Blog:  “Principals & Teachers–Where Are the Dance Elements?”

June 1, 2024


Brenda Pugh McCutchen


dance studio posters, dance literacy, dance education, dance resources, dance posters

With “literacy” an imperative in K-12–and “holistic learning” a hallmark of education, why aren’t school principals paying more attention to what’s displayed on the walls in the dance class and lab? It’s surprising that so many classrooms do not display the elements of dance as the basic reference for all aspects of teaching and learning in dance.


The elements of dance are as basic to dance education as the periodical table of chemical elements is to the chemistry lab or as essential a tool as the musculoskeletal charts are to learning those systems in biology lab.  The dance elements are the constant reference points in all of dance education.


In every dance classroom the most significant vocabulary that addresses human movement is found under the categories of body, space, time, energy, and relationships (known as BSTER). Even dance’s artistic processes depend on this vocabulary in order for one to effectively create, to perform, to respond, and to connect. The elements are indispensable to understanding the core concepts and the fullest dimensions of movement that are the building blocks of every aspect of dance.


Dance is “the art of human movement” –not the art of steps, patterns, and sequences. Too many students are only taught steps and sequences.  Too many are illiterate about the motional body in space, about the interplay of time and energy in dance, and how relationship builds the connections that let us grasp the abstract meaning that a dance conveys.  How can students connect all aspects of human movement in ways that transform every-day pedestiran movement into dance movement if they don’t own the universal BSTER vocabulary?


Teach Dance, dance education, dance literacy, dance posters, studio postersThe under-educated student in dance is the one who identifies codified moves such as plie, chassee, and ronde de jambe but not the movement elements of dance’s main vocabulary.  It is this student who is deprived of dance’s universally accepted language even though s/he may be a showcase performer.  If “movement sequences” are all one experiences, s/he will miss the very conceptual vocabulary needed to intelligently speak about dance, create dance and describe it.  Without a conceptual language to think about dance and to understand dance any further than one’s limited exposure to steps and sequences, “education” is missing from “dance education.”  Are we unintentionally omitting the very language needed for our students to be literate in and about dance?  Are we so steeped in perfecting certain “moves” that we accidentally create a generation of illiterate dancers?


This article calls on all professors, principals, fine arts coordinators, and dance specialists to ensure that dance elements are in daily use in every dance classroom and studio across America so that the elements’ movement vocabulary is embedded into the language and understanding of all who study dance from kindergarten through college.


Many sources exist to find the dance elements.  Seek them out in order to ensure your students acquire a universal movement language for dance (which applies to all genres of dance and all styles). Make your own charts.  Elements of dance are easily found in creative dance and dance education textbooks because both emphasize the elements as the basic movement vocabulary and as the basic conceptual vocabulary.


It may seem like a small matter—whether or not the dance elements are posted in the dance lab and used–but without dance’s key words present to be readily incorporated into daily instruction, the temptation returns to speak about dance in terms of “movements” instead of the art of “movement.”


The dance elements are essential to learning about moving the body (such as shape, focus, gestures, postures, and basic steps).

Dancers must learn more about space than where they are placed.  Spatial literacy requires a functional understanding of the use of level and direction, air patterns as well as floor patterns, and how “range” is different from “distance” in dance.

Not only must dancers count beats in measures.  They must grasp how to modulate time in the form of tempo, pulse, accent, pattern, duration, phrasing, and rhythm.  They must understand the different concepts to create effective dances.

Mindfulness of energy, which is the lifeblood of the dance, is often lacking.  (All the dances maintain the same dynamic and look alike.)  But when energy is broadly understood dancers understand how to mix elements like texture and dynamics, force (and how it differs from strength), flow, attack, qualities, and the Laban Effort Actions.

Body, space, time, energy are considered the universal movement elements, but dance education also includes relationship because of its importance in turning human movement into dance movement, which is necessary to elevate dance to an art form.

When educational dance makes clear to dancers the need to relate to each other and to space, artfully relate to props and to an audience, to align with the accompaniment and the choreography as part of the significant dance elements, the results are integrative and holistic, and usually artistic.


  • The dance elements in these five categories enable high school classes to discuss and critique dance works as an essential part of their education.
  • The dance elements in these five categories enable middle school classes to understand technique in terms of movement, not just as “moves.”
  • The dance elements in these five categories enable elementary students to explore and experiment with aspects of movement during creative dance to learn how their own body moves as a precursor to learning how to turn it into an effective instrument of expression by creating dances with the elements.
  • The dance elements are the basis of dance literacy. Unless we dance teachers systematically use the dance elements vocabulary, sadly we are responsible for keeping our students illiterate in dance.*


We might let principals off the hook because their own K-12 experience may not have included holistic educational dance. In that case they may be unaware of how necessary and integrative movement-based concepts are to dance instruction and learning. They may mistakenly assume that dance is comprised of steps, patterns, and sequences, too.  If so, it’s time to educate our principals about the scope of human movement and how it must be harnessed for educational dance.  This article should put all readers on notice–principals included–that the dance elements are the concepts on which any respectable dance program must be built. If a working dance elements vocabulary is not an essential language applied in your dance classroom, studio, or school, then next school year provides the best opportunity to make this positive change! When you do this, do it for the sake of dance literacy. Do it for the sake of expanding dance appreciation in the schools. Do it for the educational respectability of your program.  Do it to advocate for “educational” dance.  Do this for the basic education of your students.



*Note to dance specialists:  As you set up your classroom this semester consider the impact the elements have on learning, literacy, and all who enter your room.  Before placing your inspirational posters, save a central location for instructional posters like the dance elements, so that all explanations and movements may draw on this vocabulary.  Continue to do good work.  And let us know if we can help.



Brenda Pugh McCutchen, M.F.A. Dance, is the author of Teaching Dance as Art in Education (2006: Human Kinetics).  As a former dance professor and arts administrator, her work in teacher training and curriculum design are sought after world-wide.  Her trademark is quality and substance in the classroom, the kind that transforms children’s lives and their understanding of dance as art and human expression.  Her teacher-effectiveness resources are found at Dance Curriculum Designs, USA.