The heart is the very center of our being, and the powerhouse of emotion. It is a muscle that keeps time, circulates oxygen-rich blood throughout the body, and holds the key to our ongoing emotional state. It is also the first place to focus our awareness, so that we can tune in to where we are at at any given time, on any given day. In a sense, then, it is the very core of where any dance begins. Dance can be used to examine and express our dynamic emotional state, and by doing so, our movement becomes a moving meditation.
Seeing often comes at the expense of tuning into to alternate senses. so in order to feel where your heart is at, begin by closing the eyes. Place your focus on your heart center and examine what is there. Does it feel tight or expanded? Warm or cold? Anxious or relaxed? No matter what the feeling may be, it is the starting point for self-expression in dance.
Once you have clarity about your present state of mind, begin to ask yourself how to translate this into movement. If the feelings are intense, then the movements will most likely match, being more staccato, sharp, angular. If the feelings are soft, then the movements will reflect that.
Every so often, we need an alternate emotional outlet for self-expression, and dance can fulfill that role. Consider using dance as a therapeutic salve, a means of moving energy out of the body, and a map to connect us with our higher selves. When we need a way to say something important, sometimes it’s easier to let our body do the talking.
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Breath is not only life, it is also an important component of dance. Consciously linking breathing to our dance enhances each movement and makes them more powerful. Breath evenly also gives us another way to maintain a rhythm while we move.
The simplest way to test this theory is to begin with focusing on the breath, focusing our attention on each cycle of inhaling and exhaling. After following a few cycles, begin to move one way on the inhale, and a different way on the exhale. For example, rise on tiptoes with the arms reaching toward the sky while inhaling, and then bend the knees and let the body sag on the exhale.
As always, experimenting with a new technique will help you gain mastery. In general, inhaling makes us more buoyant, so this part of the breath brings more power to expansive poses, like stretches and jumps. Exhaling brings power to poses that involve contraction, or folding parts of the body together, such as bending, kicking.
To teach the technique to children, begin slowly and simply. Have them come into a standing position, and close their eyes so they can begin to focus on their breath. After a few breaths, have them open their eyes, and move the arms first, reaching them up to the sky, fingers spread wide while inhaling, then letting them float down to their hips on the exhale. From there, you can make it into an inhale/exhale breathing game. The teacher will be the first leader, showing one pose for inhale and a different pose for exhale. Switch leaders every few minutes until everyone has a turn.
Breathing brings oxygen to our muscles and power to our dance. Take a deep breath and begin.
Mirroring movements is a short, fun exercise to try whenever you have a few spare minutes. Just like in cartoons, it’s guaranteed to get a few laughs, but it’s also a great way to foster connection between partners. Connection is so much of what dance is about, anyway, whether it’s connection to our own emotions and experiences, connection with our Higher Selves, or connection with others. Watching a partner’s movements and mimicking them with our own bodies is a playful way to learn about focusing attention on someone else.
Each child needs a partner, so either have them choose for themselves, or divide the class into two lines, and pair up one child from each line. Next, partners face one another and decide who will lead first and who will follow. Initially, you may want to have them stand in one place and simplify the movements, using one body part at a time, such as the arms, legs, or head. Before starting the music, remind children to proceed slowly in the beginning, so the followers are able to keep up with the leaders.
Once they have mastered simple mirroring, begin to encourage them to explore moving multiple body parts, expanding their shapes, and moving around the room. In the spirit of equality, be sure to set a time limit for the leaders, such as five minutes, and then switch so that leaders will get a chance to be followers and vice versa.
Next time you need a quick break, or a simple exercise to fill in a few extra minutes, try mirroring; it’s guaranteed fun.
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It has been said more than once that great teachers are continuously in the process of learning. After all, it is only by evolving our knowledge that we will have things to share with students, and the way to come up with new ideas is to experiment. In other words, we have to walk the walk first to be able to demonstrate it later.
This means that if we are looking to share dance and movement exercises with children, the best place to begin is with ourselves. First, set the intention to incorporate movement experiments and play into your day to day routine, and then be sure to set aside time and space to enjoy and explore. The fact that you are simultaneously learning and doing something good for your body is a huge bonus.
Inspiring music that speaks to your heart and a little bit of floor room are the only required ingredients. It can be helpful to have a wall mirror to evaluate what you are doing from time to time, to see which shapes and movements work better together. Seeing your movements helps with remembering later on.
The best teachers are enthusiastic about their material, evolving dynamically in their own quest for ideas and inspiration. Setting aside some time for playful experimentation is a rich source of value for you as a teacher and for every student you meet along your path.
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