Recently I had one of those magical teachable moments that remind me why I love to do what I do. I was working with a second grade teacher to help her and her students choreograph a dance to tell the story of “Cinderella.” She wanted to have her students deliver an informal performance of the dance for the other second graders and asked if I could be there. Naturally I wanted to attend but I honestly did not give a great deal of thought to the presentation itself. The teacher had arranged it and I considered myself a guest more than a co-presenter. Once I was there and helping the teacher with a final rehearsal I had a chance to hear what she planned to say to the audience by way of introduction. Then I saw the other second grade students filing in prepared to enjoy their peers put on a performance.
I realized that the dance itself would only be about 3 minutes long and I started to wonder how we could get the audience more involved and make their trek to the auditorium more worthwhile. Rather than just relegating myself to the audience I asked the teacher if she wanted me to talk about the choreographic process and give the audience something to think about as they watched. She was more than happy to turn over the microphone and I started to do what I love. I started to teach.
I asked the audience whether they were doing any dance in their classrooms since I knew most of their teachers had also been trained in the same dance lessons the classroom teacher I worked with had used. Then I started to ask them about the story of Cinderella, the characters and the character traits. I challenged the audience to use what they knew about dance to try to determine what characters and plot points were being represented in the dance they were about to watch.
After the students performed their dance I went back to the audience to ask them what they had observed encouraging them to use the language of dance and theater. They determined which dancers represented Cinderella and which represented the stepmother identifying locomotor and axial movements, talking about energy and space, describing facial expressions. I could see students and adults alike understanding more deeply how the dancers used the elements of dance to tell the story. Then the teacher and I had her students perform the dance once more to give the audience another chance to more keenly observe the details of the choreography. The teacher and her class were excited to repeat the performance and the audience seemed thrilled to have another chance to watch.
What I thought was just going to be an enjoyable student performance turned out to be a great learning opportunity for both myself and the audience. Those second grade student and teacher audience members were more primed to create their own story dances in their classrooms (which was something all the classes were working toward) and the children had an opportunity to authentically use their dance knowledge and terminology. I was reminded that a performance is a wonderful opportunity to intentionally educate the audience. Since I was in the midst of planning some end of the year performances with my own art students that experience helped inform some of what I decided to do. The arts provide such rich learning opportunities for students and their teachers and artists and their audiences alike. Don’t be afraid to take advantage of them!
Deirdre is a teaching artist and AI coach in the San Diego public schools dedicated to helping classroom teachers make arts an integral part of their teaching. Deirdre has an MEd in Arts Integration and over twenty years of classroom and performing arts teaching experience. Email Deirdre.