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"Coyotes, Cactus and Canyons" - the Southwest Desert in Dance

An Art Infused Science and Social Studies Residency
Elementary students work with dancer/choreographer Barbara Pearson to depict the natural environment of the American Southwest Desert. Working with the social studies and science curriculum, students study the animals, plants, land forms and climate of the region. Using the dance element of space, students create mesas, arches and canyons as well as saguaro cacti and other native plants.

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Through descriptive movements and gestures children represent a road runner, cactus wren, bobcat, or other animal whose habits they have researched. The poem "The Desert is Theirs" by Byrd Baylor is read aloud to paint word pictures and illustrate how humans and animals have survived in the desert.

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Students are exposed to ancient Native American legends and dances as well as to contemporary music inspired by the region such as Ferde Grofe's "Grand Canyon Suite." Students will work in groups to create original choreography and perform their works, using costumes and props as needed. As part of this interrelated arts experience, specialists may help students write poetry, do watercolors, or make masks and headdresses.

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This project furthers understanding of the importance of people living in harmony with nature, and the close relationship of art and culture to geography. multiple intelligence

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Curriculum Connections:

This is an arts-integrated curriculum combining dance, science, social studies, and language arts. Music, poetry, and visual arts can also be integrated into the process. Students will develop their visual-spatial, kinesthetic, natural, and personal intelligences.

Daily lesson sample:

  • Day 1:  Introduction to dance --The artist will introduce basic concepts of dance and movement such as personal space, levels, and locomotor and axial movements. Ground rules will be established.

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  • Day 2-3:   Plants Animals and Land forms Expressed through Dance --Students will use movement to depict various science concepts.

  • Day 4:  Cultural Expressions of the Desert --Students will be exposed to dances and legends of Native Americans as well as music compositions inspired by the desert such as Ferde Grofe's "Grand Canyon Suite."

  • Day 5-6:  Creation of Original Choreography --Students will work on choreography in small groups. The artist will combine the students' ideas into a dance, select appropriate music, and add poetry or props as desired.

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  • Day 7-8:  Rehearsal of Original Works --Students will rehearse their dances as a class, and give and receive constructive criticism.

  • Day 9:  Performance --Students will perform their works informally in the classroom or for a larger audience. Performance will be videotaped.

  • Day 10:  Evaluation and Reflection --Students will watch the video and self-critique. The artist and the teachers will carry out a previously determined method of assessment and the artist will lead a discussion with the students.

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