This week in our jazz class, many of us are presenting our final project: a lesson plan that includes some form of vernacular jazz that we will teach to our peers. The overall course gives an overview of the history of jazz dance and its African roots. (Read more about it here) For our midterm, we each had to write a proposal on how we would implement a similar course in a studio, high school, college, etc., and why it is important to do so. For our final project we’re supposed to teach a short lesson plan to the hypothetical students in that proposed setting.
I happened to write about a private dance studio where students can choose to take pre-professional or recreational classical ballet or flamenco. My reasoning for adding a similar jazz course once a week for one hour over the course of the school year was because ballet dancers need familiarity with vernacular jazz to be better prepared for contemporary choreography, and flamenco dancers can draw many parallels from tap, improvisation, and the grounded nature of African dance.
We were given an option to pair up or go alone for the final, and I choose to go alone because I wanted to teach my classmates something about flamenco. But given our time restraints for the length of the presentation – about 12 minutes – I recently realized I had a real challenge ahead of me because it’s difficult to draw parallels to two dance forms when the entire group had never even tried flamenco before.
At first I wanted to explore jazz fusion and compare it to flamenco fusion – think Gypsy Kings, who took flamenco and made it “modern.” But after exploring that topic, I couldn’t really ask the group to make their own dance fusion with flamenco and say hip hop because most of them don’t know anything about dancing either dance form.
So I ended up thinking about how flamenco involves two types of clapping, finger snapping, and even slapping of the upper chest, hips, and upper thighs. It seemed an easier concept for a newcomer to grasp. And when it comes to vernacular jazz parallels, there’s the hambone dance, stepping, and if you want to use your whole body, you can beatbox.
So my lesson will illustrate how you can use your body as a percussion instrument, moving into syncopation and improvisation – the cornerstones of jazz music and many jazz dance forms. After teaching my classmates some easy body percussion from the flamenco realm, I plan to review the vernacular jazz dances and beatboxing. Then, I will have them break into groups of four people and create a 16-count movement phrase incorporating clapping, stomping, slapping, and vocalization, preferably with syncopation and even improvisation if they’re feeling comfortable with the assignment. Then there will be a class showing and a discussion. All in 12 minutes. This should be interesting …
Hannah Guruianu is a master’s degree candidate in dance education at New York University. She is a freelance writer and editor, flamenco student, and someday hopes to own her own studio. Before returning to school, she was the features editor at the newspaper in Binghamton, New York, and taught ballet classes at a local studio and community college.