Self–Audio Description and Growth
Contributed by Krishna Washburn
Self–audio description is the process by which a person describes their own movements while in motion.
Generally, audio description for dance is done by a separate person, an audio describer, who watches what the dancers are doing and describes what they see, what the blind and visually impaired audience might not see. There are different styles of audio description for dance with different degrees of specificity.
Self–audio description is particularly special because the information that the dancer has to share is not only visual, but visceral. In fact, the visceral is the most important part of self–audio description. Not every blind or visually impaired person has a full set of visual symbolic language that might help them understand the true artistic value of the performance they’ve attended. However, every single human being has a human body of their own, with the capacity for internal feeling, with mirror neurons and empathy. Good self–audio description can create an amazing experience for the audience, re-creating the sensations in the dancer’s body in the bodies of all those in attendance.
The purpose of this activity is to help each student start to develop their own self–audio description practice. There’s no best way to do it, other than to be very attuned to your own physical body.
First Exercise: Secret Dances
- Guide students through the following: “Imagine that someone is right next to you in the same position you are in right now—standing, sitting, lying down, but right there. You want to do a dance, but you don’t want them to know that you’re dancing. All of the movements have to be extremely small, and extremely inside yourself. Maybe it’s little places where muscles tighten or relax, maybe it’s inside your mouth or inside your eyes, maybe it’s the way you’re breathing. You want to make a secret dance.
- “As you do your secret dance, you’re thinking of how you’ll teach it to the class later. Think of the specific words you’ll choose to help the class feel what you’re feeling.”
- Independent Practice: “Do your secret dance and think about your self–audio description. After the music, we’ll have time for you to practice your self–audio description in pairs or in small groups.”
Second Exercise: Keeping Internal Focus as Movement Grows
- Guide students through the following: “Take the tiny movements of your secret dance and consider them for a moment. Could you gradually amplify them to make them bigger? Would the movements be larger? Longer? Would they integrate more parts of the body? More muscle fibers, more bones, more nerves?”
- Independent Practice: “Gradually amplify your secret dance movements and make them bigger, but keep your focus on the internal experience of making these movements. Think about how you’ll describe these amplifications of movement. Be specific! After the music, we’ll have time for you to practice your self–audio description in pairs or in small groups.”
Third Exercise: Biggest Possible Expression, but Still Being Inside
- Guide students through the following: “You’ve started to amplify your movements from your secret dance, but now here’s a challenge: Make these movements the largest interpretations that you can make. How do you grow these movements? Do you need to include more body parts? Do you need to move faster or slower? What can your voice do to help me know the immense scale of these movements? Remember, stay inside yourself—don’t start thinking of your body visually!”
- Independent Practice: “Make the biggest, loudest, least secret version of your secret dance! Think of how your voice needs to change in order to convey the size of your dance. Continue to keep your choice of language to describe your movement internal. After the music, we’ll have time for you to practice your self–audio description in pairs or in small groups.”
Fourth Exercise: Adding Narrative, Memory, or Emotion to the Dance
- Guide students through the following: “Consider the palette of movements that you’ve developed, from the tiniest, most secret movements to the biggest, loudest movements. What do these movements mean to you? Is there emotion connected to these movements? Does a memory arise for you? Does a story, fictional or nonfictional, emerge from your imagination? Take a moment and work with your palette of movements and add this extra layer, emotion, memory, narrative, to your self–audio description.”
- Independent Practice: “Develop a very, very short dance that expresses emotion, or is connected to story or narrative using the palette of movements that you have been using, and that you know how to describe from an internal place. Think of how you will integrate this new category of information to your self–audio description. After the music, we’ll have time for you to practice your self–audio description in pairs or in small groups.”
- This is a time to use a longer piece of music, so students will have more time to work.
Transition Into Activity
Set the goal of the lesson by sharing the importance of the audience in creating a performance. “When choreographers create dance and movement art, they sometimes consider the audience for their work. Who is going to be in the audience? Today’s choreographic exploration is going to create movement that is meant for an audience that includes blind and visually impaired people, and we are going to build some skills to help engage every person in our audience with our dance and movement art.”
Transition Out of Activity
Questions for reflection: “Do you think that you are starting to develop the skills that you would need to choreograph a dance or movement performance for an audience that includes blind and visually impaired people?” “What other skills would you want to develop in order to create an immersive performance for your audience?”
Classroom Arrangement: No special arrangements are needed, just enough space for each student to focus and move independently. This activity is designed for the learning needs of blind and visually impaired students who use a taped floor (single strip or tape cross).
A source of music during the independent practice times can be useful. For this activity, the first three exercises are best with songs between two and three minutes in length, but the fourth exercise will be best supported with a song between five and seven minutes. For students who use a taped floor, non-marking gaffer tape of 1 inch or 1.5 inch width in a bright color is needed (orange is the best!); students can choose themselves whether they want to work with the single strip of tape or the tape cross to keep track of orientation and direction.
- This lesson plan was designed for the learning needs of blind and visually impaired students who use a taped floor (single strip or cross), but can be adapted for any group of students.
- Students who use mobility devices like wheelchairs, walkers, crutches, or other devices have no limitations in their exploration of any of the four exercises.
- Some students may find it useful to record their movement explorations in video, audio, or written format.
Possible Roles for Classroom Professionals
- The lead Teacher should model each exercise briefly with both movement and self–audio description, with particular emphasis on where the movement is felt in the body: skin, connective tissue, muscles, bones, and nerves. In the fourth exercise, the lead Teacher’s voice should capture the emotion of the narrative component of the exploration.
- For students with less confidence in getting started with movement, invite them to observe and converse with a Classroom Professional who is working through the exercises. Students might want to interview the Classroom Professional with questions like: “How did you choose your movements?” “What parts of your body do you notice the most as you change your movement along the pathway?”
Adjustments for Remote Instruction
This activity was originally designed for remote learning. Students can focus on their own movement explorations in their own spaces, and report to their classmates and Classroom Professionals about what they did using spoken word, signing, demonstration, or written words using the various features of the digital conferencing platform in use.