Jessica Runge taught dance to 112 students at Lester B. Pearson
School for the Arts in London, Ontario in April and
May 2004. Grade
six and seven classes at Pearson met with Jessica
between one and five times. During the first part of each class, which
varied in length from twenty minutes to two hours, Jessica led students
through a skills building technique class, as outlined below
(with some variation). After these skills sessions, the students worked
on creative projects which Jessica facilitated. To
find out more about the student projects, click here.
Project Goals: The
aims of these skills building sessions were to increase movement vocabulary;
enhance dance skills (such as balance and coordination); increase
strength, flexibility, and the ability to learn and memorize new movement;
and to provide students with an introduction to some of the standard
methods and procedures utilized in dance technique classes (such as
beginning class in lines facing the teacher, coming across the floor
in groups, or executing short movement sequences choreographed to
Each class began with some kind of informal greeting (such as standing
in a circle, saying names and making a movement to go with each name).
With students working in three wide lines facing the instructor, a
warm-up exercise proceeded from the top of the body all the way down
to the feet; lightly warming-up and stretching the major muscles of
the arms; circling and loosening the muscles of the neck, torso, and
hips; strengthening the legs; improving balance; and opening and strengthening
the ankles. This warm-up was accompanied by Strayhorn and Ellington's
"C Jam Blues"
Leg-work began with a "plié" (bending of the leg)
exercise executed in an easy turned-out "second position"
(feet slightly apart), first position (heels together), and with parallel
feet (heels together). The aim was to open up the joints, enhance
eccentric contraction, and, by
also incorporating movements for the upper body, to
coordination. Pliés were followed
by work through the feet: joints were articulated slowly and then
with more speed in parallel and easily turn-out positions. Extending
the leg began with sliding each foot out to the front side, and back,
in parallel and turned-out first. This was repeated just off the floor
to develop more extension and balance. Following a short "combination",
which paired jogging on the spot with quarter-turns of the body, students
learned a walking pattern that transferred weight from foot to foot.
This simple repeating walking pattern ended time with a quarter turn,
so that each time it repeated the students faced a different direction.
The last leg exercise in this series was a repetition of the leg extension
work done earlier. This time the legs were extended higher, to forty-five
degrees. The leg exercises were accompanied by Celtic
music by Martin Hayes.
Depending on how much time was available, class sometimes included
one or two longer exercises, such as a sliding swinging combination
that worked on moving the body more quickly through space, or an "adage"
(slow combination) that worked on slow, coordinated extensions of
the legs into space in tandem with torso movements and some traveling
through space. Excerpts of music performed by spanish guitarist Laurinda
Almeida and east African singerOyub
Ogada were used for these exercises.
The final section of class focused on traveling through space. Students
left the line formation they had been working in until this point.
In groups of four they proceeded diagonally across the room, from
corner to corner, working on a series of exercises that progressed
from walking, through various patterns of hopping, skipping, quick
and slow steps, running, and culminating with jumping. Mozambique
beautiful "Majurugenta" accompanied these sequences.
Deborah Kapp, a dance teacher at Pearson, thought
that the students, who were used to a format more focused on creative
work in groups, were successfully introduced to some key aspects of
the format more typically used in contemporary dance technique training.
This alternate approach challenged students to motivate themselves
while working independently of others and to develop new physical
skills and routines.
Martin, one of the participating students, wrote: "I
really enjoyed the time we had with u!"