Dancing! The Antidote for TMT (Too Much Testing!)

This is Tanya from Teaching Music: Tanya's Kodály Aspiring Blog.
Well, it's that time of year again! What, daylight saving time? Yes, but even more unsettling, it's testing time! (I find it very interesting that we know that daylight saving time negatively affects our physical and mental health and this is when we are undergoing high-stakes testing!)

My motto for curing the fatigue of TMT (too much testing,) is to move. The more they test, the more we dance! Those bodies have been parked at desks for ninety minutes at a time in front of a screen; the release that moving provides is exactly what they need.
Here are some resources and tips when teaching dance.


New England Dancing Masters (aka The Amidons)

These materials are a must have for any music teacher. All of their books/CDs are worth owning and using but if you are new to these materials I recommend Chimes of Dunkirk to begin with; it contains many accessible dances for primary and intermediate grade levels. Rise Sally Rise (formally known as Jump Jim Joe), Down in the Valley, and I'm Growing Up contain more singing games and play parties then dances to instrumental music. They also have DVDs!

My students' favorites:
Sashay the Donut - Sashay the Donut
The Vowell Dance - Listen to the Mocking Bird (Great for teaching grand right and left!)
Chimes of Dunkirk - Chimes of Dunkirk
Alabama Gal - Chimes of Dunkirk
Les Saluts - Listen to the Mocking Bird

Here is Grand March from Sashay the Donut

Sanna Longden
Sanna's resources are wonderful, especially for multi-cultural dances. She really stresses the folk traditions in the ethnic dances and the recorded music she includes in the CDs is authentic. Always go with the most authentic recording you can find! Why introduce kids to a dance with the "muzak" instrumental version of the South African song Pata Pata when you can expose them to Miriam Makeba's international hit recording of the same song? If you ever have the opportunity to participate in a workshop or session of Sanna's you really must see her in action! (If you attend the OAKE convention in Minneapolis in just a couple of weeks you can see Sanna on Friday, March 20 at 1:30pm.)

My students' favorites:
Yesh Lanu Taish - CD #1
Sasha - CD #1 1/2
Pata Pata - Dances of the 7 Continents (#4 Blue and White)
La Raspa - CD #2

Rhythmically Moving

The Rhythmically Moving series from Phyllis Weikhart is a set of nine CDs and books and have been released in a couple of different versions. (My CDs are the blue covers with the big red numbers and my school has the vynil records) These are your bread and butter dance collections and are a staple of most music rooms. The dances are sequenced very well with CDs 1 and 2 for beginners and through CD 9 which includes opportunities to challenge experienced dancers. The written dance directions can take a little more patience to read through and make sense of but the gems in these collections are worth the extra effort.

My students' favorites:
Sliding - RM 1
Fjaskern - RM 2
Little Shoemaker - RM 3
Ersko Kolo - RM 4 

Stamp or mark R or L hands
I have been know to stamp the right hands of students up into 6th grade as they walk into the music room. Yes, 11 year olds absolutely should know their right from their left but why not give them a fail safe? I know other teachers who prefer to hand out hair scrunchies for children to wear on their right wrists. I know that would be more of a distraction for the students I teach so I stick with the hand stamp. Did you know ink stamps come in scents now? (This is why half of my 3rd grades are walking around with blue blueberry scented noses.)

Scaffold steps but play the music often!

It's a good idea to break down and teach sections of a dance before doing the entire dance with the recorded music. Make sure they get to hear some of the music along the way. For example, after they learn to right swing their partner for four beats and then left swing back to their original spots, let them try it with the music, (it's helpful to have a remote!) I've been known to sing dance directions to the instrumental melody of the music. Some of my students pick up on this and are able to attach the steps to the melodic phrases quickly.

Also be aware that the dance formation may affect how you introduce the steps. When I teach any dance that is in a longways set I try to teach as much of the dance as possible while they are still in their assigned spots (my students have assigned spots on a large velcro floor staff and sit in lines E G B D and F.) As soon as kids are standing in a longways set it becomes challenging for them to listen and focus. (I've noticed this lack of attention even among adult music teachers during workshops!)
Dances that begin in a single or double circle don't pose as much of a listening problem, so I often start the students in the circle formation.

Don't hesitate to modify!
One of my favorite beat activities is the single circle dance Sliding from Rhythmically Moving 1. However, the dance directions include students turning and walking backwards in the circle which is just too much for my first graders in August. I simply modify the steps, (we continue going forward), as needed. No harm, no foul, and the first graders are able to move to the steady beat without falling all over themselves.

Mentally Rehearse
Do you remember the book The Inner Game of Tennis, (which led to several other books including The Inner Game of Music)? The main idea is that anyone can gain confidence and mental focus by practicing their craft mentally and going through the motions by imagining themselves in action. The second lesson after I have taught a new dance begins with the class listening to the music and thinking through the steps. We'll often add "finger dancing" to our mental practice; holding up two fingers to represent two dancing partners.

Repeat at will!
"Can we do it again?!!" When you hear that, you know they're hooked! My answer is "YES!" unless the class is out of time. You know the music education benefits of having your students dance, (form, steady beat, phrase, etc.), but seeing that they love it is the pot of gold! Repeat the joy and let your students revel in dancing just because it's fun!

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