Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Late Night Silent Disco Eurhythmics (or how I learned to teach with my eyes closed)


I love my job. Have I told any of you that lately? 

This last Friday evening we realised one of my latest dreams: to host an outdoor – silent disco – FM radio – late night in the dark – Eurhythmics class with 75+ students (and a few guests) – COVID socially distanced – and yet – musically connected – all while playing with glow sticks, light-up balls, and sparklers!!

It took a fair bit of planning + a special university permit (!) + the patience and good will of all involved and yielded a really fun time. 

We started the evening set-up around 7:30 PM just as dusk was really setting in. By 8:00 PM it was pretty dark and we ran some tests to see what we could actually see, and to test the technology for last minute tweaks. 

Students arrived at 8:30 and were given two thin bracelet sized glow sticks and two rubber bands. They were instructed to pocket the rubber bands and to experiment with the glow sticks throughout the opening exercises. Some students made them into bracelets, or halos, or necklaces. Others used them as conductor batons or frisbees. 

The lessons of the evening included classic conducting and stepping in varied meters, specific attention to the ensemble's collective 'shifts of weight', 'time-space-energy' games with ball tossing, a pre-plastique anime exercise where we improvised gesture phrases that became amazingly personal, and a fair bit of time playing in the 'straight 5'.

We started with glow sticks in all variations, then when we moved to the t-s-e ball games, we looped the glow sticks into bracelets and used the rubber bands to tie the sticks to tennis balls, and voilà(!) – we had light-up tennis balls that looked amazing in the night sky. 

I spent a fair bit of time the prior week, thinking about the evening, planning my activities, and considering how I might help the crowd get our collective groove-on all while working in very low light. It occured to me that the students would likely not be able to see me very well, and so I thought of lots of ways that I could use the FM technology to talk directly into everyone's ear and keep us together. What I underestimated was how hard it would be for me to see them! I was not really able to see anyone's faces most of the evening! It was like teaching into the abyss, but with just enough feedback to not be able to ignore anyone. If I were teaching in a truly dark cavern, then I would just go with what felt right to me. But to the extent that I could see anything, I attempted to adjust to my class to the participating students, but I was trying to adjust with only 10% of the normal feedback (no eyes, no expressions – only moving glow sticks, laughter, and outlines of bodies in motion). It was a challenging class for me to be sure. I absolutely underestimated that part of the formula.

All that said, I think we all had a grand time and built some lasting memories to boot. (The highlight of the evening was when I pulled out a blow-torch and 150 bamboo rod sparklers. The students were over the moon to play with the bright lights and make some great sparkler trails in the night sky.) Late Night Silent Disco Eurhythmics was a success and I will look for some special circumstances to improve on my attempts and share the glee with more students in the future. I'm just glad it is not my normal gig. 

Heartfelt thanks to all of my students who ended up taking two classes with me in the same day (the required morning class and the optional late night class). Thanks to my administration for your support in technology and permits. Thanks to all for your patience and encouragement allowing us all to PLAY and EXPERIMENT and try some zainy ideas with no guarantees of success. Thanks for the connections and the relationships and earnest work and generous spirits. I am thankful for you all. 


Dr. N

"Hug your knee...Hug your other knee..Hug your neighbor's knee (no, not during COVID!)"

no ceilings to bump into in this classroom. toss the balls higher!

Crazy thing about Silent Disco Eurhythmics is that outsiders cannot hear the music!
Ya gotta be 'in the club' to hear it.
It is all being broadcast through the FM radio station into everyone's headphones.

"I can't really see anybody's face!?!!"

"Hop Hop Hop!"

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