It’s hard to believe that winter and the holidays are upon us again! While we might be feeling a little overwhelmed with shopping, cooking, decorating, and the other demands of the season, our students find this a most magical time. Holidays … school breaks … the first snowfall … it’s pretty much a kid’s dream! Incorporating winter-themed activities into your classes is a fun way to engage students of all ages and genres in new kinds of dance learning, while also giving them an outlet for all of the excess energy they seem to have this time of year!
Seasonal activities provide an excellent opportunity to encourage students to explore different movement qualities and refine their performance abilities. (Several of my Halloween activities focused on this as well!) Improvisation, games, and creative exercises all provide fun ways to help students work on these skills while also developing a deeper understanding of their dance technique.
I’ll note that at this time of year I try, as much as possible, to keep my activities winter themed instead of overtly Christmas. I want to be as inclusive as possible in my classes, and to be sensitive to the fact that some students do not celebrate Christmas, or any holidays for that matter. Of course, it’s up to you to know your individual students and overall studio culture well enough to discern what is or isn’t appropriate as we celebrate this time of year. That being said, here are a few of my favorite Winter activities for your dance classes:
Okay teachers, time to break out the props! Bring in a selection of materials that represent how snow moves through the air in different ways. Cotton balls fall like the heavier, dense flakes of a Nor’Easter, while smallish pieces of white tissue paper flutter like a gentle flurry. Foam balls can represent tightly packed snowballs, but should be used with care of course! Small white scarves, bubbles, decorative pebbles, and even confetti (if you are brave and don’t mind a little clean-up!) can all be good options to demonstrate the movement of winter precipitation as well. Demonstrate the qualities such as density, speed, weight, and direction by throwing the objects and letting them fall. Have the students first describe the qualities that they see with in words, then show them with individual body parts, and embody the qualities using their full body moving in space improvisationally. Allow groups of dancers to move “through the snow” while others gentle toss some of the softer objects. Encourage the dancers to make up their own short phrases of movement that represent each “kind of snow,” such as a blizzard group that moves quickly and in swirling patterns, or an ice storm group that moves with strong weight and direct action. For a final challenge, have the students perform choreography that they already know (such as a progression, class combination, or holiday dance) with different combinations of these qualities.
The Nutcracker technically takes place on Christmas Eve, but it is a staple of the dance world and has broad appeal in pop culture. I use a number of Nutcracker-themed activities in classes of all different styles because of this. Because there are such a range of unique characters in the story, I find it an excellent starting point for working on character development and movement quality. Introduce students to the major characters by having them improvise along while you read the story. Talk about how the different characters are represented both through the choreography and through the dancers’ interpretation of them. In the battle scene, for example, the choreography for the mice involves crawling, running on tip-toe, and jumping while the toy soldiers march precisely in fancy formations. However, the dancers must also embody the quality of the mice or the soldier through their performance and movement quality. To demonstrate this, have the dancers perform “mouse” movement stiffly with tension and strong weight, and the “soldier” movements while scampering lightly on tip-toe – this can be pretty fun to do and to watch! Once they understand how to embody a character through their movement, the students can play any number of character-development games involving the cast of Nutty characters. This can be as simple as one student moving in the style of character while the others guess who they are, or more complex, such as adaptations of charades or the acting improv game Party Quirks.
Frosty the Snow-Dancer
This game provides an opportunity to introduce students to collaborative work in a fun atmosphere. Have one dancer start as the “snow-dancer.” Another person or team then “builds” them by putting their arms, legs, trunks, head, etc. into different positions until they find the perfect “snow shape.” Then, taking a cue from Frosty the Snowman, the “builders” place a “magic hat” on their snow-person, who quite literally “begins to dance around!” The snow-person uses the shape they have been placed into as the inspiration for their improvisational dance. You can provide additional guidelines, such as levels, directions, traveling pathways, and specific dance vocabulary to incorporate. At the end, the snow-person ends their dance by “melting” into a final shape on the ground. This activity can be even more fun when done in pairs or small groups. The initial shape would be created on two or more snow-people and could incorporate concepts like symmetry/asymmetry, contrasting/complimentary shapes, relationship words (above/below, around, in front/behind), or simple weight sharing.
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