Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Guest Post by Liz Vacco: Silly Sally

I have a special treat for you today! Choreographer and performer Liz Vacco is here from sunny California to share how she incorporates a very special -- and very silly! -- picture book into the classes she teaches for young dancers. Incorporating books and other forms of storytelling into her lessons is one of many strategies Liz uses to make dance fun. She has even created an original dance video called Petite Feet that uses storytelling to teach young children the fundamentals of ballet. We have another post in the works about that, so stay tuned! And in the meantime, enjoy getting to know Liz and her "silly" ideas. Thanks for joining us, Liz!

In my experience teaching classes to young children, the word “silly” is a magic word.  If a lesson plan is not quite playing out as successfully as planned, I find a way to make it silly -- or just call it silly, for that matter -- and chances are I have my students’ rapt attention once again. The teaching and learning can still happen, simply disguised in a silly way.

Therefore, it’s no surprise that a book that employs this magic word in its title is a perfect activity for a kids’ dance class. The book to which I’m referring is SillySally by Audrey Wood. The fact that Sally is silly means that she does everything backwards and upside down -- dancing, leaping, singing, you name it! 

When using this book in class, I like to establish a movement or movement phrase with the dancers in a forward direction first. Once they’ve had a chance to try the movement in a forward direction, I challenge them to try it backwards. I encourage the students to explore the backwards movement on their own before offering my own interpretation for them to try, if they so choose. 

Then, in a similar fashion, we proceed to turn the movement upside down. Of course, whatever the young dancers do is valid -- and often extremely inspiring, as they may surprise me with interpretations I have never considered. After the upside down dancing, we combine the two, moving both backwards and upside down -- carefully -- so that we don’t dance into each other! We then follow a similar progression with each new character we meet in the book -- until we meet Neddy Buttercup.

Neddy Buttercup flips everything back to normal, doing all the movement forward and right side up. This means we get a chance to revisit all the movement in our initial and habitual way. Somehow, though, it always feels fresh after our silly sequences of backwards and upside down dancing. 

This book is a great reminder that silliness can make even the non-silly so much sweeter! Try it out and I’m confident you will see what I mean.

After graduating from Yale with honors in Theater Studies, Liz Vacco spent 10 years in the New York theater and dance communities before relocating to Los Angeles. She has taught dance, choreography, theater, and yoga to children through the New York City Ballet's Education Department, Discovery Programs in the Upper West Side, City Kids Dance in Brooklyn, and more. She has also worked for the non-profit Children's Aid Society, where she implemented and expanded their after-school theater program. Most recently, Liz announced the release of Petite Feet -- an original dance video she created for kids ages 2-5. Learn more about Liz at www.LizVacco.com.


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