Classroom Activity: Six Word Memoirs
Following the example of the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company, students work in groups to create a biographical questionnaire containing 5-10 questions that will help them learn more about each other. In pairs or small groups, students interview each other using the set of questions they have devised. Once they’ve compiled the answers, students use the completed questionnaires to create Six-Word Memoirs to describe each other’s lives. Some examples:
Bill ‘Great distance in either time or space has wonderful power to lull and render quiescent the human mind.’ Abraham Lincoln, Springfield, Illinois, 1842. Now, Victoria and I, when we were just chatting over there a moment ago; I said Lincoln and she heard abolition. And I said, ‘that’s probably because I’m a black man’. We assume that I am going to have a particular approach to the subject.
Bill: Do we? If I do a little racial scanning of this room right now…….hello. What is that? What is that? I told Welz Kaufman, who’s commissioning this work, that I was going to lead with my heart. Why did Welz come to me? I think that they wanted a piece that would be suitable in the age of Obama. And they thought that if you get a black choreographer, you could play all the angles, be correct, and maybe even get something that’s good as art. But correct first.
Bill [vo] I’m making this piece with some imaginary audience in mind. How interested are they in what we call challenge? You tell people it’s going to be challenging, a lot of them are going to run in the other direction, because people are fatigued. The world is so daunting...
Bill: ...that they go to entertainment to be entertained. And you know when you think about the experimentation of the 50s and 60s – The things that people would sit and subject themselves to!
Bill [vo] What was modernism’s premise about what art was supposed to be? The modernist project I believe was predicated on the notion that the artist was a lone genius explorer...
Bill [vo] ...who developed a personal difficult language that the public had to decry at first, and then through repetition and the advocacy of critics, they would finally come around to it, and they would be made better for it. It sounds just a ponderous as I’m saying it, but I think people have decided now, you know what, I don’t have to do that.
Bill [vo] I can have a world online, do my own albums, I don’t have to take the albums artists give me anymore. So maybe I am
Bill: overcompensating, giving them ways in.
Bill: We have to take some of the focus off of the Lincoln family story, and put it more on you as a community of people now. In other words, he was born. He went to school. He thought this. She was born. She went to school.
Dance Narrator [vo] He was born on August 13, 1981 in Tallahassee, Florida. He lived with his moms, in a single parent household.
Bill: Were you middle class?
LaMichael: We were poor.
Bill: mm hmmm. Okay. All right. So…
LaMichael: But I didn’t know we were poor.
Dance Narrator [vo] They were poor, but he didn't know they were poor.
Leah [vo] Bill’s taking these bios of us which allows us to connect to the work in a really important way and believe that we’re part of the work. It’s huge to us.
Janet [vo] All of their biographies come from the same questionnaire…
Janet [vo] So he wants to believe liberty is for all…
Bill [vo] But he can’t shake the reality that, uh, some people will... what was the line?
Jamyl [vo]: But some people will always suffer at the hands of other people. After all, life wouldn’t be complete without a blend of good and evil.
LaMichael: I studied Bill T. Jones in high school. I got his biography from my local library, and still have not returned it.
Jamyl: He feels the new president represents a new way of dealing with things. Just as that president did. He hates wars. But he thinks that war was fought for a good reason.
Academic standards correlations on Teachers' Domain use the Achievement Standards Network (ASN) database of state and national standards, provided to NSDL projects courtesy of JES & Co.
We assign reference terms to each statement within a standards document and to each media resource, and correlations are based upon matches of these terms for a given grade band. If a particular standards document of interest to you is not displayed yet, it most likely has not yet been processed by ASN or by Teachers' Domain. We will be adding social studies and arts correlations over the coming year, and also will be increasing the specificity of alignment.