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    Jodi P Falk, M.F.A., C.L.M.A.is an international educational consultant, choreographer, dancer, yogi, and teacher. Her work centers on the vehicle of movement and the arts to promote educational wellness, conflict resolution, proficiency, personal and spiritual power. She can be reached at: jodi@dancingsoul.org or 413-522-4386.
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  • « Biology and Dance in a High School Class: Embodying the Body | Home | MODES OF MOVEMENT INTO TEFILLAH: part two / essence with Elohai N’shama »

    MODES OF MOVEMENT INTO TEFILLAH: part one / wordplay with Asher Yatzar

    By msondesigns | February 19, 2009

    Recently I completed a residency at Heritage Academy, a Jewish day school in Longmeadow, Massachusetts. I first came to work only with the Judaic staff on bringing movement into their curriculum. I ended up not only working with the staff, but also with the middle school students finding ways to embody (and thereby enhance and re-member) their tefillah, or prayer.


    Three distinct modes of how movement and text, in this case the text of tefillah, were used with the middle school with varying levels of success. The three are: wordplay, the essence, and personalizing question. These are modes I have worked with in any situation using text and movement.

    With the Asher Yatzar prayer, the one Jews say after going to the bathroom… yes, way… we used wordplay.

    Wordplay is quite simple and literal. Find, or have the students find, key words in the text. These could be action words, (verbs), descriptors (adjectives), or just the main words that are repeated or have import in the context of the text. Using just these words, make either hand gestures (if students are sitting down), or body shapes, or even movements that describe these words. The students can do this in pairs, solo, or in small groups. Or, as we did in Asher Yatzar, we started as soloists, moved to pairs, and then worked with the whole group. Once the gestures or movements are made, then perform the movements while saying, singing, or having someone in the group say or sing the prayer.

    Lesson 1A:
    Mode: Wordplay
    Text/Prayer: Asher Yatzar
    Players: middle school students in Jewish day school

    The Asher Yatzar prayer is one of Judaism’s most basic, literally. It is said every time one uses the toilet, right after washing the hands and leaving the bathroom. It is basic in that it deals with an act that is so basic, and is said in gratitude to HaShem for first making us in such wisdom, making us perfectly so that if one opening was closed, or a closing was opened, and they shouldn’t be, we wouldn’t be able to stand before HaShem in gratitude. Or to stand at all.

    There were a few students in this class that didn’t know the prayer, or when or why it was said. The lesson plan was, and can be, the following:

    1. Explain the prayer.
    a. Write down various organs they couldn’t live without. (heart, brain, etc.)
    b. Write down actions that if they didn’t do, they wouldn’t survive. (eat, sleep, go to the bathroom…)

    2. Look at the prayer and choose most important words for the class.

    3. This class chose openings and cavities, and blocks or closings.

    4. Make a gesture with just your hands that shows both an opening and a closing at the same time.

    5. Now choose a partner, and make a gesture with your arms and hands together that shows both an opening and closing at the same time.

    6. Now see if the whole group can make a shape that is both and opening and closing.

    7. Rehearse all three shapes and transitions from one to the other.

    8. Recite the prayer, as a group, while first doing the solo, then duets, then the group. Recite the prayer first in English, then in Hebrew.

    9. Decide as a group which gesture will be performed where in the prayer, which works as a solo, as a duet, as the group gesture? This may change the order: perhaps students want to start off as a group, and then become soloists, to signify standing alone before HaShem, or they might find key words that the gestures align with, such as Haloolim Haloolim with the duet gesture, to show how many of the cavities or openings are possible…

    10. Decide as a group what the final pose should be. Perhaps it is whatever pose was the third one, or perhaps all stand Laamod lefanecha, standing before HaShem, and the rest of the prayer is recited standing still.

    11. Ask the students if they understood the prayer in a different way.

    a. Some of the Heritage students did not know the prayer, so they said they had learned a lot.
    b. Some were more conscious of the meaning of the prayer, as normally they are taught it in Hebrew, and are focused on the words more than the meaning.
    Some had stories to share about illness and being grateful when an illness is over: this has direct correlation to the Asher Yatzar prayer.

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