By Dr Heather Blasdale-Clarke, Australian Dance Historian, www.colonialdance.com.au
As the new school year begins, time poor teachers around Australia are trying to develop new and engaging lessons for their students. Covering all elements of Australian Curriculum can be time consuming! The Arts are a wonderful way to make lessons interesting while covering valuable components of Humanities and Social Sciences content.
Here are some reasons why you should be using dance to teach about history in your classroom.
- Dance shows how people lived.
Dancing has always been integral to all cultures. At different times and in different cultures, dance reflects the nature of society at the time— the values, attitudes, philosophies, social customs, and fashions.
In the British Isles and Australia, dancing was embedded in the social life of the community. Without any of the technologies of the modern world such as radio, television, mobile phones, and the internet, dancing was a fundamental way to meet, socialise, and celebrate. It was one of the most popular forms of recreation.
Before the Industrial Revolution, the English had a reputation as fine dancers. The development of the English country dance in the 1600s was an innovation which spread throughout the British Isles and Europe, forming the basis of many folk dances still danced today.
People danced in ballrooms, pubs, at home, in the streets and in the fields. They danced at grand events, at fairs, at weddings, at harvests, and as a fun everyday activity. It was a happy way to forget the cares of life in a non-competitive, inclusive way, releasing surplus energy and pent up emotions.
It allowed everyone to participate and supported creativity, artistry and improvisation. It had the power to unify a community by bringing them together in a harmonious activity.
- Dance celebrates the significant events in history.
English country dances are special as they celebrated significant events, important places, popular plays, and famous people. The many published collections of dances depict the social history of the time.
By studying these dances, the history of the period unfolds – from Captain Cook’s viewing of the Transit of Venus, through to the First Fleet sailing to Botany Bay, these noteworthy events were celebrated in dance.
3. Dance tell us more than just the history.
The dances capture the way people relaxed and played; it gives an insight into their feelings and cultural values. English country dance was described as the most social form of dance: everyone has a partner, and every couple interacts with all the other participants. The dancers rely on each other to perform the figures as all need to join hands and move together.
The style of the dance mirrors a philosophy which was current in the pre-industrial world—the importance of the group over the individual. These dances show how people worked together in changing times.
4. Dance creates a tangible link to another world.
Dance can enliven the study of history. It can evoke the experience of another culture, another time, by engaging in the physical activity which was a key source of recreation. Dance provides a unique way to be immersed in history—it brings to life the stories of the past in an unparalleled way and gives an insight into how people celebrated and were revitalised. The link to cultural heritage can provide a sense of identity and community; it is associated with social inclusion, wellbeing, and having an enjoyable and meaningful life.
What are the benefits of dancing for school children?
Not only is dancing a great way to learn about history in the Australian Curriculum, the latest research confirms that it has many other benefits:
- promotes pupils’ holistic development, wellbeing and motivation to learn at school.
- has positive effects on learning—challenging and versatile forms of physical activity appear to be the best way to boost cognitive performance.
- combines physical activity, expression of feelings, social interaction and cultural participation.
- helps build children’s confidence and self esteem.
- develops social skills.
- has a positive effect on social interaction, group spirit and sense of empowerment in groups, especially where pupils do not have a common spoken language.
- can play a useful role in preventing mental problems and social exclusion among children and teenagers.
- Rather than individualistic competitive achievement, it focuses on cooperation and group cohesion.
- Avoids the valuation, comparisons and competitiveness connected to physical education. Such comparisons may lead to a negative perception of one’s physical competence and can reduce the motivation for movement and exercise.
- Encourages freedom of expression not available in other activities.
Looking for fast, simple and creative ways to implement the Australian Curriculum in your classroom? A series of Dance eBooks that do the dance lesson planning work for you are coming soon!
Buckland, T. (2006). Dancing from past to present: nation, culture, identities. Madison, Wis: The University of Wisconsin Press.
McFarland, E. (2015). Dance & Museums Working Together Symposium Retrieved from The Horniman Museum and Gardens: http://www.trinitylaban.ac.uk/sites/default/files/dance_museums_symposium_report_final_pdf.pdf