February 16th, 2001
Merce Cunningham: A Lifetime of Dance
Lesson Overview


"There’s no thinking involved in my choreography…I don’t
work through images or ideas — I work through the body…If the
dancer dances — which is not the same as having theories about
dancing or wishing to dance or trying to dance — everything is
there. When I dance, it means: this is what I am doing." —Merce

As Merce Cunningham describes it, he doesn’t choreograph
dance pieces based upon an idea or story, but begins simply with an
exploration of movements observed or experienced in life. In this
lesson plan, students get a chance to observe movement by creating
a "movement journal", and then they experiment with what
they have observed to create a unique "movement vocabulary."

Grade Levels


Subject Areas



Students will:

  • experiment with basic techniques of modern dance choreography

  • observe movement of people or animals and keep a movement journal

  • learn how to develop a simple movement they observe into a "movement
    vocabulary" which can be used to create a dance piece


  • Optional: A videotape of American Masters: Merce Cunningham,
    plus VCR and monitor
  • For this lesson plan you need an appropriate space where students
    can move around comfortably. Students should also dress comfortably
    for the second activity (the movement class.)



and demonstrates movement elements and skills in performing dance

  • Understands the action and movement elements observed in dance,
    and knows appropriate movement/dance vocabulary (e.g., level, direction)

choreographic principles, processes, and structures

  • Understands the processes of reordering (e.g., elements such as
    specific movements or movement phrases are separated from their
    original relationship and restructured in a different pattern) and
    chance (e.g., elements are specifically chosen and defined but randomly
    structured to create a dance or movement phrase)

dance as a way to create and communicate meaning

  • Understands the difference between pantomiming and abstracting
    a gesture

Inside This Lesson


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