Straighten Up and Fly Right: Jazz Movement in the Elementary Classroom
As part of a personal mission to introduce more Jazz into my classroom, I designed this lesson to expose my Kindergarten through 2nd grade classes to the Nat King Cole Trio and Jazz. I used this dance in a performance in a private boys school in San Francisco, CA, and teach it now with Kindergarten through 3rd grade students in a public school in Solon, Ohio. Across the country, students have loved this lesson and have fallen in love with Nat King Cole’s enchanting voice. We have so loved dancing to Nat King Cole that my students can recognize his voice and cheer when I play his music. I hope that you and your students enjoy this movement activity and the incredible music it brings to your classroom.
Classes 1-3: Introduce Movement (5-minute activity)
- Introduce the Movement Concept: Before I use movement to improvise with students to Jazz, I introduce the concepts to them using non-Jazz music. The locomotor and non-locomotor movements I use are in the graphic below. By practicing these motions with non-jazz music, I am building their vocabulary of dance movement without stylizing the movements.
- Teach Loco/Non-Loco Movement: Using locomotor movements, lead the class in a snake line around the classroom. Changing your movement every 8 to 16 beats, have your students copy you while moving in a line. I like to lead the movement to match the form of the music, or I use the form ABA where A is locomotor movements and B is non-locomotor movements. Some of my favorite tunes for this activity are: Clog Bransle (Shenanigans), Hungarian Dance No. 5 (Brahms), Bashana Haba’ah (Shenanigans), Sleigh Ride (Anderson), and La Fiesta del Mariachi (Miguel).
- Isolate Loco/Non-Loco Movement: Isolate and work on the locomotor and non-locomotor movements separately in class to solidify the differences between the movement (e.g. hop and jump) and to work on gross motor movements. After performing a dance I ask, “Who can show me how to gallop?” One student demonstrates and then we all practice, or I ask, “Who can show us a motion from the dance?” After the student demonstrates the motion, ask the class to label the movement and then everyone can practice together.
- Other Loco/Non-Loco Movement Ideas: Play a steady beat, or a galloping rhythm on a drum and ask students which movement works best with the drum. Next, the whole class can move while you play the drum.
Introduce the Song, “Straighten Up and Fly Right” (2 classes, 5-minute activity)
- Ready to Move: Now that students are famiilar with locomotor and non-locomotor movement you can begin to use them in preparation for a performance. Each section of, “Straighten Up and Fly Right” has its own directions explained below.
- Intro, Verse, and Choruses: As I did with previous lessons, I lead my class, in a snake line, around the room changing my movements to the 8 or 16-beat phrase. I choose locomotor movements (e.g. run, skip, hop, jump, slide, march, etc.), and add my own “jazzy” twist on them. This is the ideal time to model the movement you would like your students to use when they have their improvisations.
- Bridge = Improv: I time my movement so that my snake line ends up in a circle by the bridge of the song. In the circle, I call on students, that volunteer by raising their hands, to enter the circle. The students perform their motion and the class imitates. Each student usually takes 8-16 beats for their motion.
- Chorus and Ending: After the improvisation and while students are still in their circle I lead the students in a locomotor movements. I give them a verbal cue that the ending is coming up. On the final notes of the song I like to spin around and then sit down so that the students end in a circle.
Immerse Students (2 classes, 7-minute activity)
- Assign students into pairs: The song, “Straighten Up and Fly Right” has two characters: the monkey and the buzzard. Because of historical racial stereotyping of the animal monkey and the action words (e.g. “Buzzard tried to throw the monkey off of his back”) of the song, I do not assign a “monkey” or “buzzard” in this dance. If students start to self-assign characters, I remind them that this is simply a partner dance, not a dramatization of the story.
- Students decide the leader of each section: Students decide which partner goes first and second, and which partner is the intro/verse or chorus leader.
- Verse 1 and 2: The first person leads their partner around the classroom using various locomotor movements they select. The first person has to be mindful that their partner needs to stay behind them in line, and the movements have to be slow enough that someone can copy them.
- Choruses: The second person is now the leader and the other student follows them.
- Bridge: Students make a half circle or full circle by the bridge of the song. I call on students, volunteering by raising their hands, to improvise in the middle and all other students copy their motion.
- Last Chorus: The second person leads their partner again around the classroom and the partners decide on their final pose. My rules for the final pose are that they need to be touching their partner (e.g. hold hands, back to back, arms connected, etc.) and they need to be able to hold it for 5 seconds after the music stops.
Final “Performance” or Informance (2-3 classes, 10-12-minute activity)
- Get it Stage Ready: My students and I took a few steps to polish the in-class version so that it shone on the stage.
- We did not have assigned partners in class when we practiced. However, I decided to assign them for the performance so that the students were comfortable and rehearsed with their partner.
- We considered the location of the performance (e.g. stage, cafeteria, classroom) and adjusted our opening positions and spacing for the venue.
- We decided how the students will use the introduction (e.g. enter the stage with their partner, or everyone in their starting positions doing a dance move).
- We determined the shape of the class during the bridge/improvisation The circle that was used in prior classes might not work well in your performing space. I have successfully used a half circle and a line for this section.
- We continued to have the teacher call on raised hands during the bridge to decide the improvisers. However, you might choose to assign certain students to be the official improvisers of the class for a performance.
- We discussed our final formation. My classes chose to end in one group, but you might choose to end the song with your partner in a different formation.
- When we rehearsed this song for the upcoming performance I gave positive feedback about movements that worked well with partners, congratulated partners that worked well together, and applauded great final poses to help guide students into making good choices for their performance.
- There is a book that matches the story in the song: Cool Ride in the Sky, Dianne Wolkstein
- Try the partner dance technique with another song. “A-Tisket, A-Tasket” with Ella Fitzgerald works well with the form of this dance.