Through the use of African Dance, which is a storytelling art form, students will recreate the history and culture of the Buffalo Soldiers during the Westward Expansion of the United States through dance.
Lesson Theme: The U.S. Army unit called the Buffalo Soldiers played an pivotal part in the history of America’s Westward Expansion.We will explore and retell some of the events in their history through dance.
DANCE: How can African dance convey ideas and tell stories? ACADEMIC:
Tchr/Director: Paige Polite
Teaching Artist: Dr.Margo Blake
Site: Keene’s Crossing Elementary School
Timeframe: 3 days
Students will learn how African Dance plays various roles in traditional African society both historically and currently. Teaching Artist will teach the characteristics of African Dance and how it differs from other dance forms. On day one, students will experience a traditional West African dance class. Movements will be relevant to the residency’s historical component. Students will be introduced to authentic African drum music. Students will learn to identify “polyrhytms” or various rhythms that make up African music. This will be necessary for their final assignment.
Students will learn how African Dance is used to tell stories and will be assigned a choreographic, group project to tell aspects of the Buffalo Soldier’s history. ACADEMIC:
Getting Started: Paige Polite (5th grade teacher) is teaching her class about the Westward Expansion. We met to explore events and individuals that were a part of the movement. From our discussion, we honed in on the Buffalo Soldiers who were ex-slaves and descendants of slaves from Africa. We felt that African Dance was a part of the Buffalo Soldier’s heritage and was perfect to bring the exploits of these soldiers to life since African Dance and music are traditionally used to tell stories and oral history.
DAY 1 - Teaching Artist demonstrates and teaches students dance movements. To be discussed: the characteristics of African Dance with historical background of the role of dance in African society.
DAY 2 - The classroom teacher will give historical background on the Buffalo Soldier’s role in the Westward Expansion of the United States. Teaching Artist will give supporting comments where applicable.
DAY 3 - Teaching Artist and classroom teacher will briefly review dance movements, characteristics, and historical facts with students. Students will be given guidelines and expectations for their choreography. Students will have 30 minutes to collaborate, in set groups, to create a one minute dance. Their assignment is to translate the historical facts into African dance movements to tell a story, through dance, about aspects of Buffalo Soldier history.
Assessment of Student Learning: TEACHING ARTIST:
Through evaluation ofthe choreographed performances I assessed whether or not students used the characteristics of African Dance, specific movements and historical facts to choreograph their dances. Movements chosen must have a purpose and meaningfully tell stories about the Buffalo Soldiers history. Students will verbally support their choreography with an explanation of the dance. The students accomplished the assigned goals. CLASSROOM TEACHER:
TEACHING ARTIST: Given the short time we had to create and carry out the residency I am pleased with the outcome. We collaborated, worked and taught as a team and customized a residency for 5th graders that made an impact on their lives. Student had to open themselves to a foreign art form as well a foreign culture and time period in history. I tailored the content of the dancing to a warrior dance called “Sofa” from West Africa since the Buffalo Soldiers were warriors. Students not only gained a deeper understanding of the Buffalo Soldiers struggles, emotions, exploits and lifestyles but they also learned about cultural and fine arts. I feel 3 days for one hour each day was sufficient time to carry out the residency. Given the short period of time student’s had to compose a dance, I felt they did a wonderful job. Without knowing it students employed several aspects of professional choreography such as changing levels, opposition and the use of diverse floor patterns.
Documentation of Student Learning:
This will be done through videos of students throughout the residency, still pictures and student comments at the conclusion of the residency.
This was my first residency so when I first began the process I was nervous and uncertain of how to proceed as well as how to use my art to best serve the teacher and the students. Because the classroom teacher is experienced with Arts Integration she guided me as well as the residency to success. I thoroughly enjoyed the challenge of collaborating with a classroom teacher to choose curriculum and then formulating a plan to use African Dance to teach the curriculum in a way that would stimulate 5th graders while not exceeding their level of understanding. The most rewarding part was to witness the choreography, hear the students defend their dances both historically and artistically, and to read their positive reflection comments. Even students who did not really want to dance did so with much commitment to the project. The only change I would make was for Paige and I to have more time to collaborate prior to the residency beginning. This would afford more time to be more creative; we did not have much time since it was the end of the school term.
Ideas to try on other days:
Incorporate visual arts through the use of videos and pictures of African dancers