Students analyze two dances from The Nutcracker and get an understanding of how choreographers create dances by creating short movement sequences for familiar characters.
- Length: 1-2 class sessions
- Grades: 6-8
- The student will be able to distinguish how it feels to do a sharp versus a smooth movement.
- The student will be able to explain the kind of energy it takes to perform sharp versus smooth movements.
- The student will be able to perform movement that looks distinctly sharp or smooth.
- The student will be able to improvise or choreograph a dance that has sharp and smooth movements.
Arabian and Chinese Dances from The Nutcracker
Found On: Dance Performances
Vocabulary, Materials, and Handouts
elements of dance, force or energy (sharp energy, smooth energy), improvisation
TV/VCR or DVD player, selections of music that might elicit smooth and sharp movements
Cinquain Dance Instructions
Instructional Strategies and Activities
Introduce the Concept
Ask students: What kind of movement can you think of that would be very sharp? Examples: hitting a drum, kicking in the martial arts, throwing a ball, etc.
What would be an example of very smooth movement? Examples: a bird riding on the air current, smoke or clouds floating, gliding while ice or roller skating, etc.
Use Enya’s music for smooth with Holst’s The Planets for sharp. There are endless possibilities, of course, so find music out of your collection that makes you want to move sharply or smoothly.
Explore the Concept
1. Responding to Words
Directions to students: Let’s see what it feels like to move sharply and smoothly. I will give you a word, and you decide whether it has sharp or smooth energy. Move anywhere in the room with the energy of that word. Be careful not to touch anyone else in the space. [Mix the words as you give them to the students.]
- sharp: bounce, burst, dab, dart, explode, fling, flick, jab, jerk, jitter, march, poke
- smooth: float, gush, meander, ooze, soar, sway, glide, melt, whirl
Many words could be performed either sharply or smoothly, such as twist, stretch, bend, etc. Have the students try these types of words both ways.
Encourage students to try each of the words you give them in a variety of ways. Ask questions like these:
- Can you bounce on something other than your feet?
- Can you flick with a body part other than your hands? Try your foot, head, etc.
- Can you gush as if you are a waterfall? How about a small stream?
- Can you glide high and low?
Remind students to focus in the direction they are jabbing. Have them jab high, low, right, left, behind, in front, etc. Ooze slowly and then quickly.
These kinds of questions and movements force students to fully explore the movement possibilities of each word. You are “crossing over” to different elements and sub-elements of dance to come up with the questions.
Directions to students: Work in pairs and mirror your partner’s movements. Begin with slow, smooth movement. Change leaders and begin with slow, smooth movement again, then progress to sharp movements. Which is easier to follow: smooth, slow movement or fast, sharp movement? [Answer: smooth, slow.]
3. Space-Divided Improvisation
Divide the space into three parts: left, middle, and right. You might use tape to define the space. Designate the left and right sides of the space as the area where smooth movement occurs, and use the middle space for sharp movements (or vice versa). Have students improvise the correct movements in the designated spaces.
Students can move freely among the three spaces. Encourage them to think of the words they improvised with earlier in the lesson. Improvisation means to “create on the spot.” One of the ways to come up with movement is to copy another’s movement or to vary a movement you see. Improvising is like a big play session in which you are playing with movement. For an improvisation to look interesting, it needs contrast: some people moving slowly or stopping while others are moving quickly and sharply, etc. The dancers have to sense what the dance “needs” at any given moment to be interesting.
Have the class divide into two groups and watch each other. Are the dancers moving smoothly in the smooth areas and sharply in the sharp areas?
Create a Dance
Have students create a dance to the following cinquain:
Swirling, slashing, swaying
We can dart through space
(Adapted from Gilbert, 1992, p. 201)
How To Create the Dance
Directions for students: Think of each line in the cinquain as a “sentence” in your dance. If the line is short, your sentence is short. If the line is long, your sentence is longer.
Decide for each line
- whether you will all do the exact same movement/shape.
- whether you will do similar movements/shapes, but in your own ways.
- where you will be in space for each line or word.
Be sure your movement truly depicts the word you are portraying. Make sure you have contrasts in the use of space, time, and force in your dance, particularly in sharp and smooth. Once you have decided on what you will do for each line, practice until you can perform it well.
Note to teachers: The Cinquain Dance Instructions handout contains these same directions for students, enabling you to hand them out if you prefer.
Performance Event: Students choreograph and perform dances to correspond with the Cinquain Dance (see handout directions). They discuss their assessments of one another’s performances and then watch the excerpt of the Arabian and Chinese dances from The Nutcracker to evaluate the types of force in each of the two divertissements and to express how the dances make them feel.
- Choreographing the dance: Think of each line in the cinquain as a “sentence” in your dance. Make your dance correspond to the lines in the cinquain and decide what movements/shapes you will use, where you will be in space, and how your movements depict the words you are portraying. Be sure to contrast your use of space, time, and force, particularly of sharp and smooth movements.
- Assessing others’ dances: Was the movement congruent with the lines of the poem? Did you see the quality changes from smooth to sharp movement? Did the dance have contrast in its use of space, time, and force?
- Analyzing the excerpt from The Nutcracker: Watch the unnarrated excerpt from The Nutcracker. The Arabian and Chinese dances are good examples of smooth and sharp movement. Observe which is which. Did the two dances give you different feelings?
Information for the teacher: Discuss the students’ reactions to the two dances. The Arabian Dance (smooth energy) is very soothing, fluid, and almost mesmerizing. The Chinese Dance (sharp energy) is energetic, more staccato, and somewhat angular. Note how the music is very different for each as well. The Arabian music is slower and very fluid, while the Chinese is lively with a lot of quick accents. The dances and the music convey very different moods.
Performance Scoring Guide
|Students movements in the Cinquain Dance are clearly sharp or smooth. Students demonstrate excellent contrast in the use of body, space, time, and force in the Cinquain Dance. Students are able to identify whether the dances lack contrast and in what area. Students are able to clearly identify that one of the dances in The Nutcracker was predominantly smooth and the other sharp and that these differences gave a very different feeling to each dance.||Most of the students movements in the Cinquain Dance are clearly sharp or smooth. Students demonstrate good contrast in the use of body, space, time, and force in the Cinquain Dance. Students are able to identify most of the areas in which the dances lack contrast. Students are able to identify that one of the dances in The Nutcracker was predominantly smooth and the other sharp and that these differences gave a very different feeling to each dance.||Some of the students movements in the Cinquain Dance are clearly sharp or smooth. Students demonstrate some contrast in the use of body, space, time, and force in the Cinquain Dance. Students are able to identify some of the areas in which the dances lack contrast. Students have limited success differentiating between the smooth and sharp movements in the video and discussing how the two types of movement made them feel.||A few of the students movements in the Cinquain Dance are clearly sharp or smooth. Students demonstrate very little contrast in the use of body, space, time, and force in the Cinquain Dance. Students are able to identify little of what their peers dances lacked in terms of contrast. Students have minimal success differentiating between the smooth and sharp movements in the video and discussing how the two types of movement made them feel.||No participation or response or irrelevant answer.|
Support - Connections - Resources - Author
- Gilbert, Ann Green. Creative Dance for All Ages. Reston, VA: AAHPERD, 1992.
- Blom, Lynne Ann and L. Tarin Chaplin. The Intimate Art of Choreography. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1982.
- DanceSense includes a downloadable teacher’s guide.