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Features | Spring 2015

Haunted House

A Guided Exploration

One of the warm-up activities I use in the program of creative dance for children that I direct at the University of Illinois (Urbana-Champaign) is the BrainDance, developed by Anne Green Gilbert, which is a series of eight developmental movement patterns that healthy human beings naturally move through in the first year of life. As babies, we did these movements on the floor on our tummies, sides, and back. However, cycling through these patterns at any age, daily or weekly, while sitting or standing, has been found to be beneficial in reorganizing our central nervous system. The focus of each movement pattern is, in most cases, evident in its name. A couple that might not be are "vestibular," which refers to getting dizzy, and the "core-distal" pattern, in which one moves between near reach (towards the center of the body) and far reach (extending the limbs and head away from center).

"Haunted House," an imaginary journey, is a guided exploration for children age four to ten. It takes learners through the entire eight-pattern sequence. I usually begin by asking children what a haunted house looks like and what you might find in it. For the youngest learners, I assure them that while there is a ghost in this haunted house, it's afraid of us.


Okay, we're going to a haunted house. Don't be scared! Take a deep breath; that will calm you down. Feeling better? Better take another deep breath… Okay, let's go…

We're at the front door.


Squeeze in between the boards, squeeze through the narrow passage.

We're into the front hall. Oooo, water's dripping on us…on our shoulders, our arms, our heads…There are drops on our back too! Oooo…spiders are skittering over us! They're crawling on our arms, our necks, our backs, our legs, skittering up and down. Let's get away from here. Push through the cobwebs…They're brushing up against our faces, our arms, all over…Oooo…glad we got through that! I see light coming from that little mouse-sized hole over there.


Get really small. I'm sure we can squeeze through it. Okay, stretch out flat and wiggle through the tunnel. There's a turn up ahead; you're gonna hafta squeeze up small to make it through this next part…and you're out into the room. Oh, it's so nice to stretch out again.


Wow, we're in an old library! Look up! The books reach all the way to the ceiling. Look down. This old rug must have been really beautiful at one time. Let's dust it off.…Ohhh, it's a magic carpet. Let's get on our bellies and fly on it!…That was fun! But we're really covered with dust now. Shake it off.

Upper Body

I think there's a secret passage from this room.…Check the wall here…and here….Yes! It's a revolving bookcase. If you just pull that one book there, this bookcase should open….Yes! Just enough to get your head, shoulders, arms, and waist through….Oh no! We're stuck! Okay, reach out with your arms and grab that handle. Good. Now twist it back and forth….Use your whole back. That should loosen the mechanism….Good! The case is moving.

Lower Body

Hold on to that handle and just get your lower body through. Oh no, the floor's not stable. Don't let go of the handle. Our feet are going everywhere! Now, if you just swing one leg forward…now the other…we're on solid ground again. Phew!

Body Side

It sure is dark in here. We'd better try to find a wall. Just edge along sideways on the board….Good! We're at the wall. Let's climb it. Get a good foot and hand hold and pull yourself up, one side…and the other. We're at the top now. Good, we can see much better here….But what are we seeing? I'm not sure; let's hide in that suit of armor by the big doorway. That way, whatever it is, it won't see us. Okay, get one side in…get the other side in. I wonder if we can walk in this? It's pretty stiff…but if you swing one side forward and then the other, that should work….Let's see what's inside this room.

Cross Lateral

Somebody is in there, and it thinks you're scary! It's skipping away as fast as it can to that big empty fireplace. Look, it's a ghost, and it's afraid of us. Don't be afraid, we won't hurt you.
[Note: Cross lateral movement crosses the midline. Skipping is cross lateral. Children skip along with the fleeing ghost.]


Now it's spinning up the chimney to get away from us. Hey! Stop! Don't go! Wait for me up on the roof! Okay, it's our turn to spin the other way up the chimney. Awww, there's the nice ghost. He's so scared. Don't worry, I'm nice. Would you like to float home with me? Okay. You can come live at my house…Let's gooooooooo…Fly back home.