Dance has the potential to provide support for teaching sustainability as a cross curriculum priority. It offers thought-provoking ways for children to learn about ecological and human systems and creative ways to question their views about the natural world and our impact.
By bringing children into nature, we help to mitigating the impact of technology. Widening their view of the world, sustainability education shows students how they can protect the environment and contribute to a more ecologically and socially just world.
Authentic learning situations like those used in creating site specific dance encourages a more diverse response to stimulus, whether that is in a natural environment or a man made one. Taking children outside the confines of four walls present challenges that are both physical and intellectual.
In dance, this connection with nature can be the basis of an artistic approach to choreography, not just as the stimulus. It can provide opportunities to improvise movement, practice movement skills and explore approaches to choreography and performance.
But perhaps most importantly integrating dance and sustainability education portrays the power of the Arts to maintain, influence and change cultural practices. It reflects the interconnectedness of dance, the environment and traditional Indigenous practices of nations around the world.
What is dance education for sustainability?
Education for Sustainability is an educational approach that aims to develop students, schools and communities with values and the motivation to take action for sustainability – in their personal lives, within their community and also at a global scale, now and in the future.What is Education for Sustainability? | Getting Started with Sustainability in Schools
This future-oriented pedagogy allows for play-based, creative, and exploratory dance practice. Within this format there is a need for identified intentional teaching moments that support students in questioning and revising their current ideas.
Considering how our environment sustains life, how we may be connected to that ecosystem, and observing any emerging patterns within that environment, help to guide the students as they become immersed in their explorations of place.
Students should also be made aware of how the environment reaches beyond them selves and into their community, country, and world. Finding these reaching fingers of connection to broader contexts, helps to shape children world view, and for them to reimagine how their voice and actions may make a different future.
Importantly new ideas that come as a result of dance exploration, can then be built on by students, designing projects or arts works that influence decision making for the future of the environment.
The role of Indigenous education
The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander environmental knowledge and connection to land in the past, present, and future, is an important connection to our natural world in Australia. Any dance activity that connects with sustainability education should begin with children understanding the significance of land in the Aboriginal culture.
Listening to community elders, learning about the history of your local area is essential to understanding the significance of place/country. This is a wonderful opportunity to join school community with local community in understanding about the unique culture of Australia.
The significance of the environment and our debt to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is an important part of children understanding and respecting our natural surrounds. It will stimulate thought-provoking questions about how we can give back to the land.
The children’s book Young Dark Emu by Bruce Pascoe and for younger students, Day Break by Amy McGuire, are good starting places for conversations. However, the first place should always be by consultation and collaboration with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people of your area.
Benefits of sustainability teaching and dance
Bush Kinder program founder, Doug Fargher, sees children empowered to move and create in the nature space in nongendered ways. This encourages children to respond to stimulus as their most natural selves.
Alien spaces encourage children to play and explore movement without society stereotypical expectations. And in turn, focusing on sustainability in dance, often results in teachers offering non-stereotypical stimulus for dance exploration.
It connects students with their community through engaging with a broader view of where they live: its history, present and future.
Through play based and project-based learning design, students develop critical and future thinking. They achieve this as they explore and discover new ways of living in their world.
But more significantly, it encourages respect for their environment and for the indigenous Australians who are the custodians of the land.
Ideas for Dance education for sustainability
Your local park, piece of bushland, or even natural features of your playground at school are great starting points for dance exploration. Ensure that you have a safe dance talk. Closely supervise children throughout their time outside.
Writing down the answers to these guiding questions is a great way of gathering evidence about the children’s choreographic processes. It also starts them writing about dance through a very personal rationale for what they are about to create.
Initial guiding questions:
Write down what you see.
What you hear.
And what you smell.
What you feel (textures).
As you move through the land what do you notice that is different from working inside?
How does your body have to react differently? Your balance? Different body parts? Weight? Use of Space? Distance between you and objects in your environment?
How do the plants communicate with you?
Are you listening differently?
What are you doing instinctively…without thinking?
Are you breathing differently?
How will your dance piece benefit this environment?
What is important for your dance piece to say about this environment?
What ideas did you come up with about sustainable living as a result of this dance?
How did your dance piece benefit the environment? This could be a persuasive writing or speaking opportunity. The children may use analytical and persuasive skills to advocate effectively for sustainability.
As an extension activity, the students could develop a class sustainability project in response to the initial dance exploration.
Dance in our environment is an enriching learning experience for your students and a way to introduce diverse approaches to choreography, performance and responding in dance. Dance Teaching Ideas has several Free Lesson ideas that link to nature and that are appropriate for a range of age groups.