Monday, May 6, 2013

Reilly and St. Vincent dePaul: 2 Legit 2 Quit

Mandy Compton, COT Teaching Artist and Choreographer
When I begin to choreograph a dance, the first thing I do is just listen to the music.  I sit down, push play, and let the sound wash over me.  As I listen, I try to sense how my body naturally moves to the beat.  My body tells me what will work, and what will not, as I begin to dance. 

This year I was tasked with the exciting opportunity to choreograph an original piece for all of the Opera for All schools (Gangnam Style/2 Legit 2 Quit), and a special mash-up dance for St. Vincent De Paul's after school program.  Knowing what motivates a dance in the context of a show adds zest and excitement to the overall arc of any performance.  I was excited when, for St. Vincent de Paul, I wasn't just given a song to choreograph.  I was immersed in their entire script and lyrics.  
Mandy and students at St. Vincent dePaul Center
Their mashup dance became more than a mid-show diversion, it was a full out fight scene between the good and evil super heroes!  Teaching the dance to the students proved an exciting endeavor.  Because each song in the mashup (three songs total) brought out a different element of the conflict between the super heroes and villains, each change in melody brought with it a new mood and thus completely different movement.  We began our session by exploring how each student's specific super hero (including, but not limited to, Mr. Cool, Silver Rock, and Fashion Girl), would a) move, and b) fight off enemies.  
Students creating characters for their dance
Some of the kids were hesitant at first, but by the end, everyone was excited to share their character's movement, complete with sound effects.  This helped the kids to incorporate their characters' motivation into challenging dance moves.  As I taught them the steps, I tried to instill in them the same sense of relationship to the music with their bodies as I use when I choreograph.  We alternate between listening and dancing so that  instead of relying on demonstration or example, they can connect intuitively to the movement and music. 
At Reilly, where I teach for Opera for All on a regular basis, our guest choreographer was Devery McCoy.  This was my second year to have the privilege of working with her on an OFA dance day.  She is a true joy to watch as she always has creative ways of explaining and teaching movement.  She is able to teach kids with no previous dance experience a full length (and, I might add, challenging!) dance combination in less than an hour.  She is incredibly patient and always encourages and motivates the kids to do better.  I took notes from her method last year in preparation for my own dances and teaching this year!  The kids learned "Starships," "Space Jam," and my own "Gangnam Style" during our two dance days.

It was a very special experience to see some kids, who might not have stood out during class before, find their rhythm and shine in their dancing.  As a Teaching Artist for Chicago Opera Theater, these are the moments I cherish.  I'm lucky to be part of a program so diverse that EVERY child can find a new reason to believe in themselves, in ways they might not have otherwise imagined.

Mandy and students at Reilly dancing to "Gangnam Style"

No comments:

Post a Comment