From Creative Movement to Movement Literacy
Creative Movement has long been the standard for preschool dance classes, and it has tremendous benefits for engaging young dancers. It is playful, promotes healthy movement, and initiates children's classroom skills.
On the other hand, I've often had parents ask: "When can we start "real" ballet?. Parents often see Creative Movement as a fun first experience but lacking in the structure and skill development of "real" ballet.
I worked hard to educate parents when answering these questions but in the back of my mind, I always wondered if we couldn't do more to educate our littlest dancers. After all, our hopes and goals are to grow these dancers into artists, technicians, and performers with the ability to balance technique and creativity. We want to build movement literacy, but we're focusing on a very limited range of skills. Can we grow movement literacy from the ground up, beginning with our preschool classes? YES!
A brief sidebar on literacy: With a background in language learning and pedagogy, I was exposed to Literacy as a construct of foreign language pedagogy. Literacy in language teaching focuses on bringing language competency together with the effects and consequences of communication within a culture. In other words, literacy isn't just about learning to read, write, and speak in a bubble, but instead learning those skills within an applicable cultural construct.
In Richard Kern's primer Literacy and Language Teaching, he lays out seven principles of this methodology: Interpretation, Collaboration, Conventions, Cultural Knowledge, Problem Solving, Reflection/Self-Reflection, and Language Use.
Dance is a language in itself and becoming literate requires these same skills but applies them in different ways.
I'm going to rearrange these concepts to show their usefulness in Movement Literacy.
Below are some ways that I apply these conventions in our Movement Literacy Program.
Teacher Fronted Conventions:
"Literacy involves Language Use" (Kern 17). This is the most fundamental of all the concepts: movement literacy requires movement. We can teach even our youngest dancers the basic movement skills that will apply to all genres of dance such as balance, stability, and loco-motor movement, but we can also put these movements in context depending on the dance genre in which we want our dancers to be most competent.
"Literacy involves Conventions" (Kern 17). Conventions help us to follow up on the idea of focusing on a genre. Movement conventions are sometimes universal. For example, there will always be a plié before a sauté because it is a functional convention. We can also follow conventions based on genre preference by putting together movements that correspond to one genre or another.
"Literacy involves Cultural Knowledge" (Kern 17). As teachers we provide different cultural contexts and help our students to understand those contexts. We bring different movements together based on their genre and we help students to interpret how these movements fit into these contexts. We do this through exposure. Both by exposing our dancers to different types of movement in the classroom and by providing opportunities to observe these contexts on stage and screen.
Mixed Teacher Fronted and Student Centered Conventions:
"Literacy Involves Interpretation" (Kern 16). We teach our dancers to interpret choreography and movement by teaching them how to send these messages themselves. Our bodies send messages through movement. Sharp/smooth/heavy/light/bound/free: all of these movements send a message to the audience (be it from one dancer to another, teacher to student, or choreographer to audience member).
"Literacy involves Collaboration" (Kern 16). Collaboration takes place between teacher/choreographer and student, but it also takes place between student and audience. The teacher/choreographer brings a sequence of movement to life through the dancer and hoping to know how it will relate to the audience. The dancer brings this movement to life for the audience. There is collaboration on all sides.
Student Centered Conventions:
"Literacy involves Problem Solving" (Kern 17). Just as writers and readers must figure out the relationship between words, dancers must figure out the relationship between movements. What do two movements mean when put together? How can we send a message by putting movements together? We have to give dancers the opportunity to experiment with putting movement together in order for them to become literate in this convention, but we also have to give them targets and goals.
"Literacy involves reflection and self-reflection" (Kern 17). We think about movement, how we relate to it, and how it relates us to others. Reflection is both individual and communal. As teachers, we hope to inspire dancers to have a positive relationship with movement, but we also hope to help them become part of a larger movement community.
Pulling it all together: What does all of this mean to us as teachers? We can't just teach our dancers to move. We have to teach them to move, to understand the differences between different types of movement, and to relate to movement as an individual and as part of a group. Our classes need to include basic skills, combinations that focus on genre distinctions, and opportunities to move freely with a target in mind, and our programs as a whole need to offer opportunities for community interaction through movement and through the experience of seeing others move.