Dafna Soltes Stein is a performer and educator in Drama, Storytelling and Dance. She is also the co-creator of Pass Around Storytelling.
The Story-Dance Connection
Children love to move and can use their kinesthetic intelligence to learn literacy skills. Theme and variation, descriptive language, beginning, middle and end, keeping track, and sequencing are all skills needed to be a good reader, writer, choreographer and improvisational dance maker.
Tell Me a Story, Dance Me a Dance is a technique I have used for years as a drama dance educator. And I absolutely used these techniques as well in my living room and backyard while raising my own children. Shared, interactive storymaking and dancemaking was a constant family activity during their crucial growing up years. My husband and I consciously made an effort to support them in becoming both enthusiastic readers and dance lovers.
Interpretive dance for kids
Tell Me a Story, Dance Me a Dance is a creative dance approach to developing a love of language which engages and sustains children's interest over time. All children inherently love to move and love to hear stories. Both boys and girls.
Here is how it goes: Make up a simple story that has a beginning, middle and end. Use lots of action verbs and descriptive language to create a picture that the child can imagine and embody. Each time you speak an image give the children enough time to hear it, imagine it, move it. Take your time. Give them time.
Here is an example -
Once upon a time a large nest of eggs lay on the branch of a tree. Inside the nest lay six wonderful eggs. Inside each egg was a tiny baby bird curled up cozy and tight.
One day, when enough time had passed for the baby birds to grow, the eggs began to wiggle and shake. Then the eggshells began to crack! Using their sharp little beaks the baby birds began to peck and poke from inside their shells. They wanted to get our of their eggs and see the world. It took them a long time, but slowly, slowly the eggs' shells began to crack open and the pieces of shell fell away.
When the little birds poked their heads out they opened their tiny eyes and looked around. They reached their heads high into the air and opened and closed their beaks. They were so hungry.
Mama bird began to fly all about pulling worms from the ground with her beak. She dropped each worm into the mouth of one of her squirming, chirping babies.
After a while the baby birds had full tummies. They were tired from so much stretching and reaching. One by one they curled up into tiny balls inside their nest. Cuddly and close they fell asleep.
YOU CAN EVEN MAKE A PART TWO
After a few days the baby birds became curious and did not want to stay in their nest any longer. They stretched their necks and looked over the edge of the nest. Soon they began to hop out of their nest and onto a large thick branch. Up and down the branch they went all day long. Forward and backward, backward and forward.
After a few days of hopping it was time for the baby birds to fly. They lined up along the branch and one by one they unfolded first one wing and then the other. The baby birds stretched their wings out wide.
It wasn't easy but the baby birds began to fly. They flew high and they flew low. They flew fast and they flew slow. They flew in staight lines and they flew in circles.
At the end of each long day, when the baby birds' wings grew heavy from all of their flying, they flew back to the branch in the tree and rested their wings. When night time came they jumped inside their nest and cuddled up to one another real close and safely fell asleep.
It is very exciting for children and for us too, to use the same story over and over again. Yes, tell the same story again and again. You will find that each time you tell it more descriptive words will come to mind. In the meantime, the children find more and more ways to move in response as they get to know the story better and better. They may even ask you to change it. In this case you can pause midstory and ask the children to make predictions: Where do you think the story will go next? Take several suggestions (endless possibilities in stories and in life too!) and then use one. Each time you tell the story and dance it you can try out a variation. Dependent upon the age of the children you may find that some want to join you in being a storyteller. To engage and maintain the interest of older children just turn the baby birds into dinosaur birds.
Don't worry about remembering every detail of a repeated story, the children will keep track of the story as they dance it. They will enthusiastically remind you if you leave something out.
If You Don't Feel Up to Inventing a Story:
You can start just by making up single images in the form of similes ("like a...") and your child or children will jump at the chance to respond with their moving bodies to these enticing word pictures.
Here are two ways to go about it:
Use descriptive langugage to help a child sense his body making still shapes - "be tall like a giant tree in a thick, dark forest," "be frozen and still like an enormous iceberg in Alaska," "curl up like a tiny snail in a sea shell on the beach," "become long and flat like a sleeping snake on a sunny rock."
Use descriptive language to engage children in movement - "run like the wind on a freezing cold day," "shiver like a hungry mouse hiding in the corner," "jump like a frog from lily pad to lily pad in the summer sunlight," "flutter like an autumn leaf falling to the ground," "wiggle like a worm sqirming out of a hole in the ground," "grow larger and larger and larger and burst like a balloon filled with too much air".
Before you know it you will find that your similes will grow into stories all by themselves. Of course you can firmly rely on your children to help. Just watch their bodies move and see where their body language tells you they want the story to go.
One last activity I suggest you try to connect creative movement to love of language and literature:
Choose a well loved story book, one that has a great deal of movement inherent in the words and imagery. I love the old standards like The Little Engine that Could, Where the Wild Things Are, The Snowy Day, My Mama Had a Dancing Heart, and Are You My Mother?
So, clear away the furniture, roll up the rug, take off your shoes and sock and speak, read, move and enjoy!
Visit Dafna's website, Kinetic Intelligence Plus - Seeking High Student Achievement In and Through the Arts.
More on storytelling.
Best Children's Books - Find, Read or Write home page.