“Me? Integrate dance in my classroom? But I don’t dance. And having all those kids moving around? I can’t do it.”
I get it. Really I do. Even thinking of integrating dance can be scary to an educator who is not comfortable with movement her/himself and/or who is apprehensive about having that level of physical movement in class. But just recently I was looking for a new approach to an integration opportunity I have faced in the past and I decided to get back to basics and put the creative ownership fully on my students. On reflecting on the success of the activities I had a feeling that many general educators could successfully pull this off with just a little training in the basic elements of dance and a whole lot of bravery.
First, you and your students should know about the basic elements of dance. I use the acronym BEST to help my students to remember them: Body, Energy, Space, Time. When I am first starting out teaching these elements I keep it simple. (For more information see my article “BEST: An Integrated Teaching of the Elements of Dance.”)
Insert Freeze Dance
An easy way to explore these elements is by playing “Freeze Dance” calling out categories (like “axial movements at a high level”) and making sure the students are demonstrating appropriate movement. This is also how you can set your expectations for moving in the classroom. Any student who demonstrates difficulty controlling voice or body during these games should sit out and observe those who are demonstrating control. Then s/he can have an opportunity to rejoin the class to demonstrate an ability to control voice and body.
Once you know that the students respond appropriately to the music stopping, you have a safety feature built in to your further dance work. (I also use a chime to indicate a “freeze” in case I need to stop an activity in a hurry.)
If you are comfortable leading “Freeze Dance” using the various elements you are well on your way to being ready to integrate dance with curriculum! While there are countless ways to integrate movement, my favorite is science. The natural world is full of movement and is a wonderful way to inspire students to explore movement.
For example, some of my students were studying the solar system in their general education classrooms. So, I had the students read a short passage about the Sun and then we generated descriptive words and phrases like rolling gases, explosions, intense heat, and bright light. One way to ease yourself into leading dance is to keep the dancing all axial movement so students stayed “glued” to one spot in the room. From there, put on your music and call out the descriptive words you generated.
Freeze the music during and/or after the students have explored a descriptive word or phrase. Encourage the students to use their whole bodies and explore all levels as they move. You may wish to have half the students observe while the other half dance. The audience can be looking for dance elements.
When the dancers finish, the audience should use the dance elements and connect them to the brainstormed phrases to describe what they observed. As you watch the students experiment with showing these words and phrases with their bodies, you will be amazed at some of the beautiful movements that are created. If you can capture it on camera, your students can analyze their own dancing and share your amazement!
After just a short dance activity like this one, the students will very likely better remember of what the Sun is composed and how the gases move. They will have practiced using the descriptive science language as well as the dance terminology. Their brains will be more alert and ready for learning whatever should follow this activity. They will also be ready for the next movement challenge you present! And to think, it all started with a little game called “Freeze Dance”…
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.