By Jenny Windom, Rubicon International
I have the lucky job of being a dance teacher: I get to combine my love of education and my students with the passion I have for dance. While dance and classroom teaching have some major differences, I’ve found that there have been many lessons I’ve learned while teaching dance I’ve been able to bridge into my classroom practice. Here are a few:
Remember Your History
Teach dance within the context of the time period and culture from which it was developed. If you miss that, you miss the point of the dance. “House” electronic dance music, for example, stemmed from Chicago in the 80’s and 90’s, fusing tap, African, and hip hop (to name a few influences). Knowing this historical context allows students to get the feeling of the dance, and why it came about. The same goes for classroom content: provide context for your students to fully develop an understanding of the topic at hand. How was the plot of The Hunger Games been influenced by media and world events in the past decade? What makes pi so special? Providing that background can assist students in their overall understanding.
Practice the Basics
You can’t just throw choreography at dancers– they need to have fundamentals down before advancing to more complex steps and movement patterns. As teachers, we sometimes get excited about teaching the more advanced and nuanced content, forgetting that students need to have time to practice the basics so they can really understand and apply the more complex information.
When leading improv exercises, I always tell my students to “get weird”. We do an exercise where we try to figure out all the ways we can dance, while emphasizing just one body part: a finger, the curve between your ear and your collarbone….this can lead to some odd ways of moving. But it’s good! When you push yourself and make weird things happen: that’s when magic occurs. Make sure when learning, students know that they should try to apply their knowledge in various ways. Try to ask the odd questions. You never know when something you’re wondering about leads to a better understanding of your own learning.
Try it out: “Use dancers instead of PowerPoint,” John Bohanno argues. In the video below, he teams up with The Black Label Movement to help explain molecular biology. Check out more videos from his “Dance Your PhD” contest.
The greatest gift an art teacher, or any educator, can give a student is the gift of applying knowledge in their own way. While my students need to know the basic steps and techniques, and need to learn choreography, they also need to know how to dance like themselves. It takes a certain fearlessness to trust your own body, understand how it moves, and let it do it’s thing. Same in any content area. Have your students apply their knowledge in ways that they see fit. In writing? Allow them to write in genres that they desire. In Art? See what they’re motivated to create? Science or social studies? Find ways to integrate student choice and interest in projects. Your students will appreciate and enjoy learning, and you will get to see them become more confident in experimenting and trusting themselves.
Keep It Fun
Okay, this one seems obvious and simple, right? Yes and no: we tend to emphasize the “fun” of our classroom activities, but not always the fun of our personalities. This doesn’t mean you have to have a song and dance everyday for your student (although I tend to try and amuse my students with my interpretation of the latest “cool” dance move); it can be something as simple as sharing your personal interests with your students, or sharing a fun YouTube video. Let students select an appropriate genre of music to play during work time. By keeping your classroom lighthearted and fun, they’ll want to come just to see you and what you may share with them… and they won’t even realize how much they’re learning.
Hopefully these tips help remind and inspire you to have fun with your students while still providing them with the context, foundation, and attitude to succeed. At the very least, maybe you’ll now have a chance to show off your sweet dance moves during a classroom wiggle party break.
Ready to get started? Check out the Kennedy Center’s Educator resources. They’ve got lessons ranging from analyzing the mythology of Egypt through movement and the math of creating choreography to fool-proof ways you can bring different dance styles and movement into your classroom!