Started / Ways to Walk / What Does
This is probably the least self-contained lesson on this site. Sometimes
I do this whole lesson at once with a group--particularly an older group--but
often I salt the various elements of it into a few different lessons, changing
the pace and doing different games in between. It can be difficult
to grasp, but it is important, and my students embrace the challenge.
Basically this exercise is designed to get the students thinking about
moving their bodies, and about clearly understanding the ways their bodies
can move, and the ways they do move in various situations. Usually
I introduce movement of the whole body gradually, starting with something
like "Sculpture Gallery" or with narrative pantomime activities.
With younger children especially, I am constantly monitoring the level
of understanding, and tailoring the lesson to it.
Started: Ways to Move in Space
Everyone finds their own personal space in the room. I have a defined
"acting space" in my classroom--a large open area--and I tell the students
they must remain inside this area all the time. Students begin to
move their bodies through space. I coach them to find every conceivable
way to move their bodies through space. This can get noisy, and you
have to watch to be sure they are not discovering ways like throwing their
classmates, etc., but my students love it. When we have explored
different ways to move through space for five or ten minutes, we sit and
discuss. On the board, I make a list of all the ways we have discovered
to move our bodies though space. These often include:
Once we have the list "finished" we get up again, and I coach the whole
group through each item on the list.
Running (We discuss this one ahead of time. Running is
a legitimate way to move, but not in the classroom.)
Walking on hands
Dragging lower body with arms
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For this second part of the lesson we confine ourselves only to walking.
There are many different ways to walk. I introduce the idea that
any movement (in this case, the walk) can be changed in a number of different
specific ways. I list them below, but in the lesson I generally introduce
them one at a time, with time for discussion, etc. in between. Some
of the categories below come from Rudolf Laban's movement technique.
As the students walk--Don't stop! Keep walking!--through the space,
I coach them through each of these changes. ("Okay, everyone,
now let's walk as HIGH, as tall, as we can! Now let's see how LOW
to the ground we can be and still walk--don't cheat and crawl! Now
everyone walk as WIDE as you can!" etc.)
Change the size of the movement. A movement
can be made wider or narrower, higher or lower, deeper or shallower.
One can make the walk wider or narrower by widening or narrowing the stance
and swinging the arms further away or closer to the body. Once can
make the walk higer or lower by walking on tiptoe or slouching. One
can make the walk deeper by taking larger steps or swinging the arms further
forward and back.
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Does it Mean?
Once we have tried out all the different ways to change our walk, I have
the students sit around the edge of the space and work with one volunteer
moving at a time. This part of the lesson is about body language,
and how the way we move expresses our personality and our mood. A
volunteer is chosen, and instructed to walk back and forth through the
space as everyone watches. To begin with, I say, "Be as HAPPY as
you can! Show us in your walk!" As the class watches the volunteer
walking "happy," I coach them with questions to look at how the walk is
dealing with each of the categories above. "Is he walking high or
low?" "Wide or narrow?" "Are his muscles tense or loose?"
"Is he walking fast or slow?" Gradually we build up a sense of what
"happy" looks like--at least for that person. (With older students,
if the volunteer is not actually looking very happy, I may coach him, using
the categories, to look happier. "Can you move your focus up?
Can you relax your muscles a bit? Look, class, at how much happier
he looks now!")
Change the time of the movement. A movement can
be made slower or faster. (When my students are sophisticated enough
to grasp it, I include time in the size category--as the "fourth" dimension.)
Change the weight of the movement. This is pure
Laban. I demonstrate by walking how a movement can be light or heavy.
(An angry schoolteacher may walk heavily; a ballet dancer may move lightly.)
Change the direction of the movement. Also from
Laban. A movement can be direct--moving to a specific point without
veering off the path--or indirect--wandering aimlessly.
Change the tension of the movement. The muscles
can be loose and relaxed or tense and constricted.
Change the focus of the movement. I made up this
category, but it is easy for my students to understand and really helps
with emotional work. Focus is basically the direction of the gaze,
with usually a corresponding curve of the body. (Think of the difference
between a downcast person walking about staring at the floor and a proud,
happy person striding about with his chin up.)
Sometimes I write a brief description of "happy" on the board.
(Fairly high, wide and deep walk, medium-fast, light, relaxed, direct movement,
high or straight ahead focus.) It is important not to cheat, though.
If my volunteer's version of "happy" doesn't conform to my expectations,
and if when I coach him to match them the group feels he no longer looks
happy, then I describe what he did, not what I think he should have done.
We repeat this with other volunteers and other emotions--angry, proud,
sad, afraid, etc. With sophisticated groups, we talk about why certain
emotions might have certain similarities or differences. (For example,
in certain ways "proud" and "angry" tend in most groups to look a lot alike.
Both tend to be tense, fairly deliberate movements that take up a lot of
space, both in width and in depth. It can be fascinating to discuss
theories as to why.)
This is really a broad outline of the general approach I take when introducing
the idea of movement with my classes. I vary the approach nearly
every time I do it, carefully listening and watching so that I can respond
to what the students are and are not connecting to. I would be glad
to discuss further the kinds of things we talk about in this unit with
anyone who is interested. You can e-mail me at any time.
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