Keeping Creative at Home: How to get moving with dance

Choreographer and artist Shermaine Slocombe offers this easy and fun way to create an original dance performance for the whole family using your home or garden and a few simple materials

6 April 2020

Whether you're a teacher, a parent, or both, we hope our Keeping Creative at Home blog series will help you and your children through this tricky period of adjustment.

We're aware there's currently a lot of pressure on parents in particular around home education. So, first and foremost, all of the activities in this series are designed to be fun, creative experiences for your children (and hopefully for you too!) – but there is also potential for learning in all of them.

Some of the activities in this week’s blog were inspired by Shermaine’s recent workshops in schools as part of Steve McQueen’s Year 3 project, where she worked with children to create an original dance piece in a day using symbols and floor patterns.

These activities can build day by day or be done on their own as creative starters for other activities, or just to get children and adults moving! The activities will work with children and adults of all ages, and SEND children also respond particularly well to this kind of work.

What you will need:

  • A selection of songs, and one which you all like for the final piece
  • Sheets of large paper (ideally A3 or larger), pens and felt tips
  • Printouts of symbols (see below). If you don’t have a printer, draw them out for yourself
  • Sticky tape or tack
  • A mobile phone to play music and film the final piece – or other music and recording devices you may have

Day 1: Take a line for a walk

Put on one of your selected songs. Using a single sheet of large paper, with each person using a different coloured pen, take it in turns to draw to the music. One person starts, and when they’ve drawn for a few counts the next person picks up where they left off.

It is important to ‘let the music do the drawing’ and not try to draw a recognisable image or shape. Keep going, with one person picking up from the other, for as long as you’d like. You could also try experimenting with different types of music on spare sheets of paper and compare your collaborative drawings.

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Stick your beautiful drawings onto the window. Take another piece of paper and write A at one end and B at the other: lay it over the top of your drawing. Each person then traces a section of the drawing they like as one continuous line from your starting point A to your end point B. This will become your floor pattern for choreographing your work; it’s your personal journey, which you can use like a map.

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Hold your personal map and use it to create a journey around a room or garden. Try each other’s journey by following them as a leader. Try to memorise your own journey so you no longer need to use your map. Keep your maps and remember your journey – we will return to this activity on Day 3.

Day 2: Sculpting a ‘name solo’ in space

We’re going to use our bodies more today, so we’ll start with two warm-ups.

Warm-up 1 – Growing

Imagine that you are a seed in the earth that grows, getting taller and taller, twisting and turning into a large sunflower that moves in the breeze. There is no right or wrong way to do this, and how you ‘grow’ is up to you. Then picture the sun going to sleep, so down you go back into the earth. Repeat a few times.

Warm-up 2 – Shapes

Use different body parts to ‘draw’ a variety of shapes in the air. Build up from small into large/wide/tall shapes. Pretend to erase the shapes in-between.

Now we’re ready for our main task. Choose a body part (e.g. elbow) and use it to write your name in the air. Imagine you are drawing your name on a huge wall. How does the rest of your body follow the part that is leading? Does your body move forward, or does it stay in one spot? Can you add more movements with your head and body while you draw?

Play with some different ways of ‘sculpting’ like this. When you’ve settled on one you like, remember your starting and end points. This is your ‘name solo’ and the start of your dance.

Day 3: Sound symbols

Print or copy out the Sound Symbols sheet, one for each person. Find different spaces in your home or garden and draw the symbol shown whenever you hear the sounds indicated. For example, you might hear birdsong three different times so draw three of the symbols for birds. How many different sounds did you hear?

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Example of a completed Sound Symbols sheet

Now, create your own simple arm movements to the sounds/symbols. For example, the washing machine might be on and as the symbol is a circle you could draw a large circle above your head with your hand.

Find your line journey from Day 1 and take the journey again, but this time add in your arm movements based on the sounds you heard.

As a variation, if there are a few of you, take turns leading these movement journeys with followers copying the leader’s arm movements.

Day 4: Dancing flashcards

Use the Shapes activity from Day 2 to warm up.

Print or copy out the flashcard symbols and cut them up into cards. Each member of the group then chooses one flash card, and each gives the symbol a movement. Is it a light or heavy movement? Does it grow and get larger or shrink and get smaller? Share movements and create a dance together using your chosen shapes.

Some tips:

  • Make eye contact and try not to look at the floor
  • Practice and perform to each other
  • Make sure your movement is big and bold
  • Always remember to hold your final position
  • Try standing in different positions around the room, or if there are several dances in progress, starting at different times to create a cascade of movement

Day 5: Practice makes perfect

  • Practice your ‘name solo’ from Day 2
  • Practice your symbol movements and taking your ‘line for a walk’ with arm movements from Day 3
  • Practice your dancing flash card movements from Day 4

Once you’re really comfortable with these, try experimenting by making them bigger, bolder, and crazier!

Day 6: Dancing in unison

Warm-up - Shake it off

Stand up, shake your hands. Then, as well as your hands, shake your elbows. Then, as well as your hands and elbows, shake your shoulders, and so on. Now onto your waist, then one of your legs, then the other one and finally your feet. Your entire body should be moving now. You should look silly… that’s the idea!

Now work on doing the same movements in unison. This requires good teamwork and practice. You are going to use this section for the chorus of your chosen song. You can adapt the counts as required to fit your chosen music.

  • Jump up and down with your hands in the air x 4 counts
  • Clap four times underneath your right leg, then left leg, then repeat this sequence
  • Do the twist: jump and twist your hips from side to side and twist your upper body the opposite way x 4 counts
  • Walk around yourself x 4 counts. You could also use these counts to move to a different part of the room.

Repeat, practice and experiment. Take turns to watch to give useful feedback.

Day 7: Show day

Warm up: practice your Day 3 symbol movements and taking your Day 2 ‘line for a walk’ until you feel energised and focused.

Rehearsal: during the introduction of the music enter the space dancing your ‘name solo’. Next, take your ‘line for a walk’ with your arm movements. Do this until the chorus where you can move into positions ready for your dance in unison. After that, perform your dancing flash card movements. You may have time to repeat your name solo for a second time until the chorus kicks in once more.

Remember, practice makes perfect! The more you rehearse, the more confident you will feel to perform. Once everyone is happy with your performance, why not film it and share it with family or friends and or on social media to inspire and motivate others.

Good luck and keep dancing!

Want to go further?

Sadler’s Wells is launching at home video workshops

Find out more

Try dancing in response to art like Corali at the Tate

Watch here

Shermaine Slocombe is an artist, choreographer and educator experienced in engaging young people in creative learning projects.

Follow her on Twitter at @shemyslocs

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