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Free to Dance Lesson Plans
Lesson 1
Lesson 2
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  1. Watch and listen to clips on the following Web sites to look for echoes of the modern dances you have viewed in the film:

    The Masabo Culture Company

    African Drums

    Brainstorm ideas about how dance and music are related. Create a list of productions that include both.

  2. Find examples of modern dance works in the "Free To Dance" Web site at View video clip excerpts of performances by Talley Beatty and Bill T. Jones by clicking on the Dance Timeline link.

  3. Ask each student to find a modern dance piece that is being performed locally. Share examples with the class. If possible, choose a production to attend.

Activity One

  1. Divide the class into Internet research groups. Assign each group to a Web site to research the Harlem Renaissance. Each group should collect ten to 15 facts about the Harlem Renaissance.

    Group One:

    Group Two:

    Group Three:

    Group Four:

    Group Five:

  2. Listen to the following audio file of Langston Hughes reading his poem entitled "The Negro Speaks of Rivers" at Ask the students to respond to the poem based on what they have learned from their research on the Harlem Renaissance. Based on the production and student research, discuss the role of modern dance during the Harlem Renaissance.

  3. Ask the class to decide how they would like to organize the facts they have collected in their small groups in order to create a class presentation that represents what they have learned about the Harlem Renaissance. Their presentation might be a book, a play, a drawing, a semantic map, a diorama, an illustrated story, a poem, a Web site, or any other form they choose. Ask the students to include as many examples of modern dance as possible.

Activity Two

  1. Divide the class into three research groups. Have each group focus on different periods in the life of Edna Guy, Katherine Dunham, and Pearl Primus. Using the research, ask each group to write a letter that they imagine Guy, Dunham, or Primus might have written to a friend with details of their lives based on their research.

    Group One: Edna Guy
    Some possible themes might be included in the letter include the following:

    • How My Desire to Be a Dancer Influenced My Life

    • The Struggles I Faced in Trying to Dance

    • How I Felt About the Racism I Encountered

    Group Two: Katherine Dunham
    Some possible themes might be included in the letter include the following:

    • How My Work as an Anthropologist Influenced My Work as a Choreographer

    • How and Why I Used Fame to Fight Racism and Injustice

    • What I Was Trying to Accomplish in Modern Dance

    Group Three: Pearl Primus
    Some possible themes might be included in the letter include the following:

    • How Modern Dancers and Choreographers Who Came Before Me Influenced My Work

    • Why I Believe Dance Can Be a Weapon for Social Justice

    • How Culture Is a Part of Modern Dance

  2. Combine individual group efforts into one skit and stage a dramatic monologue performance where each group reads its letter aloud. Use music and lighting for effect.

    A good source to begin researching is

Activity Three

  1. Write the script for an imaginary radio broadcast that depicts an imaginary conversation between Pearl Primus and Katherine Dunham. Include dialogue on the following issues:

    • The challenges of modern dance

    • Personal philosophies of modern dance

    • How modern dance reflects the times one lives in

  2. Act out and record the interview.

    (Students may also choose to create the interview using dancers or choreographers of their choice from the production.)

Activity Four

  1. Ask the students to share the lists that they've created while watching the production that reflect the varied purposes of modern dance. Some themes might include the following purposes for dance:

    • self-expression

    • an example of black culture

    • an expression of ethnic pride

    • spirituality

    • activism

    • communication

  2. Create a large class mural that depicts the varied purposes students suggest.

  3. Place the mural where a larger audience may view it and respond to it.


  1. Visit the following Web site and choose an area of African dance that is of interest to them at They should create a presentation based on what they have learned. It may be in the form of a report, a drawing, an essay, a poem, a dance, or music.

  2. Ask the students to create a class collage on the topic of dance by collecting drawings, sayings, Web sites and photographs. Post this on a wall or on a class Web site.