A ½ hour
performance piece created by and for elementary school children, in which the
motions of the planets and largest moons of our Solar System are depicted in
art, rhythm, and movement.
The following is a
sample curriculum or time line, in which to introduce, create, and perform the Dance of the Planets.
“day” represents one classroom period of about 40 minutes, occurring once per
week for 6 weeks. Videotaping the classes is strongly recommended.
Day 1: Introduction: Dance of the
Create a visual representation of the solar system on the blackboard or
overhead projector, with students describing as many features of the 9 planets
and major moons as they can from previous knowledge, including the distances
from the sun to the planets, and their periods of revolution and rotation.
Correct any errors. Show recent NASA slides of the
sun, the planets and major moons.
*Live music accompanies the slides, with 3-4 musicians
playing harp, tamboura, douzongoni, synthesizer, and small percussion. An audio tape accompanies the
musicians. Ask for 3 children who
practice some kind of music on a weekly basis to play tuned small bells,
listening for when to chime. Also,
ask for 3 children who take any movement art class on a weekly basis to dance
the planets (in a prescribed small space) with scarves, which we will
provide. Next time they can also
bring their own.
*This could become a warm-up exercise for each class, with
each subsequent slide show shorter and shorter, as the need for practice time
increases. The slides would include
galaxies, nebulae, clusters, stars, solar system models, and the music and dance
would cycle through the class so all children do everything at least once!
It would a great time-saver if the class
was cleared of desks and chairs (stacked on the sides) before we get there so we
start right on time. End the
movement and images with all sitting on the floor, listening to the music fade
Day 2: Scaling the Solar System’s Distances and Times
Warm up exercise…music, movement, slides
Discuss the relationship
between space and time…we live by the latter, but it in turn, is created by the
Discuss the AU (Astronomical
Unit – average distance between Earth and Sun)
Discuss Keper’s 3rd
law of proportion between a planet’s mean distance (in AU’s) from the sun and
it’s orbital speed (revolution period in years). Distinguish between revolution
and rotation. Students can demonstrate, one at a
Discuss the concept of scale… Include the information that at the next class, we will be
creating an approximate scale of the distances to the planets, and approximating
a scaled but sensible version of their movements (time).
Find 5 examples of the
space/time relationship in everyday life for them (ie. movement, rhythm, travel,
growth, sports, etc)
Calculate the distances to all
planets in AU’s (see first day’s exercise. These values will be used in our performance dance)
Create a scale model of their bedroom on
paper (2 or 3 dimension), being sure to state the scale conversion factor for
this model (ie. one inch = one foot).
Day 3: Scaling the Solar System to the school
gymnasium or other performance location
Warm up exercise…music, movement, slides.
This class should be conducted entirely in the gym or other performance
space where the piece will be played.
One team of 2 children will
measure the width of the performance space (width of the solar system), and with
that scale conversion factor, the rest of the class will divide into teams, one
team per planet, to calculate their approximate distances across the room.
They will be surprised to discover that
the inner planets will cluster nearly on top of the poor sun, and will have to
figure out how to approximate all the distances, or where to put a “fudge” factor (some fudge could be
provided here!) in order to include all the planets at a reasonable scale for
the space. The student who figures
out that you can put your fudge (literally!) between Mars and Jupiter gets 2
A separate team can model the
distances of the major moons (Moon, Europa, Titan, etc – as many as can be
sensibly worked with) from their planets.
At the end of this day,
students form (or retain) the teams that will create the masks, costumes,
principal musical ideas, and principal movement ideas for the final
performance. A special team will
create the Milk Way Galaxy, with a tie-dyed sheet and wooden or aluminum frame
to hold a shape. A second special
team will paint a stage-size backdrop mural of the universe…showing expansion,
stars, galaxies, nebulae, clusters, black holes (???), supernovae, etc. Each team should have members with
fairly distinct duties, though some overlap is ok…including mask makers, costume
designers/creators, musicians/composers, and dancers/choreographers. The teams themselves can help each other
by having lines of communication open, for instance, between all the
mask-makers, who can share construction materials. All the musicians/composers
to work together to create a coherent musical theme, with adult support, and
the same applies to the dancers/choreographers. So there is interaction between teams as
well as within teams.
Day 4: Designing the Performance
Warm up exercise…music, movement, slides