Deirdre Moore | October 2015

Dancing the Story: Integrating Art with Art

Usually when we talk about arts integration, we are talking about an art form being integrated with a traditional core subject area like language arts, mathematics, science or social studies.  But what about integrating art with art?  All of the art forms are so interconnected it is important that we not always divide them and teach them in isolation but provide opportunities for the different forms of art to be integrated with one another.

In Your Arms

Just recently, I had the pleasure of seeing the production In Your Arms, at the Old Globe Theater in San Diego. It was such a beautiful example of what can happen when artists of various forms create something together.  Producer Jennifer Manocherian and director/choreographer Christopher Gattelli decided to enlist the help of playwrights to create a dance show centered around the universal theme of love.  Of course, any musical is an amazing example of how integrating art with art works together – music, dialogue, dance, costumes, sets, lighting.

What I found particularly interesting about this dance-theater musical was that the stories created by the playwrights (10 vignettes in all) were told not through the words of the writers but rather by the movements created by the choreographer.  The dancers performing the movements never spoke, but their movements told the story.  The music was composed for this show as a score for a movie might be. A clever design for the set helped create a unity tying together all the stories spanning many times and places.

The online version of The Playbill quoted Gattelli talking about the response he received from the playwrights who worked on the project.  “The writers, he says, have told him ‘this was a gift to get to work on. There were stories they wanted to tell, and some of them, many of them, personal stories, but they never wanted to name the characters,’ so couples could be universal rather than specific. For In Your Arms, Gattelli says, those couples are just two people with a destiny in romance, and a destiny in dance.”

Where Does This Apply to Education?

Often, I’ve found the best way to inspire art-making in my students is through other art.  I’ve had first and second graders create symbols to represent sounds they determined conveyed certain moods or feelings.  Then, they wrote stories that involved those moods or feelings, and composed the corresponding score. As i narrated, they would then put on their performance. I’ve had kindergartners move to music, and create drawings to capture the feeling they had as they moved. My students left me amazed at their insight they revealed in their explanations of those pictures. Another project included students creating a tableaux based on pictures or illustrations and use that as a starting point for an improvised scene.

Last year a teacher of third and fourth graders wanted to try a project with her 3/4 combination class. So, I created a series of lesson that started the students responding to contrasting music pieces with drawing.  Next the students generated descriptive words and phrases the drawings inspired.  The students then gathered these words and phrases and created poems.  These poems were the interpreted through movement and performed in small groups.

So, What Should We Take Away From This?

Artists are often inspired by other art in all different forms.  If we want to deepen our students’ understanding of integrating art with art, we can show how the arts are connected all around us and allow the students to delve into art making inspired by other forms of art.  Just as we use objectives in music and math to help students gain a deeper appreciation of both subjects and use the content area subjects to inspire art making so can we use objectives in different art forms to deepen the understanding of the art and use the art as inspiration for creating new art.

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.