Always Be Dancing Expressive Arts

Yoga and Flamenco for Every/body


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Book Reviews by Eve: Rent Party Jazz by William Miller & The Happiest Tree, a Yoga Story by Uma Krishnaswami

IMG_9067Book Reviews by Eve: Two books from Lee & Low that promote mindfulness, building self-esteem and diversity are Rent Party Jazz by William Miller & The Happiest Tree, a Yoga Story by Uma Krishnaswami.

Rent Party Jazz by William Miller is a story, above all, about struggle, responsibility, hope and community. The great brush-stroke illustrations by Charlotte Riley-Webb create movement giving life to the scenes of New Orleans, to the people and to the trains of music pulsing through the city. You can practically feel the music bringing them all together, giving the reader a sense of belonging in the story too. I really appreciate the beautiful color palette and how the party scenes are so lively and colorful, contrasting against the darker, more somber tones of the street.IMG_9065

This story is both culturally significant and historically accurate. Rent parties are used to raise money, are a way for budding musicians to get off the ground and a selfless way to hold space for those in need. I highly recommend this book-it might inspire a blossoming philanthropist or a child with a heart of jazz.

IMG_9066The Happiest Tree, a Yoga Story by Uma Krishnaswami is a story that encourages interest, bolsters determination and increases self-reflection. Through yoga, it shows how it is empowering and uplifting to challenge oneself. The main character, Meena, starts off with a weak sense of self and fearing rejection, but through acts of self-challenge, she emerges with inner strength and a strong self-esteem. The sweet illustrations by Ruth Jeyaveeran, show great expressions of interest, happiness, doubt and support that really highlight the emotional content of the story. I love the peppering of authentic Indian phrases throughout the story, making it culturally relevant and inviting. I highly recommend this endearing story of self-realization and inner peace.

Thank you to Lee & Low for sending me copies of these books. All opinions are my own.

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Book Review: Disruptive Stubborn Out Of Control by Bo Hejlskov Elvén

IMG_6706I was pleased to get a copy of this book. It seems ground breaking in its vision of dealing with disruptive classroom behavior as it does not blame the disruptive students as acting out on purpose, but instead the resounding message of the book is, kids will behave, if they can. To me, that is a refreshing perspective as it seems in most cases that students are punished for their inability to act appropriately even when it seems that a reward option is being exercised. This is the case for sticker charts etc. We think these are systems of reward but they are quite insidious and are actually just as likely to be a system of punishment. We think that if we force the children through behavior modification to behave appropriately and that we will see a change in their negative behavior but this is only true up until the point that they cannot behave appropriately. This book does a great job showing examples of behavior, explaining through simple charts the sequence of events, and offers action plans. But most of all, it makes the adults, the teachers, the ones responsible for changing the outcome of negative behavior. It may seem an insurmountable task, along with all of the other teaching duties, but in the long run, taking action and responsibility will lead to a stronger sense of community in the classroom and pave the way for a more fluid learning environment for everyone. The back of the book offers insights for personal reelection and a large section of further reading on the subject.

I highly recommend this book as an alternative viewpoint from the norm. It will empower you to take work through and discover a new way of taking charge in your classroom.

How I will use this book:

I too encounter negative behaviors in my yoga classes. By this I mean children who cannot sit quietly and are disruptive and out of control. I want to help these kids so much as I know it must be very difficulty for their classroom teachers and their families to deal with their continued “lit” behaviors. I have a number of such students in the after-school program I teach at that is in a housing development. I am not sure how these kids teachers actually reach them? How do they learn if they cannot shut down and listen? I have starting working separately with each of these students, for just a few minutes each before my yoga classes begin. I know their “negative” behavior is not on purpose; the just lack self control. So how to help them learn self control? How to take control of their “Me-Me” outbursts? One I idea I had was to create a social story, to show them how their behavior negatively impacts the other students. I spent about 5 minutes talking through the cartoon. I let them know they were not in trouble and I asked if they knew how much noise they made during class (they did not). I made a secret symbol up for them (crossing my fingers at my lips) to let them know tat their “Me-Me” talking had got too loud and disruptive. During class, I used this symbol, but I also called attention to them when they “went there” not by saying “shhhhh” but calling their name, getting them to “see me” and saying they were too loud. This coming week, I am going to have one of my assistants keep track for me how many times they are disruptive during class so that I can actually show them data of their disruptions. Well day one went very well. I did not let their behavior distract me from teaching but I kept a tight hold on it. At then end of class, these two boys (plus one more who I will be adding into this program) came up to me at the end of class and gave me big hugs. I never expected this and I was totally enveloped by them. It was a glorious feeling of connection!

Full disclosure: Jessica Kingsley Publishers sent me a copy of this book. All onions are my own.


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Dance In The Schools- Day One: What is yoga?

Dance In The Schools- Day One: What is yoga?

Dance In The Schools- Day One: What is yoga?

(Included at the end is a classroom/home assignment: How to make a Happiness Collector)

Funded by both Dance In the Schools and Friends of Baldwin, I am thrilled to be back for my sixth year at the Maria Baldwin Elementary School, Cambridge, MA, teaching my own Always Be Dancing Adaptive Movement program with their amazing second grade classrooms. This year, they have three second-grade classrooms and I am able to see each group 5 times. Having this opportunity to grow each year with the students and staff is priceless. Also, I love seeing the past participants who are now in third, fourth or fifth grade. Whenever they see me, they jump into tree pose or even strike a flamenco pose (as I also integrate my program with flamenco). This school has great community spirit and I love the diversity and how it is celebrated.

Good Behavior In Yoga:

Good Behavior In Yoga Class:

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I deliver the rules verbally, also pointing out that they can read along that there is a picture for each rule that shows what I am asking them to do. That way there are many ways to help them remember the rules.

  1. I stay on my mat. This is so each child has personal space. We take a moment to look at our mats, the size, the color… I asked them to think of a color that makes them feel happy. Holding an imaginary Hula Hoop, we then cover our whole mat, including ourselves, with a bubble of this color. Inside our bubble we feel happy, good and safe.

  2. I listen with my ears. That way they can hear the directions that are being given

  3. I watch what my yoga teacher is doing. I remind them that I will most likely being doing what I am asking them to do, so if they watch me, they will always know what is being asked of them.

  4. I try my best to do each yoga activity. Yoga is about trying, noticing, feeling. Just give things a try and if you need help…

  5. If I need help, I can ask my yoga teacher. If one child needs an adaptation of an activity, we all do it. Its just something else to try!

  6. If I need a break, I can take Child’s Pose or I can sit quietly on my mat. OK…a big one. I stop everything here and I go through and teach what I call the “three resting poses” First, I teach Child’s Pose, have everyone take a breath or two to feel this pose in their bodies. Then we roll forward onto our bellies, for Crocodile Pose, everyone needs belly-time! Once again a few breaths to feel the pose. Then we flip over onto our backs, and I teach Gingerbread Man Cookie Pose. This is the traditional savasana pose. Take our breaths. When we all sit back up, I ask them to think about which pose was the most restful for them because I will ask them later during class to do that pose.

  7. I use a quiet voice. Enough said!

  8. I keep my hands to myself. (OK this one should really be up by “staying on your mat” That will be on the updated poster!) Here I bring back the color bubble. Keep your hands to yourself. Do not pop anyone’s bubble….img_6145

After the rules (I only do this one time but I bring the board each week as a reminder, classes started with belly breathing. A great way to begin! I am a strong believer of breathing in and out through the nose, as an exhale with the mouth actually feels like a balloon that is losing air too fast (insert “balloon deflating too rapidly” sound here….FFFRRRAAPFT). I encourage breathing in through the nose, as if you are smelling a lovely flower and then letting the air gently leave through the nose on the exhale. It is more calming this way. Of course, there are two exceptions. If you have a cold/allergy or if you feel nervous and it makes you uncomfortable to breath that way.

One reason I bring yoga into classrooms is to help students and teachers that yoga is an accessible safe choice towards embodying self-control. Yoga is all about the self. Yoga is all about what it feels like inside your body. Only the individual knows what is feel like because no one else is inside another person’s being. The individual knows what is safe, what makes them feel good and how to calm themselves down. With increased self control, classrooms can flow more smoothly and teachers do not have to be noise/distraction monitors. For sure, yoga is not a cure-all, but it is one very accessible, adaptable and enjoyable tool for a person’s emotional intelligence tool kit.

Class begins with the ringing of the chime. Sometimes the best way to start class is form a relaxed and calm position to pave the way for better focused minds, bodies and energy. We inhale on the ring and allow the slow breath to release as we listen to the echo of the sound. Each child gets a turn. And with each chime, we focus our attention on the sound and on our breathing.

I will continue to use the bell as a way to bring back focus to the class. I want them to understand the difference between silent and noisy and stillness and movement. We all get a bit noisy, making silly sounds, talking, wiggling and then suddenly I ring the bell. The room quiets down. Of course, I made need to ring it again, but usually one ring is enough. Sometimes I play with the level intensity at which I ring the chime (loud vs soft), so they really have to be alert for its sound.

What is yoga?

Group 1

  • stretching

  • feeling relaxed

  • relaxing moves

  • movement

  • flexible

Group 2

  • calm down

  • stretching

  • getting flexible*

Group 3

  • relaxed & feeling good

  • stretch to become flexible

  • breathing to calm

  • de-stress

  • peaceful

  • floating

Each class came up with similar responses, but the one I really liked was “getting flexible”. I love how it implies an opportunity for growth, for change. Just what yoga is about!

Jumping right into a short sequence:

Cow/Cat (adding moos and meows)

Downward Facing Dog (with barks)

Cobra (with hisses)

Child’s Pose (giving hand options to help the children figure out what feels best for them: under the forehead, fist-on-fist or hands by feet, palms up)

Now asking the students if doing  that little bit of yoga make them feel calm/good/happy or like they were getting more flexible? I refer back to the word list they created and use them. I often throw in the question, “Is being able to touch your toes or do a backbend the only way to show that you are flexible? You might need to direct them away from more physical action descriptions for flexibility then someone can come up with alternative ways to be flexible (i.e. mind, energy)

One of my favorite yoga books and the one I have been using the longest is My Daddy Is a Pretzel by Baron Baptiste. It is a great kicking off point for basic yoga poses.

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The kids think the title is hysterical and I immediately tell them to create their own version of a pretzel yoga pose: tie yourself up, twist and curl any which way.

What I have found is that the real focus of the book is in the varied types of jobs the children in the story say that their parents do each day. There is a gardener (tree), vet (downward facing dog), architect, (triangle), pilot (airplane), builder (bridge), farmer (plow), marine biologist (fish), works in Africa (lion), baker (pretzel). These jobs open up our ability to talk about what these job’s actually mean you do and kids either know or can piece together these answers by looking at the accompanying pictures. To make my teaching fully inclusive and to make sure I can make any adaptation necessary, I teach going into and out of poses my own way, so I do not use the accompanying pose descriptions. That way I can adapt and grow each pose organically with the group, rather than follow a set path. At the end, of course, we get to try another “make-your-own” pretzel pose. Lots of laughs and then I offer up the resting pose choice. We take a short resting moment.

One of my favorite moving meditations is “Yogini Went To Sea” by Shakta Kaur Khalsa (for only $9.99 you can buy the album Happy through iTunes). Shakta is the first children’s yoga teacher I studied with and she taught me the invaluable lesson of allowing your self to grow with each experience and also, she recorded the only recorded yoga songs that I use in my classes! 

Classroom/Home Assignment: Create a Happiness Collector.

A Happiness Collector is a jar, bucket, basket or any other receptacle you choose where you put in small piece of paper that have on them written or drawn things that make you happy. These things can be anything that make you happy. They can be something that you did, that you saw or that you had done to you.

  1. Choose your Happiness Collector

  2. Every day take a moment to remember something that made you happy.

  3. Write it down or draw it on a small piece of paper. Fold the paper.

  4. Put it into your Happiness Collector.

  5. Messages can be read whenever a bit of sunshine is needed, at the end of a week etc…

Children can be prompted with a phrase such as “I feel happy when I _________.

Thank you!

Ole! Namaste!