DANCE EDUCATION BLOG:
“ KEYS TO DEVELOPING DANCE LITERACY”
By Brenda Pugh McCutchen
Dance Curriculum Designs LLC
December 3, 2013
=Part 1 in a series=
Keys to dance literacy are rooted in the 6 DC Model of Educational Dance. This model proposes that six defining characteristics (6 DC) be at the heart of dance content and instruction in K-12. These characteristic should also permeate dance education in higher education. Each of the six defining characteristics brings a significant aspect of the dance discipline to one’s education. Without all six fully functional, curriculum is incomplete and student learning is incomplete. Let’s spotlight two of the characteristics to see why they are essential to a complete dance education… and to dance literacy.
“Comprehensive and Substantive”
(Characteristics 1 & 2)
One defining characteristic at the core of a complete K-12 dance curriculum is that content and instruction be “comprehensive” – that is, broad, inclusive, and diverse. Two phrases that encapsulate comprehensive curriculum are “far-reaching content” and “wide variety of skills.” The quest for broad content and skills in dance education drive teachers to develop a wide range of dance skills alongside students’ growing understanding of dance as a vital art and mode of human expression. To be comprehensive, teachers explore a variety of dance genres so that by high school their stylistic variations may be explored.
Comprehensive dance teaching and learning cultivates competencies in the very cornerstones of the dance discipline. Students build basic and refined skills
- as a dancer and performer
- as a creator and choreographer
- as a dance historian and cultural anthropologist
- as an analyst and critic
To activate creative and critical thinking skills in these four cornerstone disciplines is one key to becoming dance literate.
“To deliver a comprehensive program, teachers use numerous ways to invite learners to move, dance, create, critique, edit, refine, study, perform, label, and reflect. Through such a wide range of experiences, we build dance literate students.”
—Teaching Dance as Art in Education, page 9
Another defining characteristic at the core of content and instruction is “substantive” – content that is rich and deep, inspiring, stimulating, and challenging. Phrases that convey “substantive” are “content worth knowing,” and “skills worth acquiring.” The search for substance drives us to explore dance’s mega ideas and concepts in depth so learners grasp them from having experienced them in numerous, inspiring ways. “A substantive dance program [contains] stimulating, content-rich subject matter worthy of study, thought, and investigation. It brings students into the complexity of the subject matter.”1
Learning to dance is but one part of this broad, rich spectrum. If movement is to become a viable expressive medium, individuals must learn more than positions, steps, and sequences. That is why we must see technique as only the tip of the educational iceberg. Learners must also increase use of anatomical terms, engage somatic awareness when they dance as they advance and apply principles of kinesiology to movement and also to injury prevention.
“Teachers engage students deeply—physically, mentally, and aesthetically—to explore movement. …. Substantive educational dance rigorously challenges students to reach for academic, aesthetic, and kinetic achievements.”
—Teaching Dance as Art in Education, page 10
The search for rich content drives teachers to select the finest dance literacy resources to activate the depth and complexity needed for a complete education in dance. Their goal becomes to steep learners in the creative process, critical thinking, performing, and inquiry. Teachers ask students to experience diverse forms of dance as well as to explore them from each viewpoint (i.e., as a dancer, choreographer, historian, and critic). They delve into the challenging aspects of this art form with increasing complexity so learners develop the rich perspective that drives literacy. Therefore, to acquire sufficient depth in each viewpoint is another essential key to developing dance literacy.
The dance resource which introduced the 6 DC Model of Educational Dance was Teaching Dance as Art in Education. That is the text that details the comprehensive, substantive dance curriculum from kindergarten through twelfth grade–one which consistently builds dance literacy and fluency. If unfamiliar with its content, click here for an overview.
COMPREHENSIVE AND SUBSTANTIVE–SYNERGETIC CHARACTERISTICS BETWEEN THE TWO
To the extent that content is as rich as it is broad, students increase dance literacy. The synergy of these two defining characteristics results in curriculum content worth knowing which is also experienced in depth. For example, to become a dance performer who is also steeped in the choreographic processes and is also a knowledgeable dance historian and astute critic creates a powerful dynamic for that performer. Such a rich perspective informs his or her dancing by offering the breadth of experience and depth of perspective needed for the kind of true literacy which is expansive and useful.
To consistently integrate the perspectives of dancer, choreographer, historian, and critic with each other is what essentially illuminates the educated dancer. By continually cross-referencing one perspective to the other develops the artist who becomes nimble at each and skilled at letting one perspective infomr the other. Learners who relate to dance through all these perspectives tend to grasp intricate interrelationships which develop an advanced level of dance literacy called “dance fluency.” Fluency is a goal in all forms of arts education because it fosters agency and personal empowerment in the discipline (in this case, dance).
“Fluency is the ability to correlate and use the cornerstones to benefit each other.”
—Teaching Dance as Art in Education, page 402
At the foundation of a comprehensive and substantive curriculum stands the Dance Elements which break out the medium of human movement as it relates to:
The elements are essential to understanding dance and communicating about it in universal terms. They are also “abc’s” of movement and dance’s main vocabulary rolled into one. It is the elements whichy enable us to communicate cognitively, kinesthetically, and artistically about dance as movement. Because the elements are dance’s core skills and its common language, dance literacy is impossible without a grasp of them. Why are elements so fundamental to a comprehensive curriculum? Why would they be considered foundational to a substantive curriculum?
- The body is our instrument.
- Movement in space is our medium.
- Time is our organizational structure.
- Energy is our power.
- Relationship is our expressive component.
Dance literacy falls flat without a dance elements vocabulary that
- describes dance movement,
- creates dance movements,
- learns about dance, and
- analyzes, critiques, and refines the movement in a dance.
Is it possible for dance’s mega ideas to result in enduring understanding without the elements permeating all aspects of the curriculum? I think not.
Dance Curriculum Designs LLC creates dance posters to solidify core concepts needed for dance literacy at all ages. Dance Element’s Posters, for example, are one viable way to keep basic skills and concepts in front of students day in and day out. That is how they absorb the vocabulary with which they will dance, perform, create, compose, describe, analyze, and critique. If we fail to immerse learners in a dance elements language, we can’t fully justify a place for our curriculum in K-12, mainly because its students are illiterate in movement, the medium of dance, which is basic to their understanding of dance as art in education. This fundamental movement language is as essential tomorrow as it is today.
The quest for broad content and skills drives teachers to search for the most comprehensive and substantive dance education resources. Quality resources with the essential concepts, skills, and competencies exist for someone willing to search them out. Examples of 6 DC resources that enhance quality dance education:
- Teaching Dance as Art in Education is the foundation textbook that dance educators worldwide use to build comprehensive, substantive dance curriculum K-12. It explains the fundamental aspects of dance teacher preparation and certification in dance and in doing so, describes all the facets of the 6 DC Model of Educational Dance.
- National Dance Education Organization’s Online Store is an excellent source for selected quality dance education textbooks.
- Dance Curriculum Designs LLC creates comprehensive, substantive resources. Teachers rely on them to instill dance’s key concepts and spark creative responses. Lesson planning is better with such reliable resources as these:
- *6DC Certified* Instructional posters emphasize dance’s mega ideas, dance literacy, and essential questions for dance inquiry–all in formats that are easily absorbed. [See samples from the Dance Elements poster sets above.]
- *6DC Certified* Dance Literacy Toolkits fast-track clarity and learning. 6 DC Toolkits spark ongoing lesson plans that build dance’s big ideas through fool proof teaching prompts. They ensure nothing vital is omitted. Content-rich subject matter grows understanding, skills, and a universal vocabulary. Learners grasp dance’s key concepts and decode complex material quickly. Toolkits energize a classroom and empower learners as choreographers and critics to set them up to become dance fluent.
Why leave dance literacy to chance?
Start the new year with the resolve to increase the pace of learning in dance.
McCutchen, Brenda Pugh. 2006. Teaching Dance as Art in Education. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics. Quotes from pages 9, 10, 364, 402.