Now, pat … and Double Dream Hands!" exclaims the dance teacher to a Year 11 class at Chinese International School. Although the students are laughing awkwardly and dancing clumsily, perhaps feeling a little childish, everybody is clearly having fun. That's because their teacher is John Jacobson, the man behind the famous Double Dream Hands video on YouTube, which has been viewed 6.7 million times. He's also appeared on the US television talk show hosted by Ellen DeGeneres.
At the end of the hour-long practice of the Double Dream Hands dance, Jacobson was still pumped with energy. A former worker for Disney, he answered questions about his method of teaching and promoting music to children
"I use movement along with music to get kids to express themselves," says Jacobson. "Music is meant to be expressed, and it also shows them that singing and making music are a full-body experience. It takes your whole being to make music, whether it be playing piano or the violin, or singing."
When someone plays a musical instrument and sings at the same time, their fingers do intricate patterns to make the right notes, and their breathing is regulated to the tempo and pitch. So Jacobson believes this dance is a kind of physical interpretation that helps students to learn music.
When dance is added to music, it can amplify the piece's most emotional moments. "Learning music is just like reading and analysing a book," says Jacobson. "It's just another language."
Movement makes music more dramatic. For example, if we look at a beautiful piece, such as the Hallelujah chorus from Handel's Messiah, the first note is dramatic. It will be enhanced if, at the same time as singing the "ha", the singers throw their hands into the air. The strong gesture underscores the power of the first note. But Jacobson's lessons are targeted towards a younger audience, so the dances he makes for his lessons might look a bit silly.
Jacobson designed dances, directed and performed for Walt Disney Productions, and he created his Double Dream Hands dance for his song Planet Rock. Once when he taught his Double Dream Hands dance, a student uploaded one of these silly videos to YouTube, and it went viral. As a result, Jacobson was invited to perform the dance at DeGeneres' 53rd surprise birthday party. Even the show's camera operators and other crew members joined in.
Of course, the video also got its share of nasty comments, but Jacobson couldn't care less.
"Part of teaching music to children is to not worry about looking silly so that the children will dance, too," says Jacobson. "When you see someone on the carpet, playing with a child, he'll look lively and kind of silly. But children do need that kind of inspiration."
His silliness has a lesson for Hong Kong students, who tend not to stand out in a crowd. It's just part of their culture.
"I spent some time in China last year, and a parent came up to me and asked me why American children were so used to getting in front of people," says Jacobson. "In America, children are expected to stand up and show their stuff, like in a debate, on the football field and in show-and-tell."
Mainland and Hong Kong students can benefit from being encouraged to express themselves and have fun through music and dancing, he says. Then they would not be so self-conscious. What's more, singing and dancing are great stress relievers.
"Everybody in the world, not just in Hong Kong, would benefit from singing and dancing," says Jacobson with his Disney cheerfulness. "Nobody will get hurt if the world just sings and dances."