Friday, May 26, 2017

Dance Party

I'm looking forward to my brief summer break for many reasons, but most of all is that I'm hoping it will give me a chance to forget the songs that are stuck in my head. Several weeks ago I wrote about our new outdoor stage, which has continued to be a popular addition to our junkyard playground. I figured the kids would like it, although I had imagined them mounting impromptu dramatic productions, whereas the kids prefer using it for dance parties.

In the beginning, I was selecting the music from my own personal collection, but when I started getting requests, I had to open an Apple Music account (which I'm loving). The big Disney songs are much in demand: Let It Go (from the movie Frozen) remains huge, but How Far I'll Go (Moana) is equally in demand. I'm not surprised that the fans of these songs know all the lyrics, right down to nailing the phrasing, because when our daughter was a preschooler she had likewise mastered the nuances of her favorite songs. These are apparently great songs for emotive expressions, emphatic stamping of feet, and swaying, ballet-like body movements.

The Paw Patrol Theme Song, however, is a pop rocker, and when it comes up, the Disney singers make way for the hip shakers, not too different from the moves invoked by Ghostbusters. Then there is the frenetic Everything is Awesome!!!!!!! (The Lego Movie), with its 120 beats per minute (or whatever) which tends to encourage a silly, convulsive dance style. There is a crew who loves nothing more than to march around to The Imperial March (Star Wars), while engaging in slow motion light saber battles. And there are few things more delightful to me than watching four and five year olds reenacting Step in Time from Mary Poppins.

One boy has attempted to break the pattern, introducing his friends to his personal favorites from the 1980's (Eye of the Tiger, Danger ZoneBad), but we've more or less settled on our limited playlist. I try to introduce new music, but when I do the kids go off to other things until I return to what has become our canon.

When we play Let It Go, I can now predict exactly which kids will drop what they are doing to take the stage. The same goes for the other songs on the playlist: they drop their playthings and converge on the stage from all corners of the playground. There is some crossover, of course, but the kids seem to be using their common love for this or that song as a sort of cultural connector, a way to find others like them.

Particularly fascinating has been the dynamic amongst a group of boys in our 4-5's class. A kind of tension has arisen between the Star Wars and Paw Patrol factions, with one group abandoning the stage when the "rival" song is played and vice versa. Sometimes they even hurl insults about one another's preferred music ("Paw Patrol/Star Wars is stupid"). It's an extension of the games they've been playing all year, wherein one group always seems to be vying against the other. There's a temptation to scuttle this sort of play, especially when it threatens to evoke real emotions of anger (instead of the faux anger that is a key element of their dramatic play) or real fighting (instead of the faux fighting they all enjoy), but for the most part we've let it take its course since the "sides" are ever-changing and they generally tend to maintain a kind of balance of power. Most of all, however, everyone seems to be having fun, even when things get tense. The other day I intervened in what looked like an altercation. The boys maintained their angry expressions until I said, "I don't want you guys to be enemies," to which they both laughed, "We're not enemies, Teacher Tom. We're friends, right?" They then went right back to their "conflict." As I watch this dynamic play out on the stage, I see that they are re-inventing the competitive dance off, something I'd never really understood until now.

Of course, most of the time, the kids who take the stage together are doing it as an act of community, of bonding, which could be said even of the rival factions. They leap onto the stage wth joy at the first few strains of "their song," identify one another as fellow travelers, look into one another's faces as they sing, and imitate one another's moves. I would have never guessed that our outdoor dance parties would become an important part of our outdoor play, but it's obviously here to stay.

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