🙂
      I’m pleased you enjoyed the flash. I appreciate your comment.

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  7. Sacha Black

    you know I love it every time you write another piece of Marnie’s story. I love the look of that Giraffes can’t dance book too. Might have to get that one. Thanks Norah, I do so love how you can weave so many things/books/ideas/teaching methods into one post. its a wonder to me.

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you for your welcome praise, Sacha. I’m pleased you enjoyed the post and Marnie’s story. I’m a bit haphazard in the way I tell her tale but I think that’s the nature of flashbacks anyway, and all I can do to fit the prompt and my writing focus!
      Giraffes Can’t Dance is a gorgeous book with a message that works on many different levels. 🙂

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  8. Caroline

    Hi Norah, lovely topic. It reminds me how dance is in all of us at all ages. My annual trip to Covent Garden Christmas ballet is coming up. The 3 of us wear sparkles and drink sparkles and wish we could wear ballet dresses like the little girls. Well I do! Thanks for this posting. Caroline

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thanks for popping by to read and comment, Caroline. How I’d love to join you in your night of sparkles at the ballet. It sounds wonderful. I wish I could wear those beautiful dresses too – never did, now probably never will! (I’d most likely be locked away if I tried!)

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  9. Gulara

    Nothing’s like dance to help move through difficult emotions, as well as to have a bit of fun. My kids love dancing, and so do we, though we’ve stopped going to five rhythm dances with my husband, as they happen in the evenings… It used to be such great joy to move and express ourselves freely. Kids are natural at that.

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    1. Norah Post author

      Kids are natural at it and love to move to music. I used to love dancing and went to ballroom dancing classes when I was a teenager. As a young adult I went out dancing 2-3 times a week. Then I met my husband and that all stopped. He is not a dancer. I miss it. It is a wonderful past-time and great exercise. It’s great that you and your hub both enjoy it. I’m sure you’ll get back into it when your children grow and you have more freedom.
      Thanks for sharing.

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      1. Gulara

        Can’t wait! I love freedom that dance offers. And when I am stuck (with anything, but especially writing), it takes me dancing to a few tracks to get back in flow). I’m sad you don’t go dancing with your husband. Keep dancing for you though. It’s so effective at so many levels.

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  10. Annecdotist

    No excuse for not dancing with this fine collection, Norah! I’ve always called it the Hokey Cokey – not sure if that’s the English or just my personal name for it – but, having taken it to non-English-speaking schools in remote areas couple of times, I can testify it’s a great icebreaker.
    Glad Marnie enjoyed the ballet! I hope it was Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet – most definitely my favourite.

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    1. Norah Post author

      Glad you hear the Hokey Cokey was a great ice breaker. It is an easy one for people to join in with and have some fun.
      I thought it was time Marnie was exposed to some culture. I should probably follow her in that! I have been to the ballet once: Swan Lake. I was thinking of the Nutcracker as I wrote the piece. I may have written of Romeo and Juliet had I thought of it! 🙂 Thanks for reading and sharing.

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