Dancing engages nearly all of the brain at once.
Just participating in dance is good for the brain, but dance can also be used to intentionally target really important development areas for children. Children can come to see what they are capable of by experiencing the influence they have when they engage in creating dance.
One of my favorite creative movement experiences to guide children through, and adults for that matter, is the “Hope Circle” experience. I first participated in a version of this creative movement experience as a part of my training in Community Arts from BuildaBridge International, an arts intervention and education organization based in Philadelphia, PA. It goes like this:
1. Play soothing music (choose one song and play on repeat).
Note: Some suggestions for music are –
- Helen Jane Long’s “Breath”,
- Balanescu Quartet’s “String Quartet No. 2:3 III”
- Green Isac’s “Goodbye, Mr. Kernel”
2. Have students stand in a circle.
3. Say, “Close your eyes, take a deep breath in and exhale.”
Note: Repeat the breathing instructions as needed; take long pauses between all of your instructions.
4. Say, “Focus on the word ‘Hope’. (pause)
Focus on what it means to you. (pause)
When have you needed it? (pause)
When have you seen it? (pause)
When have you seen it in others? (pause)
Let all your thoughts focus on the word ‘Hope’.”
5. Say, “Keeping your eyes closed, think of one simple movement that represents ‘Hope’ to you.
(pause) Keeping your eyes closed try on your movement over and over like a movement mantra.”
6. When all have begun moving and are repeating their movement over and over again, say, “Bring your body to stillness. Slowly open your eyes.”
7. Say, “I will ‘call’ my movement and you will respond by repeating it with me.”
Perform your movement for the circle. Repeat your movement and have students do it with you the second time (or a few times until it appears they have it). If not all students perform the movement, it is okay! If students giggle, it is okay! Keep moving through the experience.
8. Gesture to the student to your right or left.
Have them ‘call’ their movement and the group respond by performing the movement with them the second time. If a student hesitates, do not rush them. Use the opportunity to guide the group in waiting patiently, if the hesitation becomes too long, say, “Would you like us to come back to you?”
9. Lead the group in putting the two movements together.
Perform your movement and the student’s movement in fluid progression, one after the other without pause. In dance this is called a “transition.”
10. Continue around the circle.
After every new movement that is added, return to the beginning of the “dance.”
Note: Once students recognize the pattern, verbal instruction is often not needed (depending on the group). Work towards limiting verbal instruction and using non-verbal gestures to communicate when the next student should begin showing their movement. The group will often begin to do this on their own. Students will often start to take cues about when to begin from the student next to them rather than from you.
11. Once every student (who chooses to contribute) has contributed a movement (and you have returned to any students who passed on their turn the first time around), perform the dance once, twice, or a few more times fluidly and focusing on moving in unison as a group.
Bring the group to stillness. Let the music continue to play.
12. Say, “We have just choreographed a dance.
You are choreographers. Just as you have choreographed this dance, you have a hand in choreographing your life. We each contributed a part to tell our collective story of Hope. Each of you has a unique and important contribution to make to our community.”
13. Then ask, “Was anything difficult about that? (take responses)
Note: Some students might comment that it was hard to remember all of the movements. Follow up by asking, “What helped you when you forgot?” Students often respond, “looking at other people.” You might respond by relating it to life, “Sometimes in life, we need the help and support of others.”
14. You might also ask, “What did you notice about the movements in our dance?”
Note: Students might comment that the movements were all different, but similar. You might then relate this to life, “We are all unique, with special things to contribute, yet we have some things in common.”
What students are doing as they dance
The non-verbal cues require children to increase their focus and really observe one another. As they try on one another’s movement they are “doing” kinesthetic empathy. This supports the development of empathy and provides opportunity for them to experience it for others and to have others experience it for them. This translates to life.
Belonging and Community
As the group works toward moving in unison, they are working out their discrepancies, they are giving and receiving simultaneously. Children are experiencing mutual exchange. They are experiencing what it is to be in community with one another as they participate in the dance together. They are “doing” community and they belong because they have a place in the circle. This translates to life.
Children have the chance to matter. Without each child’s contribution, the dance would not be the same. In fact, it is their very contribution that even brought the dance into being. This experience provides opportunity for children to “do” what we often find ourselves telling them, “You are special. You matter. You have something unique to give.” This is one way, through dance, that you can facilitate an experience that they will feel it. They will know it to be true because they are “doing” it.
I have led this experience in a wide range of settings. In other countries, in a hospital, in after-school settings, in college classrooms, with the tiniest of children, with older adults, and every age in between.
And every time, and I mean every time, something profound and awe-inspiring occurs. It is always similar, yet different and always meaningful.
Consider the “Hope Circle” experience a template for using creative movement. You might use a different word to prompt the experience. Perhaps you have been focused on the theme of “respect” with your students lately. Perhaps you have been looking for a creative way to check in every day or once a week with students.
You might even modify the experience to have students each choose their own word that describes how they feel that day. Be creative. Set aside your fear of dancing. When you are creative and fearless, children thrive!
For breakfast I had coffee and cheese grits.
Author Profile: @juliacrawford