A Review of a Few Key Dance Resources
by Joanna Perlus
When I was asked to share my thoughts on dance in our elementary schools, my first instinct was to do so through an expressive movement piece. After all, I was a professional dance artist before becoming a teacher. Then I remembered that teachers do not all have to be good at everything. Some of us are experts at languages or math or social studies. But this does not mean we cannot teach subjects outside of our comfort zone. In fact, as core-classroom teachers, many of us do every day. When I started my career in the elementary panel, I was able to provide my Gr. 6 students with dance education informed by years of study and a passion for the art; however, I understand that not all teachers come from a dance background, have an expertise in dance pedagogy, or are even comfortable moving their bodies, and that’s okay! Teaching dance in our elementary classrooms does not require that we become expert dancers, or that our students become performers. Dance education is actually much more than that. Through dance, both teachers and students can gain confidence in movement and demonstrate healthy risk taking as we learn alongside our students. With a little support and some easily accessible resources, we can all teach dance meaningfully. So in place of a phenomenal TikTok video, here are some thoughts on how elementary teachers can strengthen their pedagogy and feel comfortable teaching dance.
The Power of Dance
As a dance educator for twenty years I have ample and undeniable evidence that dance is essential in students' lives. The separation of body and mind does not help student learning. It is, therefore, vital that our education system (both elementary and secondary) has a healthy dance curriculum. Dance has the power to maintain and/or increase physical and mental health, establish close relationships with peers and teachers, increase students’ confidence, cultivate inclusivity, and foster expression. Dance is a discipline that instills drive, responsibility, collaboration, and creativity.
In recent years, teachers have been asked during staff meetings and professional development sessions to get to know their students on a more meaningful level and to encourage their students to express their student voice. This is something at which arts educators have always excelled. In arts courses, personal expression is integral to creativity, the core of the arts. The dance class, however, takes the fostering of self expression to an even higher level, involving both the body and the mind. In dance, students feel free to take risks, bond with their classmates, and express themselves both physically and emotionally like nowhere else in school.
Dance is a universal language. International and ESL students can excel, build confidence, and succeed in an institution that can otherwise be very alienating. In dance, they get to be a part of a new community where language is no longer a barrier. For those students that, for cultural or socio-economic reasons, might not have been exposed to dance outside of school, dance can be a place where they discover a new passion, a new way of learning and communicating, and one that will remain with them for the rest of their lives.
Dance in the Elementary Curriculum
The elementary dance curriculum, particularly JK to Grade 6, focuses almost entirely on learning and developing the elements of movement (Body, Energy, Relationship, Space and Time) and creating movement that communicates thoughts, feelings, and ideas about the focus of the learning which will most often be interdisciplinary. E.g. A unit combining science, dance and literacy expectations.
For those who don’t feel they have the resources or expertise to teach dance and are relying on Youtube videos, one-time visits from guest artists, or a favor from a colleague to fulfill their dance curriculum, I have a few suggestions.
Full disclosure: I am the Dance Liaison for the Council of Ontario Drama and Dance Educators. I recommend becoming a member of this provincial subject association that provides both elementary and secondary teachers with practical, up-to-date resources, in both French and English, to use in Ontario classrooms. CODE supports the teaching and learning of dance and drama. It provides educational resources (lesson plans, unit plans, assessment tools, games/warm ups, etc); it advocates for and promotes dance and drama in our schools; and it builds connections between a growing network of artists, arts organizations, and not-for-profit theatre and dance companies. Resources found on the website are easy to follow and implement in classrooms.
CODE is excited to announce that their 52nd annual conference will return to an in person format. This year the focus will be on The Future of Tomorrow! Continuous Learning, Infinite Possibilities. The conference offers an active weekend packed with guest artists, speakers, workshops, and discussions that focus on equity, diversity, and inclusion. It will show teachers how drama and dance education can provide exciting opportunities to identify, learn about, and seek action to respond to systemic racism, discrimination, and other forms of oppression. Delegates will be supported in their journey to strengthen their skills, build their knowledge and resources, and support the movement to be more culturally responsive and relevant in drama and dance spaces. Please join in the fun at the Sheraton Hamilton Hotel, October 21st- 23rd, 2022.
2. COLLABORATION WITH ARTISTS
A powerful resource to assist with the “how to” is to work collaboratively with a guest artist or dance specialist who can provide teachers with the tools needed to ignite an enriching dance program, as well as the pedagogy needed to continue teaching independently. More than simply bringing in a guest dance instructor, this method involves an in-depth collaboration between the artist and the teacher, and will help the teachers build the expertise and confidence they need to teach dance on their own.
Consider looking to your local community and the larger dance community for more dance artists who are committed to dance education, in partnership with teachers. The Ontario Arts Council funds an artist in the schools initiative that invites project proposals from schools and artists. The value in co-planning a project proposal is that it ensures that your professional learning needs, and the needs of your students, are taken into account from the very beginning. Connect with your provincial and municipal arts councils, wherever you are. Who knows what might be possible!
CODE has created a resource supported by Prologue, for teachers and artists working together entitled Best Practices: The Arts in Ontario Classrooms. This resource details why teachers and artists should work together, and provides suggestions for effective collaboration between artists and teachers. “Just Dance” is good fun but cannot replace teacher-led thoughtful integrated practice in our elementary schools.
Action Pak D’Action is a creative movement resource manual for elementary teachers. In the workshop, attendees are given a movement vocabulary that enables them, and their students, to meet the expectations of the Ontario Dance curriculum. Action Words propel exploration of the body moving through space, in time, with different energies and relationships.
Action Pak d'Action co-creators, Debra Kapp, Allison Gamble and Susan Bailey also offer workshops to both teachers and students both in and outside the classroom.
I recently hosted Debra’s workshop, and found it to be an invaluable experience. Imagine a room filled with excited and nervous Prep teachers, Phys Ed teachers, Arts teachers and classroom teachers, ready to participate in their first in-person workshop in over two years. Nerves quickly turned to exhilaration as the participants collaborated, laughed, and most importantly, surprised themselves with the work they created. They did not learn any dance “steps”. Instead, they came away with lessons, activities, and exercises that focus on dance curriculum expectations without requiring a demonstration of dance technique or performance skills. Teachers felt empowered and prepared to take these ideas back to the classroom. They clearly felt confident in their ability to provide Dance in Education to their students across the curriculum.
Describing the workshop, Debra Kapp reflects:
It was an awesome experience to finally be together as educators, working in collaboration in the same room. As the workshop leader, it was gratifying to see teachers creating together… sharing ideas, thoughts and feelings… The power of dance was felt and spread throughout the room. email@example.com
The benefits of dance are varied and plenty for both teachers and students. Kinesthetic learners that have difficulty learning from books or lectures can learn more effectively through movement. Students can succeed in ways they never have before, and teachers can find new ways to communicate with their students. Strong dance in our elementary schools supports dance in our secondary schools for students of all levels and abilities and including those who may wish to continue their study of dance at the post secondary level. Various organizations such as OSSDF (Ontario Secondary School Dancefest) provide opportunities for secondary dance students from across the province to connect and share their work outside the competitive environment that often surrounds dance events.
With the support and resources available, and by collaborating with artists, elementary teachers of all backgrounds and levels of experience can teach dance and teach it well because dance is for every BODY. Whether or not our teachers have ever “flossed”, or can tell the difference between the “stanky leg” or a “pirouette,” every elementary teacher can learn along with their students how to communicate meaning through movement and to share what they are feeling, thinking and learning through their bodies and their minds in a powerful way. Dance can be an active, and memorable part of every elementary classroom. All they have to do is count to eight!