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Exploring the concept

This is an excerpt from Creative Dance for All Ages 2nd Edition With Web Resource by Anne Green Gilbert.

Choose one to three activities from the Exploring the Concept, Shaping, and Instrument sections.

Exploring the Concept

  1. Spots: "Find a spot (a place marker or an imaginary spot), and try twisting various body parts on your spot in self-space. Twist your neck gently; twist your arms; try twisting your legs. Now gallop around the spots through general space and back to your spot. Shake on the spot. Shake body parts and then your whole body. Now slide through general space around the spots and back to your spot." Continue alternating nonlocomotor movements in self-space and locomotor movements in general space. This alternation keeps the dancers from becoming too tired. Try alternating high- and low-energy movements, such as float/run, shake/walk, twist/gallop, slash/crawl, stretch/jump.
  2. Pause: "Every time the music stops, freeze in a shape. If I say ‘self-space,' dance in one place when the music starts again. If I call out ‘general space,' dance all around the room until the music stops." Call out locomotor and nonlocomotor words to encourage new ways of moving.
  3. Glue: "Imagine that two of your hands and one of your feet are glued to the floor. Now, can you find ways of moving in that shape in self-space? Become unglued, and slide through general space to a new spot, then glue your belly to the floor. Can you roll through general space to a new place in the room?" Continue in this manner using different body parts and other locomotor movements. "Instead of gluing body parts to the floor, try gluing to the wall, an object, or a person!" Keep alternating self-space (nonlocomotor) and general-space (locomotor) movements.
  4. Find a Friend: "Dance through general space (or skip, hop, glide, and so on). When the music changes or I give a signal, find a friend as quickly as possible and then connect in a shape. Now dance together, connected or unconnected, in self-space until the music changes again. Say good-bye to each other, and dance through general space." You can direct the movement or the dancers can dance freely, depending on their experience. The dancers can keep the same partner or find new partners each time. You can use spots or cones to define self-spaces. The dancers would find a spot (use half as many spots as dancers) and a friend at the spot.
  5. Gestures: "Dance through general space. When the music stops, I will call out an everyday action. Do that action in self-space. Make the action big and use your whole body, or do the action with different body parts. When the music begins again, dance through general space in a new way." If you are working with inexperienced dancers, give specific general-space movements such as fly, skip, wiggle, or gallop. Gesture suggestions include wave hello, brush teeth, comb hair, iron clothes, put on shoes, write your name, eat food, polish the table, mix a cake, bounce a ball, and juggle beanbags.
  6. Traveling Actions: "Start shaking in self-space. Now shake through general space. Freeze. Swing in self-space. Can you swing through general space? Freeze. Float in self-space. Float through general space." Continue, cueing the dancers to start an action in self-space, then move it through general space. Using spots cut out of yoga mats to represent self-space can be helpful, especially with younger students. Dancers move on the spot, through space around the spots, and back to their original spot. This can be done with nonlocomotor and locomotor movement. For example, swing in place on the spot, gallop around the room and back to the spot; poke in place, and skip around the room. More advanced classes can try this exploration in pairs, trios, small groups, or the whole group (which will require cooperation and spatial awareness).
  7. Word Cards: "Choose a card from either stack (write locomotor words on cards of one color and nonlocomotor words on cards of another color). Find a perfect spot, and put the card faceup on the floor in front of you. We will read each dancer's card and perform that action. Now find a friend with a different-colored card, and put your two cards in front of you on the floor. This time we will combine the two cards to create a special dance word. If one card reads ‘run' and the other card reads ‘float,' we will try to do a floating run!" Some of the combinations are difficult, but every one is possible. The dancers will discover many new and exciting ways of moving.
  8. 16 Counts: Students can do this exploration with a partner, a spot, or an object (e.g., shoe, desk, etc.). The directions are given in terms of partners. Just substitute "desk" or "spot" for "partner." When working with partners, only half the class is moving through general space at one time, so it is a good activity for large classes or small spaces. "Find a partner, and decide who will dance in general space first and who will dance in self-space first. The self-space dancer dances in a perfect spot. The general-space dancer dances around the room but must be back to his or her partner by the time I stop counting. If I say, ‘16 counts jumping,' the self-space dancer will jump in different ways on the spot while the general-space dancer jumps away from his or her partner and back to the partner by count 16. Try connecting in a shape on count 16. Now, reverse your roles. The self-space dancer will travel through general space while the general-space dancer dances in self-space. Remember, self-space dancers, keep moving in self-space for all the counts. General-space dancers, be brave and use all the space. Don't hang around your partner."

    Change the number of counts and the movement frequently. Explore locomotor and nonlocomotor movement. Floating in self-space and floating through general space create different feelings and use some different muscles, as do hopping in place or hopping from place to place. Very young dancers work best without partners. Individuals alternate moving in self- and general space on, away from, and back to their personal spot. Call out 16 counts jumping in self-space, then 16 counts jumping in general space.

  9. Corner, Middle, Side: "Dancers, make a shape in the middle of the room, skip through general space to any side wall, and shake in self-space when you get there. Skip to a corner. Float in the corner. Jump backward to the middle, and twist with a friend in the middle. Turn quickly to a side wall, and wriggle at the sidelines. Slide to a new corner, and swing in the corner. Creep to an opposite corner, and stretch in all directions in the corner." Continue in this fashion alternating corner, middle, and side directions and locomotor and nonlocomotor movements. Use simple or complex movements depending on the dancers' abilities. Keep the action moving and the commands creative.
  10. Follow the Leader: "Follow my movements in self-space when the music is slow. When the music is fast, dance any way you wish through general space. When the music is slow again, follow my movements." Alternate following and free dancing several times. Instead of slow/fast music, use soft/loud music or songs with a verse and chorus or just give a signal to change from self- to general space.
  11. Mirror and Shadow: "Find a partner. Choose a leader. The leader moves through general space while the partner follows (or shadows) the leader's movements. When the music changes, face each other and the shadow will copy (or mirror) the leader's movements in self-space. When I give the signal, change leaders and do shadowing through general space and mirroring in self-space with the new leader." Give inexperienced dancers specific movement ideas to get them started. Instead of changing music, give a clear signal of when to change from shadowing to mirroring.
  12. Back to Back: "Stand back to back with a partner. Make a shape touching knees (you can turn around and face each other), then elbows, then thumbs. Now, skip away from each other through general space. Come back to back with your partner again (or they can find new partners). Connect hips, now fingers, now shoulders. Dance any way you like through general space away from your partner." Continue until the music ends. This is a wonderful way to get the dancers to know each other and feel a connection as a group. The body part connection can be simple, such as three basic body parts. Or, it can be more complex, such as connecting a high body part of one dancer to a low body part of another dancer or connecting two body parts to a partner's two body parts or connect in an opposite shape.
  13. Space Between: "Find a partner. Try to move around the room keeping the space between your hands always the same, perhaps one foot apart. There is no one leader; you must cooperate. (With young dancers you may want to designate leaders.) The leadership can change anytime. Alternate moving in self-space and general space. Try having other body parts as the invisible connection point such as noses, shoulders, bellies, or backs." With more advanced dancers work in trios and small groups.
  14. Seven Jumps: This exploration uses the music for the folk dance called Seven Jumps. The music has a repeating phrase of 32 counts interspersed with sustained notes of various lengths. "Move through general space any way you like for 32 counts. When you hear the sustained notes, freeze in a shape. The sustained sections change duration so on the longer sections, we will do nonlocomotor movements in self-space." On the locomotor section, have students practice different movements or practice the same movement different ways - gallop low, strong, backward, and so on. On the sustained sections, have students practice different nonlocomotor movements. Instructions for the dance are in Brain-Compatible Dance Education (Gilbert, 2006). Seven Jumps music is listed in appendix D. However, Music for Creative Dance Volume II #9 (Chappelle, 1994) is a different, fun version of Seven Jumps.
  15. Solos: "Dance in self-space any way you like (or you can call out a specific movement). When I call someone's name, that person can dance a solo through general space. Then I will say, ‘self-space' (or name a movement, such as ‘shake'), and we will all dance together again until I call another name." Continue until all dancers have had a chance to do a solo through general space. If dancers are shy or the class is large, call two or three names at one time. Try the opposite - solos in self-space and group dancing in general space.
  16. Props: Use props with the previous activities. Dancers move with their props (squares of plastic tablecloth material, scarves, streamers, balloons, full-body resistance bands) in self-space, under your direction: "Hold it while you make shapes; dance on, over, under, or beside it; balance it on different body parts." Dancers move their props through general space with these directions: "Toss and catch it, move it with your feet, hold it in different directions as you travel, balance it on different body parts." Dancers can dance individually or work with a partner. Alternating self-space and general space creates a nice exploration.
  17. Activity Songs: For ages 2 to 7, choose music under the concept of place from the Music for Young Children list in appendix D. Instrumental pieces in that list (marked with an asterisk *) are appropriate for any age.


  1. Moving Shapes: "Make a shape. Move that shape to a new place in the room. Shake out the shape, and try a new shape. Now move the new shape to a different place in the room." Continue. You can ask the dancers to gallop the shape, turn the shape, and so on, or let them figure out their own movement. Encourage them to hold the shape as they move.
  2. Body Halves: "Freeze the lower half of your body in a shape. When the music starts, dance with the upper half of your body in self-space. When the music stops, freeze the upper half in a shape and dance with the lower half through general space." Students alternate upper and lower halves dancing. More experienced dancers can also alternate right and left halves.
  3. Geometric Shapes: "Make a triangle shape with your body in self-space. Can you move that shape through general space while tracing a triangle on the floor? (Young dancers can relax the shape before tracing the shape through space.) Try making a circle body shape, then tracing a circle on the floor. Now try a square, a figure 8, and a rectangle." This can also be done in pairs or groups. The groups can create a large shape and move it through space.
  4. Copy Shapes: "Make a shape. Remember the shape by closing your eyes and feeling the shape in your muscles. Open your eyes, gallop through general space to a new spot, and make the same shape. That is shape number 1. Shake out the shape, and make shape number 2. Close your eyes, feel the shape, open your eyes, and skip to a new spot. Remake shape number 2." Continue this way for 4 or 5 shapes. "Can anyone remember their shape number 1?" This helps the dancers to make very different shapes. Encourage level changes and using different body parts, sizes, and directions. More experienced dancers can dance any way they like through general space.
  5. Three Shapes: "Make three shapes in self-space - shape! shape! shape! Gallop that shape through general space to a new place. Make three new shapes - shape! shape! shape! Turn the last shape to a new place." Have students repeat the activity, practicing different locomotor movements through general space. They can also work with partners, dancing with the partner through general space or dancing away from the partner.
  6. Copycat: "Find a partner. Partner 1 makes a shape. Partner 2 copies the shape. Partner 1 comes alive and dances through general space. Partner 2 changes the shape when partner 1 leaves. Partner 1 returns to partner 2 and copies the new shape. Now partner 2 dances away while partner 1 changes into a new shape." Encourage use of levels, size, directions, and so on. Continue until the music stops.
  7. Shape Museum: Half of the students form various shape statues that are spread around the room in self-space. The other half dance around the shapes, then copy the shapes at random. Only one dancer at a time should copy a statue. When a statue has been copied, the statue comes alive and becomes a dancer. A statue stays frozen until copied by a dancer. Encourage dancers to use different movements while dancing from statue to statue. They can move under and over statues if possible. As a variation, statues could change shapes when they are not being copied. This is a good exploration for large classes or small spaces because only half the dancers are moving at a given time. Young children can do this activity with a partner. After the statue has been copied, he or she dances away while the partner forms a new shape. Then the one dancing away returns to copy the new statue. This is a favorite activity and has many variations in subsequent chapters.
  8. Sculptor and Clay: "Find a partner. Your partner will be a statue. Mold your statue into a shape. Move your statue's body parts very gently. Statue, hold your shape. Sculptor, remember to mold your partner into a shape that will be comfortable to maintain." Reverse roles. With inexperienced students, be more directed. For example, ask the sculptors to mold specific shapes such as big and little, high and low, or strong and light. They could mold verbs, adjectives, emotions, letters, numbers, and more.
  9. Group Sculptor and Clay: "Half the class will stand, sit, or lie in a neutral shape. The other half will move around the shapes and mold or move one body part, then move to the next shape. The shapes are continually being changed by the sculptors who are moving quickly from one shape to the next. Statues are in self-space. Sculptors are dancing through general space." Have dancers reverse roles. This is great fun to watch. Large classes can be divided into audience and performers. Be sure to change roles, even in large classes.
  10. Prepositions: "Dancers, find partners. One of you will make a shape while the other moves through, under, over, or around you to create a new shape. Continue taking turns." Use Chinese jump ropes or full-body resistance bands to add dimension to the shapes.
  11. Shape Chain: Form the class into groups of six to eight dancers so that everyone gets multiple turns to make new shapes in the chain. "The first dancer in each group will make a shape. The next dancer in each group will make a different shape, connecting to the first dancer. Each dancer dances down the chain past the shapes and connects to the last with a different shape. When the first dancer becomes the last in line, he or she moves down the chain and reconnects to the chain. The chain keeps going until dancers run out of room or a signal is given to stop."

Forming a shape chain.


  1. General Space/Self-Space: Dancers alternate playing an instrument through general space, and putting the instrument down and dancing around it in self-space.
  2. Self-Space/General Space: Dancers play instruments and move in self-space, then put the instrument down and dance away. Remind dancers to dance around or leap over instruments, moving safely.
  3. Partners: Dancers dance toward a partner and try to make music together, then dance away and make music alone. Have them alternate dancing together and apart.
  4. Continuous: Dancers alternate self- and general-space dancing while continuously playing an instrument. Signal the change of place with a drumbeat or gong; use a folk dance tune to provide phrases of music; or use the Ella Jenkins song "Play Your Instruments and Make a Pretty Sound." (See appendix D.) With this song, students dance in self-space when a specified instrument plays and general space when everyone plays together.
  5. Freeze: Dancers play and dance in general space until the music pauses, then freeze in self-space and are silent. Have them alternate playing and freezing. Then, dancers try reversing this idea so that they move and play in self-space and then move silently through general space.


Learn more about Creative Dance for All Ages.

More Excerpts From Creative Dance for All Ages 2nd Edition With Web Resource