Now that we are back into the school-year grind, it can be a challenge to find ways to keep kids energized and physical…enter, creative movement!
Since I never practiced a team sport, my own physical expression as a young person came from the theater classes I took: Commedia Dell’Arte, Clowning, Mask, Yoga, Dance, even Circus. All the way up through my grad school training, it was in those exuberantly sweaty and breathless exercises that we actors got out of our heads and were able to make exciting choices about our characters. Most importantly these exercises enabled us to practice empathy in a dynamic way and bond together as an ensemble.
Similarly, it is that intensely physical work that we all love so much in Child’s Play NY classes. Especially in our production classes, where kids are putting on shows, ranging from Annie to Hamlet. Obviously, during a certain part of the process, kids have to work from an intellectual place to learn lines and retain blocking. All the more reason, however, that when kids are finding their characters and understanding how to trust their ensemble, that they do so from a kinesthetic place.
The games and warm-ups we love are essential to theater training and also borrow from classic children’s games. However they uniquely shine a spotlight on the characters and circumstances specific to each process that matter to the kids and the world of their show.
For example, the classic creative movement game: Freeze Dance. When played in the theater classroom it instantly builds camaraderie and help kids into their characters. Of course, games like freeze dance aren’t just relegated to the classroom. We use freeze dance in birthday parties and as a parent, it is my go to game if I need to be involved in a playdate! Watch below to see unique ways to tailor it to your own child and use it to boost EQ.
In my acting and production classes with Child’s Play NY, creative movement is at the center of what we do. I always start rehearsals with a vigorous physical warm-up. Ideally, when kids “get into their bodies” it creates space for brave choices and inspiries great acting. When actors, young or old, are connected to how their characters move, it paves the way for awesome risk-taking and really excellent performances. More so than sitting around talking about character, we love to dive in, feet first into the bodies of our characters. In this way they make awesome discoveries that they wouldn’t normally be able to make.
The more closely we consider the elaborate interplay of brain and body, the more clearly one compelling theme emerges: Movement is essential to learning. Movement awakens and activates many of our mental capacities.
~Carla Hannaford, Ph.D.
Even if you don’t teach classes, you can still play variations of these games with your kids in your living room. Especially as the cold weather sets in, I look for games that get kids heart rates up, and get them moving in unconventional ways. Tailor these games for what your child loves most: from the animal kingdom to Harry Potter. These exercises not only are an excellent physical release, but they are also terrifically bonding, so feel free to use these to get siblings playing together, at your next (Halloween!) party or family gatherings (think post-Turkey on Thanksgiving!).
Creative Movement for Drama Classrooms
Jump Into the Body
When we are just starting a play, it helps to use creative movement to expose all the kids to the panoply of characters in their world. I find this especially helpful in creating a sense of ensemble. In my rehearsal for Twelfth Night, when we all move about as Orsino or as Feste, the young actors playing these parts can get inspired by the physical choices they see modelled about the room. Additionally, I like to reinforce the idea that while we are cast as certain roles for the show, anyone can play any of the roles, and the creative movement exercises that kick-start the rehearsal further validate that.
A Day in the Life
I love to do games like A Day in the Life, where kids mill and seethe throughout the space inhabiting their character as if they are living inside their reality (“What kind of bed does Titania wake up on?” “Walk through Lysander’s morning routine”.)
During the work, the questions that you ask the students will be rhetorical, however the answers do come loud and clear in the form of their creative movement and physical expression.
Creative Movement to Unleash Inhibitions
Ask kids to experience the journey of their character from a baby, to a child, to a tenager to an adult. I call this exercise the “Seven Ages” after Shakespeare’s famous speech of Jaques from As You Like It. It is pretty hilarious to see Daddy Warbucks as a petulant toddler or Lady Capulet as a self-involved teenager. Kids can really let loose in the ages of their character finding freedom through the creative expression. They all can join together in baby-gibberish in the “Forest of Arden Day Care” or have a raging party in as if they were teenagers in Romeo and Juliet’s Verona.
I love to have kids explore a character’s dream life through creative movement. Walk them collectively through the very best dream that their character could have, and what that looks like physically. Essentially a great dream will let them tap into their characters pure joy. Support their discoveries by letting them release on sound or use gibberish. Likewise, when you explore the conflict, anger, fear and darker emotions of a character, you can do it through the context of a dream.
In dreams, anything can be anything, and everybody can do. We can fly, we can turn upside down, we can transform into anything.
– Twyla Tharp
When it is appropriate, we figure out what a character’s nightmare would look like, and feel like. Again, let kids release on sound, as well as creative movement as they have permission to explore the underbelly of their characters. Finally, I always like to let kids come back around to a calm and happy dream before closing out this exercise. This will look different for Macbeth, Duncan and the Witches, so be prepared for a wonderful cauldron of chaos if you have a company moving in this way. Have exercises at the ready for classroom control so you feel confident in managing the group.
One of my favorite creative movement exercises is to have kids imagine what kind of animal their character would be. This works quite well in classes where kids need an extra jolt of bravery. Play around with having the animal be at 100% and then slowly lowering the amount of animal down to 5% – so just a suggestion. Oftentimes the discoveries that kids will make end up in the final show. Kids also love to interact with each other as animals. Work in smaller groups and have an audience of the rest of the cast guessing who is playing what animal.
Effective Tools for Movement Work
Excitingly, the benefits of creative movement tap into the core components of social-emotional learning. When students actually get into the body of another character it creates an immediate sense of empathy. To make it concrete and practical, I borrow from the dance and theater world to create movement warm-ups that get kids physically embodying another character. Additionally, they often let go of judgement when they are moving to music and as a group.
- Play around with the tempo or speed of the creative movement. You can establish the spectrum of 1 (slowest) to 10 (fastest) and then have the cast move according to the number you call out.
- Change up the part of your body that is leading the creative movement. Encourage kids to notice how this simple shift in energy can helpfully inform their character. For example: Miss Hannigan leads with her nose. Sir Toby Belch leads with his stomach. The kids should make those discoveries on their own, as you guide them through the options.
- Vary the direction of the movement. Although you can start with people walking around the space, eventually you can frequently call out, “change direction!”. Additionally, encourage students to move sideways, and even (carefully!) backwards. Ask them to observe how that made them feel when they changed direction.
- Talk them through interaction with other people in the space: Initially ask them to have soft-focus with others around them. Gradually increase involvement with castmates, asking for handshakes or high-fives.
- Play DJ and curate the music that underscores the exercises. Make sure you have a loaded playlist of scores or soundtracks that you love and that fit the mood you are looking for. This automatically will help kids release and respond kinesthetically.
More Creative Movement Inspiration
If this has piqued your curiosity about using creative movement in your classroom or at home, you might find the following links helpful for continued exploration:
Thank you for watching and reading! Please be in touch if you have other resources you’d like to share for more creative movement inspiration.