Deirdre Moore | October 2013

BEST: An Integrated Teaching of the Elements of Dance

Are you interested in bringing dance into your classroom with an integrated approach but you’re just not sure where to start?  Take a look at BEST: Body, Energy, Space and Time.  By looking at each of those 4 dance elements, you may find some natural points of integration with core content.  By teaching the two concepts concurrently you may just deepen student understanding of both dance and the core content area!

B – Body:  the various parts of the body and how they move and the two basic movements dancers can do with their bodies: those that keep a dancer in one place connected to the floor (axial) and those that move the dancer off the floor and/or through general space (locomotor).

It’s easy to see a connection between health and science and “body” in dance by examining body parts, both external and internal, and how they move.  For example, dancers contract and release their core muscles to create a curve in the torso just as the heart muscle contracts and releases to circulate the blood through the body.

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Axial movement for a dancer keeps the dancer moving in one place.  Spinning is an example of axial movement since the dancer keeps one body part connected to the floor (a head, hand, back, knee, foot, etc.) and maintains contact with that same spot as the dancer moves.  A connection can be made to the rotation of the earth not only in the movement but in the root of the words axial and axis.  The rotation of the Earth on its axis brings night and day to Earth but does not move the Earth around the sun.  The revolution of Earth around the sun would be a locomotor movement.

E – Energy:  including force/effort and the quality of movement.  Force and effort also relate easily to science.   Students can perform different movements and notice how much force and effort was needed for each.  When we describe the energy or the quality of the movement in a dance observed or performed we use adjectives and adverbs (smooth/smoothly, sharp/sharply, bouncy/bouncily) which connects beautifully to descriptive language in writing.

S – Space:  There are SO many aspects of dance related to space.  Here are just a few and some elegant core connections.

Relationship of dancers to one another and to objects – prepositions in language arts.
Shape – math.
Level and Size – represent bar graphs by students standing at different levels (low, middle, high), representing growth in plants and showing where on a plant different parts are located, representing characters in a story (3 bears with Goldilocks or 3 Billy Goats Gruff showing distinction between characters)

T – Time: speed of movement and rhythm.  Conservation of time an be taught by having students choose a point of origin and giving them a specific number of beats by which they need to return to that point.  Understanding opposites of fast and slow and how tempo affects feeling and meaning.  Time connects nicely with fractions – performing the same movements in half the time (and how that affects the tempo of the movement), demonstrating different rhythms physically and physicalizing the difference between music written in various time signatures.

While this short list of ideas barely scratches the surface of the infinite possibilities for connections between dance and other core content, perhaps it provides a jumping off point or an inspiration for further investigation.  Hang a poster of these elements in your classroom, teach them to your students, and see where even just a basic understanding  of these elements can start to build connections to and a deeper understanding of other subject area content.

About the Author

Deirdre is a teaching artist and AI coach in the San Diego public schools dedicated to helping classroom teachers make arts an integral part of their teaching. Deirdre has an MEd in Arts Integration and over twenty years of classroom and performing arts teaching experience. Email Deirdre.