Make Music & Dance

 
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sg1



Joined: 11 May 2006
Posts: 2
Location: Tucson

PostPosted: Thu May 11, 2006 12:44 pm
PostPost subject: Make Music & Dance
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Hi Jeff,

Sorry that it took so long to post.
Well, What to say?

Making Music and Dance with the use of Bodhi the Wizard Puppet was absolutely amazing, Monday, May 8, 20006. Friday, May 5, 20006, was Bodhi's first appearance to this wonderfully talented group of Sunshine School, (Oro valley, Az.) pre school students. I am known as Mr. Steve the Rhythm Man to the teachers and pre-schoolers and have been making music and dancing with them 2x per mo. for the last 6 or 7 years. I am of a creative dance background, specifically, Barbara Mettler's Creative Dance. She taught the art of improvisation with the key elements being, Freedom, Awareness, and Control. She emphasized the primitive improvisational aspect of all life, through dance. She would have us go home with the exercise to create a toothbrushing dance, or a dish washing dance. Everything to her is movement, creativity, and how the individual enhances the group and how the group enhances the individual, to effect a positive spiral into constant newness! Needless to say after dancing with her dance company in 1978 on a professional level was a life altering experience, personally and professionally. It completely changed my style of teaching!

So, I told you that to tell you this about how Bodhi the puppet came to life in the Make Music and Dance learning center. I'm used to the experiences that Jeff talks about where children enter another world through play. M M & D is about providing, real, grown up instruments to children of the ages 3, 4, 5yrs. These include Brazil drums, shakers, rattlers, African kalimbas, bells, tambourines....etc. You can imagine the elation of the children when they are given the freedom to make as much music as possible for 45 min. They have taken to bringing instruments from home, flutes, various drums, and harmonicas. These sunshine bands, which are being created over and over again on new levels is astounding. The listening the children do with each other, the way they share the instruments, the dynamics of loud to soft or fast to slow, is all easily intrinsically understood simply by playing!

On Friday, Katherine, one of the kids, a 40 yr old in a 5 yr old body, accidentally found Bodhi who was in the purple bag along with the chimes, and gongs, bells. She exclaimed loud enough those near her, this is a group of 14, to hear her, "Who is this?" Now I’m stuck, I wasn't sure if he was going to come out that day, because honestly I was a little scared for all the same reasons I read in the journal. No choice, here he is: As soon as I put him on my hand and held him up to introduce him to everyone, there was immediately silence, and wonder and all the adjective that are pure and positive in learning are immediately present. I told the students that this was my friend Bodhi, and that I had told him so much about them...how they could make music and dance and that Bodhi just couldn't believe that they could do all I said. From that point on the children performed not for me, but for Bodhi. My fear of creating who I was as Bodhi immediately slipped away---I had not thought that out; but something else magical completely outside of us took over... What an experience.

SG
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papertalker
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Joined: 14 Dec 2004
Posts: 206
Location: Virginia, USA

PostPosted: Wed May 17, 2006 7:44 am
PostPost subject: Discovering Bodhi and Discovering Children
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This commentary is based on a telephone interview with Steve. Thank you, Steve, for taking the time to explore and share your findings, and for allowing me to comment as follows:

Steve attended SUNY/ Oneonta and began teaching in Kingston, NY, where he taught kids with emotional problems. Throughout his career, he has used everything in his bag of tricks: play, music, dance, theater, and games—everything except puppets. Interestingly, Steve’s first puppet experience was last Friday, May 5th 2006, described here.

Most teachers of any age have TV puppet icons stored on their mental hard drive, yet few generally reach for puppets as a creative pathway in their work with children. This continental divide separating teachers from puppets is symptomatic of the gulf that separates adults from the young of all ages in the play-averse learning culture. As creative as Steve obviously is, and despite an affection for childhood puppet friends like Kukla and Rootie Kazootie, the idea of using a puppet, he admits, has always intimidated him. Steve’s discomfort is universal among educators. Poor puppets. You could declare them a ‘miracle media’ that every teacher—forget should—would love to use, and teachers would still be reluctant to use them. The one tool that universally loved by kids, the one that could reduce classroom stress and give teachers the equivalent of a magic wand or a wizard’s potion, they summarily reject. Fascinating!

Why? Because the treasures of this medium lie buried under layers of myth and preconception deep in the evolutionary invention of play.


Possible Underlying Social and Cultural Factors


Since boys don’t generally play with dolls, it may follow that, as men, they would not play (or want to appear to play) with puppets. Girls do play with dolls, but when they grow up and become teachers, they don’t, as a group, gravitate to using puppets. Do they fear being taken less seriously than male counterparts and administrators? Will they appear too soft in a culture of academic accountability? Ironically, teachers who use puppets report that both boys and girls need little coaxing to engage in puppet play (or respond intuitively to puppets) when presented with the opportunity. You could argue and research these questions endlessly. But the reality of what usually happens between the kids and an adult’s puppet is completely opposite of adult preconceptions and apprehensions. Steve agrees. That is exactly what happened to him.

The Wavelength

Steve’s account shows that it is possible to live and work among children—even with the background and personality required to do a great job—and still not see the dimension that puppets reveal. ‘I was flabbergasted,” Steve told me. He was not only referring to the kids’ response to Bodhi, but also to the fact that ‘the wavelength' had been identified as a subject of scientific study. “How could you be so sure? he asked.

The conventional perception of puppets is blurred. (Did you ever think what the little buggers are doing out there on the end of the hand in the first place?) TV has locked our understanding of puppets into images we grasp—not by hand but based on years of habitual and passive viewing. We interpret puppets from afar. Like children, puppets need to be managed. We think: I’ll need a script to pull this off. I have to perform. I have to control this thing somehow, or I will fail or, worse, be laughed at. Puppets become synonymous with stage fright. In contrast, children perceive puppets with unconditional acceptance, affection, and love. Puppets don’t merely rivet the attention of children; they place kids under a spell. He put it this way: “With dance and movement, I can usually involve them 90% of the time. 10% may not be with me. But with the puppet, it’s 100%.

What is going on here that a teacher would not want to know about?

Bodhi's Fire

Perhaps we should make a discreet but critical distinction between puppets and ‘puppet play.’ The puppets are like the match you hold in your hand. The fuel is latent play energy, a natural human resource. Invite a little talk, and suddenly there’s a flame. Zoom out: what exactly are puppets? Puppets are an amalgam of behavior, stimulus, play, symbol, and vocalization that reach children on a biological and animal-like wavelength. Children are innately wired to the neural and biological nature of hand puppetry, while adults are effectively blind to the psycho-emotive properties of puppet play—until even adults are brought under their spell.

As ‘Bohdi’ teaches us, it is not until the adult sets aside the old perceptions of this medium, picks up a puppet, and switches (in Steve’s case it’s partly accident) into ‘sending’ and ‘receiving’ mode——does he ‘see’ the extraordinary power of puppet play. Organically connected to hand, brain, and play, the symbolic device, is an antenna-like appendage that reveals itself only through experience that is playful and dynamic.

I am saying that the modern monolith we call education is erected on a belief system that is a composit of Ptolmaic, Copernican, and Newtonian (old way of seeing) views of reality. The teacher, (the sun) stands at the center, the children (planets) revolve around the teacher, and the path of the system, most evident in its patterns of communication, is static, locked, rigid, static, and mechanical (Newton). The whole system is suspended on strings pulled by bureaucrats, politicians, and credentialed shaman (gods) who enjoy and benefit from the control and power they possess. Suspended thusly in real space and time, education goes nowhere. Add to this the specters of testing and accountability, and you have a system frozen with fear in its own headlights.

Education On Its Head

Along comes puppet play—a medium of communication based in play, improvisation, and spontaneity that shakes the foundation of the monolith. It stands the classroom on its head. I use this turn of phrase not to invoke images of acrobatics and entertainment, but to suggest, as literally as I can, that an education stood on its head becomes one based on the brain. In a system of education standing on its head, the flow of energy is reversed. All components of the system, previously static, move in dynamic relativity. The deepest, most resistant elements of the culture—content, behavior, and communication—alter in accordance with the biological charmed and magnetic impulses driving brain physiology. (I am not making this up.) Imagine, a system of education based on brain physiology! Movement is the very essence of learning, and to use a communication medium based in movement, whether it’s dance or puppet play, ignites eons of electrical impulses in the brain usually kept as ‘stored energy’ in our learning culture. We are so inured to over-control that, even when those impulses jump into view from time to time (when someone throws the switch and the class is suddenly lifted and energized), we don’t recognize what’s going on, although a teacher might enthusiastically pass it off as ‘a good day’.

A successful 21 year-old student-entrepreneur had this to say after Harvard tried to ban his campus Internet business he had set up in a matter of days when Harvard had spent years thinking about doing it: “I just think people are the most interesting thing—other people,” he said. What it comes down to, for me, is that people want to do what will make them happy, but in order to understand that, they really have to understand their world and what is going on around them.”

If we want a happy, healthy, thriving culture of learning, we are going to have to wake and see what is going on around us. Our learning culture is asleep, oblivious to the life and energy it could be thriving on. A sense of discovery is needed. Teachers need to see their culture in sharp dramatic perspective provided by those around them, like Steve, who discover something by stepping into an alternative reality. It is accounts like his that Puppetools is attempting to bring to light, and which give us the power to see education for what it can be.

So there are two levels of discovery (and potential contribution to education): here for you to ponder.

1) that play has a profound effect on group dynamics and learning, and
2) that puppet play offers a direct route into play through communication

Most teachers, though, do not care about either of those ground-breaking pieces of news. In the current cultural climate, many teachers are not motivated—and many more are discouraged—from pursuing creative strategies. (Though, ironically, this has pointed many teachers toward creative sources.) Only certain individuals, like Steve, who either sense that there are alternative pathways and back into it, or already know and are on the lookout for them, represent a cutting edge awareness. Those are the teachers I am working with.

The discovery Steve made with the help of Bodhi would likely not have happened without Puppetools. Which is why something like Puppetools must first grow outside the culture —and be helped to grow—if things are going to change.

In the end, education must become a true reflection in the image of children. The puppet is the child’s creation, and the story here is about one adult who, watching children respond to puppets, discovered a path that works and matters deeply to children. If education can’t respond in kind, can’t respond to children pointing the way, we know when we are told that the system has their best interest at heart that it’s the most tragic kind of adult make-believe otherwise known as blindness or denial.
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