Typhani Harris | January 2015

The First Five: What Worked and What Didn’t

At the beginning of this school year, I thought it would be a great opportunity to unpack each of the new core arts standards individually and test out some lessons and assessments for each.  Our new core arts standards were just released this past June, with mixed reviews, and now that I am working with them on a daily basis I am starting to develop some more concrete opinions about the standards as a whole.

For example, although I appreciate the outlined processes of Creating, Performing, Responding, and Connecting, it does negate the importance of technical training.  No where in the standards does it mention to experience or learn a codified dance genre or technique.

We can assume it is implied, or how else would you be able to create, perform, respond, and connect, but the discussion of technical dance forms is completely removed from the conversation.  We could actually achieve all of the standards through a mere creative movement exploration.  I am not saying there is anything wrong with that, but I also believe that world forms, including westernized codified genres of dance should be taught at the technical level and therefore included more explicitly in the standards.

However, I do appreciate that there is so much room for analyzing and articulating dance as art, because let’s face it, most of our students will not be attending ABT or Julliard in the fall, but the fact that they appreciate dance as art and are able to articulate dance is an important aspect of our jobs.

So, I thought this would be a good time to recap the first five standards and reflect of the lessons I presented:

Standard 1

In August, I introduced Standard 1: Generalize and conceptualize artistic ideas and work, (Full Article) and presented the following lesson:

Dance: Grade 9-12

Title: Compositional Prop Study
Materials: various items (brush, hanger, remote control, balloons, broom, computer cord, etc.)

Note: Remember that a true prop study will explore how the prop can move alone and the relationship between the dancer and the prop.  The prop must be seen as an additional dancer in the piece, not just an inanimate object, so it is important to involve the prop in the design of the composition.

Activity: place all of the props in the center of the room, give students about 2 minutes (per prop) to explore movement with the various props.  After they have had the chance to move with multiple props, have them choose one prop to be the foundation of their prop study.

Write: have student brainstorm their prop study by designing a mind map.  Place the item in the middle of the map and branch words that come to mind when thinking about their specific prop.

Compose: Use the map to generate phrases of movement for each word associated with the prop.  Be sure to explore the elements of movement (Body, Energy, Space, and Time).  Combine the phrases utilizing transitions to make a complete prop composition.

Perform:  Perform the prop pieces for the class.  Have the audience critique using A-R and T (Affirmation, Reflection, Translation) of the ARTISTIC Critique.  Have audience members title the piece based on their critiques.


Although this is a good lesson, I ran into a few issues, the main one being: teenagers.  Unfortunately, when students enter high school there is an image and identity crisis.  They don’t quite know who they are or who they want to be but they do know that they want to be accepted.  So, when I asked my students to dance with these various props and try to find new uses for them as performers the entire class came to an abrupt hault.  I should have seen this coming, because even when we are working on improvisation they traditionally just stand there staring at me as if to say “I don’t know what I am supposed to do”.

We have them so conditioned in right and wrong answers, that when we ask them to explore they have two immediate feelings: 1. “what if it’s wrong”, and 2: the all too common “what if I look stupid”.  So, I feel this lesson in prop studies would be great for younger students  with more inhibition or for second year high school students who have become more comfortable and confident in improvisation and less concerned about what others think.

Standard 2

In September I introduced Standard 2: Organize and develop artistic ideas and work, (Full Article) and presented the following lesson:

Grade: 9-12
Materials: newspapers or electronic access to current events
Pre-Instruction: students should have a concrete understanding of structures, devices, and composition of artist statements.

Title: My World

Established Goals: 
a. Collaborate to design a dance using choreographic devices and dance structures to support an artistic intent. Explain how the dance structures clarify the artistic intent.
b. Develop an artistic statement for an original dance study or dance. Discuss how the use of movement elements, choreographic devices and dance structures serve to communicate the artistic statement.

Enduring Understanding:  What influences choice-making in creating choreography?

Essential Question:  How does the use of choreographic structures and devices articulate artist intent?

Objectives: students will be able to translate current events into movement that articulates their stance on the issue chosen.

Performance Task:  Through a movement sample and a defense of choreographic choices via an artists’ statement, students will demonstrate understanding of the use of structures and devices to depict a stance on a current issue.

Learning Activities:

1.  Have students research current events that they are passionate about.
2.  Either individually or in small groups, have students choose one event to depict their stance through movement.
3.  Build an artist intent based on their stance.  What comment do they wish to make about the issue?
4.  Have students make artistic choices based on their stance.  What structure would work best to articulate their opinion?  What elements will enhance their perspective?  What devices will communicate their thoughts?
5.  Have students build movement revolving around their intent.
6.  Once the study has been composed, have students write an artist statement describing and defending their decisions.
7.  Finally, have students perform their studies.


This lesson was a little more digestible for my students.  They felt the process was more concrete and tangible and they felt it held some value (more so than playing with toys for an hour, which is how they perceived the first lesson).  Where this lesson fell short was in the preparation.  The students were not as comfortable with the structures and devices as I had hoped when we began, so I definitely needed to incorporate more instruction and practice with the various choreographic elements.  Also, they struggled with the writing of their artist statement/intent.

After a multitude of probing questions, I was able to get at the heart of their intent, but their individual writing abilities hindered the comprehension of their stance.  Also, if I had the chance to do this lesson again, I would spend ample time on the differences between pantomime and dance.  I feel the students “acted” out their stance with their faces and miming, more than exploring movement that would depict thoughts or feelings, which made their compositions rather superficial.

Standard 3

In October, I introduced Standard 3: Refine and complete artistic work (Full Article), and presented the following lesson:

Grade:  9-12
Materials: ARTISTIC Critique, completed pieces (click here for ARTISTIC Critique article)
Pre-Instruction: Above lesson plan from Anchor Standard 2 or any choreographed piece from Anchor Standard 2

Title: Suggest and Revise

Established Goals:
a. Clarify the artistic intent of a dance by manipulating choreographic devices and dance structures based on established artistic criteria and feedback from others. Analyze and evaluate impact of choices made in the revision process.
b. Compare recognized systems to document a section of a dance using writing, symbols, or media technologies.

Enduring Understanding:
Choreographers analyze, evaluate, refine, and document their work to communicate meaning.

Essential Question:  How do choreographers use self-reflection, feedback from others, and documentation to improve the quality of their work?


Students will:
build criteria for analysis
revise choreography based on peer suggestion and self-reflection
document choreography

Performance Task: through the analysis of a choreographed piece by peer suggestion and self-reflection, students will demonstrate the ability to analyze, evaluate, and revise artistic work

Learning Activities:

1.  As a class, build appropriate criteria for the analysis of the “My World” pieces on contemporary issues
2.  Have each group or individual perform their pieces, film the performances for self-reflection
3.  Utilizing the developed criteria, analyze the efficacy of the pieces when demonstrating context and artistic intent for the pieces
4.  Using the Inquiry & Suggestion sections of the ARTISTIC critique to provide feedback for the choreographers, as well as responses to the class developed criteria
5.  Have students view the video in order to self-reflect with the same criteria as their peers
6.  Offer students sufficient time to revise pieces based on peer evaluations, questions, and suggestions as well as personal reflections after viewing the video.
7.  Have students choose one piece to complete a full ARTISTIC critique to be given to the choreographer.


This was probably the strongest of the first 3 lessons.  The students really bought into finding appropriate criteria for the pieces and well as watching and revising their work.  They even were very thoughtful when creating questions and suggestions for revision for each other.  This one was by far the most successful, and I began to build on that success by really involving the students in criteria building for all of their major assignments and projects.

Standard 4

In November, I introduced Standard 4: Select, analyze, and interpret artistic work (Full Article), and presented the following lesson:

Grade: 9-12
Title: BEST foot forward

Established Goals:

  1. Develop partner and ensemble skills that enable contrasting level changes through lifts, balances, or other means while maintaining a sense of spatial design and relationship. Use space intentionally during phrases and through transitions between phrases. Establish and break relationships with others as appropriate to the choreography.
  2. Use syncopation and accent movements related to different tempi. Take rhythmic cues from different aspects of accompaniment. Integrate breath phrasing with metric and kinesthetic phrasing.
  3. Connect energy and dynamics to movements by applying them in and through all parts of the body. Develop total body awareness so that movement phrases demonstrate variances of energy and dynamics.

Enduring Understanding: Space, time, and energy are basic elements of dance.

Essential Question: How do dancers work with space, time and energy to communicate artistic expression?

Objectives: students will perform movement phrases that explore all elements of dance

Learning Activities:

There are a vast amount of approaches to exploring the elements of dance, here are just two of my favorites:


  1. Present the formula V(BEST)+P
  2. Have students build a chart
Verb Body Energy Space Time
  1. Randomly fill in the chart: B= Body: axial, locomotor, E=Energy: sharp, smooth, light, heavy, bound, loose etc., S=Space: levels, size, relationships, T=Time: fast, slow, suspended, frozen
  2. Have students draw a pathway for their movement
  3. Perform the movement phrases with the implied dynamics

T/V & M/D (Theme & Variation, Motif & Manipulation)

  1. Give students a simple movement theme (theme: a sequence of movements) for example, walk 3 steps, step out, lean, turn. A simple phrase that can be interpreted however students wish.
  2. Next have students draw a variation (variations give life or color to the theme) some potential variations are: sneaky thief, sophisticated duchess, rushed businessman, carefree child, running water, falling leaves, growing trees.
  3. Students then use the variation to create life in the simple theme of 3 walks, step out, lean and turn.
  4. Next introduce motifs. A motif is a simple movement that describes the essence of a piece. It could be as simple as placing a hand over your mouth, or raising your hand in the air.
  5. Based on the variation students have chosen, have students create a motif that is the essence of the variation.
  6. Introduce various was to manipulate the motif
Repetition Repeat the motif exactly the same
Retrograde Perform the movement backward, in rewind
Inversion Invert the movement upside down
Size Condense or expand the movements
Tempo Change the time of the movement: fast/slow/frozen
Rhythm Give the movement a “beat” or a rhythm, but don’t change the tempo
Quality Vary the movement quality, make it quiver, drift, erratic
Instrumentation Perform the motif with a different part of the body
Force Alter the amount of force you use to complete the motif, make it very strong or very weak
Planes/Levels Change the plane or level in which the motif is completed
Additive Execute the motif while simultaneously adding a jump, turn, or locomotor pattern
Fragmentation Use only part of the motif
Combination Combine any of the above to manipulate the motif
  1. Have students draw 4 different manipulations
  2. Help students compose their pieces based on the theme variation, and motif: walk 3 steps, motif, step out, motif, lean, motif, turn, motif.
  3. Using the manipulations drawn, have students manipulate the motif each time it is presented in the piece.
  4. Perform the pieces.


This was also a very solid foundational lesson, and I wish I had presented this lesson prior to the lesson for standard 2, it would have solidified some of the more basic concepts, and would have possibly helped students to create stronger movement quality and variation.  The BEST acronym has also proved to be a very strong foundational element, and my students often refer back to it when exploring, creating, and critiquing work.

Standard 5

In December, I introduced Standard 5: Develop and refine artistic technique and work for presentation (Full Article), and presented the following lesson:

Grade: 9-12 (but can be simplified for younger students)

Title: Winter Inspirations

Established Goals: Collaborate with peers to establish and implement a rehearsal plan to meet performance goals. Use a variety of strategies to analyze and evaluate performances of self and others (for example, use video recordings of practice to analyze the difference between the way movements look and how they feel to match performance with visual affect). Articulate performance goals and justify reasons for selecting particular practice strategies.

Enduring Understanding: Dancers use the mind-body connection and develop the body as an instrument for artistry and artistic expression.

Essential Question: What must a dancer do to prepare the mind and body for artistic expression?

Objectives: Students will

  • Build Choreographic groups
  • Explore movement inspired by the season
  • Develop phrases
  • Incorporate technical skills into their choreographic challenge
  • Utilize video and peer feedback to revise artistic work
  • Perform collaborative piece
  • Evaluate peers based on selected criteria

Learning Activities

1.  Organize class into choreographic groups.
2.  Review the assignment expectations handout below.
3.  Have students work on their choreographic projects each day.
4.  At the culmination of each day have students video tape their progress.
5.  Review the videos before each rehearsal to analyze goals and expectations for the day.
6.  Perform and critique Winter Inspirations Choreography.
7.  Critique peer compositions using the ARTISTIC critique format.

Assignment Expectations
*this is just a sample of what you can do, the expectations need to be modified based on the skills and terminology used within your classroom.

Winter Inspirations

Winter Inspirations, The First Five, Education Closet

Rubric, The First Five, Education Closet

* The ARTISTIC critique is a practical tool for critiquing art.  Please see my article ARTISTIC critique for reference


This was definitely a hit out of the park for lessons, and more importantly for lessons prior to a long break.  If you had walked into my classroom, you would have never believed it was the week before a break, I was quite shocked myself.  The students were engaged, moving, articulating, and debating; all the makings of a great lesson.   This lesson also gave me the opportunity to assess the students knowledge in technique, terminology, and composition.  It was a very strong end to the year, and a lesson that will definitely be repeated in the future (with a different theme of course).


Unpacking and testing these standards has been enjoyable, albeit sometimes frustrating.  I feel the standards are definitely building on the expectation that the students have participated in dance, specifically with the dance standards, throughout their primary and intermediate years, which makes it difficult when they enter a high school dance class with no prior knowledge.  Unfortunately, at the secondary level, we can only go back so far before the students perceive the lessons as “stupid” or “too baby” which makes it a challenge because we have to pack 8 years of dance education that they have not received into the first semester of ninth grade.

Regardless, the standards are here to stay so finding the best way to make them work for you and your students is the primary goal!  If you have tested out the standards or a lesson that worked for your students, please share it!!!

Next Week: Strategies

National Core Arts Standard 6: Convey Meaning through the Presentation of Artistic Work
Next week we will continue with unpacking the national core arts standards with the 6th of 11 articles highlighting the new national arts standards  Each of these articles provide lesson seeds, assignments and assessments for the the new core arts standards!

About the Author

Dr. Typhani Harris, author of Putting the Performance in Performance Task and Stop Teaching, brings over 2 decades of educational experience to The Institute. Originally a high school English Language Arts teacher, Dr. Harris transitioned into a dance educator who cultivated an award-winning collegiate style dance education program at a public school in California. Prior to joining the Institute, she was an educational leader and instructional coach specializing in preparing new teachers in secondary urban schools.  As the Executive Director of Academic Affairs, Dr. Harris maintains courses, conferences, and the accredited certification program at The Institute.