“I can’t dance.” Well, that’s a lie. I cannot count how many times I have heard this statement in my life from friends and fellow students. My response is, “If you have a body, you can dance”. It also applies to “if you have a voice you can sing”, or “if you have a brain you can think.” This does not guarantee that you or I are particularly good at one of these expertise, but it does not deny our capability. Teachers who try using dance in their classrooms will be surprised by what both they and their students are capable of doing!
As for me, I have been dancing for about 14 years. After a long career of dancing in studios around Utah, I came to college at BYU. I knew that because of my passion for dance, I wanted to make it part of my future career. However, becoming a professional dancer was no longer the goal I had always hoped for my life. Instead, I wanted to share it and teach it to others. As a freshman I auditioned, interviewed, and was accepted into the dance education program and almost instantly I knew I was in the right place. My dream is to not only teach my future students to dance but also, more importantly, teach them to love dance.
So what does dance do for students? What are the benefits of using it in the classroom? To me, it seemed obvious. I never questioned it. However, as I got further in my major, I was asked these types of questions many times and found that I struggled to find the words. So here are some ideas of how dance has helped me and many other students learn through physical movement, mental exercise, and spiritual growth. I am still learning, and my excitement only increases the more I learn!
The use of non-verbal communication is natural for human beings, including facial expressions and body language. Movement, or dance, can be one of these forms of communication. I believe that everyone has an “inner movement”, or awareness of themselves, that is simply waiting to come out. We are all unique and move in our own ways. When even a little bit of this inner movement is allowed to come out, life becomes much more fulfilling. Students realize the capabilities of their bodies when they are allowed to use them. They learn to create an art form–with nothing! All they need is themselves. A pioneer of modern dance, Ruth St. Denis, says this, “The real message of the Dance opens up the vistas of life to all who have the urge to express beauty with no other instrument than their own bodies, with no apparatus and no dependence on anything other than space.” (see #1). Dance is a completely new medium not often explored by the classroom teacher. However, when used effectively, students learn to problem solve not only with their head but also with their bodies. When teaching a dance lesson about balance, shapes, and partner work, I am always thrilled to give my students new challenges such as asking them to create a shape where only two body parts are touching the floor and it can’t be their two feet! They are quick to respond with, “that’s impossible!” but then proceed to try it! Despite their first reaction, they want new challenges and are eager to find solutions. If the first idea did not work, they tried another! They problem solved by using their hands, heads, shoulders, elbows, backs, or anything else they could think of! Having dance in the classroom also gives more opportunities to be active, it may give rise to a hidden talent, or it may help open up a new world to an activity they can pursue in the future.
As well as academic learning, creative learning also needs to be a part of curriculum. As science has shown, the majority of logical thinking takes place in the left brain while the majority of creative thinking occurs in the right (see #2). However, both are used so both need to be exercised. Through the use of cross-curriculum dance lesson plans, both sides of the brain can be utilized at the same time! The left side for the logical and academic part of the lesson, the right side during the creative dance process. Visithttp://www.byukinnect.org/for lesson plan ideas to integrate dance into your academic core curriculum. Another great resource for children’s lesson plans is “Creative Dance For All Ages” by Anne Green Gilbert. The more practice we have in using our whole brain, such as in these lesson plans, the easier and more accessible it becomes! (see #2)
The arts teach that numbers and letters are not always the only solution. There can be many solutions as well as many answers. Your neighbor may accomplish something one way, and you another. This is fine–even wonderful! Sparking the joy of creativity early in our students encourages them to use it throughout their whole life. Though this website focuses on visual arts, it has some more wonderful ideas on what arts can do mentally for your students! Visit http://www.arteducators.org/advocacy/10-lessons-the-arts-teach.
All art evokes emotion. Dance in particular can be very spiritual. The LDS Bible Dictionary states under dancing: “a natural sign of rejoicing.” When you combine your body, your mind, and your spirit, you feel a oneness with yourself. When you can be your true to who you are and your personality, you receive a sense of empowerment. Dance also expresses messages that you can connect with and relate to your own life experiences. For example, to see a beautiful shadow dance from Britain’s Got Talent based on an experience from one of the dancers, visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CvQBUccxBr4. This is just one example of how dance can spiritually and emotionally connect people.
Dance teaches many life lessons. Some examples of these are self-discipline, determination, goal-setting, initiative, positivism, respect, courage, confidence, focus, leadership, social and personal accountability, and trust–just to name a few! Learning these concepts assists children in becoming not only better students, but also successful citizens and people in general.
Dance also gives another outlet for students. If numbers or words are a struggle for them, maybe using their bodies will be where they finally make a connection. They can show what they feel that can’t be described in any other way. This helps them express themselves and think poetically. Opportunities to perform these expressions can be incredibly satisfying. Getting applause and appraise from their fellow students and peers lifts them up. You can help their spirits grow without bringing in religion at all!
We need all parts of learning, academic as well as creative. Dance is just one art form that exercises the body, the brain, and individual expression. This is a win-win combination! So why not give it a try? Move all those desks to the side and get dancing!!
3. If you are interested in bringing in a BYU dancer to help you create lesson plans visit: http://education.byu.edu/arts/arts_bridge/