This post was written by Dr. Melissa Anderson Morgan, Assistant Professor of Physical Education.
It is hard to turn on the television these days without finding a dance program featuring amazing competitive soloists, couples, and dance crews showcasing their talents. I find myself watching in awe as these artists — ranging in age from the very youngest to mature adults — flip, spin, and leap with incredible precision, strength, and beauty. But beyond the entertainment value that dance offers to television viewers, what can pirouettes and pas de bourrees add to the K12 classroom? Plenty! Creatively minded “STEAM” educators (STEM + an “A” for arts) are finding stimulating ways to integrate dance across the curriculum, providing their students with active and engaging learning experiences in core subject areas.
I had an opportunity to collaborate with my son, a middle school math teacher, as he planned a lesson that used dance to teach concepts of symmetry, spatial awareness and reasoning to his sixth-grade math classes. Most of his students, ranging in ages from 11 to 13, had never taken a formal dance class or attended a ballet, so he began by showing them a brief video of a choreographed dance performance. This was followed by a technique video instructing his students how to perform one specific dance turn. He then gave them the opportunity to practice their turns in the school gym and to learn a simple footwork sequence. To their delight, he practiced these dance moves right along with them.
Then the problem solving began. He gave his budding dancers the dimensions of a stage and asked them to determine how many could fit on that stage and perform the turns they had just learned without hitting each other. They measured one another’s arm spans and leg lengths in various poses to calculate the space needed for X dancers to perform on a stage of Y dimensions. To his surprise, the most enthusiastic feedback was not from the few trained dancers in his classes, but from those students who never even considered trying ballet. They were excited for the opportunity to attempt a new activity and to expend some of their natural middle school energy as they learned.
You can find notable examples of lessons that involve “dancing across the curriculum” in all subject areas and grade levels readily available online like Creative Dance Integration Lesson Plans by Erika Cravath. So, if you find yourself seeking an engaging way to introduce a new concept, regardless of your content area, the solution may very well involve jazz hands, an arabesque, or a three-step turn!