Tag Archives: dance

Moving Connections: My Work at Michael R. White

Positive classroom experiences are the foundation for creating a passion and love of learning for both students and teachers.

As a dance educator I often have some explaining to do when I begin a residency.  Since most teachers have only had experiences with visual artists, they often wonder how PAA could use dance as a means to teach science. Teachers are also often curious about motivating students to dance and how they make up their own movements. The reactions are mixed  at times ranging from “Ok, sounds fine”, to “Wow, this is exciting.” Working at Michael R. White elementary school for the first time and also working with a new and condensed schedule, my task was to integrate the standards with dance and movement in five sessions.

Working with young children can sometimes be like herding cats, but it gets easier once you get to know your dancers. I use modern technique and creative movement games as my main methods of instruction and attempt to relate them as closely to their studies as possible. One group  I worked with focused on different habitats and their respective inhabitants.


In one instance we used swinging motion to connect with the movement of an elephant’s trunk. Swinging their arms freely and lively as if they were in the savannah themselves, the kids seemed to grasp the movement concept right away. Sometimes it’s hard to tell if they’re getting the idea until much later in the residency, but this time it became readily apparent that they were obviously expert elephants and I had delightfully underestimated their pachyderm prowess. I just loved their eventual observations too. When I asked the class what their favorite movement was one boy eagerly remembered the swinging motion and shared that  doing it slowly made him feel like an elephant’s trunk in the savannah.  This particular boy doesn’t answer many questions in the classroom and is often out of his seat. I could tell by the way he explained his answer, the enthusiasm that he conveyed though his gestures and facial expression, that he really got the movement concept we were striving for. I think dancing and movement helped calm his mind and made him better able to connect with the material. That’s the kind of success I look for, and I couldn’t stop smiling.


Another group of students I worked with was the kindergarteners, and we danced about the features of the seasons. Talk about adorable! When we began they couldn’t stand in straight lines much less relate what science standard we were focusing on. By the fifth class though the vast majority knew all of the seasons and had learned new routines and movements. More importantly, the classroom teacher felt that dancing was a memorable experience for them, and it provided success for certain students who often struggled.


My favorite moments during residencies are the interactions that spark both personal and intellectual connection. The students love when the teachers join us in the circle to warm up or play our improvisation games. Watching students grasp concepts and demonstrate understanding through abstract interaction is invigorating. Students choreographing and being so excited that they want to teach their peers brings a true sense of joy to my heart.


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Dance Party in 3rd Grade

Every week in 3rd grade at Mound STEM School we start with a dance warm up! We’ve tackled Indian/Bollywood dance styles with “Jai Ho” or yoga-inspired contemporary movement with traditional Hawaiian tribal music, Cha-Cha Slide (one of the students’ favorites), and my personal favorites “Bounce” by Kelis and “Pumping Blood” by NONONO.  Each different dance warm up targets specific muscle and body-part groups that cultivate a new sense of physical awareness and how their body exists and manipulates in their personal space.   We work on creating and controlling our own personal bubble, within which we can dance as big or as little as we want.  I encourage them each week to bring their own personality and flair to the dance moves (“How low can you go?!” “Show me some attitude!”) so we can make connections between how to create and express physically and emotionally.  The dance warm up is the stepping stone into our physical theater/devising work around the butterfly life cycle and animal adaptations.  With their developing ability to work inside a safe and contained space bubble, students create statues of the insects and animals they are studying and work together to create interesting movement cycles as multi-functional parts of an animal machine.  Introducing these devising concepts with something as seemingly simple and approachable as a good pop dance warm up has enabled some students to find agency in their creative muscles and step forward as leaders in their group work.

Below: The bounce breakdown in “Bounce.”


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Too much force?

Three of my four classes this semester are first graders learning about force and motion.  At first I thought this was wonderful because I could combine my lesson plans and I would be working with the same ideas and there would be great continuity. Thinking again, I was worried and started to see a bit of stagnation in the lessons.  I needed to stay fresh in my approach in teaching these three classes.  Then something happened, a child in one of my classes said as we were walking to the gym for dance class, “this takes just a little energy.”  Her class is learning about energy and how it affects force and motion.  I realized that I had to relate the topic to myself and each class as an individual entity.  It was perfectly okay to do a little more with one group and a bit less with another.  It’s okay to use more force some times. (The little girl is in a class that gets a little more force and their dance is looking really good.)

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