Be-bop and body rhymes can be effective educational tools
Washington — John Taylor, artistic director of the Columbia Dance Theatre in Baltimore, is easy to spot. He's the one in the bright red shirt, bright red pants, white vest , bright red tennis cap, and feet ready to dance.
''Actually, I usually wear brighter colors than these, and the kids just flock around,'' he told a workshop audience of preschool teachers at the Kennedy Center here recently.
An art teacher for 18 years in the Baltimore County school system, he finally succumbed to his ''hunger for dance,'' enrolled in Goucher College, and started doing workshops in East Coast school systems, parks, and museums. He developed a special wavelength with preschoolers when Wolf Trap Farm Park, a national park devoted to the performing arts, asked him to do ''day care'' audiences. ''You should see two-year-olds doing this,'' he says, demonstrating one of his dance/walk techniques.
It's a wavelength filled with movement and punctuated by words. In his workshop on ''Teaching Spatial Relationships Through Creative Movement to the Young Child,'' he had the audience on its feet from the first minute, sticking stars on the floor (''That's your special spot''), shrugging shoulders, bending backs, walking, marching, dancing, jogging, and learning an ''aerobic ABC'' in lickety-split time.
With young children, he has found you can ''really influence them through movement. All day long, kids are told not to move - Sit down, Stand here, Go there. Dance relaxes them,'' he says, ''and then they can learn.''
He starts by showing messages your body can convey. He asks the children to use their heads to say Yes and No; use their shoulders to say, I don't know; use their arms to say, Get away, Get up, or Get down; use their torso to say, I don't care (swaying side to side); and use their legs to walk, jog, run, or dance.
And he uses ''body rhymes'': Hands up Hands down You circle hands around Arms out Arms in You put them under your chin Point high Point low Now point to the way to go Head up Head down You turn and look around.
Movement, he says, can be used to explain directions and relationships in an easy way with young children. ''If you ask children to tell you where their right hand is, they just look at you,'' he says. ''But if you start walking to the right,'' he continues, moving his bright red self in that direction, ''and say, Walk right, and then walk to the left, and say, Walk left, pretty soon they're all doing it.''
Putting children in a circle, you can teach the concepts of in and out (Step in, in, in, in; Hop out, out, out, out), stop (Play ''freeze''), backward (Jump back), around (March around), and up and down (Arms up; Arms down).
Shapes and colors can also be taught with movement and rhyme, he points out. ''Take a word like 'square,' '' he says, holding one up, ''and use your finger to draw one, saying, Draw a square in the air/ Two lines here and two lines there.'' You can make up rhymes for other shapes, too - ''A rectangle could be, Two lines long and two lines short/ Makes a rectangle of some sort.''
To teach colors through movement, he makes his audiences respond with body parts. ''Start with anything, like the color red,'' he says, holding up a red spot, ''and say, When you see red/ Put your hands on your head.'' The audience's hands pat heads.
Then he asks for rhymes from the audiences, holding up various colors (''When you see yellow/ Touch the other fellow; When you see gray/ Walk this way; When you see green/ Bend and lean''). Finally, he holds up the colors and expects the audience to act out each one.
Despite all this activity, he feels that dance fulfills the function of ''calming people down.'' He also believes that even though some people ''feel comfortable when they dance, it's not because of the way they move, but because of how they feel about the way they move.'' However, ''you control your feelings and can feel good about your movement,'' says Mr. Taylor, be-bopping across the floor.