Deirdre Moore | July 2014

Moving Matters: The Power of a Dance Vocabulary

For the past two years I have been involved in a grant that focuses on the integration of science and dance and I have loved every minute of it.  I feel like it is such a natural union and the teachers I have worked with have agreed.  They see enormous benefits, especially in the area of dance vocabulary with their ELL students.  So, when Susan Riley announced that this year’s Connectivity Conference would focus on STEAM I knew just what I wanted to propose as a session.  As of July 1, the session I created discussing that integration of science and dance called “Moving Matters” is available to be viewed for FREE as part of the pre-conference!

In my presentation I focus on the movement of particles in different states of matter and how to use the basic dance elements to help students embody those movements.  One recommendation I constantly make to teachers who are interested in an arts integrated approach to teaching is to have the elements of the various art forms hanging in the room once they have received training in those elements.  I stress this with teachers because I believe in the power and importance of language.  In college I read the novel A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin.

It is a young adult fantasy novel which preceded the Harry Potter series by about 30 years.  Now fantasy is not usually my thing but I found myself completely taken with this novel and one concept especially: that once you can name something you have power over that thing (in the case of Le Guin’s character it was his dark side).  By teaching children not only the various art forms but also the related dance vocabulary, by modeling the use of that dance vocabulary, and by surrounding the students with that dance vocabulary you are empowering your students on many levels.

When they experience an art form they are now going to notice more.  If they have an art experience they want to describe, they will have language to help capture and articulate that experience more fully.  And, if they want to create art, they have more tools available to them that they can intentionally manipulate to articulate themselves through that art form.

When it comes to dance, the acronym I like to use for the elements is BEST: Body, Energy, Space and Time.  Once teacher and student alike are familiar with those elements and they are posted for all to see, they can be used as a resource in discussion and in any art work created in that classroom.  If only the basic elements are listed when they are first introduced, as they students explore them, more terminology related to each element can be added creating an even richer resource for further art work and class discussion.

One teacher I worked with talked about how her class’ work with movement and movement dance vocabulary started to enrich the children’s written work and helped make their writing more descriptive.  Another talked about how much more observant her students were when they were reading stories and how much more engaged they were due to the new details they were noticing.

Language really is power and the more language we give our children, the more empowered they become.  If you are interested to hear more about how those basic dance elements can be used and explored through the movement of particles of solids, liquids and gases check out my pre-conference session “Moving Matters” and while you are there enjoy the other wonderful sessions being offered!  STEAM on!

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.