Education Resources

Mutton Bird: Class Activities years 5/6


In this dance, mutton birds represent the totem or spirit of the clan; a life source of food for the traditional people.

Things to Think About and Do

1) Before Viewing

What do students already know and are some things that they can do?

  • Encourage the students to experience moving their body both individually and with others; showing awareness of their body in space and in relation to objects around them.
  • Give them opportunities to develop an awareness of, and how they might be able to isolate different parts of their body and make specific actions and gestures.
  • Include cross lateral movements in movement activities.
  • Ask students to make contrasting shapes with their body (curved/angular; symmetrical/asymmetrical).
  • Assist students understanding that movements can be used to explore and improvise dance ideas by controlling and combining different movement qualities.
  • Give students opportunities to know that it is possible to show similarity and contrast through movement, for example: can they change the size and speed of their movement and follow pathways on the floor or in the air?
  • Provide opportunities for students to practise controlling movement by pausing or freezing, and using contrasting qualities such as smooth and sustained, followed by percussive movement.
  • Have students form groupings such as lines or group shapes, and lead or follow others in these groupings, moving close together or far apart.
  • Give them experiences which assist them to understand that movements can be joined together in order to move on the spot or travel in different ways.
  • Check that students are aware that they can interpret meanings from watching dance and that dances can tell a story which may have a beginning, middle and end.
  • Encourage students’ recognition that people from different cultures dance and may have different reasons for dancing.
  • Assist students to understand that when being an audience member, it is important to concentrate on experiencing the dance by watching and listening.

Pose questions that help them understand the ideas that the dance is based on?

  • What does a mutton bird look like and how does it move?  What are its habits and rituals? (nesting, feeding, migration, habitat)
  • Where in Australia is this bird found?
  • What are some other names used to describe this bird? (The Short-tailed Shearwater or Slender-billed Shearwater, Puffinus tenuirostris, Yolla or Moonbird)
  • Does this type of bird live anywhere near you?
  • Why is this bird killed for food and where does this happen?
  • How are the chicks of this bird ‘harvested’?

Expand students understanding that contemporary Indigenous people participate in all facets of the community and as artists they may choose to communicate ideas based on traditional stories including those relating to animals which represent spirits.

  • Who are the Aboriginal people/s who live in Tasmania?
  • What is a cultural advisor?
  • Who are the dancers of Bangarra?  Where do they come from?
  • Where is the company Bangarra based?

 2) As you view

Ask the students to watch and listen to the dance, be a respectful audience and try to remember as much as they can about what they are seeing, hearing and feeling.

3) After viewing

Pose questions that remind them of their experience.

  • How many dancers are on the stage at the beginning of the dance?
  • What position are they in?
  • Are they male or female?
  • What are they wearing?
  • What is on their skin and hair?
  • Do any of the dancers leave the stage? When?
  • One of the dancers is holding something.  What is that?
  • From which body part/s are they hanging?

Identify some of the main ideas and select and clarify information from the student’s responses.

  • Which dancer do you think has a different role in the dance to the others?
  • How can you tell he is different?
  • Why do you think the three dancers are hanging upside down?
  • There is a stick-like prop above the dancers. What could this represent?

The dance Mutton Bird represents a life source of food for the traditional people.

  • Why might the choreographer have chosen to represent the mutton birds in this way?
  • Why is the harvesting of these birds important to Tasmanian Aboriginal people?

Collect, compare and categorise facts and opinions about the hunting and harvesting of mutton birds. (see the Links section of this resource)

Movement and meaning

  • Do the dancers look anything like the real mutton birds?
  • Describe/draw the formation of the three dancers on the pole prop?
  • Do the dancers move like the mutton birds? In what way/s?
  • Some of the dancers’ movements look like ‘reaching’.  What could this represent?
  • What might some of the other movements represent? Is there any emphasis placed on any particular movements? (repetition, size)
  • The dancers make special shapes with their bodies. Why are the dancers arms held at angles?
  • Why do the dancers eventually leave the pole prop? If this is a transition for the spirit of the bird, what could it mean?
  • What is the relationship between the dancers and the audience? Do the dancers acknowledge the presence of the audience or do you get the impression we are onlookers? Why?

Non movement aspects

  • Describe the stage set including the colour of the background, floor, props and the lighting (colour, brightness, point/s of focus).
  • The dancers’ bodies are heavily decorated with body paint. Why?
  • Which sounds and instruments can you hear in the music (soundscape)?
  • The performance is on a stage in a theatre.  Is this a traditional or contemporary place for Aboriginal people to dance?

Societies and Cultures

In the dance Mutton Bird, the bird represents the totem or spirit of the clan.

A totem is a being, object, or symbol representing an animal or plant that serves as an emblem of a group of people, such as a family, clan, group, lineage, or tribe reminding them of their ancestry (or mythic past)Webster’s New World College Dictionary, Fourth Edition, 1999.

  • In what way is the mutton bird a totem for some Tasmanian Aboriginal people?
  • Why is it important for Aboriginal people to continue cultural practices?
  • What are some of the cultural practices your family does each year? (These may not include hunting but may include shopping for or preparing specific things to eat).
  • Do any of these involve specific songs, movements or dances?

4) Next steps

Expand on known ideas to create new and imaginative combinations through improvising, exploring and experimenting with movement.

  • Explore different movements: stretch, reach, extend, twist, pull, push, drop, expand, contract.
  • Experiment with these movements balancing on different body parts.
  • Move on different levels (high medium low) on the spot and when travelling.
  • Explore leg and arm gestures that lead toward, away from and around your body.

Transfer and apply information in one setting to enrich another.

  • Read the information found in the link to Tasmanian Parks & Wildlife Service, and look at the diagram describing the migration of the Mutton Bird. The Shearwater or mutton bird negotiates an incredible 30,000 km migration journey from the Arctic Region all the way to the southern parts of Australia. Once on our shores, they return to the same burrow every year where each pair lays just one egg.
  • Draw a map of the migration flight of the Shearwater.
  • Explore moving in specific ways to different places in the room, for example, run, then walk, then slide, then crawl.  When you arrive at a nominated place change your movement to represent the instruction given to you. eg jump on the spot, make wide and low movements, spiral to the floor.
  • Take turns leading a group travelling different pathways.
  • Draw a map of your daily ‘migration’ to and from school. Draw all of the corners you turn, steps you climb, and roads you cross.  Provide symbols for different sections of your trip, for example, walking up steps, riding a bike, catching a bus.  Choose a movement to represent each of these symbols.  Use these movements and map to travel around the space.
  • Explore different dynamics as you vary your movements.

Make dance sequences

  • Select your favourite parts of your dance map making sure that you keep a mixture of different travelling movements.  Repeat this sequence so that you are able to perform it in the same way each time.
  • Teach your sequence to another student or small group.
  • Make soundscapes to accompany the movement. Use contrasting sounds to support the use of energy in particular sections of the dance.

Experiment with a range of options when seeking solutions and putting ideas into action

  • Experiment with making and recalling movements using different actions, levels and leading body parts for each.  Choose your four favourite movements. Show your partner each movement and teach it to them. Now swap roles.

Explore situations using creative thinking strategies to propose a range of alternatives

  • Try taking turns performing each of your action’s levels and body part’s sequences – A then B.
  • Join both sequences so that they flow from one to the other. A joined onto B.
  • Try contrasting your sequences by performing them both at the same time.
  • Perform both of your dance map sequences at the same time. A and B.  What happens when you overlap?
  • How else could you link these sequences?

Draw on prior knowledge and use evidence when choosing a course of action or drawing a conclusion

  • Try moving using different dynamics to describe a sequence of events involving a group of animals.
  • What are some of the things that a chosen animal may do? Create two sections of the sequence which are in a particular place and other sections where you travel.

Communicate ideas through their art works

  • Combine several different dance map sequences in the one space. Choose different or the same destinations.
  •  Reverse this process to return to your starting points.
  • Is there a story in the dance?

Reflect on, explain and check the processes used to come to conclusions.explaining ways they check their thinking and deal with setbacks

  • Reflect on this order to see if you now have a clear beginning, middle and end. Alter the order to improve the changes between each sequence.  If you are communicating a story in your dance, is it clear?
  • Perform your dance to another group. Ask them what they saw and felt when they watched your dance.  Could they see different pathways, formations and gestures?  Did they see a story, series of events or an idea?

Explain and justify ideas and outcomes

  • What could you call your dance? What kind of costume could you make or choose to go with your dance?  Why have you made these choices?
  • How is the movement of the body used to represent the animal or idea?
  • How did the dancers use space and energy to create the ideas/feelings in this dance?
  • Which elements of dance were used?
  • What could you learn from watching animals and creating sequences based on their movements?
  • What movements could you learn, and use in a dance, based on gathering food and other cultural practices?
Based on Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting authority (ACARA) Level 3 statements from the Critical and creative thinking learning continuum for generating ideas, possibilities and actions, Reflecting on thinking and processes and Analysing, synthesising and evaluating reasoning and procedures areas. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Australia )CC BY NC SA) licence. Accessed June 2013.

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