International Dance Day, held on 29th April each year, is an important day for dancers across the globe. It presents an opportunity to highlight dance and the contribution that it makes to our lives.
In Primary schools International Dance Day is a great time to foreground dance as a part of your school community. You can do this by to introducing new dance initiatives in the school, having professional development that encourages the use of dance as a part of everyday teaching or just to get students and teachers moving.
Dance is not just an art form but an essential component of cultural expression in most countries.
History of International Dance Day
Created in 1982, by the Dance Committee of the International Theatre partner for the performing arts of UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization) to increase the profile of dance as an art form, it has come to represent much more over the years. It is seen as a way of bringing people from across the world together through the common language of dance.
The date was chosen to acknowledge the birth in 1927 of Jean-Georges Noverre, a pioneer of modern ballet. A French dancer and choreographer, sometimes referred to as the ‘Shakespeare of dance’, is considered to be the creator of ballet d’action. This was the precursor to narrative ballets.
How is International Dance Day celebrated?
Throughout its history, International Dance Day has been denoted by a written address by a prominent dance person. These addresses are inspirational.
Each of the addresses highlights the impact of dance and its importance in our world. Some of the dancers who have been invited to contribute include Trish Brown (2017), Akram Khan (2009), Kathryn Dunham (2002), Stephen Page (20014), Maguy Marin (1993), and Robert Joffery (1995).
Carmen Amaya, Valeska Gert, Suzushi Hanayagi, Michael Jackson…I see them as energygenerating turbines and this makes me think about the importance of choreography on that energy of the dancer.
The important thing is probably not the choreography, but specifically that energy, the whirlwind which it triggers. I imagine a Tesla coil attracting them all and emitting a healing ray and causing a metamorphosis in their bodies: Pina Bausch as a praying mantis, Raimund Hoghe converted into a dung beetle, Vicente Escudero into a stick insect and even Bruce Lee into a centipede. An extract from Israel Galván (2015 International Dance Day message)
This year’s message is by ballet dancer, Friedemann Vogel.
Each year a Gala Event is held in different places around the globe. Many different styles of dance are celebrated and the contexts in which they are performed. In 2017 in Shanghai the celebration was held over three days and focused on education with many workshops and presentations highlighting inclusive dance for people of all abilities.
This year’s event will be held online due to COVID 19 but will be accessible for your school to view. Follow International Dance Day on Facebook to stay up to date with event details.
Why is it important?
Dance is important as it promotes emotional and physical wellbeing while engaging people cognitively. It tells stories about our past present and future, communicating other perspectives on issues that cover the deeply personal lived experience through to social activism.
Dance is a form of pleasure, stress relief, exercise and leisure. Providing creative ways to communicate and express what may be difficult to put in words.
It is a vehicle that can be used to integrate other areas of the curriculum and while encouraging students to have fun learning is not just for fun. Imaginative and informative, dance encourages students to be persistent, creative, resilient, and empathetic.
Dance is also a way for teachers to model and express their own creativity as they lead learning activities that teach about dance. Teachers can use dance to teach children to engage with their mind, body, and spirit.
Dancing is about being in the moment. It’s about listening to the scope of sensations and allowing that listening to become the fuel of all feelings, forms, and content. Extract from Ohad Naharin, Israel Choreographer, artistic director of Batsheva Dancane Compy, creator of the GAGA movement language (2018).
How can we reflect on dance?
International Dance Day is a time to reflect on just how dance impacts our life culturally. It is a chance to observe dance in its many forms and experience the joy of dance. The advocacy for making, performing, and watching movement is a crucial part of our culture.
Remember that anyone can dance. All you have to do is push back the furniture, put on your favourite music and enjoy the sensation of moving your body.
In this day and age where connection & connectivity have taken on new meanings and where we are at our lowest point in our ability to connect… Dance remains to be the most sought-after action to help us re-establish that lost connection.
Dance brings us back to our roots, in the cultural sense but also in the most immediate sensory, personal, individual, down to the core and heart way, whilst still enabling us to be social animals. For it is when we connect with ourselves when we listen to our inner rhythm, that we are really able to establish a connection with others and communicate. Extract from Karima MANSOUR, Egypt Dancer, Choreographer & Educator (2019)
Ideas for celebrating International Dance Day in your Primary school
There are many ways to celebrate International Dance Day and it doesn’t just have to be just a single day. You might like to instigate a ‘Dance Week’, where dance is celebrated across a whole week in many forms.
Taking your class to a dance performance or bringing one to your school is a good way of sharing how dance looks professionally or in your broader community. This performance may be by professional artists or a local dance studio or cultural group. Try to include an audience engagement strategy with these visits, where the artists lead a dance workshop or activity before or after the performance.
A sharing of dance work that has been created in the school is another way to celebrate. Each class presents a piece of their own choreography or a performance of teacher-devised dance.
This may be quite informal with everyone doing a whole group warmup together at the beginning of the showing. You may even have some dance work you have filmed throughout the year to show the other classes.
Invite an artist in residence for the week to lead workshops and choreographic activities with several classes across a year level or the whole school. Dance artists may be comfortable working in a number of dance styles and it certainly leads to dance being very visible in the school.
Invite your local Indigenous community to perform dance in your school or to lead workshops. This embeds the significance of dance from a history, cultural, and futures perspective.
Have a week of ‘dance parties’ at lunchtime in your school hall. This can be very informal and demonstrates the social aspects of dance.
Organise a flash mob of dancers to turn up in unexpected places throughout the school during the day. This could be from one class, multiple classes or by multi-year level volunteers who have rehearsed prior to 29th April.
Keep the choreography simple. The performances can be done in any dance style and in any place, on assembly, outside a classroom, at morning tea or lunch, during a Brain Break, ANYTIME! The more unexpected the better.
You may choose to do a dance activity with your class. Here are some suggestions.
Dance Activity 1
Have the children create a dance that represents the sentiments of the International Day address in a particular year. Here is an example of two of the addresses that may be useful for this activity.
Stephen Page 2004
“Dance is the original most ancient form of human expression. Through the body and physical language, dance has a powerful connection with the emotional and spiritual worlds.
In traditional Aboriginal culture, dance is the core, like a kind of sacred medicine. Dance is grounded, connected to the spirit of Mother Earth. Unless you surrender to the dance you can’t hunt quietly. It is an integral part of human existence.
When I create a new dance work I ask the dancers to swallow and digest the traditional seed, to sense the innate code within so that we can transform the traditional essence to the contemporary world.
Dance is the universal language. It represents human identity and a celebration of the human spirit. Dance is the artistic heart of kinship. It is a sacred universal remedy.”
Mats Ek 2003
“What is dance? If you answer that, you are not trustworthy. But let me try, anyway: Dance is thinking with your body.
Is it necessary to think with your body? Not for survival, perhaps, but for living. There are so many thoughts that only the body can think. Other things, like peace, might be more important than dance. But then we will need dance to celebrate peace. And to exorcise the demons of war, like Nijinsky did. Emma Goldman, the anarchist, maybe said it best: A revolution that does not allow me to dance, is not worth fighting for.
The god Shiva created the universe with his dance. But dance is the opposite to all divine pretensions. Dance is an everlasting attempt, like writing in water. Dance is not life, but it keeps alive all the little things that the big thing is made of.”
Dance Activity 2
Using this poem, by Lemi Ponifasio, the 2016 International Dance Day address author, as an example, have the children create a poem about dance and choreograph a movement piece to accompany it.
touch the cosmos
the source of our divinity
the face of the ancestors
so we can see our children woven
above beside below
unite all within
and bones and memory
the Earth is turning
humans in mass migration
turtles gather in silent preparation
the heart is injured
a movement of love
a movement of justice
the light of truth
Dance art is not separated from reality and the everyday life of people. It is connected with all that inspires people with what they expect and wish, what they are afraid of, what they dislike, what they love and what they are searching for. In the future, we will take advantage of all the possibilities we have to keep peace, to ensure social progress and to bring people closer to each other through human ideals. Extract from Dr. Henrik Neubauer International Dance Day message (1982)
Take advantage of this special day to really celebrate dance. Move, watch, and talk about dance and let your students know about the happiness that comes from dance.
Make International Dance Day a much looked-forward to event on your school calendar.