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Animated Edition - Winter 2008
Classroom Moves
Kristine Sommerlade, Artistic Director and Heather Walker, Company Manager of Tees Valley Dance describe their initiative to get teachers and pupils dancing in the classroom
The aim of Classroom Moves was to create a movement and dance programme for teachers to deliver in their classrooms in order to raise physical activity within curriculum time and further develop creativity within the school. The project was funded by Creative Partnerships, Tees Valley and the research partner was Linthorpe Community Primary School, Middlesbrough. The research programme took place between January 2006 - January 2007.

Twenty teachers sit in their staff room staring at members of Tees Valley Dance - some faces were welcoming and open and some resentful that their Head has insisted they attend. Their posture saying I can't dance, I won't dance and I definitely won't dance in my classroom - brain gym is bad enough.

Before the first staff meeting at the school an intensive preparation period in the studio had taken place with the dance artists and musicians. We insisted that all the exercises that were created have a story or image that the children could play with and understand straight away. The dance artists struggled with this, you could see their frustration, they couldn't just make movements to counts. On top of this they had to make sure it could work within a classroom setting. Creative solutions were necessary. The musicians were pushed out of their comfort zone, we wanted them to really interact and move with the children and not just play the role of accompanist and hide in the corner. This was quite a difficult process, as most of the musicians had not had experience of working directly with children in this way.

Back to the staffroom and company members address the teaching staff with their ideas. Dancing in the classroom, upping the physical activity, without having to battle with dinner ladies over hall space. The dancers tryout their exercises on the teachers for the first time - seems to go down ok. Everyone joins in (under the watchful eye of the Head).

A focus/research group of teachers is established. Dance artists,teachers and the Artistic Director meet regularly in the afternoon to try and test ideas. Everyone receives feedback for the morning sessions: how did the exercises work with and for the children? Later on, dancers and teachers are teamed up and together develop and deliver a movement programme for individual classes. Team teaching is supported by workshops which explain movement fundamentals to the teachers and discuss their position as physical role models.

Over the next couple of months we work intensively in the school and studio,exploring a multitude of ways of moving on chairs and desks, walls and floors in the classroom. Some teachers embrace the new movement programme and start to incorporate the exercises into their daily teaching routine almost immediately, for others it takes a little longer.

We learnt a lot of new things which might appear mundane but often contained information vital for the successful continuation of the project. We discovered one teacher's aversion to turning and being upside down and that our pocket money exercise was helping progress the lower maths group's learning of times tables something as artists we never thought of. One teacher got a tremendous thrill out of shaking her body vigorously, another one preferred to leave the room during sessions when dancers and children were to be found underneath and on top of chairs and desks.

We are also confronted with teachers' exhaustion and their frustration with a strenuous and demanding job. This project is an 'extra thing to do', and sometimes the last thing teachers want to do is jump around a classroom after along day of teaching.

The children enjoyed most of the activities thoroughly but we are amazed at the extent to which the children's acceptance of certain movements is influenced by their teacher's movement preferences. Some children considered disruptive and problematic in the classroom environment are found to be the most creative, inventing numerous movement alternatives to the one being taught at any moment in time. Most children have a better movement memory than their teachers, which in some classes leads to a role reversal, the teacher needing the support of their pupils.

Dancer, Rene Pieters reflects "All the dancers learnt a lot about teaching from the teachers which really improved everyone's dance teaching. The research partnership between teachers and dancers was based on an exchange of skills which proved beneficial to both sides."

Over the year of research and development we see a shift in everyone involved. Pupils and staff walk past a room full of children standing on their chairs and shouting "land ahoy" don't even blink - it is becoming normal. We remember witnessing a teacher teetering on the edge of a desk in her high heels reaching to open the window. The teachers had got so used to clambering on desks or on chairs they were a lot more confident with the space and their bodies. Windows steam up,children have hot, smiley faces as they learn to swat the fly, drive the spaceship, and be a pirate. Dancers try new ideas and a lot of them fail, but slowly they are beginning to see progress.

After a year of intensive work, we get down to the hard task of choosing the right mix of exercises and music to create a book and CD resource. Finding the right words and the right cues takes a very long time.Always checking and re-checking with teachers that it makes sense to them.
We launch the Classroom Moves book and CD by putting the classroom on stage, and getting children, teachers and dancers to demonstrate the exercises. Teachers are nervous, leading dance exercises with their class in front of over 200 people in a theatre is not in their comfort zone but the day is a huge success.

After a lot of frustration and challenge we are all proud to see our ideas working. For dance artists working in schools, you generally go in,make the children move a little, leave, a box is ticked and then you're a distant memory. With this project the company has added something new to the available canon of movement activities currently delivered in UK schools. We have made a lasting impact in the school and potentially many more schools.

November 2007 sees the start of Classroom Moves in ten more Tees Valley schools. An evaluation report will be produced in July 2008.

contact Heather Walker on 01642 525191 or heatherwalker@teesvalleydance.co.uk

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Animated: Winter 2008