Build-a-phrase is a dance version of group storytelling. Many of us have experienced the build-a-story activity where a group sits in a circle and the first person shares the first word of the story while the second shares the second word and you continue around the circle until your story feels complete. Instead of using words in this activity, participants use movements. One by one, each dancer is able to contribute a movement to the dance, creating a group dance that encourages listening, empathy, play, and collaboration.
I usually do this exercise with kids in a circle. One person begins by sharing a movement. All participants practice this movement in their bodies. The second person adds a movement. Everyone practices that movement in their body and then we connect the first movement to the second movement. We now have a phrase with two movements. The third person shares a movement and the pattern continues. We keep adding on movements until every child has shared a movement with the group. If we have a small group, we will sometimes go around the circle a couple times. If the group is large, sometimes once is all our brains can handle!
Your dance can be complete once every child has contributed a movement. Take time to perform the dance for each other and try adding different kinds of music to see how it affects your performance. If you would like to give the phrase more attention and you have kids who are ready for a challenge, encourage kids to break into small groups and find ways to manipulate the phrase to create a new dance. You can provide manipulation techniques to younger kids (try playing with the tempo, change what body part you do some of the movements with, try doing movements at different levels) and you can brainstorm with older kids ways to play and make a phrase new and different. It's always inspiring to my choreographer-self to see the changes and play kids come up with when working with a relatively simple phrase.
Below is a video of my most recent homeschool dance class sharing their build-a-phrase. This kids couldn't be more joyful. I love it.