All last week I was engaged in modeling a lesson plan for third grade teachers integrating science (specifically energy transfer) and dance (shape). One thing I love about this aspect of my job is that I often get the opportunity to teach the same lesson several times in a row. Each time I teach it, I become more clear on the connections and transitions, my delivery gets tighter, and I have the chance to ask myself, “How can I more effectively reach my objectives?” By the end of the week I was feeling really confident about the science objectives but less so about the dance objectives. Even though I identify myself as a dancer, my traditional classroom teacher self has a sneaky way of taking over and letting the science aspect of the lesson become the focus and allowing the dance to become merely a means to an end.
On Saturday night I went to see a dance performance that helped me answer that question, “How can I more effectively reach my dance objectives?” One part of the performance reminded me of what my students had been doing in the classroom. My students had been standing in a line, shoulder to shoulder, creating a tight tucked shape to represent potential or stored energy. I touched the first student on the shoulder to begin the energy transfer chain. Upon receiving the touch, the student would jump high in the air with arms outstretched to the sky to show kinetic or working energy and then on the way down gently touch the next student on the shoulder to continue the transfer of energy. As I sat in the theater enjoying the modern dance performance watching the dancers stand in a line and turn to touch one another on the heart with great tenderness and care I was struck by what had been missing in my science and dance integration lesson – intention. When these professional dancers moved, they did so with intention. These dancers were passing along a movement in a line just as my students had but the focus and intention of the performers was crystal clear and made the movement meaningful and compelling.
Intention is not an expressly stated objective in the California State Standards for dance or any other art form as far as I know but intention is critical when making art. The artist must be very clear on why she’s doing what she’s doing or the the art may lack depth or meaning. Now granted, it may be very difficult to have every student identify with an intention I present or even have every student identify one of his own but if I do not expressly guide the students toward intention, none of the students will be aware of having or even needing one.
With this “a-ha!” moment, I started to reflect on just how I might have guided my students to dance with intention. Perhaps I could have asked them for examples of situations where they might spontaneously be inspired to jump into the air with that shape. We could have discussed or shared the feeling of that moment before you jump when your muscles are coiled and dying to release to make the science aspect more personal. In the discussion, we could have shared how this overflowing explosive feeling compels us to share it with others thus leading to the touching of the shoulder to pass it along. How might such a discussion have changed the resulting movement and each student’s commitment to the movements? Although I may never know the answer for that particular lesson, I am committed to approaching future lessons keeping the need for intention in mind.