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Free to Dance Lesson Plans
Lesson 2
overview procedures for teachersorganizers for students



  1. Read aloud to the class the following excerpt by Pearl Primus at

    Ask the class to share their reactions to Primus' statement.

    • Divide the students into pairs and ask them to discuss the following:

    • Describe your favorite dance scenes from the production.

    • What are the reasons for your choice?

    • What role does dance play in your life?

    Ask for student volunteers to share their responses.

  2. Explore the following Web site with the students at Try to learn some of the moves described.


Activity One

  1. Share the following quote with the class and ask them to brainstorm possible meanings:

    "Modern dance captured the heart and essence of a culture and respect for African-American themes."

    Ask the students to think of examples from the production that support this quotation.

  2. Ask the students to find examples from the production that showed how everyday life was a part of the various modern dances. Some examples might include the swaying of trees, cotton picking, rocking a baby, and carrying baskets on the head.

  3. Ask the class to observe people, nature, and sounds from their own daily lives for a one-day period and focus on how their observations might be reflected in a dance movement. Ask for volunteers to share their observations. Create a class chart that depicts student examples.

  4. As a class, visit the Web site of African-American Contributions to Theatrical Dance at: Use this site as a resource to generate ideas for the following activity.

    Divide the class into small groups. Ask each group to choose an example from their daily lives and create a dance based on it. A good source for ideas for steps is Tell the students they have the option to add music or words to enhance the production. Each group should perform their dance for the class.

Activity Two

  1. Discuss the meaning of the following quotes from "Free To Dance" with the students:

    • "There is no better joy for your body than to just dance."

    • "I dance to show my blackness." (Talley Beatty)

    • "The joy of mind and body coming together in a movement. ..."

    • "Dance is a place for transformation; my body became a conduit for

      experiences greater than I." (Bill T. Jones)

    • Katherine Dunham was "going for the heart and essence of a culture ... and wanted to gain respect for African-American themes."

    • "Dance should be given back to people because that's where it came from."

  2. Divide the class into small groups. Each group is responsible for conducting a survey of at least 25 people that should include the following questions:

    • Do you dance?

    • What role does dance play in your life?

    • What do you like or dislike about dancing?

    • If you dance, how does it make you feel?

    • What kinds of experiences do you remember from your childhood about dance?

    • Why do you think dance is often a performance?

    • How are dance and identity related?

  3. Analyze the survey results, and organize them into categories. Post the results on a Web site. A good Web site to use to learn how to build a Web site may be found at or Microsoft's FrontPage in the Classroom at If possible, ask a class from another country to participate in conducting this survey as well, and add their results to the class Web site. A great source for locating partner classrooms around the world is The Intercultural E-Mail Cultural Connection at Discuss the varied results, and compare differences among different cultures.

Activity Three

  1. The question "What do you dance?" was one that was often asked of people in African culture. Ask the students to discuss the following questions:

    • Why is that question not commonly asked in our country?

    • What would your response to that question be?

    • What is a more common question that people are often asked in regard to their identity?

    • How do questions that pertain to a person's identity reflect particular cultural values?

    • Substituting the word "do" for "dance" in this question would make it more understandable for most people in this country. What do you think this tells us about how people define themselves?

  2. Divide the class into small groups and ask them to choose an example from the production in which dance was an expression of black identity. They should create a skit based on their research in which they take on the persona of one of the people portrayed in the film. One group should be responsible for writing the part of the skit that links the various artists together. Some good Web sites to begin researching include the following:

    Katherine Dunham

    Bill T. Jones

    Alvin Ailey

Activity Four

  1. As a class, choose one dance that is portrayed in the film. Ask the students how they think this dance would be described from the perspectives of the following people:

    • A photographer

    • A painter

    • A musician

    • A poet

    • A journalist

  2. Lead a class discussion on the following questions:

    • Do you think dance can be an effective tool to further social justice? How?

    • Do you think music can be an effective tool to further social justice? Can you think of some examples?

    • Do you think art can be an effective tool to further social justice? In what ways is this possible?

  3. Divide the class into small groups and research examples of how the arts have been used as tools to further social justice. Each group can choose to focus on a particular area of art, music, or dance. Some examples of possible Web sites that may be used to begin the research are suggested.

    Santa Cruz Murals


    War Child

    Joan Baez

    Pete Seeger

    Sergio Joao Francisco da Silva: Group for Social Education in Manica Francisco da Silva was a Mozambique photographer who worked for Norwegian Save the Children as a photographer documenting war. His work may be viewed at

    Rage Against the Machine

  4. As a class, create a workshop for students in the elementary grades with the theme "The Arts as a Tool for Social Change." Present the workshop, lead a discussion with the participants, and evaluate the results. Ask the younger students for their input. Critique the effectiveness of the workshop.


  1. Create and illustrate a children's book based on modern dance.

  2. Create a book of poetry that contains individual students' responses to specific dances in the film, the theme of modern dance in American culture, or the role of the arts as a tool for social justice.


Students will be assessed on the quality of their participation in class discussions, the presentations they create in small groups, their reflections in writing journals, and the contents of their surveys.