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INTRODUCTIONThe Creating Dance with Life Forms project was designed to provide environments in which students with and without disabilities may participate as equals in a dance and choreography course or program. We designed these programs as an addition or complement to a full range of activities available to individuals in school or recreational environments, or as a choice among a full range of dance and movement options that could exist, and do exist in some areas of the country. We know of no other dance and choreography course that is offered in this modality and hope that this curriculum package contributes to the field of education by stretching the notion of what it means to learn dance and choreography concepts, and to demonstrate those concepts by performance in a computer environment, or by live dancers using dynamic computer-based choreographic notation created by the students. We emphasize that the creators and funders of this project in no way suggest this mode of learning and performance as a replacement for actual dance or other movement experiences for any student. It is simply another means of dance and movement expression available to students in a "virtual" dance studio. This curriculum guide and the companion materials were designed and prepared to be used exclusively with Life Forms, a software product available through Simon Fraser University and Kinetic Effects Research, Inc. of Burnaby, B.C. Canada. Information on purchasing this software is found elsewhere in this guide.
PROJECT DESCRIPTIONThe Creating Dance with Life Forms project was funded in 1993 by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services, to explore the ways in which students with and without disabilities could participate together in a computer-based dance program. Despite the fact that educational opportunities for children and youth with disabilities have expanded dramatically since the passage of the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (P.L.94-142) in 1975, and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, notably absent from activities available and accessible to students with disabilities in most public schools and colleges, are programs in the performing arts. Music, theater, and dance, all satisfying creative activities that are often taken for granted by non-disabled students, have frequently been considered practical impossibilities for students who have significant difficulties with coordination, balance, and movement. Over the last several years, the use of computer technology in classrooms and labs has become quite common. Assistive computer technologies now exist which provide alternative access to most computer platforms and applications, enabling individuals with disabilities to participate in and complete almost any academic activity, independently, alongside their non-disabled peers, or in cooperative work groups with students of varied abilities. However, while computers have created for many students with disabilities a more “level playing field” for exploring traditional academic subject matter and completing assignments, it had not had much impact upon their ability participate in the realm of the performing arts.
APPROACHTo address this situation De Anza College, in partnership with the High Tech Center Training Unit of the California Community Colleges, Axis Dance Troupe, and a variety of organizations and schools, has created this unique computer-based instructional and recreational setting in which students can learn about and perform dance. Together, dancers, faculty, staff, and students from many institutions and programs worked to develop this curriculum guide, curriculum materials, software adaptations, and video to make it possible for students with and without disabilities to explore, experience, and choreograph dance within a computer-generated “virtual” environment. In this "virtual" dance environment, it is possible for all students to participate as equals.
The technology-based option available which can allow students with significant coordination, balance and movement limitations to execute dance, is Life Forms. This choreographic software animation and notation program, created at Simon Fraser University and Kinetic Effects Research, Inc. in Burnaby, B.C. Canada, provides users with the tools to compose dance visually in space and time. Wire-frame graphic figure images are used to represent each dancer, and a stage can be manipulated in a variety of ways. Using libraries of positions, these figures on the stage (and in the space around it) can be articulated through the full range of dance movements available to a dancer in the "concrete" world. Individual postures and stances can be created, edited, stored, retrieved and combined to create many forms of movement. Life Forms functions provide automatic interpolation and extension of movement so that the positions flow automatically from one to another, and can be played back in real time. Each movement phrase can be sequenced into an animation, and these animations can be combined to create larger, full-scale pieces of work.
The basics of Life Forms software can be learned fairly quickly, and is easy to use with just a little practice. Teachers and students with basic skills on Macintosh computers, even with little or no computer animation experience, can create and perform dances. With time, experience, and practice, simple dances can be expanded to more complex works incorporating as many dancers on the computer screen as desired.
Project staff created and tested many curriculum drafts, curriculum materials, software palettes and animations, and conducted pilot and experimental classes with students of a variety of age and skill levels. These classes included a summer afternoon program for teens, an after-school class for teens, a half-semester spring in-school class for middle-school students, a summer pilot program for college students, and two two-quarter-units courses for college students.
PROJECT PACKAGEProject staff has created this Creating Dance with Life Forms package that includes software adaptations, curriculum, and curriculum materials for a model computer dance program that uses the Life Forms software application as the basic environment and set of tools. Separate curriculums and materials were designed for community-based programs and schools for children and teens, and for college students. The program sessions can be conducted by dance instructors, adapted physical education teachers, occupational therapists, or any other professionals with a background in computers and the movement arts. Software adaptations to Life Forms have been created that reflect dancers who are not ambulatory and who use motorized and manual wheelchairs. Life Forms itself comes with sample position palettes and animations of dancers (in the modern, ballet and jazz traditions) that the user can view and paste into their own original choreography. Palettes and animations are created and stored by users so that they need not make the same position or movement phrase repeatedly. In cooperation with AXIS Dance Troupe, a large set of position palettes and movement phrases has been created that show the Life Forms dancers striking the same poses and executing the same movements as the AXIS dancers. Animations that combine both ambulatory dancers with dancers with chairs, showing innovative ways that they can move and dance together, are also part of this package. A documentary-style videotape was produced for viewing by administrators, teachers, students, parents, and funding sources. The purpose of the tape is to demonstrate the software, show the classes in progress, and answer some frequently asked questions about the project. This videotape features students working on the computer and other related classroom activities, their computer-based choreography, and interviews with teachers and students involved with the project. The videotape also shows highlights of the students’ work as performed by the AXIS Dance Troupe.
RESULTSAs a result of these pilot and experimental programs, project staff found that beginning dance concepts can be taught and demonstrated using software tools and a computer environment; instructors enjoy the experience of teaching dance in a virtual environment; students can demonstrate that they have learned beginning dance concepts through their animations; some students’ participation in the project had an impact upon their other artistic endeavors; students’ perception of themselves as movers and dancers were altered; teachers and students most likely to be successful and enjoy the process of dance in a virtual have basic Macintosh computer skills; the program can be adopted and supported by parents and key school personnel as a school-based activity; students with and without disabilities participated together and enjoyed similar success; some students identified with or considered the Life Forms figures as surrogates for self; and some students’ experiences manipulating and arranging objects in space and time altered their sense of power, control, and self confidence in other areas of their lives.
Merce Cunningham once said, "Dancing is movement in time and space; its possibilities are bound only by our imagination and our two legs." The efforts of the Creating Dance with Life Forms project have shown that for many students with significant physical limitations, dance no longer needs to have much to do with ones’ own two legs. With the use of Life Forms and the Creating Dance with Life Forms package to create dance, we are confident that many students who have not been able to do so previously, will be able to explore and express their life experience through the creation of dance. A less restrictive dance studio and corps of dancers may exist nowhere else.