Keys To Developing Dance Literacy

=Part 1 in a series=

 
 Keys to unlock dance literacy are found in holistic models of dance education.  One holistic and adaptable model proposes that six defining characteristics explain and guide dance content and instruction in K-12. Successful implementation in K-12 depends on these characteristics also permeating dance education teacher certification programs.  The 6DC model of educational dance is an acronym for “six defining characteristics.”  Each characteristic activates a significant aspect of dance as it should exist in education.  Until all six are actively engaged the curriculum will be insufficient and student learning will be incomplete. 

 

This article spotlights two of the six characteristics in order to shed light on why they are essential to a complete dance education and as well as to literacy acquisition.     

 

 “Comprehensive and Substantive”

 (Characteristics 1 & 2)

COMPREHENSIVE

 

The first defining characteristic at the core of a complete K-12 dance curriculum is this:  content and instruction must 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 1) wide range of dance skills alongside 2) students’ growing understanding of dance as an art and vital mode of human expression.  To be comprehensive, teach a variety of dance styles so that by high school the variations within styles may be explored.

 

Comprehensive dance teaching and learning cultivates competencies in all four cornerstones of the dance discipline itself.  Students thus build diverse skills

  1. as a dancer-performer
  2. as a creator-choreographer
  3. as a dance historian-cultural anthropologist
  4. as an analyst-critic

The cornerstone disciplines provide the content which supports each of dance’s artistic processes for a complete education.  One cornerstone motivates skill acquisition for performing.  Two activates concepts and skills necessary for creating. Three provides the context for connecting aspects of dance meaningfully to varied aspects of dance as well as other areas.  Four sharpens skills for responding.  To activate creative and critical thinking skills in all four cornerstone is tantamount to becoming dance literate and to meeting new  core arts standards in dance (2014).

 


“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


 

To be 21st century citizens requires breadth and scope in all academic subjects which includes the arts.  Dance cannot abdicate a role in creating world citizens who understand the impact of each of the arts on the world.  It behooves educators to keep in mind that dance literacy grows from understanding the breadth of dance styles in the dance discipline and their impact across cultures and over centuries.  To focus study on isolated styles at the expense of a broad perspective robs students of insights into dance diversity and artistic expression.  That is why “comprehensive” is the first defining characteristic of a well-rounded, holistic education in dance.

 

SUBSTANTIVE

 

The second defining characteristic at the core of content and instruction is this:   “substantive” – content that is rich and deep, inspiring and stimulating, and challenging.  Phrases that convey “substantive” are “content worth knowing,” and “skills worth acquiring.”  The pursuit of substance drives educators to discover the depth of dance’s mega ideas so students experience them in consistently 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, technique is but the tip of the educational iceberg. Individuals must also increase use of anatomical terms as they advance, apply principles of kinesiology to injury prevention, and begin to engage somatic awareness.

 

If students are to acquire a holistic education in dance, we must immerse them in the challenging complexities of the creative process, the critical thinking process, the performing process, and the inquiry process.  To skim the surface is not an option. As students experience diverse forms of dance, explored from each viewpoint (i.e., as a dancer, choreographer, historian, and critic) they acquire–from the challenging aspects of this art form –the enriched perspective needed for literacy.

 

The search for rich content drives teachers to make or to select the finest dance literacy resources to motivate the depth and complexity needed for a rich study of dance and inquiry.  One trusted source is the substantive text, Teaching Dance as Art in Education (Human Kinetics, 2006), the dance education resource which introduced the 6 DC Model of Educational Dance.  The text details a comprehensive, substantive dance curriculum from kindergarten through twelfth grade.  (Click here to view the table of contents (add hyperlink to TDAE).

 

COMPREHENSIVE AND SUBSTANTIVE–SYNERGETIC CHARACTERISTICS

 

These two characteristics provide breadth (↔) and depth (↑↓).  The synergy between results from deliberately selecting comprehensive content that is worth knowing in-depth.  Students benefit from sharpening skills as they gain a broad perspective.   To the extent that dance content is as rich as it is broad, literacy results.  One way to accomplish this to tie technique class into a major performance work that demonstrates the techniques to create a historical context (present or past) and also engaging students in analyzing and critiquing the technique.  Units built around a major work also provide the context for choreographic analysis and critique.  This is one way we advance students to the type of literacy which is both expansive and useful–known as “fluency.”

 


 “Fluency is the ability to correlate and use the cornerstones to benefit each other.”    –Teaching Dance as Art in Education, p. 402


 

How else do we get students from literacy to fluency by aiming for broad and deep?  One way is to enroll them in all the artistic processes, by interweaving the roles of dancer, choreographer, historian, and critic.  That is what enables students to experience how one role informs the other.   Such a crisscross pattern enables them to weave their own three-dimensional perspective of dance.  When one role illuminating the others,  literate learners begin to grasp the interdependent relationship between the varied roles which leads them toward “dance fluency.”  Fluency is a goal if arts education because it fosters agency and personal empowerment in the discipline (in this case, dance).

 

At the core of a comprehensive and substantive curriculum stand the Elements of Dance.  The elements–as dance’s conceptual language and also its movement framework–make literacy and fluency possible.  (The Elements are the subject of other articles on this site.)   However, the elements are a foreign language in some dance education classes which rely solely on dance terminology (frappe, glissade, ronde de jambe).  Unfortunately, those dancers are illiterate because they can only speak about specific codified moves instead of the whole of body movement as it relates to space and time and energy.  Dance literacy is the ability to know and use the dance elements as universal language.  It is imperative that every day students speak the elements language and teachers invest in the best tools to emblazon the elements into the soul and psyche through daily practice. Because dance literacy is impossible without this language, it is worth the time to create or select resources that ensure literacy and fluency.

 

One place to find 6DC certified teacher resources is Dance Curriculum Designs LLC.  Resources such as dance posters solidify core concepts needed for dance literacy.  Dance Element’s posters, for example, are a viable way to keep basic skills in front of students day in and day out so they absorb the vocabulary with which they will dance, perform, create, compose, describe, analyze, and critique.  This language is as essential today as it is tomorrow.

 

Other comprehensive and substantive dance education resources on this site are designed for holistic education and literacy.  Examples of additional 6DC certified resources:

 

  • Teaching Dance as Art in Education  (Human Kinetics 2006).  Dance educators worldwide use this textbook to establish comprehensive and substantive dance programs in K-12.  It explains key aspects of teaching, child development, and comprehensive, substantive curriculum.  It shows teachers how to facilitate a 6 DC Model of Educational Dance to achieve arts education goals and standards.
  • Dance Curriculum Designs LLC’s comprehensive, substantive resources instill dances’ mega ideas.  Rather than leave dance literacy to chance, teachers use them to interpret dance’s key concepts and to stimulate creative responses. Lesson plans are enhanced with such reliable, quality resources at teachers’ fingertips:
    • Instructional posters  emphasize dance’s mega ideas for dance literacy as well as pose essential questions for substantive dance inquiry
    • Teaching Toolkits  fast-track dance literacy by ensuring no vital concepts are omitted.  The stimulating resources contain content-rich, core concepts worth investigating.  Focus charts illuminate the core concepts by quickly decoding complex material. When used with the kits’ creative “prompts” students are energetically launched into the roles of choreographer and critic before they know it.  Well over a hundred teaching items ensure substantive learning in dance.  We do the work, you take the credit.  It is okay by us.

 

Why leave dance literacy to chance? 

Start each week with the resolve to increase the pace of learning in dance.

By Brenda Pugh McCutchen

Dance Curriculum Designs LLC

www.dancecurriculumdesigns.com

December 3, 2013