Students will be able to understand and apply Suzuki’s ideas of centering the body by completing a cycle of Suzuki exercises in groups and participating in a class discussion.
Japanese music with strong drum beats or a drum for the teacher to create beats on for the exercises.
Anticipatory Set/Hook Lead the class in a stretch/warm up, concentrating on the legs.
Transition: Tell the class that today they will need to have stretched legs because we will be working on Suzuki’s next two ideas—centering the body and connecting through the feet. Write these two concepts on the Suzuki Method chart they made in Lesson 1. Start with Suzuki’s best known exercise—Stomping.
Group Practice: Lead the class in the following Suzuki exercise called Rhythmic Stomping (Ashi-byoshi). Rhythmic Stomping is an essential exercise that must be executed constantly. It is intended to link the actor with the spirits of the earth and hence all humanity. Practically speaking its purpose is to increase breath support and concentrate strength in the body.
Using a rhythmic beat or music with a strong beat, pound the feet vehemently as you move through the space for a set period of time (three minutes). The centre of gravity must be low, energy controlled and contained in the pelvic region. The force of the stomp must be maintained. The upper body remains motionless. Try to connect with the ground. As the beat comes to a climax at the end of the three minutes, all performers line up at the back of the room. The performers use the last of their energy before sinking to the ground and lying flat and motionless. The body faces down and is slightly contracted so that the energy built up by the stamping does not dissipate in an open sprawl. When the beat resumes the actors rise slowly, like a puppet, with the beat, to a vertical position. Suzuki suggests that the performer needs to control the breath and loosen the pelvis to execute this exercise.
Group Discussion: Talk about this exercise in terms of centering the body and pulling energy from the ground. What was difficult about it? How do you feel after this exercise? What do you feel in different parts of your body? Put “Rhythmic Stomping” on the Suzuki Method chart under “exercises.”
Transition: Now that we’ve experienced being centered and grounded, let’s put this to practice.
Instruction/Guided Practice: This next exercise is called Ashi o Horu—Throwing Feet. Instruct and demonstrate the following:
You start with legs and heels pressed together, pushing against each other to create light tension in the legs and an energized lower half of the body, in ballet’s first position. You must sense the contact with the floor through this aligned stance and find a feeling of stability. The gaze is fixed on a point on the horizon and the breathing is relaxed. The arms hang by your sides, given a little attention by imagining that you are holding two poles in a light fist which are parallel and at right angles to the upright body.
With this position established, you raise the right leg slightly forward along the diagonal and then stamp directly to the right. Rather than leading from the foot, you should feel the center shifting rapidly to the right, extending the line of the hips. The stamp is with the whole of the foot and should be firm and energized, threatening to destabilize and challenge the centered and grounded body. The left leg simultaneously straightens, remaining so as all the weight rests on the bent right leg. This weight transfer can be tested by lifting the left foot off the floor without moving the torso further to the right.
The left leg is then drawn in swiftly so that the heels just touch, while the knees remain open and slightly bent in a ‘box’ (trapezoid) position. Throughout this, the head must stay at a constant height. To do this, adjust by pushing the weight down towards the floor. You then squat swiftly to finish with the spine erect and the center (the pelvic bowl) slightly lifted and projected forwards rather than sunken back, before returning to the starting position. When down, you must not sit back on to the heels.
The move down and subsequently up is practiced with varying tempos over fifteen, ten, eight, three and one, or other variants at the instructor’s discretion. A number is spoken, followed by the signal to move in the form of an energized shout or the sudden sharp bang of a stick on the floor or a mat. The count can stop at any point and the position must be held until the sequence resumes. Once upright, the actions are then repeated to the left.
GROUP PRACTICE: Have the students do another three minutes of rhythmic stomping. When they slowly get up from the floor at the end of the exercise, immediately go into Throwing Feet. You may want to do Rhythmic Stomping for three minutes followed by Throwing Feet for three minutes and then repeated. The students should be getting quite a workout.
GROUP DISCUSSION/ASSESSMENT: Talk to the students about their experience with these exercises. What do they feel in their bodies? How do they feel Throwing Feet added to Rhythmic Stomping? How can they apply this work to their competition pieces? Use this discussion as an assessment of their understanding of the concepts of centering and grounding to the floor.
**IF THERE IS TIME, HAVE THE STUDENTS WORK ON THEIR COMPETITION PIECES WITH THE SPECIFIC FOCUS OF CENTERING THEIR BODIES AND GROUNDING THEIR ACTING THROUGH THE FLOOR.**
Instruction: Right before the students leave, instruct them that the ends of Suzuki workshops are often finished by the instructor saying “O-tsukare-sama deshita” (oat-SCAR-ee saw-maw desh-taw) and then he/she bows, and the class repeat the phrase and bows back. The phrase means “you must be very tired.” Do this with the class.
Talk to the students about their experience with these exercises. What do they feel in their bodies? How do they feel Throwing Feet added to Rhythmic Stomping? How can they apply this work to their competition pieces? Use this discussion as an assessment of their understanding of the concepts of centering and grounding to the floor.