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Fallon Middle School Students Dance and Swing for Physical Education

October 4, 2015

DSC_0088Upon walking onto the Fallon Middle School campus during the 8th grade lunch period, it was an uncommon experience to hear music blaring from the MP. What could be heard was Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode.” Upon signing in at the front office and returning to the MP, “Rock the Town” by the Stray Cats was playing. At least for one week, this was the norm at FMS. The purpose was to conduct the first annual Swing Dance Competition. The event began on Tuesday for all participants, moved to cut-downs on Wednesday and then culminated in a final presentation on Thursday.

While the introduction of swing dance was not a new phenomenon at Fallon, the construction of a formal competition was. This concept was introduced as a way to ease some of the students into the school year when the weather in late August/early September was still very warm. But what was fascinating to observe was the sheer enthusiasm of the 7th and 8th graders that elected to participate. It was obvious to us that the students embraced this as school-wide event vs. an actual competition. Further, they seemed to enjoy the activity and readily supported their fellow students.

On Tuesday, all participants were invited to perform in different shifts – to provide ample room to perform and to allow the judges an opportunity to view their performances. At the end of each lunch period, all dancers performed en masse followed by an enthusiastic cheer from other students and parents. Wednesday provided a bit more competitive spirit, as the general group needed to be whittled down. The entire competition culminated in final performances on Thursday by both the 7th and 8th grade students. had the opportunity to visit with FMS teacher Chris Branson to discuss this innovative program. We wanted to understand the genesis of this Physical Education unit and to understand how this could benefit the students. In our discussion, you shared that you and your colleagues were able to witness this program at middle schools in PUSD.  Please expand upon how this came to fruition at Fallon. 

DSC_0005Chris Branson: “Fallon Middle School had the opportunity to collaborate with Hart Middle School in Pleasanton, who has been doing this Swing Dance program for over 10 years. We visited Hart MS last year to see their program in action and were able to gain insights on how to execute a swing dance unit at Fallon. At first we were hesitant to even consider adding this to our curriculum as we were already in the planning phases with two other new units, Archery and Cricket. But as we gained more knowledge on the topic and explored how this would cover even more Physical Education Standards, our confidence and excitement grew.” In order for this event to be a success, the students would need some external coaching.  Explain how you engaged with others to provide the students with proper dance instruction. 

Branson: “We were fortunate enough to have Pat Hallahan instruct for the first week of our Swing Dance unit. Pat demonstrated and taught our Physical Education team, how to teach a large group of students the steps of Swing Dance, the etiquette of partner dancing, and how to have fun while doing it. Pat is known as the “god father” of this Swing Dance unit, having pioneered this curriculum at Hart Middle School. Not only did Pat come at the beginning of this school year to help Fallon launch our swing dance unit, he also came at end of the last school year to train our Physical Education staff on the basic swing dance steps. Through instructional videos from Pat and the collaboration of our Physical Education team, we all worked this summer to grow in our own swing dance abilities.” While FMS had previously provided a swing dance element as a part of the P.E. menu, articulate how the students responded to a possible competition. Were they eager to participate or did you need to recruit some members?

DSC_0058Branson: “At first, we really had no idea if any students would be interested in a competition, so when we put the idea out there, we told the students that anyone who participated would be getting a mile pass. Sign-ups began to catch on like wildfire! Students were so enthusiastic, coming in before school, at lunch, and after school practicing with each other and enjoying dancing with one another as they increased their swing dance skills. The highlight was seeing students at Fallon’s first school dance, swing dancing when DJ High Top played “Footloose”! The level of participation in the competition surpassed any of our expectations and even those students who were spectators enjoyed the past three days.” Beyond the physical nature of swing dance, in what other ways do you feel that the students benefited from being exposed to this form of dance and music?

Branson: It can be summed up in the parent and teacher responses we’ve had: “I’ve never seen the students more respectful and having so much fun together in a positive way.” This unit gave students a chance to shine and explore new things while building a positive community at Fallon. Being the lead teacher in Physical Education, I have been a part of the process of writing our school vision statement and a new component to that is how we are developing the “whole” child. The swing dance unit has given our students at Fallon a positive way to interact with their peer and have a blast while doing it. As a department, we were able to see students who may not excel in other areas of our curriculum, exceed all expectations in the swing dance unit. Our hope is that this confidence will be carried with them throughout the year in all areas of curriculum at Fallon.”

As we left the Fallon MP, it was to the strains of Kenny Loggins’ “Footloose.” No doubt, the students were have a raucous time and were not troubled with the actual dance competition. The vibe in the MP was very positive and it was yet another example of district staff offering a very creative way to enjoy physical education and to also be exposed to one of the great joys of life – dancing. would like to thank Chris Branson and his colleagues for providing this experience to their students. It was a joyous scene. Go Mustangs!

(video by Emerson Salonga, photos by Michael Utsumi)

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