Whether you are teaching dance or another subject area student’s need to be able to see how what they learning may apply to the ‘real world’. That reality may be different for each member of the class and depend on their previous experiences and their world perspectives.
You don’t have to go outside your school grounds to find the ‘real world’ of most students. However new technologies make it even easier to stretch the boundaries of what your students currently know and understand about dance.
For most children real world connections will focus on either choreographing or performing dance. These are often the most obvious in their lived experience although many children will never have seen a live dance performance or met someone who is a choreographer.
The popular media is full of images of ballet dancers in pointe shoes, hip hop artists or dancers on music videos. This is only the tip of the iceberg that is the dance industry. Dance encompasses not only being a dancer and a choreographer but dance historian and anthropologist and also a dance critic, to name a few.
In addition, dance teaches artistic processes that are important for students when developing creative problem solving, global contexts and perspectives, researching skills and the processes of analyzing and critiquing. In dance the learning is through inquiry that is both active and interactive, as we use questioning and problem solving to understand more about dance.
As a dancer the inquiry is physical, exploring how our body moves and how it responds to different stylistic components. The body uses neurosensory and muscle receptors to perfect the dance elements and their interaction with each other.
As a choreographer, children explore the creative process and how they express through movements, exploring, improvising, and learning about design principles. They inquire through their imagination and creativity and learn about the tools of dance.
As a dance historian, they investigate the context for dance through learning about dance from different eras and cultural perspectives. They have opportunities to Who is or was doing What, When and Where. They engage research skills and empathetic qualities as they observe and participate in choreographic works that may include historic, social, and multicultural contexts.
As a dance critic, students appreciate, analyse, critique and respond to the aesthetic of dance and discover why and how we dance. They also use these same skills to refine their own choreography as they respond to their own and others feedback.
Research as a part of dance activities
In each of these roles the dance student will use research skills as a starting point for their artistic processes. Dance makes more sense when it’s part of a context. We make dance to communicate something.
Gathering and presenting information are central to all roles of the dancer.
Each dance project ideally should involve elements of research or inquiry. Here is a framework that may be useful in beginning this process. These help to keep the inquiry relevant and the point of the artistic process at the foreground of the students’ research.
Pose the questions – what do they need to know about the topic and what questions will I be asking?
Find the resources – what kinds of resources will help to answer my question, where do I find them and how do I know this information is valid?
Interpret the information – is this relevant to my questions, does it relate to what else I know, and does it raise more questions?
Report the findings – what is the most important point, who is my audience, and how does my dance express my message?
Building dance projects with real-world connections
Here are ten ideas to help emphasize the connections to the real world in your dance projects.
Find something students care about
What are they interested in? Start the year by getting each child to give a presentation about something they are interested in. This will give you starting place to find commonalities and present ideas for dance projects that could be used in outside contexts.
Some student’s interests may be more suited to learning about dance then others. Make it be a collaborative discussion with your students. It is surprising how you can make connections.
Look for students’ unique perspectives
What are their experiences? Many classes will have children with very diverse lived experience. Perhaps they can bring cultural ideas from living in other countries or family interests that reflect a unique perspective.
It could be an experience that the class has together like a school camp or field trip.
Find issues that are compelling
Many children have deep seated feelings about significant issues that may affect their world. Poverty, racism, or other topics about fairness and equity are powerful issues to focus on for older children.
Dance projects that require the children to consider alternate views and to see other people’s perspective can provide ways to link to the broader world picture.
Finding ways to change the world
Considering how to improve the real world empowers children to see ways to make change. It could be something with the school community that they feel passionate about.
It also demonstrates the power of the arts to challenge ideas and to impact their community.
Connect students to the profession
Inviting professional dance artists, choreographers, dance teachers, or researchers into the classroom as a component of a project is a powerful way to instill in students the breadth of the dance industry. Try to include a range of classroom guests to represent dance as the multidimensional industry that it is.
Artists in residence program can enrich children’s ideas of how dance looks in the community and build personal relationships that may be instrumental in building the students’ view of their future.
Create structures for self-assessment
By linking assessment to professional standards and using real world assessment vehicles, children understand the industry implications of being assessed. Co creating learning outcomes and success criteria duplicates many of the processes that artists carry out in the process of applying for grants.
Present connections to other industries
Including other industries that may link to dance as a part of the project identify the valuable connections between dance and the broader community. For example, the music industry, health, or other art forms.
Collaborations between art galleries and dance have provided opportunities for dancers and visual artists to co create as a part of community projects. This may be a good starting point within your local community, providing access to rich arts knowledge from a visual artist and from the local gallery.
Structure for collaboration
The structure of the dance project should emphasis the importance of working in teams in arts- based practice. Small group and whole class structures can echo many dance projects and build teamwork within the classroom.
The development of collaborative skills that include negotiation and empathetic listening are essential for success in most industries.
Create a body of work
Accumulating students’ dance works across a term or the year, so that it can be presented as a rich body of work, acknowledges the importance of task completion. It allows children to see how their skills may have developed across time, reflecting the dancer’s ability to gather evidence of practice in such an ephemeral art form.
This body of work may be recorded as a class project or be presented as a ‘show reel’ of individual work.
Visions of the future
Each dance project requires a component that identifies how the students’ skills may be used across a range of contexts. Creating a Skills Tree on the wall of the classroom that documents each new skill as they progress through the project, enables students to visualize how individual skills connect.
Connecting students to the adult world in ways that are appropriate and significant to them is not always easy. There are many opportunities to interacting with the real world of dance depending where you live and the resources that are available to you. However even using some of these ideas will help bring real world connections into your dance activities.