Folded up on the floor one minute and up, shaking vigorously the next, the roomful of youngsters at Manassas's George C. Round Elementary School on Friday may have looked like a nightmare come true to some teachers.

But the orders were clearly followed in the experimental class, called creative movement.

Contorting themselves into balls with tiny fist and feet protruding, the students on command became bumpy blackberries. Curling up tight, they immediately were transformed into smooth, round blueberries. Jiggling around in a circle, they were suddenly in the paw of the giant bear that threatened to gobble them up.

The only unsolicited responses from the children were squeals of "I'm sticky," which ripped through the room once the berries were ingested.

Leading the class was Julia Dean, a self-styled performance artist from Staunton, who has been engaging students in exercises of imagination and motion for two weeks as part of this year's artist-in-residence program. Dean's repertoire includes mime, dance, storytelling, music and kabuki theater, in which she creatively employs a Japanese fan as her sole partner. Her most recent work is a one-person performance about pilot Amelia Earhart.

The two-week program is financed in part by a $4,000 grant from the Virginia Commission for the Arts. The program will culminate in a class demonstration open to all Manassas school parents at 7 tonight at Round Elementary.

The goal of creative movement is to make students more aware of their movements and the possibilities of motion -- how to get from one point to another, said Dean, who has degrees in dance and physical education from James Madison University.

She has taken her creative movement workshops into schools from Louisiana to Maine. In Manassas, she also has conducted workshops for teachers and parents.

The exercises work to channel the writhing energies of youngsters as well as awaken the dormant vim of older students.

Often, Dean will begin an exercise by throwing out a word, such as "sly" or "slippery," and asking her students to exhibit a characteristic of that word.

In a class of elementary students from several Manassas schools last Wednesday, the word "Halloween" drew a range of chilling poses, including a Freddie Krueger-type stance from one boy whose eyes were rolled back and arms extended stiff, clawing the air.

Dean brings "imagination and problem-solving into the movement of the body," said Joan Empric, coordinator of gifted services in the Manassas schools, who helped obtain the grant from the Virginia Commission for the Arts. "There's an awful lot of thought going on" in her classes.

Empric said Manassas searched long and hard to find a creative movement artist such as Dean, who also teaches English as a second language through movement. "We could find a lot of dancers, but not a lot of people who understood what we were trying to do with emotion and movement," she said.

Sharon Wilson, who heads the commission's artist-in-residence program, said Dean's workshops are unusual because she accommodates more than just a specially talented group of students. "It's wonderful to have a residency {program} that's all inclusive," Wilson said.

However, Dean said, the concept behind creative movement -- bringing the mind and body in tune with one another -- is "nothing new . . . . The best professional athletes, they're thinking, even though most of the time it's about strategy."

Eventually Manassas's schools would like to incorporate creative movement into the curriculum, Empric said. It would fit nicely into the physical education curriculum, said Phil Abt, the physical education teacher at Round.

"Just watching {one of Dean's classes with talented athletes} gave me a thousand ideas," Abt said, explaining that Dean tapped into a wide range of movements.

Particularly amazing to Abt was Dean's ability to get a group of "cool" sixth-grade boys to dance.

Dean asked the students to pretend they had pieces of chalk in their pockets, Abt said. She then asked them to pull the chalk out and write their names in blue, then in red. Next, they were writing their names with the imaginary chalk on their elbows and even on their behinds.

Dean casually turned on some music. "Now put this all together and they're dancing, they're moving," Abt said. " . . . The attitude of the sixth-grade boys {about dance} is, 'Are you kidding?' But when they see this stuff, they get a whole new concept."