Teaching students how to create choreography out of an idea shows them how to use movement as a means of artistic expression, and exercises the creative and collaborative processes that they will need to face 21st-century challenges.
My studio uses a choreographic process that emphasizes improvising, creating, showing, and observing; students engage with the material they perform because they have a connection to how it was developed and what it means.
Here’s an example: this year my pre-modern class created a dance based on an annual community celebration that includes picnicking, a symphonic performance, and fireworks. In class, we looked at photographs of the park, noticing the winding pathways, stairs, trees, and large grassy areas. Through improv, dancers explored locomotor movements—for example, they played tag and rolled, activities that might happen in the park’s grassy area. From this, we worked on choreography that included skipping along a curvy pathway, leaping, rolling, and a game of tag. We also “danced to the symphony” using dance formations we had learned in previous classes. The piece ended with a free-form dance representing the fireworks.
The students understood this story and saw their ideas and explorations in the final product. They remembered the movement, connected it to the real world, and will recall it the next time they take a walk in that park.
At our showcase, I engaged the audience by giving them things to look for in the dance: “Can you see when the fireworks begin?” I also encouraged our families to ask their children about the movement, and allow them to explain the choices that went into the choreography. This process of engagement develops the whole dancer and assures that both dancers and audiences connect to the performance. —Sara Lavan
Sara Lavan is executive director of Local Motion Project, Alexandria, Virginia.