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Students explore commonalities among arts through a new approach to learning

This is an excerpt from Dance Composition by Janice Pomer.

Translating Traditional Border Patterns Into Movement

This exercise uses border patterns from traditional ceramics, jewelry, and fabric as inspiration for creating traveling combinations.


Lines have shape. If a line isn't perfectly straight, it's curved or angular. When two straight lines intersect, they create an angle. A single line can be used in delineating the finished edge on a piece of fabric or run along the circumference of a bowl, but more decorative border patterns are composed of curved and angular lines. Look at the images in figure 1.1. Do the angles and curves convey movement? Do they have a sense of direction? Do the shapes travel in distinct ways, as the arrow and the wheel do?


Internal Exploration

Use track 1 to explore curved, circular, and spiraling shapes and traveling movements, then track 2 to explore angular, pointed shapes and traveling patterns. It's a simple exploration that warms up the body and mind. Have fun, be playful, try not to repeat, keep moving, and keep discovering.

1. Start in parallel, or neutral, position (shoulders over hips, hips over knees, knees over feet, feet hip-width apart, toes forward).

2. When the music begins (track 1), curve, wiggle, weave, and twist on the spot and travel throughout the room. Over the course of the music, be sure that you use every part of the body to explore curves.

3. Repeat the process, this time exploring angles. Start standing in parallel position; when the music begins (track 2), find as many ways as possible to be angular.


External Exploration

Apply the movement vocabulary from the internal exploration to an external exploration focusing on angular shapes in the air and curved shapes on the floor.

Line up one behind the other in three or four straight lines at one end of the room, as you would do in a technique class. The structure isn't meant to impose conformity; it's simply the safest way to use the space when several people are running and leaping at the same time. It also provides those not moving with a good view of those who are.


Variation 1: Curves

After 4 beats of introductory music (or call out 4 if working in silence), the first person in each line performs a variation on the following:


  • Do a forward traveling movement of your choice for 2 to 6 beats.
  • Freeze in a curved shape.
  • Increase (deepen) the curve (such as rounding the spine, arms, or hands) for a minimum of 4 beats.
  • Release it and move forward for 2 to 6 beats.
  • Freeze in a different curved shape and deepen it for several more beats for a minimum of 4 beats.
  • Release the shape and continue to the far side of the room.


Though the first person in each line starts at the same time, they probably won't finish at the same time. Wait until everyone is finished before the next group begins. Repeat that sequence at least two times, each time employing different circular shapes and move-freeze relationships.


Variation 2: Angles

After 4 beats of introductory music (or count 4 out loud if working in silence), the first person in each line performs the following:


  • Run forward (or other quick traveling step).
  • Create an angular shape in the air.
  • Land and run (or other quick traveling step).
  • Create another angular shape in the air.
  • Continue running to the far side of the room.

Repeat the sequence at least two times, each time employing different traveling patterns and angular airborne shapes.


Variation 3: Angles and Curves

1. After 4 beats of introductory music (or count 4 out loud if working in silence), the first person in each line performs the following:

  • Run forward (or other quick traveling step).
  • Create an angular shape in the air.
  • Land and travel forward.
  • Freeze in a curved shape.
  • Increase (tighten) the curve.
  • Move (roll, ripple, spin) to the end of the room while maintaining the integrity of the curved shape.

2. Repeat this sequence across the floor twice, each time exploring new relationships. Change the timing, the angular shape, and the curved shape; find new ways of traveling in the curved shape.


Safety Note

While performing, use peripheral vision and avoid interfering with others' movements.


Group Reflection

All of the traveling patterns moved forward, but the curves and angles added inward and outward direction and dynamics.

  • Did the internal exploration prepare you for the external exploration? If yes, explain how.
  • Did you employ emotional energy or performance dynamics to animate the contrasting shapes? If yes, explain how.
  • Did you feel yourself or others become an arrow or a wheel?
    Which traveling combinations were the most eye catching? Identify who performed each one, and discuss the elements that made the combination exceptional.

Creation and Presentation

The line drawings in figure 1.2 are examples of patterns used in traditional ceramics, textiles, and jewelry from around the world. The first two designs can be translated into basic traveling steps by employing simple side, front, side, back footwork. For pattern a, the footwork could move in straight lines creating right angles with each direction change. To translate pattern b, the footwork could follow a curved or scalloped line. As a class, try translating patterns a and b and see how many variations you can come up with. (It's interesting to notice that even though pattern b uses curved lines, an angle appears at the frontmost and backmost connections to form points.)

Work in pairs and translate one of the more complicated patterns. Work in silence and explore internal rhythmic patterns to help highlight the angles and curves.

  • Look at border patterns c, d, e, and f. Each has unique qualities that translate into movement through creative use of line, shape, spatial relationships, timing, levels, and energy.
  • Select a pattern and create a traveling sequence inspired by that border design.
  • Just because the patterns are flat doesn't mean the movement pattern should be. Leap, kick, wiggle, and roll. Apply physical and emotional experiences from the previous explorations.
  • Take 5 to 10 minutes to work, then sit down in the audience area. One by one, each pair will present their work.
  • Before presenting, always announce the border pattern being interpreted.

Final Group Reflection

Use the following questions to initiate a class dialogue.

  • Was one pattern a more popular choice than the others? If yes, identify which pattern it was and ask those who selected it to explain why it was more appealing than the others.
  • Was one pattern the least popular? If yes, discuss why. (Was it too difficult or uninteresting?) Get everyone's opinion if there was a pattern that no one used and, time permitting, have everyone translate it into movement. Were the results surprising? Did the pattern turn out to be more interesting or less difficult than originally thought?

This is an excerpt from Dance Composition: An Interrelated Arts Approach.