Beginnings Students Explore Dance Through Shadow Dance Project
This spring, Preschool students have been learning about and exploring dance. In a nexus of community, identity, and learning, they have decided to create dances about different places at MFS that they have gotten to know over the course of this year. They have articulated the characteristics and feelings evoked by these places from their own perspectives and created dances to express those emotions.
Watch any of the videos below to travel to a new part of MFS and read remarks from Preschool Teacher Garrett McVaugh about the students’ creations.
Lower School Hallway
The Lower School Hallway is a space that the children visit frequently on their way to special area classes, Stokes Hall, and other places within the school. Sam, Joey, Bridget, and Anderson researched the hallway and identified three prominent characteristics and feelings: Robots, Peaceful, and Running. One can see how they came to these decisions: during the research phase, the First Grade classes displayed robots in the hallway as part of their robot unit and these creations intrigued the children. Additionally, the long corridor – when looked at from a certain perspective – resembles a runway. The children’s dance of Peaceful intrigues me, especially the way in which they chose to interpret this feeling. One child curls up into a ball while another makes a bridge over them. Perhaps the children are channeling a “rootedness” with the ground as they think about Peaceful; perhaps the bridge is an act of protection and care for friends who are feeling small.
Middle School Hallway
Researchers Anderson, Bridget, Noah, and Mary all have a personal investment in the Middle School, with parents or siblings who use the space daily. As a result, our walks through this part of campus often came to be identified through the lens of these relationships. Spending time drawing in the Middle School hallway opened the perspectives of the researchers to different aspects of the space; however, the children were drawn to the large picture windows and the lockers, identifying these as prominent features of the Middle School. Tall Windows and Lockers are featured as aspects of this dance, along with Love, a clear connection to the family members who study and work in this space.
The Auditorium was defined by the children in a single word: Big. And it sure is big, especially as a young child encountering the space for the first time. When we first visited, the children reacted to the space by running, laughing, shouting, and filling the big place with their presence. It is no wonder that the children, upon deciding to create a dance for the space, all agreed that the Auditorium was “Big, big, big.” Noah took on the role of dancer, conveying the sense of “big” by extending his arms and lifting them up and down.
Stokes Hall is a hub of Moorestown Friends School that welcomes students, faculty, and visitors from all divisions. The children have been drawn to this space over the course of the year, often asking to visit during our walks around campus. With frequently-changing displays – such as arts shows and events – it is a dynamic place that always provides new inquiry.
The children chose three aspects of Stokes Hall to convey through dance: Happy, Scared, and Cool. In the Happy Dance, Will opens his arms wide, wiggles his hands, and then closes his arms again. In portraying Scared, he curls up into a ball. Cool becomes a dance of skipping side to side. I have wondered about the relationship of these dances to a specific art show that was on display in Stokes Hall – the identity masks made by sixth graders. This show drew us in, and we frequently visited, wondering about the masks and offering interpretations of the work. The masks in particular drew the children in, and no wonder. In a way, the masks examine similar principles to this project, in the sense that one is asked to consider identity and what it communicates, either through the language of masks or, in our case, the language of dance.
Lower School Stairs
One might wonder why the children prioritized the stairwell at the end of the Lower School as an important place for the year; however, when I reflect on how many times we went up and down those stairs on the way to and from a special area class or on a walk, it makes perfect sense. The research team of Marcos, Mary, Diya, and Will spent time in this space, drawing, observing, and listening. Their research leads to a dance which is a blend of physical characteristics and use. The two elements of the Stairs dance are Up and Down, and Crowded. For the Up and Down part of the dance, Diya takes the lead and captures not only the positions of up and down, but also the movement between them. Look at her hair flying! She is then joined by Will, and they hug and circle to show Crowded. This is a moment of delight for the children, as they capture the feeling of being close together but also joyfully connected which comes as we pass by other classes on the stairs, greeting each other, and sharing in the knowledge that we are all a part of this community.
The Preschool Classroom
The space of the Preschool classroom – our home for the year – was obviously important to the children. We decided that the classroom would be broken down into various parts, and a different dance would be created for each different area or feature. Books, the guitar, dramatic play, the message center, and construction were all interpreted in dances by the children. To see each of these dances, follow the link attached to the area or feature.
For the Guitar dance, Madison dances two feelings that the guitar evokes: fast and slow. She represents fast with arms out, and slow by pulling them close to her body. The Dramatic Play dance is represented by three children. I find the meaning in this dance to be especially poignant; the first step involves a child in the middle, reaching back and forth between two others. Perhaps this action mimics the “feeling out” phase of entering play, when children bounce ideas back and forth as they create a game together. The second action involves sinking to the ground, after which the children rise, connected, and dance ring-around-the-rosie in a circle together. From initial uncertainty comes togetherness, and the dance, much like children’s play, moves with purpose.
The Construction dance captures the way in which buildings rise and fall, beginning with arms slowly creating height followed by a body falling. It ends with some feet and bodies in motion, a reference to the joy of building. The Books dance is one that the children felt strongly about. Marcos shows the dance’s two components, using his arms to show both a story opening as well as progressing with twists and turns. The Message Center dance, like dramatic play, is done in partnership. This makes sense, given that connection with others is fundamental to written communication. As the children have connected together in this space over the year, so too do they represent that connection in their dance.
Together, these dances represent the space of our classroom, our first – although not last – home at Moorestown Friends.