Dance in Education

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“The arts make us human”

Maxine Greene* said this in a thousand different ways in her writings and books over the years.



 

Maxine Greene* 1917-2014


. . .[O]f all the arts, dance confronts most directly the question of what it means to be human. . . .[D]ance provides occasions for the emergence of the integrated self.1

— Maxine Greene

Every society in the world dances.  Except ours.  For the sake of our children and ourselves, we need to change that.  The activity of dancing socially, in family homes, community centers, town squares and school gymnasiums — at parties, festivals, weddings, births and funerals — contributes an aspect of social cohesion that does not exist in any other forum in our lives.  Dancing opens minds and informs every subject in school — math, science, history/social studies, reading, writing, literature, music, physical education—  and beyond to ways students learn to view themselves, others, and the world.  Students who dance learn and embody higher level skills of observation, creativity, collaboration, communication, analysis, synthesis, evaluation and more, through action and movement. Dance is appropriate for all students — elementary, middle school, high school, higher education — regular classroom, gifted, differently abled.  Every student can find personal expression, delight and joy in dancing.  And it might even begin to assuage some of society’s ills:

“You can’t hold a gun while you’re dancing”

                                                                                — Teenage boy

“Dancing makes me happy”

                                                                           — A room full of kids

Most often when people think of “real” dance in this country, they think of ballet or modern dance, sometimes tap —  concert dance —  dance that is danced in a performance on a stage.  Our focus is on other “real” dance, social dancing, mostly partnered —  dances like waltz and swing and salsa and tango and blues.  There are many more.  Dances that are danced in partnership with another person —  sometimes in their arms —  among friends and families, and in neighborhoods, to music that sounds and feels differently.  Waltz can sound smooth and feel round, swing comes in a wide variety of mostly upbeat styles and flavors, from bouncy and happy to jazzy to smooth and sophisticated.  Salsa has interweaving layers of percussion and can feel fast and driving, tango and blues can feel sad or sultry, defiant or melancholy —  they all feel delicious in their own way.  And they can all be enjoyed at some level, by people of all ages and abilities, with a modicum of instruction.  These dances are accessible and have close connections to history and poetry, math, science, music and culture —  which makes them perfect for the classroom.

Ways to bring dance into the classroom

1) As an after school activity — either through an established after school program, or independently, and most often connected to something that happens at the school, like a middle school or high school jazz band or orchestra —  I will come to your school and teach your students one or more corresponding dances as an embodiment of the music being learned or as preparation for a school concert and dance.

2) As part of a unit of study in your class — I will come to your school and teach your students one or more corresponding dances as embodiment of history or culture in social studies, exploration of creative ideas for poetry or creative writing, understanding of scientific principles in physics, chemistry or math —  or as a way to comprehend, apply, analyze or synthesize any part of your curriculum in a new way.

3) Integrated into a variety of subjects in your classroom — If you are a classroom teacher who dances socially, I invite you to come work with a group of like minded teachers-who-dance to explore ways to integrate the dancing you do into your curriculum.  This is the beginning of a pilot project I’m working on and would be a volunteer situation for a set number of meetings with a goal of exploring this idea and ultimately implementing it in the classroom.

If you are interested in any of these options or have another one in mind, or if you would like more information please contact me.


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(dance) It’s your pulse, it’s your heartbeat, it’s your breathing.  It’s the rhythms of your life.  It’s the expression in time and movement of happiness and joy and sadness and energy.  It’s a venting of energy.  It’s extraordinary and that’s common to all the cultures and it’s common to all individuals.


— Jacques D’Amboise**




*Maxine Greene, professor of philosophy and education, Teachers College, Columbia University, New York; and resident philosopher, Lincoln Center Institute for the Arts in Education

1. Maxine Greene, "Art and Imagination,”edia.virbcdn.com/files/a0/FileItem-277585-ArtandImagination.pdf, last accessed 8/20/14.  

**Jacques D’Amboise, born 1934.   Former principle dancer, New York city Ballet, film actor/dancer, roles include Seven Brides for Seven BrothersCarousel and . Founded the National Dance Institute which has taught music and dance to low income and minority New York school children for over 30 years, through classes taught by professional teaching artists.  Married with 4 children, 2 are dancers.  He’s received may honors and awards over the years.

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