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Environmental Canons

Year 6–8 dance unit by Libby Armstrong, Waikato.

Level 4 curriculum objectives

Developing Practical Knowledge in Dance

Students will use elements of dance to share personal movement vocabularies and to explore the vocabularies of others.

Developing Ideas in Dance

Students will explore and use choreographic devices to give form to dance ideas.

Communicating and Interpreting in Dance

Students will present dance for a particular purpose and record responses to their own and others' dance.

Specific learning outcomes

By the end of the lesson the students should be able to:

  • describe what a canon is, and
  • present a dance they have choreographed as a group. This dance should be on the theme of an environmental image (for example, tornado, hurricane, volcano, waterfall, waves, lightning, avalanche, earthquake etc).

Curriculum links

  • Music
  • Drama
  • Science – weather
  • Social studies – environmental issues, disasters
  • English – reading, writing, visual language

Assessment ideas

  • Video group dances and then watch the recording together
  • Peer assessment as groups perform
  • Discussion and feedback
  • Self-assessment
  • Written assessment
  • Teacher assessment

Lesson ideas

  1. Introduce the idea of choreographic structures/devices. Discuss what they are, and how and why they may be used. (They are specific ways movement is structured, organised, or manipulated to develop and shape a dance.) Ask students to contribute what they know. Introduce and discuss canon.
  2. Discuss and execute a Mexican wave – arms, arms and legs, whole body.
  3. Firecrackers/guns – class spreads out, bobbing down, knees bent, heads down. On each alternate beat, some jump, throwing hands above head then landing with feet apart, arms stretched up high in a "y" shape (firecrackers), while others stand feet wide apart, arms in front, palms together, finger pointed to make gun shape (guns).
  4. Practise movements together, then try in canon – each group beginning after a predetermined count. Half the class watch and observe, then swap.
  5. Repeat, but with a longer sequence of movement, for example, eight counts.
  6. Discuss how, when using canon, groups don't always start after an even number of counts. It can be quite irregular and appear random.
  7. In groups of four, each student creates a simple frozen shape, with everyone trying to use a different level. Each group member teaches their shape to the group. Then they put the four shapes together in a sequence. The group changes to a new shape every four or eight counts. Practise it together until everyone in the group has the routine memorised. Introduce the concept that they are now performing in unison.
  8. Split each group into two and have them try the routine in canon. Students practise.
  9. Canon dance – use the sequence of four shapes to create a short dance:
    • devise a connected frozen shape to begin the dance;
    • perform a sequence of four shapes in unison, twice;
    • then do as a canon, twice; finally
    • add a connected frozen shape to end.
  10. Practise. Present the routines to the class. Discuss the use of canon and its effect. Discuss the use of space and levels.

Environmental images

  1. Students spread out, walk/dance around the space, and the teacher calls out "freeze" and gives an image such as "tree". Students must freeze and use their body to express the shape of a tree. Repeat a few times with different environmental objects.
  2. When the teacher says "freeze" students have 20 seconds to make a shape in a group (group sculpture). The teacher says how many must be in the group and what the shape should be. (For example, groups of three make a flax bush. Other ideas: leaf pile, river, wave, sandy beach, driftwood, field of poppies, hail storm, cloud). Count down the last five to ten seconds before the freeze. Then the teacher counts for five seconds as the groups make their shape come to life and move.
  3. Students work in groups of 4 to 8. Give each group a picture of an environmental image, for example, tornado/hurricane, volcano, waterfall, waves, lightning, avalanche, earthquake).
  4. Students look at the picture and, on a piece of paper, record all the action words they can think of relating to their picture.
  5. In groups, students explore movements and static poses that might represent the image, using their action words as motivators.
  6. Students make a dance on the theme of their environmental image. The dance should be 45–90 seconds long, and include:
    • a frozen shape to begin with;
    • at least one movement sequence using canon;
    • at least two moves related to the action words;
    • locomotive and non-locomotive movements; and
    • a definite and interesting ending.
  7. Students perform their dances to the rest of the class. They may be videoed so they can watch and analyse their own dances.
  8. Feedback – discuss the performances and dance content.

Possible summative assessment questions

To introduce the idea of a canon, you performed a Mexican wave. Describe how a Mexican wave is a type of canon.

Your group produced a dance with an environmental theme. Describe how your group used a canon in this dance. (You may want to use diagrams.)

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